News In Brief

By , Yvonne Zipp, and Peter Nordahl

The US

The White House and Congress say they are close to a budget deal to fund the second half of 1996. A Senate proposal adding a $1.3 billion contingency fund for programs the White House favors - as long as there are offsetting cuts - could be enough to forge an agreement, says White House chief of staff Panetta. President Clinton originally asked for $8 billion more to restore funding for many education and environmental programs. The Senate has compromised on more than half that amount. The House says it may also meet the president halfway.

Californians turn out today to vote in their primary. Senator Dole, who has clinched the Republican nomination, is favored over Patrick Buchanan. (Related opinion, Page 18.) Below, consumer advocate Ralph Nader is running unopposed as the Green Party candidate in today's primary, assuring him a spot on the November ballot. If that hurts Clinton's chances, Nader says, ''he deserves it.'' Also, billionaire Ross Perot has said he'll run if his Reform Party asks him to. And Buchanan is hinting he may run as a third-party candidate.

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Congress will pass some form of health-insurance reform this year, predicts Budget Committee chairman Kasich. Republicans may give up inclusion of medical-savings accounts to ensure passage of a bill giving people between jobs access to health insurance. (Story, Page 3.)

The Supreme Court has agreed to decide if states can make English the official language and require government workers to speak only English on the job. About 20 states have amendments or laws declaring English the official state language. Also, the court let stand a ruling that forces states participating in the Medicaid program to fund abortions for women who are victims of rape or incest. Louisiana is the fifth state to fail in a bid to deny them funding.

The Fed meets today, and February's upsurge in job rates will probably be on the agenda. Market-watchers wonder if this will affect interest rates. (Story, Page 1.) Separately, sales of previously owned homes jumped 6.5 percent last month, despite slightly higher mortgage rates.

Senate Democrats are pushing for a vote on the minimum wage this week. Democrats want to raise the minimum wage 90 cents over two years, from $4.25 an hour to $5.15 an hour. Republicans oppose a raise, saying it would hurt small businesses, cause layoffs, and reduce the number of entry-level jobs.

Whitewater witness David Hale, whose allegations spurred the investigation, was sentenced to 28 months in prison and ordered to repay the government $2 million. Hale pleaded guilty in March 1994 to two counts of defrauding the Small Business Administration.

The US Forest Service obstructed an investigation into claims that Weyerhaeuser Company illegally harvested millions of dollars of timber from national forests in northern California and Oregon, The Los Angeles Times reports. Watchdog groups allege that service officials warned Weyerhaeuser employees that they were being investigated and disseminated confidential information to employees. The service rejects the claims.

Tobacco company Brown & Williamson considered buying a nicotine patch maker to profit from its customers' attempts to quit smoking, ''60 Minutes'' reported. The company decided against the purchase after an executive said the company would be seen as ''simply in the nicotine delivery business'' and would face FDA regulation. Also, Maryland and Texas are exploring filing lawsuits against tobacco companies. Eight other states are considering litigation, and six have already filed lawsuits.

Yasser Arafat and Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi have agreed to testify at the US extradition trial of Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzuk, a leader of Hamas. He has been detained since July 25, when he tried to reenter the US after being added to a list of suspected terrorists. Israel has asked for his extradition on charges of conspiring to commit murder and other crimes.

Journalists are fair in their election campaign coverage but negatively affect the process, a Freedom Forum Media Studies survey says. Some 83 percent surveyed say politicians court the media more than voters.

The World

Responding to international pressure to honor Dayton accord commitments, the Bosnian Serbs plan to free 28 prisoners today. Yesterday they freed a Muslim photographer charged with killing a Serb, a day after the government released a Serb journalist captured last summer. The Bosnian Croats plan to release 10 Serbs from a prison near Mostar. Above, Hillary Rodham Clinton greets US troops at Tuzla air base in Bosnia, where she is on a one-day visit.

Beijing announced a halt to weeks of menacing war games off Taiwan's coast, and Taipei offered reconciliation. China's foreign minister told visiting UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali that the drills were not aimed at obstructing democracy on the island. Boutros-Ghali has avoided discussion of China-Taiwan tensions, saying the purpose of his visit is to strengthen China-UN ties. (Story, Page 1.)

The US, France, and Britain signed the Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty, ending some 50 years of nuclear tests in the South Pacific. Analysts called the signing ''symbolic,'' but others indicated it would impact negotiations for a global nuclear-test ban. Russia and China signed the document years ago.

The Republic of Belarus signed a trade deal with the EU to boost commercial ties. The pact came two days after the former Soviet republic announced plans for union with neighboring Russia. In Moscow, President Yeltsin ruled out formation of a single state, saying the new agreement would be limited to deepening integration.

Russian forces again attacked villages in western Chechnya as Yeltsin vowed to disclose a peace plan by the end of March. His Security Council recently adopted a plan for ending the war, but few details have been disclosed.

A Japanese court ordered Okinawa's governor to renew land leases for US military bases. Prime Minister Hashimoto can sign the documents if Gov. Ota refuses to do so, the court ruled. Ota refused to sign the leases after three US servicemen raped an Okinawan girl last year, sparking mass protests on the island. He also says the bases, which take up about one-fifth of Okinawa, hamper the island's economic development.

At least 400 prisoners in a Libyan prison reportedly were freed during a riot in which 16 guards were killed. The prisoners were mostly antigovernment soldiers and Islamic militants. The riot took place last week in al-Kuwaifiya, about 13 miles from the Mediterranean city of Benghazi, travelers to the region reported.

Irish Republican Army supporters authorized their leaders to take part in a May 30 election that will precede negotiations on Northern Ireland's political future. Gerry Adams, leader of the IRA's political wing, Sinn Fein, plans to meet with Catholic politician John Hume to discuss whether to participate in the poll.

Indian troops surrounded a Muslim shrine held by separatist militants in Srinagar, Kashmir, following a shootout in which the rebels said 26 people died. Police confirmed 11 deaths. Shops and businesses closed in the city to protest the violence.

A bomb exploded at an antigovernment demonstration in Chittagong, Bangladesh's main port city, killing at least two people on the 16th day of a nationwide strike. In Dhaka, security forces used tear gas to break up an all-night vigil of 2,000 opposition activists in front of the main government building.

Germany's Free Democratic Party won more than the 5 percent needed to keep its parliament seats in three state elections. If the FDP had not had a credible showing, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's coalition, which includes the FDP, would have been threatened.

Etceteras

Hyakutake, the brightest comet to pass Earth in 20 years, did not disappoint stargazers who gathered under open skies to watch it. The comet, visible to the naked eye, appeared just below the Big Dipper. Some who saw it thought it looked like a fuzzy snowball; others said it was like a headlight seen through fog.

Victoria Falls, one of Africa's greatest natural wonders, is threatened with serious environmental damage unless development and tourism are heavily restricted, a new study says. Hundreds of sightseers visit the falls, in Zimbabwe, every day. And whitewater rafting, canoeing, and bungee jumping from a nearby bridge have attracted many more visitors in recent years.

''Did Marco Polo Go to China?'' That's the title of a book by British librarian Frances Wood that casts doubt on Polo's travels. Why, for instance, is there no reference to the Great Wall or to the practice of binding girls' feet to keep them small in his reports? she asks.

Albert Einstein's manuscript explaining his theory of relativity is being donated to an Israeli museum. Sotheby's in New York says the handwritten 72-page document was bought by the Jacob E. Safra Philanthropic Foundation, which is presenting it to the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

Independent Spirits

Below are the winners of the 1996 Independent Spirit Awards, which honor films made outside the major studios.

Best Picture -''Leaving Las Vegas''

Best Director - Mike Figgis for ''Leaving Las Vegas''

Best Actor - Sean Penn for ''Dead Man Walking''

Best Actress - Elizabeth Shue for ''Leaving Las Vegas''

Best Supporting Actor - Benicio Del Toro for ''The Usual Suspects''

Best Supporting Actress - Mare Winningham for ''Georgia''

Best First Feature - ''The Brothers McMullen''

- Associated Press

'' People are getting sick and tired of this nonsense. It's politics that does not inure to the benefit of either the White House or Congress. We look silly.''

- Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, on CNN, about Washington's long, drawn-out, and still unsettled budget debate.

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