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News In Brief

By CompiledRobert Kilbornand Cynthia Hanson / December 27, 1996

The US

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Merchants began offering discounts as high as 75 percent, slashing prices after modest retail sales during the holidays. Some of the best prices were expected at computer and electronics stores, where waning demand sent pre-Christmas sales plummeting. Lackluster sales only slightly higher than a year ago were attributed to high levels of consumer debt, fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and poor weather.

The Federal Communications Commission approved standards for high-definition television to bring movie-quality images to television by 1998. The proposal was ironed out last month among the broadcast, computer, and consumer electronics industries. They disagreed over aspects of the new system for nearly a year.

President Clinton met privately with the head of a South Korean company at a fund-raising event where the firm made an illegal $250,000 campaign contribution, the Los Angeles Times said. Quoting Clinton administration sources and Democratic Party officials, it contradicts earlier accounts by party officials. Democratic National Committee fund-raiser John Huang arranged the donation and meeting, the DNC said. It returned the money in September.

Mexico's Attorney General, Jorge Madrazo Cullar, denied a request by Clinton administration drug czar Barry McCaffrey that US agents working in Mexico be allowed to carry weapons, The New York Times said. Mexican officials said they would agree to the request only if Mexican anti-drug agents were allowed to carry weapons when on assignment in the US, the newspaper reported. McCaffrey made the request during meetings with officials in Mexico City.

A lawyer for death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, whose case has attracted an international following, plans to file a second appeal of his conviction today with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Earlier, a judge ruled that prison officials had improperly opened letters from Abu-Jamal's attorney. Abu-Jamal was convicted for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer. Supporters say the former radio reporter was framed.

A Georgia man was sentenced to more than four years in prison for disrupting a US Air flight. Federal prosecutors say Gary Lee Lougee became angry when flight attendants refused to serve him alcohol. The pilot had to return to the Savannah, Ga., airport.

Dismissing reports of a possible rift with France, the White House expressed confidence that the Paris government would join the US and Britain to renew operations that prevent Iraqi flights over northern Iraq. The new patrols would continue Operation Provide Comfort, whose mandate runs out on Tuesday.

Three federal court judges temporarily lifted a ban that prevented credit unions from enrolling new members from groups that don't share a common occupational bond with their core membership. The decision means that such institutions can continue to sign up new members from groups that are already part of the credit union, but no new groups can be added.

A federal appeals court struck down a Utah law that banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, except in limited cases. Utah legislators disregarded US Supreme Court rulings that states can't define when a fetus becomes viable, it ruled.

A Petaluma, Calif., school district tentatively agreed to pay $250,000 to a former student who claimed officials ignored her complaints of sexual harassment by classmates. At issue was whether school officials are responsible for their students' behavior, in light of a 1972 federal law that bars sex discrimination in schools and colleges.

The World

No movement was seen inside the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru, after an early-morning explosion that punctuated the city's ongoing hostage drama. Police guarding the site said they did not know what had caused the blast. No casualties were reported. Leftist Tupac Amaru guerrillas released one more hostage Christmas afternoon. They continued to hold 104others.

Chinese Premier Li Peng began an official visit to Russia aimed at strengthening ties between the two former Communist rivals. Li reportedly was to explore joint construction of a natural gas pipeline and a nuclear power plant. The trip also is expected to lay groundwork for a meeting between China's President, Jiang Zemin, and Russia's Boris Yeltsin.

Palestinian and Israeli negotiators both said they expected to finalize a deal next week on redeploying troops from the West Bank city of Hebron. Meanwhile, Israel permitted the reopening to civilian traffic of a key road in Gaza. It was closed in 1994 after three Israeli soldiers were killed in a bomb attack.