News In Brief

The US

The Senate began debate on a disaster-relief bill, with Republicans insisting on an amendment that could lead to a presidential veto. The bill provides for outlays of $8.4 billion, including $5.5 billion for those hit by natural disasters and $1.8 billion for Bosnia and other peacekeeping missions. The GOP amendment would eliminate the possibility of another government shutdown when the fiscal year begins Oct. 1. Democrats say that would make it easy for Republicans to make cuts in programs they don't like.

Factory orders declined 1.6 percent in March, the largest drop in seven months, the Commerce Department said. The slide to a seasonally adjusted $319.2 billion was in line with what economists had predicted. There were declines in aircraft, motor-vehicle, and communications-equipment orders.

The Federal Trade Commission proposed allowing manufacturers to tag merchandise "Made in USA" even if 25 percent of materials and labor originate overseas. FTC officials said these guidelines would give manufacturers more flexibility in promoting US parts and labor. Union officials said the proposal would deceive American consumers.

A study of US defense needs suggests there may be two more rounds of base closings, Pentagon sources said. A forthcoming report is expected to propose cutting 60,000 men and women from the active-duty ranks and dropping plans to purchase hundreds of warplanes. The new rounds of base closures could come as early as 1999 and 2001.

A six-member Florida jury decided that cigarettemaker R.J. Reynolds should not be blamed for the death of Jean Connor, who was medically diagnosed as succumbing to lung cancer in 1995. Industry lawyers said the verdict showed people cannot blame tobacco companies if they continue to smoke while being aware of the risks. Analysts said it could help the industry negotiate claims filed by 25 states. Montana and Arkansas became the latest states to file suit against the industry - and Oregon announced its intention to do so - to recover tobacco-related Medicaid costs.

Some 44 million Americans own 192 million guns - and more than half do not lock their firearms, a Justice Department-funded study said. The department is pressing Congress to pass a measure requiring that a child-safety lock be sold with every gun. The telephone survey also indicated one-fifth of US gun owners have a firearm at home that is both unlocked and loaded.

A follower of Republic of Texas leader Richard McLaren was killed by police on the same day McLaren and his wife, Evelyn, were indicted on charges of defrauding businesses with phony money. The man shot in the woods behind McLaren's trailer is believed to be Mike Matson, a former US marine. Another fugitive separatist was still being pursued by police.

Charlton Heston was elected first vice president of the National Rifle Association, ousting incumbent Neal Knox, who three months ago had seemed on the verge of replacing the organization's top official, executive vice president Wayne R. LaPierre Jr. LaPierre was reelected.

American Airlines' pilots union overwhelmingly ratified a five-year contract, ending nearly three years of bitter negotiations. In the new agreement, the Allied Pilots Association failed to win the right to fly regional jets, but did get raises of more than 9 percent through 2001, plus stock options.

Gulf war veterans can claim disability compensation for war-related illnesses through 2001 under new regulations issued by the Veterans Affairs Department. Previously, veterans had been eligible for compensation only if symptoms appeared within two years of service in the 1991 war.

Ford Motor Company recalled some 600,000 vehicles, including: 1996 and '97 Contour models equipped to use compressed natural gas, 1991-95 Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable vehicles with 3.8-liter engines and a speed control option, 1991-94 Lincoln Continentals, and 1992-97 Ford Crown Victoria police and taxi vehicles.

The World

US President Clinton and his Mexican counterpart, Ernesto Zedillo, opened two days of meetings on such sensitive issues as immigration and drug trafficking. Clinton hoped to convince Mexicans that the US sees them as a valued ally and trading partner. But Clinton's arrival in Mexico City. was greeted by at least two public protests.

Zairean President Mobutu planned a trip to neighboring Gabon today for new discussions on his troubled country, but expected to return, CNN reported. A presidential spokesman said there was no truth to reports that Mobutu would use the opportunity to flee and give rebel leader Laurent Kabila's forces a clear parth to the capital, Kinshasa.

The value of shares in the troubled Canadian mining company Bre-X tumbled to pennies as the Toronto Stock Exchange lifted a suspension on trading. That move came one day after release of an independent report that found the company's gold-mine holdings in Indonesia essentially worthless. Investigations into what analysts called a "world-class scam" were planned by Canadian regulators, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and Indonesian authorities.

Israeli Prime Minister Netan-yahu is prepared to reopen peace talks with the Palestinian Authority if the latter's president, Yasser Arafat, orders his forces to cooperate in sharing intelligence, radio reports in Jerusalem said. Such cooperation has been credited with preventing terrorist attacks. US special envoy Dennis Ross is due in the region today to try to restart the negotiations.

Announcing "the most radical internal reform" of the Bank of England in more than 300 years, Britain's new Labour government gave it the power to set interest rates without seeking approval first. The move was seen as an attempt to model the bank after the US Federal Reserve, which sets rates independently even if it causes discomfort to the administration in the White House. Commercial banks responded by raising the rates they charge for borrowing money.

New British Prime Minister Tony Blair planned a meeting tomorrow in London with his Irish counterpart, John Bruton, to try to inject new momentum into peace talks on Northern Ireland. They were adjourned before Britain's May 1 elections and are not due to resume until June 3.

The agency charged with enforcing the international chemical-weapons treaty opened a three-week conference in The Hague. Delegates from 160 countries attended, but only those whose governments have ratified the treaty may serve on the agency's executive committee or vote for nominees. The US barely beat the deadline for ratification last month.

The UN's Bosnia war crimes tribunal in The Hague is expected to deliver its verdict today on accused Serb detention-camp guard Dusan Tadic. He is charged with atrocities against Muslim inmates as part of the "ethnic cleansing" campaign at the start of the Bosnian war. Tadic has pleaded not guilty. Some charges were withdrawn when a witness confessed to having lied about watching him in the act of committing atrocities.

Latvia was threatened with economic sanctions by a visiting Russian parliamentary delegation. The delegation called for an end to "discrimination" against ethnic Russians "if Latvia wants to have good economic relations." One-third of Latvia's 2.7 million people are Russian. The government in Riga has been slow to extend full civil rights to Russians, who are widely regarded as Soviet-era intruders.

Etceteras

"Don't be hard on the machine; it's only trying to defend the computer kingdom."

- From a fan's note to Garry Kasparov, after the world chess champion lost Game 2 of a six-game series to an IBM supercomputer.

Exclusive clubs exist almost everywhere, but there is one you can't join - no matter what your income or social standing - unless your name is Bob Moser. The Bob Moser Society was begun by - yes - Bob Moser of Vancouver, Wash., after he learned of a namesake's auto body shop in faraway Nova Scotia. That led him to look up other Bob Mosers in phone books from around the US and Can-ada. He found 242 and invited them all to join. So far, the membership stands at 43.

Little League Baseball claims it is "no more stressful" for children than many other activities. Tell that to the Barracudas of Lillian, Ala. The team is split because some players refuse to wear their uniforms, which promote a sponsor who deals in X-rated videos. A judge ruled that the kids may dress in plain sweatshirts. But already players have been disqualified, a game was forfeited, and lawsuits are pending.

What's powerful enough to knock out electricity over 93 percent of Chile - a country of 292,135 square miles? Not a coordinated attack by terrorists, as many Chileans suspected. The nation's largest utility pinned blame on seaweed that had washed into cooling ducts at one of its oceanside power plants.

Tony Nominees for 1997

The winners of this year's Tony Awards will be announced June 1. These productions have been nominated by category for the honor of being selected best of the Broadway season:

Play: "Skylight," "Stanley," "The Last Night of Ballyhoo," "The Young Man from Atlanta"

Musical: "Juan Darien, a Carnival Mass," "Steel Pier," "The Life," "Titanic"

Book of a Musical (Script, excluding lyrics): "Jekyll & Hyde," "Steel Pier," "The Life," "Titanic"

Original Score: "Juan Darien, a Carnival Mass," "Steel Pier," "The Life," "Titanic"

Revival of a Play: "A Doll's House," "London Assurance," "Present Laughter," "The Gin Game"

Revival of a Musical: "Annie," "Candide," "Chicago," "Once Upon a Mattress"

- Associated Press

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