News In Brief

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The US

Violent crimes against Americans dropped 10 percent in 1996 from the previous year, the lowest level since a survey of victims began in 1973, the Justice Department said. The most significant drop was 17.6 percent in rapes and sexual assaults. Property crimes also declined by 8.3 percent. But the largest was a 20.1 percent drop in vehicle theft. Crime specialists credited the decline to expanded policing, increased incarcerations, a changing drug market, and youth crime-prevention programs.

The Transportation Department is expected to announce new air-bag rules tomorrow. The rules would outline how consumers can apply to have on-off switches fitted to the safety devices, auto industry and safety groups said. People expected to be allowed to deactivate air bags are drivers whose height forces them to sit close to the wheel, those forced by a car's design or special circumstances to carry infants and children in the front seat, and people with certain medical conditions.

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An irate Attorney General Janet Reno asked inspector general Michael Bromwich to probe why the FBI failed to pass along intelligence information on alleged Chinese efforts to influence the 1996 elections. The FBI admitted it was late in providing the information to Senate campaign fund-raising investigators after searching its files for two months. Also, Johnny Chung took the Fifth Amendment before the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, but then answered questions in an off-the-record session behind closed doors. Chung brought Chinese businessmen to the White House a day after he delivered a $50,000 check made out to the Democratic Party.

President Clinton praised a wetlands restoration project in California's Central Valley while visiting the 3,700-acre Yolo Basin Wildlife Area outside Sacramento. He called the project a model for bringing government and private groups together for future environmental efforts. Clinton was on a four-day fund-raising swing through the west and midwest. Earlier, he signed a $13.8 billion spending bill for the Interior Department that was strongly opposed by environmental groups concerned that it would harm national forests.

The US Supreme Court agreed to clarify when an employee harassed by a supervisor can collect damages not only from the offender, but also from their employer. It will study the 1992 lawsuit of former Florida lifeguard Beth Ann Faragher, who alleged a supervisor sexually harassed her. She won $1 million in nominal damages from the city of Boca Raton after claiming it violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans on-the-job sexual bias. She appealed the size of the award, and the city cross-appealed. A decision is expected in July.

A federal judge in Los Angeles struck down a controversial California law that denies all benefits except emergency medical care to illegal immigrants. Judge Mariana Pfaelzer said Proposition 187 was super-ceded by new federal welfare laws. The state is expected to appeal the decision.

A jury in Virginia recommend-ed the death penalty for Mir Aimal Kasi of Pakistan, convicted of killing two CIA officers in 1993 outside the agency's McLean, Va., headquarters. The jury had been sequestered to shield them from news that four US petroleum company workers were murdered in Karachi, Pakistan, less than 48 hours after they convicted Kasi Nov. 10.

Say goodbye to the Westinghouse blender. The electric corporation announced it will sell its nonnuclear-power generation business to German competitor Siemens for $1.53 billion. Westinghouse plans to become CBS Corp., purely a media company, by the middle of next year.

The World

The US sent the aircraft carrier George Washington and a convoy of escort ships through the Suez Canal en route to the Gulf and beefed up its fleet of fighter jets in Turkey as tensions grew in the confrontation with Iraq. But Turkey said it would not permit its Incirlik air base to be used for attacks against Iraqi targets. Deputy Iraqi Prime Minister Tariq Aziz was due in Egypt today for the start of a tour to explain his country's position to Arab leaders. Meanwhile, Israel warned that this time it would retaliate militarily if rocketed by Iraq as it was in the Gulf War.

The economic conference aimed at promoting trade and development in the Middle East and North Africa quickly turned into a forum for attacking Israel. Only six Arab states did not boycott the session in Qatar, but even the host, Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, said Israeli policies were exposing the region to "danger of unpredictable dimensions."

Leading Chinese political dissident Wei Jingsheng was on his way to the US after being freed from a labor camp. He was allowed only a brief meeting with family members before being put aboard a Northwest Airlines flight for what a terse government statement called "medical treatment because of his illness." He served almost all of a 15-year sentence for his role in the 1978-79 democracy movement and then was resentenced to a 14-year term in 1995.

Despite the cold weather, early voter turnout in Hungary was strong for the national referendum on whether to accept membership in NATO. Hungary is the only one of the three former Soviet-bloc states invited to join the alliance to put the issue to a vote. A large turnout was crucial; at least 25 percent of those voting must approve membership for the referendum to be binding. Since Hungary broke with the Soviet bloc in the early '90s, voters have often been apathetic, and opponents of NATO membership argued that it will be too expensive.

A student group that has criticized Iran's conservative religious leadership was attacked by unidentified assailants in the capital, Tehran. The group's offices were smashed and several of its staff members were beaten in what appeared to be the latest in a series of assaults by Muslim militants. Last month, the group held a rally demanding legal limits on the power of Iran's senior cleric, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Burma's military rulers, the State Law and Order Restoration Council, disbanded and said they had formed a 19-member body called the Peace and Development Council for "the emergence of disciplined democracy and a peaceful, developed nation." But analysts noted that four of the new unit's members had senior positions on the old council and doubted the move would bring significant political change.

As many as 250,000 people in Papua New Guinea are going without food, and drought conditions brought on by the El Nio weather system require new levels of emergency help, the aid organization CARE said. CARE's Australia branch said the need is most acute in the highlands, where the lack of monsoon rains has caused crop failures and severe water shortages.

Georges Marchais, who died in Paris, was perhaps western Europe's leading Communist and a staunch defender of Soviet expansionism. He headed France's Communist Party from 1972 to 1994, taking over when it was winning 1 vote in 4 in national elections. But by the time he stepped down, that support had shrunk to about 1 in 15. His withdrawal from the 1981 race for president is credited with helping to elect Socialist Franois Mitterrand.

"They're now middle-aged, and they're not as involved with street crimes

as they were in ... their youth."

- Northeastern University dean James Alan Fox, on declining crime rates among American baby boomers.

Etceteras

Arizona State University authorities didn't have far to look when it came to finding the leading suspect in the theft of cash and compact discs from a campus office. The trail led straight to their own police department, where they charged the coordinator of crime-prevention programs with the misdeed.

But an even easier arrest came in Carroll, Iowa, after policeman Tim Brown responded to a call over his portable radio. It was from a man apparently bent on turning himself in for drug use. Brown returned to his cruiser and found him sitting in the front seat, still holding the microphone and a freshly used pipe for smoking marijuana.

A Warwick, R.I., resident telephoned the realtor with whom his house was listed, using the number on the "For Sale" sign in the front yard. But the 800 number connected him instead to a phone-sex line - the result of a printer's error. Ray Brigidi, who only wanted to listen to a recorded message describing the house to potential buyers, works as a student-services director . . . counseling parents on how to block access to - yep - phone-sex lines.

The Day's List

California Ranks First in Travel-Spending Survey

California is No. 1 in terms of overall spending by both domestic and international travelers, according to a Tourism Works for America Council report. It is based on 1995 data, the most recent year for which reliably comparable figures are available for all 50 states. When only US travelers are considered, spending is highest in Florida, the report says. The survey's top 10 in overall spending (in millions of dollars):

1. California $58.3

2. Florida $42.9

3. New York $29.5

4. Texas $25.5

5. Illinois $17.3

6. Nevada $16.8

7. Hawaii $13.0

8. New Jersey $12.3

9. Pennsylvania $12.2

10. Georgia $11.3

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