News In Brief

The US

President Clinton plans to propose a significant budget increase to fund food safety programs for the 1998 fiscal year, The New York Times reported. Citing administration officials, the newspaper said Clinton will ask Congress early next year to allot $71 million more than originally slated for food and safety programs at the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The increase brings funding to $817 million for federal food safety programs. The plan was motivated by recent outbreaks in the US of food-borne illnesses, it said.

President Clinton is ignoring calls to fire top aide Ira Magaziner, a senior White House aide said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "Ira is a valued member of the White House staff," said Rahm Emanuel. House Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Archer (R) of Texas urged Clinton to get rid of Magaziner after US District Judge Royce Lamberth ruled he misled a court about the participation of private-sector or special-interest groups while participating in a panel headed by Hillary Rodham Clinton that developed a doomed health-care reform plan in 1993.

Residents of Winter Haven and Haines began cleaning up after a tornado tore through the central Florida towns. It destroyed about 60 homes and injured eight people.

More executions took place in US prisons in 1997 than at any time in the past 42 years. Seventy-four of the nation's more than 3,200 death row inmates were executed, the most since 76 were put to death in 1955. And the pace of executions is expected to increase as the 20th century comes to a close, according to the Washington-based Death Penalty Information Center.

Concerned about falling West Coast fish populations, the National Marine Fisheries Service plans to slash commercial fishing limits for some of the most popular species, the Los Angeles Times reported. The new limits, which affect about 80 species, will be as much as 65 percent lower than current ones for some species, and are expected to take effect Jan. 1.

Big is beautiful in the minds of American car buyers, according to automakers tracking US auto sales for 1997. While sales were down 3 percent for the first 11 months of the year, sales of sport-utility vehicles, vans, and pickup trucks were up 8.5 percent. With a strong economy, consumers can afford larger models and are shying away from small vehicles, analysts say. For example, sales of the Chevrolet Prism and Metro were down 23 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

The US Postal Service reported a $1.26 billion profit for 1997, reducing its debt to $1.36 billion. The agency debt three years ago was $5.9 billion when it began pushing to become debt-free by 1999 after years of poor performance and low revenues. But that won't deter it from increasing stamp prices. Postal money manager Michael Riley says a one cent increase on July 1 at the earliest will likely mean another profitable year in 1988.

The Clinton administration is loosening restriction on aid to Colombia's armed forces, withheld for years because of the military's human rights record, The Washington Post reported. It said the US has committed about $37 million in fiscal 1998 for counterinsurgency as part of a larger program to fight drug trafficking. The Clinton administration is concerned that Marxist guerrillas allied with drug traffickers pose a growing threat to the government, the Post said.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has decided to end production in May of his popular TV show "Seinfeld," NBC announced. The nine-year-old Emmy Award-winning show has led the network to its No. 1 position and record-making profits. The half-hour program revolves around four single, offbeat friends in Manhattan.

The World

Authorities arrested the mayor of a southern Mexican municipality for allegedly playing a role in the massacre of 45 peasants. Chenalho mayor Jacinto Arias Cruz was charged with providing the weapons used in the attack and then trying to cover up the killings. Forty people have been charged in connection with the Dec. 22 attack. Zapatista rebels, who rose up in 1994 to demand rights for the area's Indian population, blamed the federal government for condoning the massacre.

Kenya's Electoral Commission appealed to the country's 9 million voters to turn out for today's general election. Opinion polls showed President Daniel Arap Moi and his ruling Kenya African National Union would be returned to power. Moi has governed Kenya since 1978. His challengers have been dogged by poor organization, delays, and funding problems.

Gunmen killed a Catholic security guard and injured three other people outside a Northern Ireland disco. The outlawed Protestant guerrilla Loyalist Volunteer Force claimed responsibility for the attack 40 miles west of Belfast. The LVF also warned of further action to avenge the murder of the group's commander, Billy "King Rat" Wright. He was killed inside a top security prison by members of a Catholic group opposed to British rule in the province.

Iraq urged the UN Security Council to prevent the US from carrying out air strikes on "presidential sites" declared off-limits to international weapons inspectors. Iraqi leaders accused the US of planning attacks that would plant fake chemical or germ warfare evidence at the facilities, a charge the White House dismissed as "ridiculous." The US has refused to rule out the use of force unless Baghdad complies with UN inspection demands.

Baghdad announced it is cutting rations of baby milk, cooking oil, and other essentials, saying it hasn't received sufficient supplies under its oil-for-food deal with the UN. While exports of Iraqi oil have gone smoothly since the agreement took effect a year ago, food and medicine have not been reaching the country on time. Foodstuffs have been in short supply since UN trade sanctions were imposed on Baghdad after the 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Hong Kong plans to kill all of the territory's estimated 1.2 million chickens today to prevent the spread of flu, the government said. Health officials blamed the virus for the deaths of four people. A Hong Kong agriculture official said a ban on shipments of chickens from China will remain in effect until the slaughter is completed and it's certain that Chinese chickens aren't infected.

Experts plan to attach two steel cables to Italy's Leaning Tower of Pisa early next year, an Italian newspaper said. The report indicated the "braces" would be attached to the tower's second tier and connected to underground counterweights to stabilize the fragile structure. The popular tourist attraction has been closed since 1990 and has been undergoing restoration and preservation work.

International pressure mounted on Zambia to charge the country's former president, Kenneth Kaunda, with a crime or release him from a maximum security jail. The US, Britain, and South Africa have criticized Zambian President Frederick Chiluba for detaining Kaunda, apparently in connection with an abortive coup attempt two months ago. Kaunda has refused to eat or drink since his arrest on Christmas Day. He's to appear before Lusaka's High Court today.

Etceteras

"The obscenities of recent days may well be designed to undermine the peace process. They must not be allowed to do so."

- Irish Foreign Minister David Andrews, condemning tit-for-tat killings by two Northern Ireland guerrilla groups.

Mayor Earl Thrailkill of tiny Fort Lawn, S.C., gave his constituents an unusual Christmas gift. He abolished their property tax. Reason: Doing so actually saves money. The town collects $42,000 a year from a local sales tax, plus $20,000 in property taxes. But it would owe more than $20,000 of sales-tax collections to the state treasury. Without a real estate levy, it may keep the entire sales tax revenue.

Here's another slant on spreading Christmas cheer in South Carolina.The Massey family of Columbia admits defacing state property - as well as in North Carolina and Georgia - by pasting Rudolph-like red stickers on the noses of the silhouettes on "Deer Crossing" signs. Dave Massey, an attorney, knows the act is punishable by five years in prison and a fine, but believes no jury will convict them.

The Day's List

Biggest Contributors to UN's '98, '99 Budgets

The annual UN budget, excluding peacekeeping and agency expenses, is $1.266 billion. The following 18 of the organization's 185 members pay almost 85 percent of this amount. Recently approved rates for their contributions are based mainly on each country's gross domestic product and per-capita income. Their 1998 and 1999 dues, in percentage terms:

1998 1999

1. US 25.0 25.0

2. Japan 18.0 20.0

3. Germany 9.6 9.8

4. France 6.5 6.5

5. Italy 5.4 5.4

6. Britain 5.1 5.1

7. Russia 2.9 1.5

8. Canada 2.8 2.8

9. Spain 2.6 2.6

10. Brazil 1.5 1.5

11. Australia 1.5 1.5

12. Belgium 1.1 1.1

13. Sweden 1.1 1.1

14. Argentina 1.1 1.1

15. South Korea 1.0 1.0

16. Mexico 1.0 1.0

17. China 1.0 1.0

18. Austria 0.9 0.9

- Reuters

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