The News in Brief

The US

President Clinton flew to Camp Lejeune, N.C., to share a meal and a Christmas message with troops of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit. It was his first official visit to a Marine Corps base.

Republicans rallied around Newt Gingrich, saying the ethics violations he has admitted to shouldn't jeopardize his reelection as House Speaker. Majority leader Dick Armey told NBC he expected a committee of five Democrats and five Republicans to meet before a Jan. 7 House leadership election to recommend punishment for Gingrich. But it was unclear whether the group would meet that deadline. The punishment could range from a reprimand to censure. Censure would prevent Gingrich from continuing as Speaker.

Personal incomes rose 0.5 percent in November after being flat in October, the Commerce Department reported. And consumer spending showed surprising strength at the start of the Christmas sales season. It also was up 0.5 percent in November - below the 0.7 percent gain in October, but slightly better than a 0.4 percent rise many analysts had expected. The number of people employed, average number of hours worked, and average hourly earnings all showed increases in November.

The CIA has reopened an investigation into allegations of torture by a CIA-trained unit in Honduras in the 1980s, The Washington Post reported. An international court and the Honduran government have said the battalion was involved in the disappearance of nearly 200 suspected leftists. The inquiry reportedly focuses on a CIA officer in Honduras who knew torture was being used by the unit.

Outside interests spent $4.6 million this year to send members of Congress and their staffs on fact-finding trips, the Associated Press reported. The news agency analyzed disclosure records filed under a new ethics law that bans most gifts to members of Congress. The law makes an exception for travel involving meetings, speeches, and "fact finding" connected with the duties of lawmakers and their aides.

California Health Department officials were asked in 1992 to contradict a study by their own agency so state Health Secretary Molly Joel Coye could claim anti-smoking efforts were ineffective, the San Francisco Examiner reported. The paper cited internal agency documents. Proposition 99, enacted in 1988, increased the state tax on cigarettes by 25 cents a pack. The money was spent in part on TV ads that a department study credited with helping to reduce tobacco use by 17 percent. Agency officials reportedly were asked to prepare materials contradicting the study. Gov. Pete Wilson (R) later shelved the ads, but they were aired again by court order.

Thirteen states have asked for a waiver so physically able men and women without dependents can continue to receive food stamps next year, the Agriculture Department said. Under a law Clinton signed in August, states can lose funding if significant numbers of former food-stamp recipients can't find work. So states are trying to take advantage of a loophole that allows an exemption if able-bodied recipients live in areas where unemployment exceeds 10 percent or where there are few jobs.

Some states will receive more federal money in 1997 for fewer welfare recipients, the Associated Press reported. The reason: US block grants will be calculated, in part, on each state's 1994 or 1995 caseload, even though welfare rolls have declined since then in many states. Some state govedrnments reportedly are preparing deeper welfare cuts than those ordered by Washington.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson urged the Oakland, Calif., school board to reverse its recognition of black English as a second language.

The World

Leftist rebels in Peru freed 225 more hostages from the residence of Japan's ambassador. Seven of those permitted to leave were US citizens. A rebel leader said the release was a "Christmas gesture," but there was speculation that the hostages, above were let go because of inadequate food, water, and sanitation in the two-story house. The Tupac Amaru group still holds more than 140 hostages. In Japan, celebrations in honor of Emperor Akihito's birthday were cancelled out of respect for the remaining hostages.

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu joined negotiations with the Palestinian Authority on redeploying troops from Hebron. Palestinian sources said unexpected progress in the talks had been made after mediation efforts by US envoy Dennis Ross and that a deal was possible before Christmas. Meanwhile, restrictions on work permits for Palestinian laborers would be eased, Israel announced.

Hundreds of riot police took up positions in Belgrade, as supporters of President Milosevic scheduled an afternoon rally for the same hour and place as the daily street demonstrations against him. Belgrade newspapers said that Milosevic's Socialist Party planned to bring four times as many followers to the capital as there are anti-government protesters.

Police in Algiers cordoned off the city's port area after a powerful car bomb exploded. Unofficial sources said there were many casualties, but hospital administrators did not provide immediate details. The bomb went off outside a popular cafe during the lunch hour. There was no early claim of responsibility, but Islamic insurgents have waged a 3-1/2-year war against Algeria's military-backed government.

Iran has new information that the bombing of a US military housing complex in Saudi Arabia was caused by Saudi citizens, President Rafsanjani said. Nineteen Americans died in the explosion June 25. US news reports have cited Iranian linkage and plans for an American response if the Clinton administration concludes that Iran was behind the incident. Meanwhile, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov said in Tehran that the presence of US forces "threatens the security" of the oil-rich Persian Gulf.

Colonial Gov. Chris Patten refused to support Hong Kong's new interim legislature, which China appointed last weekend. Patten rejected a request by newly chosen postcolonial leader Tung Chee Hwa to provide help to the body, which will be installed when Britain relinquishes control next July. Hong Kong already has a popularly elected Legislative Council.

Cuba's parliament is expected to approve an "antidote" today to the US law that seeks to penalize foreign investors there. The Helms-Burton Act allows Cuban-Americans to sue third-country investors who profit from confiscated property on the Communist island. It is widely unpopular even among US allies. The new Cuban measure aims to protect foreign investors, but details were not specified.

Political leaders in Zaire failed to meet their deadline for forming a "crisis government" to deal with the country's civil war. The state-run radio said President Mobutu Sese Seko would likely use emergency powers to appoint a new prime minister and cabinet. Mobutu returned home to Zaire last week after a four-month stay in Europe to recover from surgery.

Outgoing Bulgarian Prime Minister Zhan Videnov could be called upon to succeed himself, sources in his governing Socialist Party said. Videnov resigned last weekend over criticism of his economic policies, and party leaders were meeting in Sofia, the capital, to choose a replacement. Bulgaria's economic problems are the worst since Communist rule ended there in 1989.

Etceteras

"We are having foisted on us institutions which, frankly, you wouldn't try to run a tennis club with."

- Hong Kong Gov. Chris Patten, on a new Beijing-appointed legislature that parallels the colony's popularly elected council.

So you still haven't found a Christmas present for that college student on your list? If you lived in southern California, you could always do your shopping at Riverside Community College or San Bernardino Valley College. No, not for a sweatshirt. For $39, each school will supply gift certificates that entitle the holder to one three-credit course. San Bernardino officials say the response has been so enthusiastic that they'll expand the program.

And one last pre-Christmas story: It was cloudy and well below freezing last Friday in Nashville, Tenn., and people generally were hurrying to their destinations. But someone paused long enough to drop an 1879 gold coin into a Salvation Army kettle outside a downtown insurance office. The coin has a face value of $5 but now is believed to be worth $140. It was the first such yuletide coin reported in Nashville, but the same thing has been happening in Chicago since 1982.

The Day's List

Best Cars for the Bucks

If you're still thinking of buying a new set of wheels for Christmas, here are the American Automobile Association's Top Car awards for the 1997 model year, by price category:

Under $12,500

Chevrolet Cavalier

$12,500-$15,000

Geo Prizm LSi

$15,000-$20,000

Chevrolet Malibu

$20,000-$25,000

Chrysler Concorde LX

$25,000-$30,000

Lexus EX 300

$30,000-$35,000

Mercedes C230

$35,000-$40,000

Oldsmobile Aurora

$40,000-$45,000

Mercedes E320

$45,000-$50,000

BMW 540i

$50,000-up

Mercedes S500

- Associated Press

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