News In Brief

THE US

Smooth sailing: That's what many top forecasters are predicting for the US economy. The National Association of Business Economists in Washington says 44 professional forecasters surveyed called for growth averaging 2.5 percent over the next five years - about the same annual rate as recorded since the last recession ended. If they're correct, the current business cycle would surpass the previous 106-month record between February 1961 and December 1969. The forecasters also predicted the economy will grow by 2.3 percent this year and next.

White House press secretary Mike McCurry downplayed comments made by Hillary Rodham Clinton that she would seek a formal role in welfare reform. Mrs. Clinton made the statement during an interview with Time Magazine in which she said she would like to tour the country to see welfare reform in different states and report her findings to the president. McCurry says he's unaware of any plan by President Clinton to ask her to take a "formal" role in any area of government. But the president does expect her to help him implement welfare reform, McCurry said.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to unveil tighter air quality standards with stricter levels for smog and fine particles. Business groups predict the new standards will cost them billions of dollars. Environmentalists and health officials say they will protect tens of thousands of people from illness or even death, The New York Times said.

The Justice Department has reached a $22 million settlement with roughly 1,000 hospitals regarding Medicare overcharges, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Some 4,660 hospitals are involved in the overcharging, and the government expects to collect a total of $120 million in penalties. Prosecutors have agreed in all but a few cases to make no announcement of their findings if the hospitals pay up.

Baghdad agreed to all UN conditions that were holding up implementation of an oil-for-food deal, Iraqi UN Ambassador Nizar Hamdoon said in New York. The UN has been overseeing the deal, which would permit the sale of $2 billion of Iraqi oil over six months. Hamdoon said that oil could start flowing again in December.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate majority leader Trent Lott are among more than a dozen congressional leaders joining GOP governors at a summit in Grand Rapids, Mich. They plan to plot a legislative strategy that involves passing a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.

Sales of existing homes dropped 1.5 percent in October, the fifth consecutive monthly decline. Sales took their biggest tumble in the South, but rose substantially in the Northeast. Despite steady declines, housing industry executives note that record highs earlier in the year could set a new resale record this year, surpassing the previous high of 3.99 million single-family homes sold in 1978.

Duke Power Company of North Carolina was to announce the purchase of natural gas concern PanEnergy Corp. of Houston for $7.7 billion in stock. Some analysts say it will be the most significant gas-electric merger ever in the US energy market.

The F-117 stealth fighter and precision-guided bombs performed well during the Persian Gulf war. That's the official response from the Defense Department to a report by the General Accounting Office that suggested the Pentagon reconsider its long-term plans to invest $58 billion in precision-guided weaponry. The Pentagon says the GAO report failed to consider the difficulty of various missions when it evaluated the performances.

Rescue teams suspended a search for survivors of an explosion at a shoe store in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after the building shifted. At least 27 people died in the blast, and 80 others were injured. An additional 20 people are still thought to be in the ruins. A gas leak is suspected as the cause of the explosion.

THE WORLD

President Clinton headed for Thailand after his fellow Pacific Rim leaders approved cutting tariffs on information technology by 2000. But the deadline reached at the regional economic summit in the Philippines is not binding. US officials at the conference said they were "absolutely delighted" by the decision, which also includes an action plan for a single regional economy by 2020.

Rwanda rejected proposals for an international intervention force in the central African refugee crisis and said it would not cooperate. The mission should take place only in neighboring Zaire, a government spokesman said.

Striking truck drivers in France doubled the number of blockades on the country's roads to press their demands for higher pay, early retirement rights, and lower fuel prices. Their eight-day protest has cut into shipping and other sectors of the economy.

An estimated 20,000 students marched in Belgrade to protest the reversal of local elections won by opponents of President Slobodan Milosevic. A court widely believed to be under Milosevic's control annulled the vote that would have given the city its first non-Communist mayor since World War II. Bystanders cheered as the students vowed to boycott classes for what they called "an attack on the basic principles of democracy."

North Korea will free American Evan Carl Hunziker today, the US Embassy in Tokyo said. It said Hunziker, who was arrested in August on spy charges, would accompany Rep. Bill Richardson (D) of New Mexico on a US military aircraft to Japan. When reports of Hunzuker's arrest became public, he was described as a missionary in southern China who had strayed across the North Korean border.

Industrialized countries are rebuked for dropping the goal of full employment in a UN report on global employment due out today. It estimates that almost 1 billion people are jobless or underemployed. The document urges governments to pursue job-creating measures such as lower interest rates.

Belarus voters gave President Alexander Lukashenko a massive victory in his bid for expanded powers. Elections officials said almost 71 percent of those who went to the polls in Sunday's referendum backed the president. Only 8 percent voted for a competing proposal written by his opponents. Lukashenko said he would quickly form a new parliament and overhaul the country's Constitutional Court, which has overruled several of his decrees.

Police in Zambia raided the offices of two watchdog groups that had criticized last week's election. Files were seized from the Committee for a Clean Campaign, and the Zambia Independent Monitoring Team's rooms were searched. President Frederick Chiluba won reelection by a landslide despite a poor voter turnout and a boycott by opposition parties.

Rebellious soldiers in the Central African Republic demanded President Ange-Felix Patasse's resignation and vowed to take up arms against him when he returns from a visit to France. Patasse called in 1,300 French troops to put down Army mutinies in the spring. Those troops are keeping tight control over the tense capital, Bangui.

Weekend elections in the breakaway province of Abkhazia were called a "farce" by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. He said the balloting was illegal because it did not include 300,000 ethnic Georgians who had fled the Black Sea region's struggle to secede. But Abkhazian independence leaders pledged to continue peace negotiations with Georgia.

ETCETERAS

"The politics of this is about to get hotter over the next several days."

-- American Petroleum Institute's Paul Bailey, on tough new air-quality standards expected to be announced by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Another public figure has been caught in the old "do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do" trap. Israeli Transportation Minister Yitzhak Levy was ordered to complete 12 hours of instruction on obeying the rules of the road after twice collecting tickets for speeding. Levy says he "hopes" the tickets will be his last.

If you live near a college and your electricity shuts off, the students may be at fault. Today's average dorm room may have a TV, VCR, CD player, answering machine, microwave, mini-fridge, coffeemaker, air-conditioner, clock radio, at least one computer, blow-dryers, electric razors, or heated curlers, not to mention overhead and desk lamps. The Association of Higher Education Facilities Officers says it could cost $26 billion to - uh - stay current by rewiring the nation's dorms.

Poachers in Russia's far east were killing endangered Siberian tigers for their body parts to sell as folk medicines at upwards of $1,000 a pound. So conservationists started their own tiger-tracking project. They helped rebuild the population from near-extinction to about 430 animals - a 72 percent increase since the last census in 1985, the World Wildlife Fund says.

THE DAY'S LIST

A Tough Year for College Head Football Coaches

Several of the nation's leading coaches were on the sidelines for the final time last weekend after resigning or being fired. Among those leaving the pressure cooker:

Jim Colletto, Purdue

Carm Cozza, Yale

Bill Curry, University of Kentucky

Jim Hess, New Mexico State

Steve Hodgin, Western Carolina

Lou Holtz, Notre Dame

Bill Mallory, Indiana University

John Ralston, San Jose State

Chuck Reedy, Baylor University

Gene Stallings, Alabama

Jim Sweeney, Fresno State

Charlie Taafe, The Citadel

Buddy Teevens, Tulane

Lou Tepper, University of Illinois

Jim Wacker, Univ. of Minnesota

- Associated Press

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