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News In Brief

By Lance Carden and Vic Roberts / August 27, 1997

The US

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The US space agency touched off a brief panic when officials in Houston said both main and backup oxygen-generating systems on Mir were not working - and two Russians and one American on board would have to fix them within days or face abandoning the beleaguered space station. As it turned out, the problems had already been resolved when the statement was made, but officials in Moscow had not told their US counterparts. The mixup reportedly reflects the conflicting public relations attitudes of US and Russian space officials. The Russians are apparently much more reluctant to publicize problems on Mir, where solar panels providing energy to the station were still not functioning properly.

The state of Missouri sued a Texas county where guards videotaped prison inmates being abused as they crawled on the floor. Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said the lawsuit sought damages from Brazoria County and its officials for failing to live up to a contract under which Missouri sent convicts from its crowded prisons to Texas to serve their sentences. Nixon said Texas officials were refusing to cooperate with the Missouri Department of Corrections, which is investigating the incident.

Orders for durable goods fell 0.6 percent in July, due in part to slack demand for aircraft and electronic and communications gear, the Commerce Department said. Orders totaled a seasonally adjusted $180.5 billion - down from $181.6 billion in June, when they shot up 2.9 percent. Analysts had expected a slight drop in July after the big increase in orders during June.

Federal rules on the export of encryption software are unconstitutional, a judge in San Francisco ruled. US District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel called such licensing requirements an unconstitutional prior restraint on free speech. She issued a permanent injunction barring the government from enforcing the regulations against plaintiff Daniel Bernstein or anyone who seeking to use, discuss, or publish his encoding program. The US has cited national-security concerns in connection with the export of encryption programs.

The state of Georgia decided to sue the cigarette industry. Gov. Zell Miller and Attorney General Thurbert Baker said a lawsuit seeking to recoup Medicaid funds spent treating smokers could be filed by the end of the week. Forty other states have sued the US tobacco industry and two states - Florida and Mississippi - have won multibillion-dollar settlements.

Navy experts will search six mountain lakes in Colorado this week for bombs lost in the mysterious April 2 crash of an A-10 fighter jet, the Air Force said. The remains of the pilot, Capt. Craig Button, were found in late April in wreckage on Gold Dust Peak, but four 500-pound bombs were not located. Members of a Navy team based in San Diego will use remotely operated underwater vehicles to look for the bombs and verify that the lakes are safe for public use.

The California Supreme Court gave Merrill Lynch & Co. a temporary victory in its battle to prevent confidential grand-jury transcripts from being made public. The court delayed at least temporarily the release of about 9,000 pages of transcripts that could shed light on the firm's role in the bankruptcy of Orange County. The court stayed the release so it could review the firm's appeal, giving no indication how long that might take.

Drug czar Barry McCaffrey said the US and Mexico have a unique opportunity to press their war against drug traffickers because of recent disruptions caused by the deaths and arrests of top cartel leaders. McCaffrey conferred with officials in El Paso, Texas, then walked across the border to confer with Mariano Herran Salvati, the chief of Mexico's top antidrug agency. Following their meeting they said the US and Mexico will have a common antidrug strategy by year's end.

Microsoft Corp. plans to get into the real estate business with an Internet site designed to make it easier for people to buy homes, product manager Larry Cohen said. Microsoft reportedly wants to form partnerships with real estate brokers and maybe lenders rather than get directly involved in listing homes.

The World

Two North Korean diplomats have entered the US after defecting, unidentified US officials said. North Korea's ambassador to Egypt, Jang Seung-il, and his brother Jang Seung-ho, who worked for North Korea as trade representative in Paris, were reportedly carrying information about their country's missile sales to Iran and Syria. The defectors were said to have taken their families with them. Jang Seung-il's defection is the first by a North Korean senior diplomat.

Former South African President F.W. de Klerk resigned as head of the opposition National Party and quit politics. De Klerk said his retirement was "in the best interest of the party and the country." After becoming president in 1989, he began to dismantle apartheid laws, and freed future President Nelson Mandela from prison. Mandela and De Klerk shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for their efforts to bring democracy to South Africa. The National Party, which has been troubled by a rash of defections by more moderate members, plans to name a successor next month.