News In Brief

The US

President Clinton promised to come up with a balanced-budget plan for 1999 - three years earlier than expected. Although the US deficit is shrinking faster than expected, Clinton insisted the government does not yet have a surplus and promised to oppose efforts to spend money that is not yet in its coffers. He said he expects the deficit for the current year, fiscal 1998, to narrow from last year's $22 billion

The president said he felt his privacy was invaded when cameramen hid in bushes to snap pictures of him and Hillary Rodham Clinton during their recent vacation in the US Virgin Islands. TV crews for NBC and CBS, along with a photographer for Agence France-Presse, captured the president and first lady embracing in swimsuits on Magens Bay.

A jury in Denver began deliberating whether Terry Nichols should be put to death for the Oklahoma City bombing. Prosecutors said Nichols knew the 4,000-pound bomb could kill people and did not care. A defense attorney countered by warning the jury not to be swept away by "a tide of anger and grief and vengeance."

The judge in the so-called Unabomber trial delayed opening statements in Sacramento, Calif., until tomorrow. Judge Garland Burrell announced the 48-hour delay after defendant Theodore Kaczynski asked to make an opening statement about his lawyers, prompting Burrell to hold a private conference with Kaczynski and his attorneys - and fueling speculation the defendant wants new a new legal team.

The California Supreme Court began hearing two cases that charge the Boy Scouts of America with discrimination - against agnostics and atheists in one case, against homosexuals in the other. The double challenge to the Boy Scouts, which has national implications, seems to hinge on whether it is a business and therefore subject to state antidiscrimination statutes.

Radar trouble delayed the first US moon mission in 25 years. Liftoff was rescheduled for last night after a last-minute glitch with Air Force radar delayed Monday's scheduled launch of an unmanned Athena rocket carrying the Lunar Prospector spacecraft. One highlight of the $63 million mission is a search for frozen water at the lunar poles.

A surge in demand for aircraft powered a 2.5 percent increase in orders to American factories in November - but without it overall orders would have declined, the Commerce Department said. The gain, to a seasonally adjusted $345.1 billion, was the sixth consecutive monthly increase. The agency also said spending on construction fell sharply in November. The 0.9 percent decline, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $609 billion, was the largest in 11 months.

Jeffrey Davidow is the leading candidate to be nominated US ambassador to Mexico, a White House official said. A career diplomat, Davidow is currently assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.

A court-appointed official asked that new Teamsters Union elections be delayed for at least a month to give him time to further investigate claims against presidential candidate James Hoffa. In his request to a US district court in Washington, Michael Cherkasky said he would report back within 30 days on the status of his inquiry. Ballots were to have been mailed in early April to the union's 1.4 million members.

US Rep. Sonny Bono (R) of California, who died in a skiing accident south of Reno on the Nevada-California line, was a success in show business before entering politics. He and his then-wife, Cher, gained fame in the 1960s with such hits as "I Got You, Babe" and "The Beat Goes On." In the 1970s, they moved to CBS-TV with "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour." Bono was first elected to Congress in 1994, after serving as mayor of Palm Springs from 1988 to 1992.

The World

US Middle East envoy Dennis Ross was in Israel for separate meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Arafat, both of whom are scheduled for talks with President Clinton later this month. Ross was expected to press Netanyahu for a vow to pull back Israeli troops from much of the West Bank - a move that analysts said could be difficult for him to promise in light of his considerable political problems following the resignation of Foreign Minister David Levy. Meanwhile, Netan-yahu's predecessor, Shimon Peres, denied reports that he had been asked to take the foreign ministry post.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans lined up to donate or sell gold jewelry and other items in a campaign aimed at helping to repay loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Organizers said more than 22,000 pounds of gold had been received during the first two days. The country owes the IMF $57 billion in emergency rescue loans.

Another round of civilian massacres in Algeria - the second in as many days - was reported by newspapers in the capital, Algiers. The reports said at least 170 people had been killed by suspected Islamic militants in four villages near the capital and in the Ain Defla region, 75 miles southwest. Last weekend, two other attacks were reported in western Algeria, leaving more than 400 people dead.

Alleged Bosnian Croat prison commander Zlatko Aleksovski went on trial before the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. He is accused of allowing Muslim detainees under his control in Mostar to be interrogated inhumanely, used as human shields, or murdered in 1993. He has pleaded not guilty. The tribunal also said the trial of fellow Croat Vlatko Kupreskic would open Jan. 16. Kupreskic was wounded last month while resisting arrest by Dutch troops in central Bosnia.

Pol Pot has not escaped his jailers in Cambodia and remains a captive of the Khmer Rouge he once commanded, the Bangkok Post reported. It printed an interview with the infamous leader and a photograph of him made last weekend at Anlong Veng, the Khmer Rouge base in northern Cambodia. They appeared to dispel reports that Pol Pot had fled to China to escape possible trial for genocide or for medical treatment.

Germany will not meet the qualifications for inclusion in the single European currency that it has so publicly championed, the national Institute for Economic Research said. It put Germany's estimated budget deficit for last year at 3.3 percent of gross domestic product - 0.3 higher than the target for member countries that the Bonn government itself has insisted be followed. The single currency, the "euro," is scheduled for launch next year.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin will not pay a state visit to India this month after all, the Interfax news agency said. The announcement contained no indication that Yeltsin was experiencing new health problems following a 10-day hospitalization last month.

The presidents of five former Soviet republics agreed to a strategy of mutual economic and political cooperation to reduce dependence on Moscow. Meeting in Askhabad, the capital of Turkmenistan, the leaders said their rural but resource-rich region of 50 million people could lure greater foreign investment by strengthening ties. Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan discussed plans for forming a common market.

Etceteras

"The time is not ripe for resumption of diplomatic ties with the United States."

- The Tehran Times, after polling what it called a cross-section of the Iranian public in advance of a CNN address to Americans this week by President Mohamad Khatami.

Bob Walker and his wife, Frances Mooney, just wanted to make their San Diego home a better environment for their nine cats. But, since they're picture framers and artists, the project took on a life - perhaps nine lives - of its own. After installing a column and a beam to serve as scratching post and catwalk, they extended the beam through the walls so the cats could go anywhere without touching ground. There's also a ramp to help the older cats get down.

An animal-rights group giving people fur coats sounds contradictory, but People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals doesn't care. It's giving to the needy in New York and Pittsburgh thousands of coats donated to protest human brutality.

The Day's List

'Men in Black' Was No. 1 At the Box Office in '97

"Men in Black" edged out "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" as the movie released in 1997 that had generated the most revenue at US box offices as of Dec. 31. The top-10 cash-producing films of '97 with each movie's gross for the year (in millions of dollars):

1. "Men in Black" $249.8

2. "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" 229.1

3. "Liar, Liar" 181.4

4. "Air Force One" 171.5

5. "Star Wars" 138.2

6. "My Best Friend's Wedding" 126.7

7. "Titanic" 124.2

8. "Face/Off" 112.3

9. "Batman and Robin" 107.3

10. "George of the Jungle" 105.2

- Exhibitor Relations Inc./AP

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