News In Brief

THE US

On your mark, get set, shop. After a shopping season marked by consumer caution, many stores made drastic post-holiday markdowns to try to clear their shelves. 1995 was the third-slowest season in the past 25 years, says Isaac Lagnado, publisher of the Tactical Retail Monitor newsletter. Factoring for inflation, consumers spent 0.7 percent less than last year. Only 1990 and 1974 were slower. But some firms prospered, including catalog companies, which benefitted from the many snowstorms. L.L. Bean reports a 11 percent gain from last year.

Visa users charged $27.7 billion from Nov. 24 to Dec. 23 - 20.9 percent more than in 1994. The growing use of credit cards has set off alarms as Americans' debt continued to rise to unprecedented levels. Too much on the Visa bill and not enough in the savings account causes national economic stagnation, some analysts say. But others say shoppers are simply using plastic more - like for groceries and at the dentist's office - and that delinquency rates aren't rising.

Treasury Secretary Rubin is close to crossing the "bounds of legality and constitutionality" in his efforts to keep the US from defaulting on its debt, Rep. Bill Archer said in a letter to President Clinton. Archer, the powerful chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said any new moves by Rubin could spark a "constitutional and legal crisis." Rubin says he has been forced to act by Congress, which refuses to raise the $4.9 trillion debt limit. Since November, he has kept the US from bumping against the limit by fiddling with the status of $76 billion in federal workers' retirement funds.

"Dean was my brother - not through blood but through choice," Frank Sinatra said upon learning that entertainer Dean Martin died Christmas Day. Martin, who was best known for his screen partnership with Jerry Lewis, had three TV series, and starred in 50 films.

About 100 furloughed federal employees protested the government shutdown in Woodlawn, Md. The Social Security Administration workers said they would hold a "work in" later this week. Meanwhile, budget talks were set to resume today between the White House and Congress.

Desperate to get to the US, Chinese and Indians were paying Gloria Canales up to $6,000 to smuggle them inside its borders by way of Central America, US officials allege. Canales, who was arrested in Ecuador earlier this month allegedly used an extensive network of contacts - from airline officials to hotel owners, to smuggle 10,000 people a year.

Two men usually at odds politically agree on America's moral climate: White House advisor George Stephanopoulos and Christian Coalition head Ralph Reed think "the moral strength of the American people is very, very strong," as Reed put it. They cited an increase in churchgoing as one positive sign. But they say Americans feel disconnected from the government and give different reasons why. Stephanopoulos says its because the GOP-controlled Congress is "running away from its responsibilities." Reed says it is because politicians don't honor the values the public holds dear.

Kujichagulia - the Swahili term for "self-determination" is today's theme in the annual Kwanzaa celebration. The seven-day event is an African-American holiday based on the traditional African festival of the first harvest. It began Dec. 26 and ends Jan. 1. Each day celebrants gather to give gifts and focus on a specific principle - from unity to faith to creativity to cooperative economics.

Flashing red lights in the rear-view mirror were not necessarily a bad sign for drivers in Minnesota. The state highway patrol has been stopping drivers at random, handing out teddy bears and T-shirts, and warning them to wear seat belts and drive safely. "I'm stopping you today, because there's nothing wrong," said one trooper. "This is very different than L.A." responded one driver from California.

THE WORLD

The first US combat unit crossed into Bosnia from Croatia. Also, US Adm. Leighton Smith, commander of the NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia, excluded rebel Serb leaders Gen. Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, who have been indicted on charges of genocide, from a meeting with Serb officials. Smith refused Serb requests to postpone key deadlines on implementing a peace deal around Sarajevo. Bosnian Muslims and Serb troops are expected to complete preliminary withdrawals from Sarajevo tonight as NATO troops replace them.

West Bank villagers placed olive branches on jeeps driven by departing Israelis and buses carrying arriving Palestinians as Palestinian troops took up positions in Dahatiya, near Hebron. And former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir announced he will not run for Parliament in the 1996 general election. Shamir is opposed to land-for-peace agreements with the Arabs.

Egyptian President Mubarakarrived in Aqaba, Jordan, for talks with King Hussein. Relations between the two have been strained by differences over policy on Iraq during the Gulf war. Elsewhere, a judge in Cairo threw out a case filed by an Islamic lawyer who accused Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz and two newspaper editors of ridiculing God and Islam.

Turkish political leaders began searching for a coalition after weekend elections failed to give a mandate to a single party. Prime Minister Ciller's True Path Party will hold an executive meeting to assess its defeat by the Islamist Welfare Party.

The cockpit voice recorder from the American Airlines jet that crashed in Colombia reveals no sounds of an explosion or distress calls from the crew, CBS News said. That means the plane "just flew into the mountain," an investigator told CBS.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin returned home after two months in a sanitarium and hospital for heart problems. And nearly 300 civilians were among 600 people killed as Russian troops broke a 10-day siege by Chechen rebels on Gudermes, Chechnya's second-largest town, a Russian General said. Doku Zavgayev, Chechnya's pro-Moscow leader, denied the reports.

An explosion ripped through a tax building in Ajaccio, Corsica, heavily damaging several offices and a dozen cars. Militant separatists fighting French authority claimed responsibility. Bombings linked to separatists have struck the French Mediterranean island almost daily in recent weeks.

A former doctor who was a key member of Japan's Aum Shinri Kyo group pleaded guilty to releasing nerve gas on the Tokyo subway and apologized for the crime. Also, a US Marine charged in the rape of an Okinawan girl accused a Navy sailor of bullying him into taking part in the attack. Separately, President Clinton has rescheduled a visit to Japan for April after postponing it last November.

Indians are requesting an inquiry into national safety standards after a fire in a reception tent for a school party in Dabwali killed 538 people. And thousands protested inadequate emergency and medical services and blocked Dabwali police from taking unidentified bodies for cremation.

President Askar Akayev was reelected for five-years in Kyrgyzstan with 73.9 percent of the vote, preliminary results show. He focused on democratic and economic reforms. And Trans-Dniester, an enclave in eastern Moldova, voted for an independent constitution, preliminary results indicated. The largely Russian and Ukrainian republic declared independence from mostly Romanian Moldova in 1990 after a separatist drive supported by Russia.

ETCETERA

Congress, we have a contract with America, too."

- A sign at a rally of furloughed Social Security Administration employees in Woodlawn, Md. They were protesting the government shutdown. Budget talks between the White House and Congress are set for today.

An Englishman in Boston is on a one-man crusade to import a British holiday to the US - Boxing Day. Traditionally it is the day after Christmas on which servants open presents. Now it's a quiet holiday in the U.K., Canada, and Australia on which stores stay closed and people visit friends.

A 1931 Bugatti Royale, a regal automobile so exclusive that just six were made, is going on the auction block. It is expected to sell for $15 million to $20 million at the annual Barret-Jackson Classic Car Auction to be held in Scottsdale, Ariz., Jan. 18-21.

The National Gallery of Art has given Winslow Homer, sometimes called America's greatest 19th-century painter, a blockbuster of a show. There's only one month to go in the gallery's presentation which features 225 of Homer's works and closes Jan. 28. The exhibit moves to Boston Feb. 21.

The Top 10 News Stories of 1995

As selected by the Associated Press newspaper editors and broadcast news directors in the United States.

1. Oklahoma City bomb.

2. Former Yugoslavia.

3. O.J. Simpson case.

4. Rabin assassination.

5. Earthquake in Kobe, Japan.

6. Battles waged by GOP conservatives in Congress.

7. Japanese subway gassings.

8. Rescue of pilot Scott O'Grady.

9. Killer heat in Chicago.

10. Susan Smith spared.

- Associated Press

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