News In Brief

The US

President Clinton is scheduled to speak tomorrow at a conference on minorities and business run by the Rev. Jesse Jackson's Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. The New York gathering, which opens today, coincides with the federal holiday marking the birth of Martin Luther King Jr. and the first anniversary of the organization's campaign to widen minority participation on Wall Street.

Clinton met with 11 civil rights advocates at the White House to discuss race as part of the initiative he launched last June and followed up with at an Ohio town meeting last month. Participants said Clinton offered no specific policy initiatives but asked for their ideas on bringing ethnic groups together and improving the lot of minorities.

Inflation in 1997 was the lowest in 11 years - a mere 1.7 percent, the Labor Department said. Meanwhile, the Consumer Price Index posted a slight 0.1 percent gain for December. Analysts attributed the low inflation to the sharpest decline in energy costs in six years and the smallest increase in food in five years.

Health-care costs topped $1 trillion in a single year for the first time, according to a Health and Human Service Department report. Spending averaged $3,759 per person in 1996, up $126 from 1995, it said. But the government also said the average annual growth in total expenditures dropped to 4.4 percent, the lowest rate since the yearly tally of health expenditures - from medical research to Band-Aids - was first compiled in 1960.

Clinton plans to propose a $15 billion education plan in his budget that includes a major $7.3 billion initiative to recruit teachers and cut class size, The Wall Street Journal reported. An additional $5 billion would be used for school construction. The plan also includes large spending increases for poor children, it said. Administration officials haven't detailed how the new spending would be offset, the Journal said.

CBS announced its will pay $4 billion over the next eight years for the rights to televise American Football Conference games, wresting them away from NBC. Earlier, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Fox Sports would retain the rights to broadcast National Football Conference games after reaching agreement on an eight-year package. Details weren't disclosed. Unless NBC can negotiate a deal for Monday Night Football, the network will be left without professional football for the first time in more than three decades.

White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles ended speculation on his departure and announced he will remain in his post. He told reporters he's excited about Clinton's agenda for 1998 and the prospects growing from the projected balanced budget: an activist social agenda along with continued fiscal discipline.

The US Supreme Court ruled that courts in one state cannot bar those in other states from hearing testimony they deem relevant to a case. The justices reversed a lower-court decision that had thrown out an $11.3 million damage award against General Motors over a fatal traffic accident. The Missouri trial court had thrown out the award because the trial included testimony from a man barred by a Michigan judge from testifying against GM.

Television violence declined for a third consecutive year in the 1996/97 season, according to a University of California at Los Angeles study. But a new source of violent programming - so-called shockumentaries - has increased, the study found. The report also criticized four Saturday morning children's television shows that feature "sinister combat violence": "Power Rangers (Zeo and Turbo)," "Project G.e.e.K.e.R.," "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," and "X-Men."

The World

Iraq made good on its vow to refuse cooperation with a new UN weapons-inspection team led by Scott Ritter, a US Army captain in the Gulf War. Iraq said there were no plans to expel Ritter, but one newspaper branded him "a hyena who publicly serves American intelligence." Ritter called the accusation "ridiculous." The move escalated the ongoing challenge to the UN and the US over inspections. In Washington, President Clinton said Iraq could not "pick and choose" who serves on UN teams.

Protestant and Catholic negotiators were weighing the merits of a new plan that would hand power in Northern Ireland back to local politicians. It calls for a power-sharing assembly that would work in cooperation with the government of the Republic of Ireland in Dublin, an experiment attempted once before in 1974 but thwarted by a Protestant general strike.

Trading proceeded until the closing bell on the Tokyo Stock Exchange despite a hostage drama unfolding several floors above. A man described as an ultrarightist held a Finance Ministry official at gunpoint for six hours before surrendering to police and releasing the hostage unharmed. The intruder reportedly demanded a meeting with Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka. It was unclear whether the incident was related to recent losses on the exchange and gloom over the sagging Japanese economy.

Israel's Cabinet voted not to hand over additional land on the West Bank unless the Palestinian Authority first cracks down on Islamic militants. It also demanded annulment of sections of the Palestine Liberation Organization charter calling for the destruction of Israel. Analysts said the move appeared to make it unlikely that next week's meeting in Washington between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Clinton will yield results. The Cabinet decision followed an unsuccessful no-confidence vote on Netanyahu in parliament.

China's Communist Party hinted of growing discord in the ranks as President Jiang Zemin neared a sweeping overhaul of the government and money-losing state enterprises. A lengthy front-page essay in the People's Daily newspaper called on members to put personal interests aside and "unite around the Central Committee with comrade Jiang . . . at its core." When parliament convenes in March, Jiang is widely expected to name a new chairman and to replace Premier Li Peng. His plans have drawn fire from both hardliners and liberals.

Tensions rose higher in Mexico's Chiapas State as police fired into a crowd of demonstrators, killing a woman and wounding her infant daughter and another person. The incident came as tens of thousands of people across Mexico marched in protest against the Dec. 22 massacre of 45 Indians sympathetic to the state's Zapatista rebels. Videotape showed police in the village of Ocosingo ordering marchers to disperse and responding with tear gas and live ammunition when they didn't. The government arrested 27 policemen and announced an overhaul of their ranks.

Accusing Nicaragua's government of running roughshod over the rule of law, Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega called for massive street protests, which he said his party would join. Sandinista lawmakers shouted down President Arnoldo Aleman Saturday during his address to the National Assembly via live television. Over Supreme Court objections, Aleman's majority Liberal Party refuses to yield two leadership posts in the assembly to the 36-member Sandinista bloc. Aleman defeated Ortega for the presidency in 1996.


"There is never any reluctance to act alone if we must."

- White House spokesman Mike McCurry, on how the US might respond after Iraq's latest refusal to cooperate with American weapons inspectors.

News flash: The White House is for sale! No, not the one in Washington; this has nothing to do with suspected presidential influence-peddling The edifice in question - believed to have been the inspiration for the US executive mansion - stands in southwestern France, near Bordeaux. It hasn't been lived in since World War II.

Some US Postal Service officials in West Virginia have been suspended - for delivering the mail too fast. Eleven of them allegedly cheated on a test to check how quickly some sample letters reached the addresses they were sent to. The supervisors are accused of hiring "temps" to sort out the letters, which were then whisked the rest of the way by special delivery.

The Day's List

Ford F-Series Pickup Led US Vehicle Sales in '97

Again last year, the bestselling vehicles in the US were pickup trucks, according to figures provided by automakers. The top 15 in 1997 domestic sales, the number of units sold, and how that compared with 1996:

1. Ford F-Series 746,111 (1)

2. Chevy C/K Pickup 534,344 (2)

3. Toyota Camry 397,156 (7)

4. Honda Accord 384,609 (6)

5. Ford Explorer 383,852 (3)

6. Ford Taurus 357,162 (4)

7. Dodge Ram 350,257 (5)

8. Honda Civic 315,546 (10)

9. Chevy Cavalier 302,161 (14)

10. Ford Ranger 288,796 (9)

11. Dodge Caravan 285,736 (8)

12. Ford Escort 283,898 (11)

13. Jeep Grand Cherokee 260,875 (12)

14. Saturn 251,099 (13)

15. Chevy Lumina 228,451 (16)

- Associated Press

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