News In Brief

The US Randy Weaver said federal agents deliberately killed his wife and son during a 1992 shootout at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. A federal agent was also killed. Weaver, a white separatist, was the first witness at yesterday's Senate hearings. Saying the FBI ''clearly crossed the bounds,'' Senator Specter, the chair of the hearings, planned to focus on two issues: why the FBI gave ''shoot on sight'' orders; and why the agency attempted to cover up its mistakes after the incident. Because hurricane Luis swerved suddenly and was expected to miss Puerto Rico, the island downgraded Luis's threat to tropical storm level. The storm, whose hurricane-force winds still buffeted Puerto Rico's coast yesterday, was expected to move out into the Atlantic. As Luis's threat lessened yesterday, NASA was hopeful that shuttle Endeavour could launch. But rain and winds still loomed. The Senate was expected to vote on the final $265 billion defense-bill provision yesterday, including a plan to fund a ''star wars'' missile-defense system. The original plan called for building the system by 2003; the most recent compromise puts off the decision to build for a future Congress. Separately, on welfare reform - which is the top priority after defense - Senate Republicans remain divided over whether to give cash benefits to unwed moms. GOP leaders hope to reach closure within a week. The House Ethics Committee planned yesterday to take up Senator Packwood's plea for public hearings on allegations against him of sexual and official misconduct. He requested the public forum last month after the committee agreed to hear complaints from two more women rather than close the probe. A federal judge threw out charges that Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker lied to get a $300,000 loan and tried to hide business profits to avoid taxes. The judge, ruling Tuesday, said the charges bore no resemblance to the matters that Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr was assigned to investigate. Tucker still faces fraud charges in the case. ''I can do push-ups pretty well, too,'' Nancy Mellette said Tuesday of her physical abilities. Mellette, who wants to join the all-male cadet corps at The Citadel in South Carolina next fall, can run two miles in 13 minutes and do 28 sit-ups in 30 seconds - faster than needed for the Citadel's standards. Her lawyers want Mellette added to Shannon Faulkner's gender-bias suit against The Citadel. They plan file a separate suit if Mellette can't join Faulkner's suit. Kirk Kerkorian's quest for Chrysler gained credibility Wednesday when he added Jerome York to his team. York is the financial wiz who helped to revive IBM. Chrysler stock jumped $2.50 a share on the news. One in 8 Americans over 45 lives unmarried with a member of the opposite sex, says an American Association of Retired Persons report issued Tuesday. The most common reason: Partners fear losing pension and other retirement income from a former spouse if they remarry. Bank fees - from checking charges to ATM tolls - are not rising sharply, the Federal Reserve said Tuesday. The finding counters many reports, including one by US Public Interest Research Group last month, which said overall fees had risen by 11 percent in two years. But the Fed found just as many fees decreasing as increasing. Its main recommendation for cheaper banking: Do your banking in-state because out-of-state banks charge higher service fees. Chicago's public housing system is still the nation's worst, three months after the federal government took over, HUD Secretary Cisneros said Tuesday. Although the Chicago Housing Authority is now run by 35 ''cream of the crop'' federal officials, corruption is rife and the despair among residents is ''unprecedented,'' and tough to overcome, Cisneros said. The World France faced an explosion of international protest yesterday for detonating an underground nuclear bomb Tuesday in the South Pacific. The US said it regretted the action. New Zealand and Chile recalled their ambassadors from France. A general strike was called in Papeete, Tahiti, and demonstrations were organized around the globe. Greenpeace said Tuesday it expected to have some 30 ships present in an international protest flotilla off the site. (Story, Page 6.) NATO resumed airstrikes on Bosnian Serb military sites yesterday. An explosion in the northern town of Tuzla damaged a communications tower, destroying television relays and cutting phone lines between Serb-held territories and Serbia proper. And the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal announced indictment yesterday of a Bosnian Croat military commander for destruction of a Muslim village in 1993 by forces allegedly under his control - its first indictment of a non-Serb suspect. (Story, Page 1.) Greece and Macedonia agreed to compromise on longstanding disagreements ''in the name of peace in the Balkans,'' US envoy Richard Holbrooke said Tuesday. Their representatives plan to meet in New York next week to sign an agreement. Hillary Rodham Clinton received a warm welcome when she spoke at the Women NGO Forum yesterday- except from Chinese guards. Her top aides were forced to stand in the rain outside the building where she was speaking. US delegation chief Madeline Albright raised the issue of human rights in a meeting with China's foreign minister. And in an address to delegates, she criticized China's practice of forced abortions and criticized its heavy-handed treatment of activists attending the NGO Forum. (Story, Page 1.) Britain voiced disappointment yesterday at Ireland's cancellation of a crucial Northern Ireland summit but stood by its refusal to call all-party talks while IRA hold on to its guns. Peace talks resumed Tuesday in Chiapas amid new Mexican government offers to negotiate the issues of Indian rights, democratic and judicial reforms, and economic and social development. The rebels gave no immediate response. In an effort to lure foreign capital, Cuba's National Assembly voted unanimously to approve the first new investment law since Cuba cracked open the door to foreign business in 1982. Iraq's arsenal of biological weapons was designed to be as ruinous to civilians as to troops, the Los Angeles Times said yesterday. By modifying airplane fuel tanks, it planned to scatter biological agents over a wide area. The aim was not to kill but to debilitate, sources say. Tamil Tiger rebels yesterday planned to free about 140 passengers taken captive on a Sri Lankan ferry last Monday, the International Red Cross said. The Red Cross yesterday made its first midyear appeal to fund activity in the world's hot spots. Agency officials said it was asking for $126 million to cover the cash gap until the year's end. The campaign for French-speaking Quebec to separate from Canada was expected to begin with a big rally in Quebec City yesterday. Premier Jacques Parizeau plans to unveil today the ''sovereignty'' question voters will be asked in a province-wide referendum. In Vancouver, Canadian police brought in armored vehicles Tuesday in a standoff with armed native Indians occupying part of a ranch they say is sacred and belongs to tthe Indians. Etcetera Cal Ripken Jr. should be the new iron man of baseball today. Last night, playing before a packed house in hometown Baltimore that was to include both the president and vice president, the tall shortstop was to play in his 2,131st consecutive game. Yankee Lou Gehrig had held the seemingly unbeatable record of 2,130. The leaves are falling from the trees without turning their usual vivid reds and golds. Pumpkins are already becoming orange - or withering on the vine. One of the worst droughts the Northeast has ever seen has farmers and firefighters concerned from Maine to New Jersey. Water restrictions are being imposed. And fall foliage tourists may have little to view this year. Prince William began school at Eton yesterday. He is second in line to Britain's throne behind his father, Prince Charles. Premium Petrol Prices A recent survey found big differences in what the world's drivers pay for a gallon of gas. Most expensive: 1. Tokyo $5.67 2. Oslo, Norway 4.86 3. Amsterdam, The Netherlands 4.85 4. Paris 4.33 5. Hong Kong 4.31 Least expensive: 1. Caracas, Venezuela .12 2. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia .67 3. Abu Dhabi, UAE .83 4. Bogota, Colombia .88 5. Mexico City 1.19 - Runzheimer International/AP '' The underground test at Mururoa is an act of outrageous contempt, a slap in the face of over 150 governments and millions of people that protested these tests.'' - Greenpeace spokesman Thomas Schultz, on France's nuclear test blast in the South Pacific.

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