News In Brief

By , and Suman Bandrapalli

The US

Forecasters said the worst is over for storm-battered residents in the Pacific Northwest. But flood warnings remained in effect for dozens of rivers in the West, and hundreds of residents in northern California have been forced out of homes by rising waters. Officials declared states of emergencies in 19 Washington counties, 17 California counties, and four Oregon counties. Nevada also declared a state of emergency in four counties, and heavy rains caused the worst flooding in downtown Reno in more than 40 years. Some 14 deaths have been blamed on storms in Washington and Oregon since Christmas.

President Clinton headed to the Virgin Islands New Year's Day to join his wife, Hillary, and daughter, Chelsea, for a four-day vacation. He also telephoned Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to express condolences over the wounding of five Palestinians by a soldier in Hebron.

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New Yorkers are celebrating the lowest number of homicides in their city since the 1960s. The tally for 1996 was 983 - three fewer than the total in 1968. It's also a 16 percent drop from 1995 and a more than 50 percent drop from the city's record high of 2,245 in 1990.

The congressional ethics subcommittee that investigated House Speaker Newt Gingrich will recommend he be reprimanded. The punishment would allow him to keep his job, sources close to the investigation said. The recommendation goes to the full ethics committee Wednesday, a day after the speaker's election.

The number of US workers filing first-time jobless benefits shot up by 22,000 last week to the highest level since mid-July, the Labor Department announced. Many analysts had expected only a slight increase. Meanwhile, stocks and bond prices dropped sharply yesterday morning after The National Association of Purchasing Management reported surprisingly strong growth in manufacturing for December. The index rose to 54 percent in December from 52.7 percent in November. Economists had been expecting a 51.5 percent reading.

The Federal Elections Commission reported that House and Senate candidates in the 1996 election spent $626.4 million, an increase of $36.8 million or 6.3 percent from the previous high in 1994. House candidates in the fall election spent a total $405.6 million, up 24 percent from 1994. The biggest spender was Speaker Gingrich.

The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning not to consume colored liquid products named "Orange fX Rush," Lemon fX Drop," and "Cherry fX Bomb" after about 50 people at a concert in Los Angeles became ill after consuming them. Vials of the synthetic designer drugs were handed out at the concert, where one concert promoter described the drink as a legal, herbal stimulant. The FDA said it would test the liquids. A bottle- and stone-hurling melee took place on downtown streets after the concert was shut down.

Police planned to question Dallas Cowboy Michael Irvin about accusations by a woman that he held a gun to her head while teammate Erik William's and another man allegedly raped her. Irvin, who is on probation for a drug offense, says he was at a sports bar when the alleged incident took place. The woman's estranged husband says she has falsely accused men of sexual assault twice before, but neither case was reported to police, The Dallas Morning News reported.

Five more members of the Viper Militia, accused of plotting to blow up government buildings, pleaded guilty in Phoenix, Ariz., to lesser conspiracy and weapons charges. Some 10 member of the paramilitary group have pleaded guilty in the case.

Mattel Inc. announce it is putting warning labels on Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids doll packages to alert parents the doll's chewing mouth can snag hair and chomp fingers. Removing its backpack will stop the mechanism. At least 35 children have had been munched on by the doll.

The World

Peruvian Marxist rebels released seven more hostages but stuck to their original demand that the government release about 400 jailed comrades. Meanwhile, the Japanese and Peruvian governments expressed anger at the propaganda coup the rebels pulled off in an impromptu news conference inside the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, where they still hold 74 hostages.

Israeli and Palestinian officials were optimistic that a deal on Hebron will be sealed soon, despite a shooting attack by an off-duty Israeli soldier that left seven Palestinians wounded in a Hebron marketplace. Negotiators were haggling over a Palestinian demand that Israel commit itself to target dates for further redeployments already agreed on in previous deals. And the militant group, Islamic Jihad, said it will avenge the Hebron shooting.

A bomb exploded aboard a bus in the Syrian capital, killing 12 and wounding at least 40 people, sources in Damascus said. President Hafez Assad's government often does not respond to reports of violence in Syria. But some earlier incidents were attributed to groups in Turkey, who disapprove of Syria's support for Kurdish independence in southeastern Turkey.

A Libyan court sentenced six military officers and two civilians to death for spying with equipment supplied by the CIA. The report, broadcast on Libyan television, was a rare public admission of opposition within the military to the rule of Col. Muammar Qaddafi. Libyan experts said the case appeared to stem from an attempted coup at Misratah, near the capital, Tripoli, in 1993.

Israel and Jewish groups were outraged after Swiss President Jean-Pascal Delamuraz harshly dismissed demands for a compensation fund to help Jews who lost assets in the Holocaust. He said a $250 million fund sought by Jewish groups "amounts to being blackmailed and held to ransom." The groups claim Swiss banks hold about $7 billion in assets of Jews killed in the Holocaust. The Swiss banks say they have found only $32 million.

Militants blew up a bridge in northeast India, close to the site of Monday's train bombing that left 38 people dead. No group has claimed responsibility for either blast, but police blame militants from the Bodo tribe, who are fighting for an independent homeland. The state of Assam, where the bombings took place, asked the central government for an additional 26,000 troops to combat the insurgency.

Two British nurses confessed to murdering an Australian colleague in Saudi Arabia, Saudi police said. If found guilty, the women could face public execution by the sword. However, under Islamic sharia law, a victim's family has the right to ask that the suspect be spared the death sentence.

Zaire's President, Mobutu Sese Seko, appealed for peace in his embattled country and said elections will be held in the spring, as scheduled. Meanwhile, residents of Bunia confirmed that rebels overran the Army and went on to capture nearby gold mines. The predominantly ethnic Tutsi rebels hold a 400-mile swath of eastern Zaire.

A truck abandoned by the IRA near a Belfast hotel contained about a half-ton of explosives, police said. Bomb disposal experts neutralized two devices after evacuating hundreds of New Year revelers.

Japanese authorities rescued 31 crew members of a Russian oil tanker, who were found adrift in life boats in rough seas west of Japan. The tanker reportedly broke apart and sank.

Etceteras

"This is a little less hectic."

- Lt. Col. Stephen Campbell, comparing his communications assignment for President Clinton's second inauguration to his last Army operation - the deployment of US troops to Bosnia.

There are military air bases all over southern California, but they pay no heed when a Russian-built MiG-17 fighter jet is spotted in the area. More than likely George Lazik is again at the controls. The ex-college professor is one of 100 or so Californians who bought the jets for private use. The hobby isn't cheap. Lazik's jet burns $1,000 worth of fuel in less than an hour.

It's the coolest sport in the world, and the Dutch love skating with unparalleled passion. And so as canals freeze, the Dutch plan to host their 125-mile, day-long skating marathon for the 15th time. The last time the event was held in 1986, and Queen Beatrix cut short her foreign holiday to attend.

There are "professional students," and then there is Flavil Rogers. Unlike the type who seems to take forever to graduate and look for a job, the great-grandmother from Florence, Ala., sort of reversed the order. She began college in 1924, but then dropped out. She finally went back to school and just graduated from the University of North Alabama.

The Day's List

The Nation's Top Givers

Top 10 philanthropists of 1996, according to Fortune magazine:

1. George Soros, financial investor, $350 million

2. L. S. Skaggs, former chairman of American Stores, $155 million

3. Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft, $135 million

4. Walter Annenberg, former chairman of Triangle Publications, $128 million

5. William Hewlett, cofounder of Hewlett-Packard, $100 million

6. Leslie Gonda, chairman of International Lease Finance Corporation, $73 million

7. Jay A. and Robert A. Pritzker, Hyatt Corporation, $70 million

8. Ted Arison, founder of Carnival Cruise Lines, $60 million

8. Robert Galvin, former chairman of Motorola, $60 million

10. William Davidson, chairman of Guardian Industries, $35 million

- Associated Press

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