News In Brief

The US

President Clinton fielded questions from reporters, in what may have been - at 94 minutes - the longest presidential press conference. He took a very cautious approach to tax cuts and proposals to simplify income taxes, warned that the US may have to do more to help some imperiled Asian economies, and mounted a strong defense of affirmative action.

The Federal Reserve left key interest rates unchanged in its final policymaking meeting of the year. The decision came on the heels of new data indicating inflation remains under control, even in the face of tight labor markets that augment the threat of wage-driven price increases.

Clinton is expected to delay tough deportation rules covering up to 20,000 Haitians, a senior administration official said. The president seems poised to employ a rarely used executive authority in the next 10 days or so, granting protection to Haitians who fled the military regime forced from power on the island in 1994, the official said anonymously. Any such action would likely escalate tension between the White House and Congress. Haitians were not included in legislation earlier this year that exempted hundreds of thousands of refugees of civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador from the strict demands of a 1996 immigration law.

Auditors who in April found major deficiencies in the US Immigration and Naturalization Service now say major progress has been made, the INS commissioner reported. The agency has come under fire for improperly granting citizenship last year to 180,000 people whose background checks had not been completed. Nearly 16,400 turned out to have felony records. INS officials have tentatively identified 6,200 cases in which naturalization was apparently granted improperly. The US is reportedly moving to revoke the citizenship in 1,200 of those cases, and other actions are expected.

A federal judge in Miami ordered Cuba on to pay nearly $185 million to families of three Americans killed last year when Cuban jets shot down two small private planes over international waters in the Florida Straits. The men were shot from the sky Feb. 24, 1996, by Cuban MIGs while searching for rafters fleeing the island. Ruling in a lawsuit filed by the victims' families, US District Judge James Lawrence King said Cuba should pay $49.9 million in compensatory damages and its Air Force should pay $134.7 million in punitive damages.

The US space shuttle and a planned international space station face a growing risk from orbiting debris, a report released by the National Research Council said. It recommends, among other things, strengthening shielding in parts of the shuttle. Orbital travel takes place at such high speeds that even very small objects can put huge dents in the shuttle. Large objects could punch through the craft, penetrating the crew compartment and causing decompression, the report said.

The governor of Guam appealed to the White House for federal disaster relief after Typhoon Paka pounded the island for 12 hours. Sustained winds reached 150 m.p.h., and the National Weather Service measured one gust at 236 m.p.h. - the highest on record. Storm damage was estimated at $200 million. Electricity was knocked out, and many people were without water.

The World

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and chief weapons inspector Richard Butler were expected to meet in New York on the Iraqi crisis before the Security Council took up the issue. Annan, returning from a visit to Malaysia, said he hoped for a "quick solution" after Iraq vowed never to admit inspectors to sensitive sites considered as possible weapons storehouses. Iraq's parliament demanded that Annan end the inspection mission by May.

Bowing to US and other pressure, the Japanese government announced a $15 billion cut in personal income taxes as "an emergency measure" to stimulate the economy by boosting consumer spending. But while the move won praise from the White House and quickly sent stock prices higher on the Tokyo exchange, analysts said Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto needed to do more to ensure an economic recovery.

The undecided vote is likely to determine the winner of today's presidential election in South Korea, political analysts said. Opinion polling ended in late November, and the race is considered to be virtually even between ruling party candidate Lee Hoi Chang and opposition leader Kim Dae Jung. Incumbent Kim Young Sam is barred from seeking reelection. A low turnout at the polls is widely expected, with voters unhappy at the field of candidates and worried about the country's economic future.

With no opposition, Deputy President Thabo Mbeki became the leader of South Africa's ruling party. He succeeded President Nelson Mandela atop the African National Congress, making it virtually certain that he also will follow him as head of state in 1999. Mandela's ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, abandoned her bid for the party chairmanship due to lack of support. (Story, Page 1.)

Motor clubs across Europe pleaded with their members to leave cars at home as snow, ice, and extreme cold made travel dangerous. Ports on the Black Sea were closed, much of Romania and Ukraine lost electricity, and Russian authorities reported a rash of fires caused by faulty heating units as people tried to stay warm. The storm reportedly took at least 50 lives in Romania, Poland, and Russia, where temperatures fell to minus 31 degrees F.

A blue-ribbon panel of international monitors was arriving in Jamaica for tomorrow's general elections in the Caribbean nation. Former President Jimmy Carter headed the 60-person mission to "help democratic Jamaicans vote free of fear." Carter hoped to get the signatures of the island's senior leaders on a statement affirming political tolerance.

Government officials in Mexico reversed themselves and approved what's believed to be the first independent labor union at a foreign-owned factory in the "maquiladora" belt along the US border. Workers at a truck-chassis plant in Tijuana voted for an independent union Oct. 6. But the vote was thrown out, the union was declared illegitimate, and 12 of the workers were fired. Under the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, only government-backed unions have represented workers at 2,700 factories along the border.

Although questioning how long the new government would last, Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel indicated he would appoint central bank chief Josef Tosovsky as prime minister. The post has been vacant since Vaclav Klaus, with whom Havel was feuding, resigned Nov. 30, taking half his Cabinet with him. Analysts said Tosovsky would have trouble implementing any policies not supported by the leading opposition party, the Social Democrats, who want a new election for prime minister.

Peru passed the first anniversary of the Dec. 17 leftist rebel takeover of the Japanese ambassador's residence by tightening security around diplomatic missions in Lima. But there were no special plans by any of the parties involved in the four-month siege to mark the occasion with ceremonies.

Etceteras

"When the eye passed through ... it was literally driving water through walls."

- Philip Brady, a spokesman for Guam's governor, after the island was hit by a typhoon that packed record 236-m.p.h. winds.

Christmas or no Christmas, the Postal Service has little sympathy for a suburban Chicago man who legally changed his name to that of the jolly old guy in the red suit with the white trim. The former Robert Rion was told he's not entitled to home delivery of the hundreds of letters that arrive daily in Mundelein for "Santa Claus, North Pole." Either rent a lock box or publicize your private address, officials said, adding: "It's like someone named John Smith wanting all the mail addressed to all the John Smiths."

But if they can just be found, Paul Claus and Todd Christmas, both of Lincoln, Neb., are owed money by the state treasury. They're on a list of people who have unclaimed property, and the department has had no success in locating them.

President Nelson Mandela of South Africa didn't leave 'em laughing in his farewell speech as leader of the African National Congress. But he did leave 'em nodding off. With 3,000 delegates on hand for the party's convention, he insisted on reading his entire 53-page address, rambling almost three hours beyond his allotted time - in 90 degree F. heat.

The Day's List

Where to Look for 'Help Wanted' Signs in 1998

Almost one-quarter of US employers say they expect to hire additional workers in the first three months of next year, according to a survey by Milwaukee, Wis.-based Manpower Inc. Among the leading sectors indicating plans to increase their workforces - and the percentage of employers in each:

Durable goods manufacturing 32%

Nondurable goods 26

Finance, insurance, real estate 25

Transportation, public utilities 23

Services 23

Wholesale, retail trade 22

Construction 20

Public administration 18

Mining 18

Education 18

- Deloitte & Touche Review

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