News In Brief

The US

The US Supreme Court plans to hear arguments tomorrow on a key telecommunications law that highlights free-speech rights in cyberspace. (Story, Page 1.) The tobacco industry lost a court bid to axe a law making it easier for Florida to sue cigarette companies for Medicaid money spent to treat smoking-related illness-es. The court refused to hear San Francisco's argument that a 103-foot-tall cross erected in a public park in 1934 should be viewed as a cultural landmark, not a government endorsement of religion. And, responding to a South Carolina appeal, it asked the Clinton administration whether it thinks a state's federally approved hazardous-waste disposal plan can be invalidated as discriminating against interstate commerce.

Vice President Gore stepped in for President Clinton for a day while Clinton recovered from surgery performed after a knee injury. Events on his agenda: a White House St. Patrick's Day reception and a meeting with Irish Prime Minister John Bruton. But Clinton still intended to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Pimakov at the White House.

The House is expected to pass an emotionally charged bill as early as tomorrow that would ban "partial birth" abortion. The Senate sustained Clinton's veto of a similar bill last year. But the issue has received renewed attention after influential abortion-rights advocate Ron Fitzsimmons said he had lied earlier about the timing and reasons for the procedure. Fitzsimmons now says it's done mostly in the middle of pregnancy and only occasionally to save a woman's life or health.

Timothy McVeigh admitted his involvement in bombing the Oklahoma City federal building during a lie detector test given by his lawyers, Newsweek magazine said in this week's edition. Citing anonymous sources close to the investigation, the magazine also said McVeigh failed a question about whether all his co-conspirators are known to investigators. In Denver, a federal judge refused to delay the bombing trial, ordering jury selection to begin March 31. Defense lawyers had requested the delay because of news leaks.

Some 60 percent of Americans mistakenly believe passenger-side air bags are saving more children's lives than not, according to a survey released by Harvard School of Public Health in Cambridge, Mass. Air bags are credited with saving 1,600 adults, but no documented cases exist of a child being saved by the devices, which deploy at up to 200 m.p.h. In fact, they have killed at least 38 children, and at least 20 adults - mostly smaller women, the study said. It also reported that fewer than 25 percent of respondents with children in their homes knew that passengers 12 and under should sit in the back seat. The study was released before a four-day federal hearing on the devices.

The White House knew of China's intention to buy political influence, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R) of Utah contended on CBS's "Face the Nation." Meanwhile, House Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde (R) of Illinois said on "Fox News Sunday" he's looking into impeachment laws.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt held a news conference in which he asked scientists to work on combatting a disease that has led to the slaughter of hundreds of buffalo near Yellowstone Park. Montana state officials allow the killing of buffalo that wander from the park because the animals are believed to spread the disease to cattle.

Former US Secretary of State James Baker was named special UN envoy for Western Sahara in an attempt to resolve a longstanding conflict in North Africa. The Western Sahara is a disputed area claimed by Morocco and the rebel group Polisario.

The Treasury Department said it's planning a facelift for the Internal Revenue Service. Changes will include strengthened oversight and greater flexibility to hire outside businesses. The agency has been accused of inefficiency and botching a $3.5 billion computer upgrade.

The mayor of Old Shawneetown, Ill., ended a voluntary evacuation and curfew after flooding from the Ohio River receded. Also, disaster workers in Paducah, Ky., who have battled flooding for two weeks, shifted from response to recovery.

The World

Israeli troops and Palestinian protesters braced for a showdown today over plans to build housing for Jews in East Jerusa-lem. Both sides took up positions on the site designated for the construction. Meanwhile, the scheduled start of negotiations on the future of Jerusalem pass-ed without any meetings, although Israeli officials predicted Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Arafat would hold discussions later this week.

A European Union delegation was due in Albania for discussions with President Berisha on ways to restore order. But their visit came against a backdrop of continued chaos. Newly pardon-ed opposition leader Fatos Nano joined calls for Berisha to resign. The Defense Ministry urged insurgents to return nuclear materials stolen from an Army depot. And Italian coast guardsmen rescued hundreds of Albanian refugees aboard a ship that had run out of fuel.

Russian President Yeltsin predicted his two-day Helsinki summit with US counterpart Bill Clinton would be the "most difficult" yet. Yeltsin said Russia had made "enough concessions" and that the US must give ground "in order to preserve our partnership." He criticized Washington for doing little to help Russia emerge from communist rule.

Britain's long-awaited national elections will be held May 1, Prime Minister John Major announced. Major's Conservative Party has held power for 18 years but trails the opposition Labour Party in opinion polls by as many as 24 points. The six-week campaign for votes will be the longest in Britain in 80 years.

From 1949 until his death in 1975, Taiwanese leader Chiang Kai-shek secretly made "lavish" donations to US members of Congress and their parties, the China Times reported. It did not identify the recipients but said Chiang gave the money to ensure their support against military threats from the communist Chinese mainland - even after the administration of President Lyndon Johnson cut off economic aid to Taiwan in 1968.

Leftists won the mayor's race in El Salvador's capital and appeared headed for a nearly even split of the seats in the National Assembly. Despite an unexpectedly low voter turnout, US-born physician Hector Silva was elected to the top office in San Salvador - the most important victory by any leftist in Central America in this decade.

The long hold on power at all levels by Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) appeared likely to weaken further in state and local elections. Opposition candidates were claiming victory in the mayor's races in Cuernavaca and other cities in the state of Morelos. Other states are due to hold elections in July. The PRI has dominated Mexican politics since 1929.

Colombian defense minister Guillermo Alberto Gonzalez resigned under pressure, after admitting that his 1989 congressional campaign had accepted money from an accused drug trafficker. Reports from Bogota said senior military commanders had vowed to quit if Gonzalez remained in office.

Rwanda's heavily criticized war-crimes tribunal is scheduled to begin hearing its second case today. The court will try former Hutu militia leader Georges Rutaganda on eight counts of genocide and other charges. Top officials were fired last month after a UN report detailed mismanagement of the tribunal.

Papua New Guinea's defense commander was fired after demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Julius Chan, according to news reports. Brig. Gen. Jerry Singirok had issued the ultimatum over a controversial $27 million contract for the hiring of mercenaries to help quell a rebellion on the island of Bougainville. Observers said Port Moresby, the capital, was calm, with troops remaining in their barracks.

Etceteras

"This is a blockbuster case, probably the most important First Amendment case in at least a quarter of a century."

- University of Texas law Prof. Scot Powe, referring to a US Supreme Court telecommunications and free-speech case.

There are late mail deliveries, and then there is what happened to Pearlie Lamb. A postcard announcing the marriage of a childhood friend arrived at her Anchorage, Ky., home - 47 years after it was mailed. Sometimes, a Postal Service spokesman explained, mail simply gets "misplaced."

If you're keeping score at home, there has been a new development in the Sylvia Stayton case. She's the grandmother who was fined $500 for feeding quarters into expired Cincinnati parking meters to keep motorists she didn't even know from being ticketed. Well-wishers from coast to coast have donated more than $1,500 to cover the fine and some of the cost of her appeal. Another $1,000 in quarters was expected from listeners to a Kentucky radio station.

For those who've been waiting to place telephone calls to the Tokelau Islands, your patience has been rewarded. The 1,600 islanders - whose home is halfway between Tuvalu and Western Samoa in the South Pacific - celebrated the installation of their first phones last week. Previously, communication with the outside world had been via high-frequency radio.

The Day's List

Midsize Utility Vehicle Safety Ratings

The following vehicles were tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in Washington. None received the top rating of "good" for crashworthiness. Here's how they rated:

Acceptable

Mitsubishi Montero

Toyota 4Runner

Land Rover Discovery, Bayerische Motoren-Werke

Ford Explorer/Mercury Mountaineer

Marginal

Jeep Grand Cherokee

Nissan Pathfinder

Poor

Isuzu Rodeo

Honda Passport

Chevrolet Blazer/GMC Jimmy/Oldsmobile Bravada

- Associated Press

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