News In Brief

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THE US

The Senate was to vote on a constitutional amendment to balance the budget that Republicans said had little chance of passing. The vote was a "meaningless gesture" and a "sad commentary" on Senator Dole's last days in Congress, a White House official said. Also, House Democrats are proposing a comprehensive rail safety bill to add rail inspectors and improve grade crossings. There have been 54 rail accidents so far this year.

The FBI is considering disrupting the "freemen" group's radio, satellite TV, and cellular phone signals, The New York Times reported. Law enforcement officials may also block the Jordan, Mont., antigovernment group's access to fishing ponds, crops, and storage buildings. Meanwhile, 200 local Montanans have signed a petition urging the use of "reasonable force" against the group. They planned to ask a local sheriff to deliver it to the FBI.

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Stratton Oakmont Inc. brokerage house violated its own rules to help Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R of N.Y.) make money, a confidential SEC report said. He earned $37,125 in one day in 1993 on a lightly traded initial public offering underwritten by the firm. The report mentions no wrongdoing by D'Amato.

The Medicare Hospital Fund could be saved from bankruptcy partly by moving some of its expenses to a companion fund, US Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala said. Senator Dole called the proposal a "shell game" that doesn't address the problem but just moves money around. The fund will run out of money in five years unless emergency measures are taken, a Medicare trustee report found.

Adm. Jay Johnson, President Clinton's pick as the Navy's top officer, resigned from his $33,000 a year position on the board of USAA insurance company. The move came hours after Senate Armed Services chairman Strom Thurmond questioned whether active-duty military officers should have paid corporate positions. Johnson said Pentagon rules allow him to serve on the board, but he doesn't want any glitches in his confirmation as chief of naval operations.

Clinton aides obtained a confidential FBI background file on fired travel-office head Billy Dale by claiming he was being considered for a White House pass, a House oversight panel found. The White House says record keepers may have asked for the file mistakenly as part of a routine document-gathering effort on current employees. The FBI has launched a thorough investigation into the matter.

The Energy Department may have illegally spent some travel funds, a draft report by the department's inspector-general said. The report cites sloppy record-keeping and mismanagement on four overseas trade missions headed by Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary. The cost for O'Leary's 16 overseas trips was $4.57 million - $600,000 more than originally thought. O'Leary requested the six-month investigation after her travel expenses came under fire by Republicans.

In an effort to make owning a home more affordable for Americans, Clinton was to announce a quarter-point cut on a Federal Housing Administration insurance premium paid by buyers, the secretary of Housing and Urban Development said. The move will shave about $200 off closing costs for houses bought with some US-backed loans.

The Federal Communications Commission is expected to propose new rules to protect consumers from pay-phone price gouging. The proposal will include requiring a rate disclosure before connecting some calls.

US Fish and Wildlife Service director Mollie Beattie resigned for health reasons. Beattie was the first woman to head the department.

The search for wreckage from the ValuJet crash may wind down today, investigators say. About 70 percent of the wreckage has been recovered, but officials say it will be at least two months before they determine the cause of the crash.

Retail sales climbed 13.9 percent in May, as women shopped enthusiastically for clothes for the first time in several years.

THE WORLD

Turkey's Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz resigned ahead of a no confidence vote tomorrow that his three-month-old coalition government was expected to lose. His resignation may give the Islamic party a chance to form the new government. President Demirel said he would decide today after meeting leaders of other parties.

OPEC met behind closed doors in Vienna to discuss a strategy for readmitting Iraq. Risks in global prices - which plunged 70 cents a barrel Wednesday - were a major issue. Members were also divided over whether to reduce production. Before the sanctions, Iraq produced 3.4 million barrels a day. The void was filled primarily by Saudi Arabia.

In separate incidents, two Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces. The killings in East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip were the result of mistaken identities, Israeli sources said. They were the first casualties since Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister. Meanwhile, Netanyahu's Likud party reiterated its opposition to the Palestinian demand for an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital.

Syrian President Hafez al- Assad invited leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia to a summit in Damascus to discuss Middle East peace prospects following Netanyahu's election victory. The surprise announcement came after Saudi Arabia said it would not host such a meeting. Top Egyptian leaders in Cairo confirmed the meeting.

China will not open its cultural market as the US demands, the official Xinhua News Agency of China reported. Talks on copyright piracy began in Beijing and Assistant US Trade Representative Lee Sands said he was confident that China will honor its commitment to a 1995 pact on copyright piracy.

The prospects for a treaty banning nuclear testing received a boost when China agreed to temporarily ban "peaceful nuclear explosions." The decision puts China more in line with the US, Russia, Britain, and France to conclude a treaty by the June 28 deadline.

Britain and Ireland confirmed a key role for former US Senator George Mitchell in Northern Ireland peace talks that start Monday. "Everything is now in place ... for a successful commencement of the talks," said Irish Prime Minister John Bruton.

Burma's junta banned weekend meetings outside the Rangoon home of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, opposition sources said. Recently, the gatherings swelled to 10,000 people, and organizers pledged that this weekend's meetings would go ahead as planned.

Balkan negotiators are unlikely to meet Thursday's deadline on a Dayton accord agreement to reduce tanks, big guns, and combat aircraft, sources close to disarmament talks in Vienna said. The sticking point is the Bosnian government's refusal to refer to Bosnian Serb territory as "Republika Srpska."

Russian and Chechen negotiators agreed to release all prisoners within two weeks. But the deadlock over Chechen disarmament and redeployment of Russian troops still remained on the third day of talks in Nazran, the capital of the neighboring region of Ingushetia.

After months of protests and political infighting, a panel of Japan's lower house of parliament agreed to put to vote an unpopular plan to bail out debt-laden private mortgage firms.

Some 500 activists rallied for a declaration on housing rights in Habitat II, the UN Conference on Human Settlements in Istanbul, Turkey. The US opposes calling housing a government obligation, because it could lead to lawsuits on behalf of homeless people.

Starting today, 28 aid agencies agreed to suspend their operations in Burundi for a week to protest the killings of three Swiss Red Cross workers. Meanwhile, a UN team arrived in Kigali, Rwanda's capital, to investigate the growing tribal conflict in the Masisi region.

ETCETERAS

"It means nothing to him. The thing that would make him happiest right now is some ice cream before bed."

-- Pittsburgh lawyer Neil Rosen on his son, Max, who received a $219,495 refund check from IRS with no explanation.

The University of Massachusetts' coach John Calipari is leaving college for the NBA. Calipari, who led the Minutemen to the Final Four in this year's NCAA tournament, will be coaching the New Jersey Nets, a UMass official said.

Charlesfort, the earliest French outpost in the US, was discovered on a golf course on Parris Island, S.C., by University of South Carolina archaeologists Chester DePratter and Stanley South. Pottery fragments provided clues to the fort's location, which was hard to pinpoint because the Spanish built a settlement on the same site in 1566. Charlesfort was founded in 1562 by Jean Ribaut - three years before St. Augustine, Fla., the country's oldest permanent settlement.

His brow is as big as a Buick. "Colossal Head 8," a 9-1/2-ton head carved 3,000 years ago, was unveiled at Washington's National Gallery of Art. The 7-foot-high sculpture is part of the "Olmec Art of Ancient Mexico" exhibit, which opens June 30. The Olmecs lived in southern Mexico and Guatemala from about 1200 BC to 300 BC - long before the Mayan civilization.

THE DAY'S LIST

When People Care To Send Their Very Best

The top 10 card-giving occasions in the US, according to research by Hallmark Cards Inc., with the number of cards expected to be sold in 1996:

1. Christmas 2,650 million

2. Valentine's Day 925 million

3. Mother's Day 154 million

4. Easter 133 million

5. Father's Day 99 million

6. Graduation 67 million

7. Thanksgiving 34 million

8. Halloween 26 million

9. St. Patrick's Day 15 million

10. Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur 12 million

- Associated Press

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