News In Brief

The US

The House Appropriations Committee approved an extra $200 million in emergency relief for flood victims in North Dakota and Minnesota. The money was added to an $8 billion emergency spending bill to provide disaster relief to more than 20 states.

After a vote on the chemical weapons treaty, Senate Democrats are threatening to block all but essential business until the GOP allows the nomination of Alexis Herman as labor secretary to proceed. Republican leaders delayed the vote to protest President Clinton's plan to order federal officials to consider the benefits of labor agreements when weighing bids for construction projects.

Longtime Indonesian supporters of Clinton dropped plans to buy a California bank after they were linked to the Democrats' campaign-finance scandal, The New York Times reported. The Riady family may have wanted help from government agencies and regulators to secure the deal, it said. It was previously unclear why the Riadys would want to influence Washington. The Riadys have been under scrutiny since it was disclosed they used influence to get their US representative, John Huang, a job in the Commerce Department.

Federal agents arrested four people who allegedly planned to blow up a natural-gas plant in Bridgeport, Texas. The suspects intended to create a toxic gas catastrophe to divert attention from an armored car robbery that could help fund future terrorist acts, an FBI agent said, adding that secondary explosions also were planned to kill law-enforcement agents. The group reportedly has ties to a Texas faction of the Ku Klux Klan.

The Air Force continued searching the Colorado mountains for the pilot of a downed A-10 jet that vanished April 2. Officials confirmed that wreckage collected from a peak is part of Capt.Craig Button's plane.

The US Supreme Court agreed to decide by July whether Congress acted unlawfully last year when it gave the president unprecedented authority to veto specific items in spending bills. The justices said they would review a lower court ruling that struck down as unconstitutional the federal line-item veto law.

Labor abuses are rife in the the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, according to a Democratic report. Rep. George Miller (D) of California, who heads the House Resources Committee that released the report, said he plans to file legislation that would require the US territory to increase its minimum wage from $2.90 an hour to the federal standard of $4.75. Workers from Asian countries now outnumber the indigenous population on the chain of islands in the Pacific.

A US district judge in Oakland, Calif., overturned Proposition 140 as a violation of the rights of legislative candidates and voters. Judge Claudia Wilken said the voter-approved term limits went too far because they imposed a lifetime ban on lawmakers who have reached their limits. But the limits may remain in place for the state's 1998 election. An immediate change could "throw the state's electoral process into confusion," she said.

The US Bureau of Land Management announced tougher laws to protect wild horses and burros on public land. The new restrictions include better tracking of horses and their adopters and spot-checking slaughterhouses. But the policy it's most criticized for - allowing titled horses to be sold to slaughter, often for profit - will continue.

The Justice Department filed criminal charges against a Florida couple who taped a cellular phone call involving House speaker Newt Gingrich. John and Alice Martin plan to plead guilty.

Disability activists applauded Clinton's decision to send legislation to Congress to modify the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, due to be unveiled May 2. Clinton wants an additional statue of Roosevelt in his wheelchair.

The World

The few hostages willing to speak publicly after being freed from the Japanese ambassador's residence in Peru described harsh treatment by their captors and "disgusting" living conditions. Unlike other hostage dramas, they said they could form no bond with the Tpac Amaru rebels who held them for 126 days before elite Peruvian soldiers and police attacked the building earlier this week.

Rwandan Hutu refugees abandoned at least two camps in eastern Zaire, UN officials reported after being allowed access for the first time in four days. They estimated the camps had held about 50,000 refugees. Zaire's mostly Tutsi rebels had refused permission to visit the camps because they said fighting had taken place in the area.

Israel will end its closure of the West Bank and Gaza after the Passover holiday to allow thousands of Palestinians to return to their jobs, Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai said. The latest closure was imposed March 21 after a terrorist bomb killed three people in a Tel Aviv caf. Estimates put the daily loss to the Palestinian economy at millions of dollars when workers cannot reach their jobs in Israel.

Senior North Korean officials were quoted as saying their government would join peace negotiations with the US, China, and rival South Korea only after three conditions were met. The conditions: US diplomatic recognition, massive food aid, and an easing of trade sanctions. Preliminary discussions broke off in New York last week after the North failed to give clear indications that it was ready to participate.

A trip to Washington by Japanese Prime Minister Hashi-moto for talks with President Clinton and other US officials was clouded by the arrest of another American serviceman on charges of attacking a woman on Okinawa. Such incidents are an irritant in US-Japanese relations, and parliament earlier this week asked Hashimoto's government to help reduce the US military presence on the island.

Police in Indonesia will shoot "people who want to make trouble" on the spot once the country's national election campaign opens Sunday, a senior commander warned. Opposition leader Megawati Sukarnoputri, forbidden by the government from running for office, urged her followers not to participate in the campaign "to avoid the emergence of violence." She stopped short of calling for an illegal boycott of the May 29 election.

Burma's military government reacted angrily to the economic sanctions imposed by the US. A spokesman accused Clinton of trying to "derail" Burmese acceptance into the ASEAN regional alliance with such economic powers as Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Analysts said such membership would make the government less likely to change its policies on human rights and tolerance of the narcotics trade.

Mexico announced its largest illegal-drug seizure in four years and said it will open a new antinarcotics agency staffed with officers trained in the US. The agency will be headed by a special prosecutor who reports directly to the nation's attorney general. Announcement of the revamped drug-fighting effort appeared to be timed for maximum effect before Clinton arrives for a three-day visit May 5.

A second massacre of villagers in Algeria in 24 hours was blamed on Muslim insurgents. The El Watan newspaper reported 42 deaths in Omaria, 30 miles south of the capital, Algiers. Earlier, 93 people were killed in nearby Haouch Boughlef-Khemisti. Authorities vowed to eradicate the militants but claimed only "residual terrorism" remained.

The US likely will block a $486 million loan to Croatia unless an indicted war criminal is extradited for trial by the United Nations tribunal in The Hague, senior diplomats said. They said the deadline for Croatia's cooperation was "early May." The tribunal seeks Zlatko Aleksovski, who was arrested last year for atrocities against Muslims in the Bosnian war. Croatia has claimed he is too ill to travel. Croatia seeks the loan from the International Monetary Fund.

Etceteras

"If you put us all in one room, you would have 26 suits - and my skirt."

- Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, reflecting on the gender gap she encountered when meeting with senior leaders on her round-the-world trip.

Some fifth-graders in Greeley, Colo., were left completely cold when they tried to use a popular atlas in their study of Antarctica. Every other map they consulted put the continent's Transantarctic mountains on the opposite side of the South Pole from where the Rand McNally World Atlas had them. After being notified of the discrepancy, the publisher promised everyone in the class a copy of its next edition - with the mountains where they should be.

In Casper, Wyo., educators found no money but lots of trouble when they subjected second- and third-graders to a strip search for $10 that was reported missing. The principal apologized, calling the incident a "grave error in judgment." His assistant, three teachers, and an aide were suspended. District administrators say additional discipline is likely.

Two robbers didn't get the money they sought, either, when they attempted an armored truck heist in Houston. It took place outside a building where members of a special police task force were meeting. A gunshot brought the officers running. One of the crooks was caught. His partner is being hunted.

Law-breakers who try to run from the police in Amsterdam can expect to be overtaken no matter how fast they are. Patrolmen in the city will wear roller skates beginning this summer.

The Day's List

Rising Tide of Tobacco Industry Contributions

Tobacco industry campaign contributions to congressional candidates over the past two decades, as compiled from Federal Election Commission reports by the nonprofit Center for Responsive Politics in Washington:

1995-96 $2,769,519

1993-94 $2,323,216

1991-92 $2,300,322

1989-90 $2,033,366

1987-88 $1,343,487

1985-86 $1,312,169

1983-84 $769,582

1981-82 $374,977

1979-80 $224,950

- Associated Press

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