News In Brief

By , and Suman Bandrapalli

The US

California's floods are among the most costly in the state's history, officials announced. They estimated the initial cost of damages in just nine counties at $775 million. States of emergency have been declared in 42 counties. All but about 1,000 of the 125,000 evacuees have gone home, the state's Emergency Services said. But hundreds of homes and thousands of acres of farmland remain submerged under flood waters in Yuba and Sutter counties north of Sacramento, and in the Modesto area in the state's fertile central valley. Meanwhile, Los Angeles was battered by 77 m.p.h. winds that left 60,000 homes without power.

The Supreme Court plans to hear two hours of arguments today on whether patients diagnosed as terminally ill who are mentally competent have a constitutional right to seek help from their doctors in committing suicide. It also took up a sexual assault case involving a former Tennessee judge. And it ruled that defendants in some criminal cases can keep jurors from finding out details of their previous convictions by simply admitting they are a convicted felon.

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President Clinton extended a commission he appointed for nine more months, instructing them to keep looking for a cause for the mysterious illnesses afflicting Gulf war veterans. The Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses was set to expire after issued their final report, which attributed the illness in part to the physical and psychological stresses of war. He also called for a global treaty to ban chemical weapons, which many veterans cite as a cause for their illnesses.

The Senate plans to hold confirmation hearings today for Secretary of State-designate Madeleine Albright. Officials are predicting smooth sailing for Albright, who has held the post of UN ambassador for four years.

Factory orders fell 0.4 percent in November, the first drop in three months, as demand for electronic equipment eased after surging the previous month. The drop contrasted with other recent economic data suggesting the economy picked up speed in the fourth quarter after a moderate performance from July through September.

California Gov. Pete Wilson proposed a $1 billion, four-year initiative to increase computer technology in California schools. The initiative would provide $500 million in state funds, with local matching requirements doubling its value. Wilson's budget for the 1997-98 fiscal year is to be unveiled this week.

US officials are wrestling with a diplomatic immunity case involving a Republic of Georgia diplomat facing possible charges in a high-speed car crash. Witnesses say Gueorgui Makharadze was traveling as fast as 80 m.p.h. when his car crashed, killing a 16-year-old girl. The Clinton administration indicated it will ask the Georgian government to waive diplomatic immunity if the US attorney's office decides to prosecute. But US officials also strongly defended a decades-old custom of sheltering diplomats from civil and criminal charges.

A federal judge in Newark, N.J., fined Prudential Insurance Company of America $1 million after finding that agents in at least four offices destroyed documents that could relate to a class-action lawsuit. The judge ruled the nation's largest insurer failed to advise employees of his 1995 order to save documents linked to sales-fraud allegations.

The Treasury Department issued a rare license to Cargill Inc. authorizing food sales of a half-a-million tons to North Korea. The first authorization in years, it follows North Korea's apology for a submarine incursion into South Korean waters.

Mattel toy company pulled its Cabbage Patch Snacktime Kids dolls off the market and offered consumers $40 refunds. Dozens of parents have reported their childrens' hair or fingers becoming stuck in the munching gears in its mouth.

The World

Gunfire was heard before dawn yesterday at the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru, where Marxist rebels are holding 74 hostages. There were no reports of injuries. Peruvian television using night vision cameras showed a man, apparently a rebel, running in the compound yard with an assault rifle just before the shots were heard.

A Palestinian negotiator rebuffed an Israeli demand to delay until May 1999 a promised troop pullback from West Bank areas. Under the original peace deal, redeployments were to be completed by September 1997. The showdown reflects positioning by both sides in advance of negotiations on final status issues such as Jewish settlements and the future of Jerusalem, analysts said.

South Korean President Kim Young Sam rejected demands by striking workers to repeal a controversial labor law as more workers joined the strike. Union leaders said 217,000 workers are now idle, up from 190,000 Monday. Meanwhile, state prosecutors were expected to issue arrest warrants against union leaders who defied orders to appear for questioning over the "illegal strikes."

A 300-strong mostly-European mercenary force is assembling in eastern Zaire to help the government put down a rebellion, French daily Le Monde reported. The force, led by a former French police officer, is expected to grow rapidly when more leave Europe in two weeks to join South African, French, Belgian, British, Mozambican, and Angolan soldiers of fortune.

A big oil spill from a sunken Russian tanker washed ashore on the northern Japanese coast, endangering coastal fish farms. High waves and winds hampered cleanup efforts. The 1 million gallon slick is the second-largest spill off Japan, after the 1971 spill of 1.87-million gallons.

Former East German spy chief Markus Wolf rejected criminal charges that he ordered kidnappings of West German citizens during the cold war. His trial began yesterday in Duesseldorf, Germany.

Heavy rains and mudslides damaged homes and cobblestone streets in the Brazilian baroque city of Ouro Preto, named a world historical treasure by the UN. Torrential storms in southeastern Brazil killed at least 71 people and drove more than 34,000 from their homes.

Mexican police arrested 25 people, including 14 police officers, in a sweep of drug traffickers apparently working for the Juarez cartel, officials said. The Juarez cartel, run by Amado Carrillo, has become the most powerful Mexican drug cartel after Gulf cartel boss Juan Garcia Abrego was arrested last year.

A bomb blew up a Nigerian Army bus inside a military camp in Lagos, killing at least one soldier and wounding 15. It is the third bombing in the past month against Army targets in politically troubled Nigeria.

Monaco kicks off year-long celebrations marking it's 700th anniversary today. Apart from the country's royal family, which claims to be the longest-reigning European dynasty, the highest-ranking official at the opening ceremonies will be the Vatican spokesman. Monaco is so small it can be walked from end-to-end in half an hour.

In an effort to become the first to fly nonstop around the world in a hot air balloon, Richard Branson lifted off from Marrakech, Morocco. The British millionaire plans an 18-day flight, floating over North Africa, the Middle East, Iran, India, the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic Oceans, and the US, with a touchdown at an undecided location between Europe and North Africa.

Etceteras

"It's a race with Mother Nature, but right now we're ahead."

- Capt. Mark Bisbee of the California Forestry Department after volunteers, including dozens of prisoners, sandbagged a six-foot-high, nearly one-mile-long wall to protect a Meridian, Calif., community from flood waters.

A recounting of the Titanic disaster by best-selling author Beryl Bainbridge won Britian's 1996 Whitbread award for best novel. Nobel prizewinner Seamus Heaney won the poetry award for his collection "The Spirit Level." Bainbridge's book, "Every Man For Himself," tells the story of the Titanic disaster of April 1912 seen through the eyes of a nephew of the shipping-line owner. It's the second time she's won the award.

Resourcefulness paid off for a pair of Honolulu natives. Richard Enslow Jr. and David Summers survived a nearly month-long ordeal after their fishing boat sank off the coast of Kauai Island. Their life raft finally was spotted by a fishing boat. "We caught every kind of fish to eat and caught rain water," Summers said. When rescued, the pair had enough water for just one more day.

A Belgian truck driver trapped by some of the coldest weather to hit Belgium in years tried unfreezing his fuel tank with a blow torch and finished up with a giant chocolate fondue. The fuel caught fire, melting tons of Belgian chocolates the truck was carrying, police said.

The Day's List

Hot Wheels for 1997

Best picks for 1997 from "The Car Book" by Jack Gillis, a former employee of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Criteria include: crash safety, fuel economy, child safety, repair and insurance costs.

Subcompacts: Nissan Sentra, Suzuki Swift, Subaru Impreza.

Compacts: Pontiac Grand Am, Oldsmobile Achieva, Geo Prizm, Mazda MX-6, Buick Skylark, Toyota Corolla.

Intermediates: Audi A4, Ford Taurus, Mercury Sable, Olds Cutlass Supreme, Volkswagen Passat, Volvo 850.

Large Cars: Audi A6, Infiniti J30, Cadillac De Ville, Cadillac Seville, Lincoln Mark VIII, Lincoln Town Car, Oldsmobile.

Minivans: Dodge Caravan, Isuzu Oasis, Honda Odyssey, NissanQuest, Chrysler Town and Country, Plymouth Voyager.

- Associated Press

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