News In Brief

The US

President Clinton was expected to send Congress a bill that would close numerous legal loopholes and broaden punishment for those who pilfer from Medicare and Medicaid. An administration official said one of many provisions would allow the secretary of Health and Human Services to forbid a convicted felon from participating in the programs.

US Rep. Ernest Istook (R) of Oklahoma said he would seek a constitutional amendment to support school prayer, and the Christian Coalition said it would spend $1 million to $2 million lobbying for the proposal. Istook said an amendment was needed because officials mistakenly believe the US Constitution requires them to stamp out all public religious expression.

Judges in three states ruled against the tobacco industry and ordered the Liggett Group to turn over sensitive internal documents for their review. The rulings in Illinois, Texas, and Mississippi followed Liggett's agree- ment last week to turn over potentially damaging documents as part of a settlement with 22 state attorneys general who have sued major cigarette makers to recoup Medicaid costs of treating smokers. The tobacco industry had obtained a restraining order from a North Carolina court to prevent disclosure of the documents.

A California court refused to dismiss embezzlement charges against Susan McDougal and scheduled Friday as the first day of trial for the Whitewater figure. Superior Court Judge Paul Flynn rejected defense arguments that McDougal was illegally extradited from a federal prison in Texas, where she had been incarcerated for refusing to testify before a grand jury. A defense lawyer said he would appeal.

A Republican senator called for suspension of US aid to the Palestinian Authority until it is determined whether an indirect "green light" was given for last week's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv. Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania made the request in a letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. Three Israeli women died and many others were hurt in the blast.

The government launched a crackdown on landlords abusing federal housing programs. Housing Secretary Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Janet Reno said they were teaming up to file charges where warranted in 50 communities with the largest concentrations of US public housing. Some cases have already been filed.

Ohio's system of funding public schools is unconstitutional because rich districts spend far more per student than poorer ones, the state's Supreme Court declared. The court gave lawmakers one year to revamp the system. Annual per-pupil spending can range from $4,000 in relatively poor Ohio districts to $12,000 in more affluent ones.

Georgia lawmakers voted to ban a controversial form of late-term abortion, and Gov. Zell Miller said he would sign the bill. The American Civil Liberties Union and women's groups threatened legal action, calling the measure unconstitutional and its definition of a procedure - dubbed "partial-birth" abortion by its opponents - too vague.

The US space agency plans to develop four unmanned vehicles that can fly at 10 times the speed of sound without using rocket engines, officials said. The five-year, $33.4 million Hyper-X project is designed to demonstrate hypersonic-propulsion technologies and produce four experimental vehicles.

Former President George Bush planned to parachute from an airplane over the Arizona desert, fulfilling a promise he made to himself in World War II. Weather permitting, he was scheduled to jump from a civilian plane at 12,000 feet above the Army's Yuma Proving Ground. As a Navy pilot in 1944, Bush was forced to bail out of a torpedo bomber after it was riddled by Japanese bullets. He said he vowed that someday he would make a parachute jump that was not an emergency.

The World

Prospects dimmed for talks between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Arafat on new tensions between the two sides over Israel's construction of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem and Palestinian violence. Meanwhile, Israeli troops and Palestinian demonstrators traded volleys of stones, tear gas, and rubber bullets in Hebron and Bethlehem.

African foreign ministers met in Togo to discuss ways to broker a peace deal in neighboring Zaire. It was not immediately clear whether representatives of Zairean rebel leader Laurent Kabila or of President Mobutu's government attended the session. Elsewhere, lawmakers in Zaire planned a meeting to discuss formation of a transition government after the ouster of Prime Minister Leon Kengo wa Dodo. And all sides awaited Mobutu's response to proposed negotiations with Kabila.

A new US immigration law drew angry condemnations from all four of Mexico's political parties. The measure, which takes effect April 1, would impose heavy fines and lifetime deportations against immigrants who en-ter the US illegally. The parties called on the foreign ministry to pressure the US into delaying implementation of the law.

Vice President Gore mixed business with diplomacy on Day II of his visit to China. He witnessed the signing of two deals worth more than $2 billion between US and Chinese contractors. He also raised US concerns over China's human rights record with Premier Li Peng.

Dutch computer hackers stole US military secrets during the Gulf war and offered the information to Iraq, computer security experts said. But the BBC reported that the Iraqis never used the information, out of concern that it was a hoax. US officials said none of the information involved was top secret and that Washington knew about the offer in October 1990.

Peruvian officials disputed a Japanese claim that leftist Tupac Amaru rebels would soon fly to exile in Cuba, taking hostages from Japan's embassy with them. A government spokesman called such claims "just rumors" and denied that a tentative deal had been reached to end the seige at the Japanese ambassador's residence peacefully.

Army commanders in Papua New Guinea called off troops surrounding the country's parliament building after lawmakers voted down a resolution that would have ousted Prime Minister Julius Chan. The measure lost by 19 votes. Despite the Army's opposition, Chan defended his government's $36 million contract with foreign mercenaries to quell a rebellion on the island of Bougainville.

Rebels in Sudan claimed they now control all access to the country's borders with Zaire and Uganda after capturing a key government outpost in the southern town of Kajo-Kaji. The rebels said they had advanced to within 30 miles of the southern capital, Juba, their next objective. In a counterclaim, the military government of Lt. Gen. Omar Hasan al-Bashir said its troops were on the offensive in the region.

The pro-Western prime minister of Montenegro resigned his post as deputy leader of the ruling Socialist Party, apparently because he had alienated President Slobodan Milosevic of neighboring Serbia. Milo Djukanovic lost a vote of confidence by the party's board - a move that political analysts said would weaken efforts at political reform. He had clashed with Milosevic on integrating Montenegro into international financial circles. He also backed opposition efforts to claim power in Serbia after Milosevic refused to concede defeat in last November's local elections. The two republics are all that remains of the former Yugoslavia.

Etceteras

Migrant workers are not delinquents. They merit respect for their personal dignity ..."

- Francisco Dominguez of Mexico's ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, protesting a new US law that takes effect April 1 and allows heavy penalties against immigrants who cross the border illegally.

For years, the US Postal Service has listened to complaints that it issues some of the world's most unimaginative stamps. That's about to change. Beginning next month, first-class postage will be available in the shape of a triangle, featuring a stage coach and a clipper ship. Even stamp dealers are enthusiastic about the change.

Of course, you'd never fall for that old pitch to buy the Brooklyn Bridge. But how about an almost as historic span in nearby Newark, N.J? State officials want to get rid of an 80-year-old drawbridge so a replacement can be built next year. They're even willing to give it away. The only catch: If you want it, you also have to take it with you.

The Day's List

Who Won the Oscars at the 69th Annual Academy Awards

BEST PICTURE: "The English Patient."

ACTOR: Geoffrey Rush, "Shine."

ACTRESS: Frances McDormand, "Fargo."

SUPPORTING ACTOR: Cuba Gooding Jr., "Jerry Maguire."

SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Juliette Binoche, "The English Patient."

DIRECTOR: Anthony Minghella, "The English Patient."

FOREIGN FILM: "Kolya," Czech Republic.

SCREENPLAY (based on material previously produced or published): Billy Bob Thornton, "Sling Blade"

SCREENPLAY (written directly for the screen): Ethan Coen & Joel Coen, "Fargo."

ART DIRECTION: "The English Patient."

CINEMATOGRAPHY: "The English Patient."

SOUND: "The English Patient."

SOUND EFFECTS EDITING: "The Ghost and the Darkness."

ORIGINAL MUSICAL OR COMEDY SCORE: "Emma," Rachel Portman.

ORIGINAL DRAMATIC SCORE: "The English Patient," Gabriel Yared.

ORIGINAL SONG: "You Must Love Me" from "Evita," Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice.

COSTUME: "The English Patient."

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: "When We Were Kings."

DOCUMENTARY (short subject): "Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien."

FILM EDITING: "The English Patient."

MAKEUP: "The Nutty Professor."

ANIMATED SHORT FILMS: "Quest."

LIVE ACTION SHORT FILM: "Dear Diary."

VISUAL EFFECTS: "Independence Day."

HONORARY AWARD: Choreographer Michael Kidd.

SCIENTIFIC AND TECHNICAL OSCAR: Imax Corp. for its large-format movies.

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