News In Brief

THE US

The White House expressed cautious optimism that Mideast peace talks can be jump-started at today's summit in Washington between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Arafat. President Clinton will participate directly in the talks, meeting with the leaders together and individually in an attempt to defuse tension heightened by last week's violent uprisings in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The Senate was expected to pass an omnibus spending bill funding $389 billion in federal programs for the next fiscal year, which began at midnight last night. The House has already passed the package, and President Clinton promised to sign it into law. Even with a last-minute glitch, both parties appeared ready to pass a short-term measure to avoid a government shutdown.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Republicans will try again to curb Medicare spending, if they retain control of Congress in Nov. 5 elections, the Washington Times reported. But Gingrich said Republicans would seek the advice of a bipartisan commission before taking any action.

The United Auto Workers reached a deal with Chrysler Corp. that is similar to the three-year agreement struck with Ford. Under that pact, the automaker guaranteed at least 95 percent of its union jobs, and was able to hire workers for new parts plants at a lower wage. Also, workers were promised a $2,000 lump sum the first year and 3 percent raises the next two years.

The first Republican Congress in 40 years packed up to leave Washington. While GOP legislators failed to fulfill their goals of balancing the budget and shrinking the government, the 104th Congress's legislative record includes welfare reform, telecommunications and health insurance reform, a line-item veto, a free-market farm law, a safe drinking water act, and an increase in the minimum wage.

Gingrich and Senate majority leader Trent Lott met Democratic counterparts Dick Gephardt and Tom Daschle for a debate in Williamsburg, Va. They bumped heads on taxes and welfare, but did agree on one thing: Never again will they shut down the government over policy disputes. Democrats presented goals of tax cuts geared toward families and more money for education and environmental protection. Republicans said they agreed in principle with this agenda, but planned to meet the goals with lower taxes and less government. Fighting illegal drugs also would top the GOP agenda.

Nation of Islam lawyer Arif Muhammed is planning a class-action suit against the government, charging that the CIA deliberately introduced crack cocaine into black communities. Last month, The San Jose Mercury News reported allegations the CIA sold tons of cocaine to gangs in Los Angeles and funneled the profits to a CIA-backed guerrilla army in Nicaragua. The Justice Department and Congress are investigating the claims.

New home sales hit their highest level in a decade in Auguest, the Commerce Department said. Sales unexpectedly jumped 8.3 percent, fueled by a strong demand in the Midwest. Analysts had predicted a 4 percent decline. Also consumer spending was up 0.6 percent, matched by an identical increase in personal incomes.

The Geo Metro ranked as the most fuel-efficient car for the second year in a row, according to an Environmental Protection Agency ranking of 1997 models. Volkswagon has four among this year's leaders.

Higher speed limits in Texas may be causing more accidents, the American-Statesman reported. Traffic deaths increased 17 percent when the state started raising highway speed limits in December. Fatalities increased 28 percent in rural areas, where cars can travel up to 70 m.p.h.

THE WORLD

Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was to attend a summit with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington. Arafat hesitated to attend the talks without assurances Israel would make concessions. Earlier, he held talks in Egypt with his Arab ally, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and then flew to Luxembourg for talks with European ministers.

Burma's military finished rounding up supporters of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Some 500 people reportedly have been detained since Friday.

Afghanistan's Taliban Islamic militia said it had taken Kapisa Province, north of Kabul, while pursuing forces of ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani. There was no confirmation of the report from a Pakistan-based Afghan news service. Taliban commanders and aid workers in Kabul reported the capture of Jabal os-Siraj, 45 miles north of Kabul. The Taliban repeated an offer of amnesty for ousted government leaders. And they closed the main border crossing with Pakistan, after Pakistanis refused to allow free movement across the frontier.

Separatist Kashmiri militants fired on two polling stations, as the last round of voting began in India's Jammu and Kashmir state. No one was injured in either incident. Also, former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao was granted a week's reprieve in a criminal conspiracy case after police warned militants could attack him in the New Delhi court. Rao would have been the first former prime minister to appear in a criminal case.

Russian Communists didn't get a hoped for power boost from gubernatorial elections. They celebrated the victory of a candidate in the Leningrad region, but their choice in the Rostov area was defeated.

Muslim occupation of three destroyed villages on Serb territory may be militarily motivated, a NATO official warned. The Bosnia government calls the occupation an innocent return of refugees, but the NATO officer said the villages could be a jumping-off point for cutting the Serb republic in half.

South Korean troops killed another North Korean infiltrator, bringing to 22 the number shot dead since entering the South nearly two weeks ago. Three Pyongyang agents are believed still at large. And North Korea accused the South of murder.

About 300 women and scores of male supporters kicked off a campaign in Shuwaikh, Kuwait City, to change a 1962 election law that gives only men the right to vote and run for office. If the campaign succeeds, women will be at the polls and on the ballot in 2000.

The chief of a Muslim rebellion was installed as governor of four impoverished provinces in the Philippines. Nur Misuari led a 24-year insurrection for Muslim independence that cost the lives of more than 120,000 people.

South Africa's Inkatha Freedom Party said it was ending its 18-month boycott of the drafting of the country's final post-apartheid constitution.

Russian troops and Tajikistan rebels skirmished on the Afghan border, the ITAR-Tass News agency reported. The rebels apparently opened fire on Russian border guards from the Afghan side of the border, but were driven back. There was no report of casualties.

Etceteras

"It is a real tragedy that the rector of Kuwait University [a woman] cannot vote, and a male student who has repeatedly failed high school can."

- Kuwait University political science head Ahmed al-Baghdad, speaking at a seminar on women's rights in Kuwait.

Grow a beard - or else. That's the decree Afghanistan's new ruling Taliban Islamic movement handed government and military employees. They have six weeks to sport whiskers or face punishment under Islamic holy law.

Jackie Robinson's face may soon grace a silver dollar. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato introduced a bill to have the US Mint strike a coin commemorating the 50th anniversary of Robinson's becoming the first black to play major league baseball. More than half the Senate is cosponsoring the bill.

The log cabin - that icon of American pioneer spirit - has gone global. Japan, Russia, Germany, and Poland all have homes harking back to Abe Lincoln's boyhood. But these cabins have features never seen on the frontier: Builders have been asked to include lap pools, exercise rooms, and an observatory.

New York's posh St. Regis hotel will fill any room service request - no matter how odd. Requests have included a crystal dog bowl, pizza in a blender, and an entire lamb - cooked and carved.

The Billionaires Club

There are a record 121 billionaires in Forbes's annual ranking of the richest Americans. For the first time, the top 400's average net worth exceeded $1 billion.

1. Bill Gates, Bellevue, Wash. $18.5 billion

2. Warren Buffett, Omaha, Neb. $15

3. Paul Allen, Mercer Island, Wash. $7.5

4. John Kluge, Charlottesville, Va. $7.2

5. Lawrence Ellison, Atherton, Calif. $6

6. Philip Hampson Knight, Portland, Ore. $5.3

7. Jim Walton, Bentonville, Ark. $4.8

7. John Walton, Durango, Colo. $4.8

8. Alice Walton, Rogers, Ark. $4.7

8. Helen Walton, Bentonville, Ark. $4.7

8. Robson Walton, Bentonville, Ark. $4.7

- Associated Press

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