News In Brief

The US

Consumer confidence soared to a 28-year high in December in response to the robust US economy, the New York-based Conference Board reported. Its index of consumer confidence rose to 134.5 this month - the highest level since 1969, and well above Wall Street's expectations for December.

Representatives from about a dozen financial institutions meeting in New York issued a joint statement saying they "share the view that the Korean economy is strong" and would look for ways to help the country through its credit crunch. The banks gave South Korea a one-month reprieve on up to $15 billion in troubled loans that are coming due at the end of the year, The New York Times reported. The loans would then be repackaged as bonds backed by the South Korean government and sold to commercial and investment banks, the Times said, quoting sources familiar with the talks.

President Clinton is planning to call for a record $1.15 billion in his budget to help homeless Americans find housing, US Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo said. The blueprint calls for restoring annual federal spending on programs for the homeless to more than $1 billion for the first time since Congress began cutting such funding in 1995. The money would go to states, localities, and nonprofit groups to help the homeless find jobs and "build independent lives" more than to provide emergency shelter, Cuomo said. A recent US Conference of Mayors study of about 28 cities found that homelessness increased by 3 percent this year.

World poultry giant Tyson Foods agreed to pay $6 million in penalties after pleading guilty to making illegal gifts to former US Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy. The Arkansas-based company admitted to giving more than $12,000 in gifts to Espy in 1993, including four tickets worth $6,000 to Clinton's inaugural dinner. Under the agreement with independent counsel Donald Smaltz, Tyson won't be barred from sales to the military or school-lunch programs.

New York City and Los Angeles experienced the fewest number of homicides in 1997 in decades, according to FBI statistics. Homicides in Los Angeles sank 20 percent this year, the lowest since 1977. New York City experienced the lowest number of homicides since 1967. Slayings were also down in Chicago New Orleans, Dallas, San Francisco, and Newark, N.J. But Denver, Detroit, and Nashville had sudden increases. Experts attribute the declines to an improving economy, better police work, and fewer numbers of young adults, who are most likely to commit crimes.

Theodore Kaczynski's lawyers abandoned plans for a psychiatric defense after the Unabomber suspect refused to be examined by US government experts. Kaczynski also resisted any attempts to portray him as mentally imbalanced. The lawyers still could use a mental health defense if the trial reaches a life-or-death penalty phase.

The US criticized Iraq for cutting food rations to its citizens and accused the government of holding up UN approval of $120 million in food contracts. Iraq announced earlier it was reducing rations of baby milk, cooking oil, and other essentials, saying it hadn't received sufficient supplies and blaming the US for the shortfall. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is expected to approve an Iraqi food and medical distribution plan by the end of this week, which should open the door for Baghdad to resume oil sales. Iraq suspended oil exports Dec. 5 to protest aid delays.

Sales of previously owned homes slowed in November from a record pace, the National Association of Realtors said. But falling long-term interest rates helped buoy the market. Existing-home sales fell 0.2 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.38 million units from an all-time high of 4.39 million in October. Sales were up 7.9 percent from a year ago.

The World

Vote-counting began after widespread delays and confusion disrupted Kenya's general elections, forcing a second day of balloting and arousing suspicions of cheating. Turnout was light in districts where voting resumed, and some polling stations failed to reopen. President Daniel arap Moi and rival candidates expressed displeasure with the process. Each claimed the vote had been rigged to favor the other side.

China and South Africa will establish diplomatic ties for the first time starting tomorrow. Foreign ministers from the two countries signed an accord sealing their relationship at a ceremony in Pretoria. By recognizing China, South Africa is ending its 70-year relationship with Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province. Taiwan's Foreign Ministry expressed regret over the decision.

Riot police in Kosovo used clubs to disperse some 2,000 ethnic Albanian students who were gathering for a mass rally in the Serbian province's capital, Pristina. Several students were injured, and at least one was arrested. Ethnic Albanians, who are more than 90 percent of the province's population, have been demanding the right to study in their own language. In 1989, then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic abolished Kosovo's broad autonomy and introduced Serbia's curriculum in its schools.

Inmates at a Brazilian prison were preparing a new list of demands they want met before releasing some 600 hostages. The captives, mostly relatives of the inmates, were taken following an aborted jailbreak at the Sorocaba Prison, 50 miles west of So Paulo. Authorities rejected earlier demands for an armored car, weapons and ammunition. Prison uprisings are common in Brazil, where facilities are overcrowded.

An elder African statesman took steps to secure the release of Zambia's former President Kenneth Kuanda from a Lusaka jail. Diplomats say former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere is close to clinching a deal for Kuanda's release after holding separate meetings with Kuanda and Zambian President Frederick Chiluba. Kuanda was arrested Christmas Day on suspicion that he was involved in a failed October coup.

In the effort to contain the "bird flu," Hong Kong expanded its ban on imports of live chickens to include all countries. Last week, Hong Kong banned chicken imports from mainland China after four deaths were attributed to the disease. Workers are in the process of slaughtering the territory's estimated 1.2 million chickens and numerous other poultry. The government also announced measures to protect the chicken supply, including a five-day quarantine of live chicken imports after the ban is lifted.

Indians in the in the Mexican state of Chiapas continued to flee their homes one week after dozens of gunmen killed 45 people in the town of Acteal. Some 4,000 indigenous people were on the move in fear that the killers will come for them next, Indian leaders said. They alleged that the gunmen are henchmen for Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party. PRI officials disavow any links to the Acteal massacre.

A Jewish woman was to be sentenced today after being found guilty of racism for putting up posters that depicted Islam's prophet Muhammad as a pig. Tatiana Suszkin put up the posters in Hebron in June, setting off several days of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli troops.

"Our government is a government of all the people and not just the privileged few

who seek to buy their way into regulatory grace."

- Independent counsel Donald Smaltz, after poultry giant Tyson Foods agreed to pay $6 million in penalties for illegal gifts.

Etceteras

"Where's Kyle?!" That's probably what two parents exclaimed when they discovered their young son disappeared during a drive to London. He had slipped out of his mother's car in search of candy at a gas station. His parents, driving in separate cars with their three other children, thought he was with the other. The family was reunited after Kyle spent the day at a police station.

Students in Ray Greco's 11th-grade science class in Butler, Pa., conducted an "interesting" experiment in alternative foods: They fried worms, dipped them in chocolate, and ate them. In a brave move, Erica Link passed up the chocolate to report they tasted like pumpkin seeds - "crunchy and hollow." Andrea Karenbauer skipped class, saying she had "better things to do than eat worms."

The Day's List

Promises, Promises For the New Year

Of the 26 percent of Americans who made resolutions last year, 52 percent say they kept them, according to the Marist Institute for Public Opinion in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. Here's what some people are resolving for 1998 (with percentages) in the institute's survey of 935 adults:

Lose weight 19%

Spend less money 12

Stop smoking 11

Eat healthier 10

Get rid of a bad habit 5

Go back to school 5

Exercise more 5

Be a better person 4

Get a better job 4

Get closer to God 4

Get organized 3

Be a better parent 3

Be kinder to others 2

Increase family time 2

Volunteer 1

Move/buy a new home 1

Other 9

To Our Readers:

The Christian Science Monitor will not be published New Year's Day, Thursday, Jan. 1, a legal holiday in the United States.

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