News In Brief

THE US

The Supreme Court is expected to take up arguments today on whether a sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton should be delayed until he leaves office. A federal judge in Arkansas has ruled the trial brought by Paula Jones should be delayed, but depositions should be allowed. Clinton appealed, saying there should be no activity at all. Some 56 percent of Americans responding to a "Time" magazine-CNN poll say the lawsuit shouldn't be delayed, while 39 percent said it should be postponed until Clinton's term expires.

Republicans redeclared their support for Newt Gingrich after The New York Times reported a controversial Dec. 21 conversation between the Speaker, aides, and political allies. Leaked transcripts from the taped cellular phone conversation suggested he consulted allies on how to mount a damage-control counterattack against charges that he violated House rules. He promised ethics investigators earlier not to do so as part of the agreement settling the case. GOP lawmakers called the taping and release of the transcript illegal. They asked Democrats to reveal the source of the leak, and asked Attorney General Janet Reno to determine whether to appoint an independent counsel to investigate if the White House was involved.

Space shuttle Atlantis is expected to dock with the Russian Mir space station tomorrow after a problem-free launch at Kennedy Center in Florida. Its mission: drop off astronaut Jerry Linenger and retrieve astronaut John Blaha, who has been aboard the space outpost since September. Atlantis is scheduled to return to Mir in May to bring Linenger home, in time for another launch - the birth of his second child in June.

The Democratic and Republican parties raised close to 75 percent more last year than they did in 1992, the Federal Election Commission said. The most dramatic increases came in "soft money," gifts to the parties in unlimited amounts from corporations, unions, and wealthy individuals. Republicans raised $549 million while Democrats raised $332 million for a total of $881 million.

Clinton met for the first time with his new Cabinet to discuss his second term. He emphasized the importance of passing a balanced budget. Also, the White House is considering an estimated $20 billion cut in premiums Medicare pays to health maintenance organizations over the next five years, according to The Washington Post.

Residents in Buffalo, N. Y., spent a good chunk of their weekend digging out from under about two feet of snow as snowstorms and frigid temperatures continued to blast the US. In the northern Plains, hundreds of miles of highway remained snowed under with drifts as high as 16 feet. And big stretches of highway were closed near Albuquerque, N. M., after the second major storm in a week.

Clinton dismissed inflation concerns and lauded his administration for its job creation after the government released low unemployment figures for December. Unemployment held steady near a seven-year low at 5.3 percent as the economy created 262,000 new jobs.

The Dallas Police announced it was dropping an investigation into an alleged sexual assault by two Dallas Cowboy football players, Michael Irvin and Erik Williams. Nina Shahravan, the woman making the accusation, confessed to fabricating the story, sources said.

Federal and state authorities charged or are investigating at least 151 antigovernment individuals in 23 states by tracking their ties to the Freemen of Montana, the Dallas Morning News said. Many attended seminars at the Freemen ranch on how to produce and issue false money orders, liens, and other financial instruments, it said.

Oakland County, Mich., prosecutor David Gorcyca agreed to drop charges against Dr. Jack Kevorkian in 10 assisted suicides. Kevorkian, who has acknowledged taking part in 45 suicides since 1990, probably couldn't be convicted under existing law, he said.

THE WORLD

Peru's chief negotiator Domingo Palermo was expected to meet Marxist rebels in the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima, Peru, where 74 hostages are being held. Peru's decision to resume dialogue was welcomed by Japan. And police freed a Japanese journalist and his Peruvian interpreter after holding them for five days for sneaking past the security for an unauthorized interview.

Serbia's opposition expressed skepticism over a government pledge to push for quick court decisions on disputed local elections. But Greek ministers, mediating an end to the political crisis, were confident of finding a solution. Also, the US is considering a unilateral freeze on new trade deals to force the government to honor election results, State Department officials said.

Cyprus said it will go ahead with its plan to buy Russian anti-aircraft missiles, while neighboring Turkey threatened military action to thwart the deployment. In response, Greece said any action by Turkey could spark a war. And US envoy Carey Cavanaugh headed to the region to diffuse the crisis. Cyprus has been unofficially partitioned since 1974, when Turkey invaded it after an abortive coup by those supporting union with Greece.

Jordan's King Hussein made his first trip to Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip. The trip, observers say, is a show of solidarity with the Palestinians at a time when the peace process stands at an impasse. After weeks of shuttle diplomacy between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators, US envoy Dennis Ross planned to return to Washington, casting further doubt on the prospects for a deal on Hebron.

Burundian soldiers killed 126 Hutu refugees trying to break out of a holding camp in northeastern Burundi, an Army spokesman said. Although the Tutsi-led Burundian Army rarely acknowledges such incidents, it arrested seven soldiers. The refugees had apparently been expelled from Tanzania because of violent clashes between supporters of two rival Hutu groups.

As Irish peace talks were set to resume, a bomb exploded outside an unstaffed police barracks near Belfast. Police suspect the IRA. The talks, under former US senator George Mitchell, involve all the major parties except the IRA's Sinn Fein political arm.

Japanese stock prices are likely to tumble further when markets open today, analysts forecasted. Tokyo's stock market plunged 700 points Friday at the end of a week-long, 11-percent dive. Some traders said the hands-off government approach could be an indication of Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's proposal to deregulate financial markets.

Hard-line Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko fired Foreign Minister Vladimir Senko and replaced him with Ivan Antonovich, a former top Communist who backs his plan to merge with Russia. Lukashenko won a Nov. 24 referendum to change the constitution, giving him nearly unlimited authority.

Guatemala is pursuing other options for obtaining peace monitors after China vetoed a UN proposal, officials said. Responding to criticism, Beijing defended its veto by accusing the Guatemalan government of interfering in China's internal affairs by supporting Taiwan.

The latest attempt to circle the world in a balloon, failed. Bertrand Piccard of Switzerland and Wim Verstraeten of Belgium abandoned their effort within six hours after kerosene leaked into their cabin. They took off from the Alpine resort of Chateau d'Oex in Switzerland.

ETCETERAS

''The rest of the citizenry are sending the message that honesty will pay off."

-- Miami policeman Lt. Bill Schwartz, after a dozen people sent rewards to the only two people who returned money scooped up from an overturned armored truck. Over $500,000 is still unaccounted for.

Vernon Baker is to become the first and only living black man to receive the Medal of Honor for his service in World War II at a White House ceremony today. Six other black soldiers will be awarded the medal posthumously. The men were singled out after military historians concluded they were discriminated against. None of the 1.7 million blacks who served in World War received the 432 medals given out.

Not many chickens have Internet web pages. But few have ruffled as many feathers as Mrs. Cluck Cluck, who used to live with the Martins in Keystone Heights, Fla. Recently the city forced them to get rid of the chicken. In an attempt to bring her back into their nest, the Martins drafted a law that would allow residents to keep a special pet - and are seeking support via their "Cluck Cluck vs. City Hall" web site.

Chaos reigned for pagers across the US when a new SkyTel customer disabled a company security system. His ID number turned out to be a code used to send news to more than 100,000 pagers. A test sent by the new customer went to all these pagers, generating a stream of returns and snarling communications for hours.

THE DAY'S LIST

Singapore Airlines Tops List of Best Carriers

Singapore Airlines is Executive Travel magazine's 1997 "Airline of the Year." It won awards for best airline to the Far East, top long-haul carrier, best ground and check-in staff, and best airport lounges. Other awards:

Swissair: best first-class cabin; best short-haul business class.

British Airways: best airline to Africa; best airline to the Caribbean, Central and South America; best frequent-flyer program; best in-flight magazine.

Emirates: best airline to the Middle East; best economy class; best cabin attendants.

United Airlines: best transatlantic carrier.

Air New Zealand: best airline to Australasia/Pacific; best food.

American Airlines: best US domestic carrier.

- Associated Press

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