News In Brief

THE US

President Clinton plans to axe a $265 billion defense bill ordering an antimissile defense the White House says could wreck nuclear arms control treaties. The bill is $7 billion more than Clinton requested, and would authorize ships, planes, and other weapons he does not want. But he already signed into law a companion bill appropriating the $7 billion for defense because he will need at least $2 billion of it to pay for troops in Bosnia. Earlier, he nixed a spending bill to finance the departments of Commerce, State, and Justice. And the White House and key Republicans took another stab at budget talks after a successful round of talks Tuesday.

The White House dropped another of its conditions for turning over subpoenaed Whitewater notes just before the Senate was to debate whether to take Clinton to court. The president has refused to turn over the notes, saying they are protected by attorney-client privileges.

Republicans promised to override Clinton's veto of a bill restricting class action security fraud lawsuits. The veto came as a surprise for many: Clinton had intended to support the bill as recently as Monday. But a last minute lobbying blitz by liberal Democrats, consumer groups, and plaintiffs' attorneys changed his mind. Opponents argue the bill would rollback investor rights. Proponents say it would limit costly lawsuits.

The Federal Reserve cut a key interest rate by a quarter point from 5.75 to 5.50 percent. Financial markets reacted favorable to the news, and banks began cutting their prime lending rates.

A multi-state drug raid resulted in at least 34 arrests and seizure of drugs valued at more than $10 million. The cross-border drug organization was unusual: It controlled production, transportation, and distribution in Arizona, California, Texas, and Mexico. Meanwhile, drug use among teens is up in the US for the third consecutive year, say two separate reports from the Senate Judiciary Committee. And almost half of all high school students who graduate this year will have tried drugs, the reports said.

Old man winter is settling in with gusto. Schools from Missouri to Maine closed due to blizzard conditions. In Indiana, Illinois, and Ohio, freezing rain downed power lines. Airports in several locations were closed and flights delayed. But Fort Dix, N.J., welcomed the snow: Some 500 reservists are undergoing cold-weather training there to prepare for Bosnia peacekeeping operations. And New York City could celebrate its first white Christmas in a dozen years.

Massachusetts is suing the tobacco industry in an effort to get reimbursement for the cost of treating smokers' health problems. The state says it pays at least $200 million a year to treat Medicaid patients for illnesses attributed to tobacco use. Florida, Mississippi, West Virginia, and Minnesota have similar suits.

The Pentagon may have to pay as much as $1 billion each to General Dynamics Corp. and McDonnell Douglas Corp. in a dispute over the Navy's canceled A-12 jet. A federal claims court judge has ruled in favor of the defense contractors in the complicated, four-year-old case, according to The Washington Post.

FBI Director Louis Freeh has ordered more and better training for the bureau's hostage rescue team in an effort to prevent the kind of mistakes made at the deadly 1992 standoff at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Team members are to receive training in hostage negotiations, behavioral science, and crisis management, he said.

Colin Powell says he's flattered, but disagrees with GOP presidential front-runner Bob Dole. Powell says he won't accept the Republican vice presidential nomination if Dole offers it to him. Meanwhile, Dole clarified his stand on abortion. Just a day after saying he would not support a constitutional ban on abortions, the senator said he supports a ban, but with exceptions for rape, incest, or when the mother's life is threatened.

THE WORLD

NATO troops drove past Serb checkpoints in Bosnia into areas previously prohibited to the UN. Earlier, NATO formally took over the peacekeeping operations. Madeleine Albright, US ambassador to the UN, criticized Yugoslavia's statement that Muslims killed each other in Srebrenica. The massacre is widely blamed on Bosnian Serbs. And in Brussels, officials from 40 countries met in a effort to find ways to finance Bosnia's reconstruction. The World Bank estimates that $5.1 billion is needed for priority projects such as transport and water.

Russia's parliament overwhelmingly approved next year's market-reform oriented budget. The vote lends credibility to President Yeltsin's assertion that there will be no major changes of policy in the wake of a resurgent Communist Party, analysts said. Meanwhile, ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky predicted he will win next year's presidential elections and promised "20 years of nice stagnation."

Israel is showing more flexibility in peace negotiations, Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Sharaa said. And analysts said Syria is making uncharacteristically positive comments about Mideast peace since Secretary of State Warren Christopher's visit to Damascus last week. An Israeli police officermakes a gesture of friendship to a Palestinian in Bethlehem. The city is to be transferred to the Palestinian self-rule today.

South Korean President Kim Young Sam named new economic ministers but retained his main security advisers in his new Cabinet. The appointment of Rha Woong-bae - an experienced industrialist - as finance minister drew applause from economists. And today, former President Chun Doo Hwan will be formally charged for his role in a 1979 coup, prosecutors said.

Famine is gripping parts of North Korea, UN and Red Cross workers said. Food shortages were reported throughout the country. About 1.5 million tons of grain were lost in last summer's floods, the worst in 100 years. As a result, the government has permitted foreign aid workers to visit the country for the first time since 1953.

The recent strikes could cost France $4 billion in lost production, France's leading trade group, the National Employers Council, said. The effects of the more than three-week-long strike will be felt for months, especially in more unemployment and slow growth, it said.

Colombian President Ernesto Samper said his main goal was to win the trust of the US. The remarks followed US criticism of a Colombian congressional panel's decision clearing Samper of charges that the Cali drug cartel financed part of his election.

A plot to assassinate Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak last week was foiled, interior ministry sources said. Egyptian security forces learned of the plot from an Islamic Jihad informer. The tip led to the arrest of 56 suspected extremists, including five Sudanese, he said.

Outgoing President Lech Walesa says he has documents that reveal a serious security threat to Poland but has not disclosed their content. The documents may involve spying allegations against Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, Western diplomats hinted. Oleksy called it a "dirty provocation" by Walesa, due to hand over power to Alexander Kwasniewski Saturday.

Rwanda expelled 43 foreign aid agencies because they refused to abide by Rwanda's rules, Rwandan Vice President Paul Kagame said. The expulsions reflect the government's irritation with delays in receiving reconstruction aid, sources said. The government has barely received a drop from a $1.2 billion pledge, they said.

The US has decided to sell deep-strike missiles to Turkey. Turkey will be permitted to use them only in self-defense, the US said.

ETCETERA

The Americans bring me down by talking about nothing but drugs - like they talk to the French about cheese and the Italians about pasta. Colombia is a lot more than drugs."

- Colombian President Ernesto Samper, saying that ties with the US should not be limited to one issue.

The family of former President Nixon has denounced Oliver Stone's new film "Nixon" as "erroneous and malicious." Julie Nixon Eisenhower and Tricia Nixon Cox accused Stone of "character assassination." Stone said he went to great lengths in the film to back up his claims.

President Clinton may not have to dig into his pockets to keep the national Christmas tree lighted during the budget impasse after all. Donations are streaming in. The estimated daily cost of lighting the tree: $200.

Briton Roger Mear has abandoned his effort to be the first person to walk solo across Antarctica. Still attempting the feat is Norwegian Borge Ousland, who last year became the first person to cross the North Pole solo.

"Gris," a 500-pound grizzly bear, plays with a kitten that befriended him months ago in his pen at Wildlife Images in Grants Pass, Ore.

Top Ten Movies In the US, Dec. 15-18

1. (tie) "Jumanji," TriStar, $11.08 million

1. (tie) "Toy Story," Walt Disney Pictures, $10.97 million

3. "Heat," Warner Bros., $8.4 million

4. "Father of the Bride Part II," Walt Disney Pictures, $7.3 million

5. "Sabrina," Paramount Pictures, $5.6 million

6. "Goldeneye," MGM/UA, $3.2 million

7. "The American President," Columbia Pictures, $2.1 million

8. "Casino," Universal Studios, $2.1 million

9. "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls," Warner Bros., $1.83 million

10. "Money Train," Columbia Pictures, $1.75 million

- Associated Press

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