News In Brief

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The US

President Clinton asked Americans to support him with prayer in his "difficult decision" on whether to risk the lives of US forces in a possible military showdown with Iraq. He spoke at the 46th annual National Prayer Breakfast in Washington. Defense Secretary William Cohen said Clinton soon is likely to approve sending additional troops, aircraft, and ships to the Gulf.

William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky's attorney, denied that talks are under way to try to secure immunity for the former White House intern in return for details of her relationship with Clinton. Meanwhile, Kenneth Starr's office told Ginsburg the independent counsel wasn't able to accept his initial offer for Lewinsky to testify in exchange for full immunity, sources familiar with the talks said. The Washington Post said prosecutors have asked her to submit to questioning early next week. Also, a grand jury heard testimony from White House steward Bayani Nelvis and presidential assistant Kris Engskov. Nelvis's lawyer denied a Wall Street Journal report that his client testified to seeing Clinton and Lewinsky alone in a study adjoining the Oval Office.

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The West Coast braced for more El Nio-driven storms as California Gov. Pete Wilson declared a state of emergency in 10 counties. Communities across the region stocked up on sandbags and cleared storm drains. In Florida, Gov. Lawton Chiles also declared a state of emergency.

The Big Three automakers agreed to sell millions of cars with cleaner-burning engines, beginning in 1999, as part of a compromise aimed at easing air pollution in the Northeast. The new vehicles will emit nearly 70 percent less smog-causing tailpipe pollution than cars now available. The Environmental Protection Agency has been brokering talks between the automakers and the Northeastern states.

A group of US news organizations requested that a gag order be lifted in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case against Clinton. Eleven major newspapers and television networks filed a motion in a Little Rock, Ark., federal court seeking a hearing before Judge Susan Webber Wright. The group said the gag order hasn't been effective in protecting against pre-trial publicity and instead has promoted "misinformation, speculation, innuendo, and rumor." Clinton's lawyers also have cited leaks and asked that the trial be advanced from late May to mid-March.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced new sanctions against underage consumption of alcohol. Disciplinary actions include: written reprimands, mandatory counseling, probation, loss of housing, and up to $1,500 in fines and possible expulsion. Since September, three MIT fraternities have been cited for drinking problems. One student died and another was hospitalized from alcohol poisoning, and 22 others have been charged with alcohol violations.

Clinton announced creation of a White House council to coordinate efforts to head off computer problems that threaten critical federal services when the calendar year changes to 2000. The problem is expected to occur because many computer systems are programmed to recognize only the last two digits in a date, misinterpreting 2000 as 1900.

The House and Senate voted to rename Washington National Airport in honor of former President Ronald Reagan. Clinton planned to sign the bill, but opponents have promised a court challenge. They contend the measure violates the federal government's lease to a local airport authority, which Reagan signed into law in 1986.

Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan announced he will not run for governor of California. He had considered challenging state Attorney General Dan Lungren in the Republican primary. Rep. Jane Jarman, a moderate Democrat, who represents a Los Angeles district, entered the race hours later.

The World

Russia "shall not allow" a coalition of western military forces to attack Iraq, President Boris Yeltsin said. He repeated an earlier warning that a US-led strike could unleash a new world war but did not say how Russia would respond. He said the weapons-inspection crisis had peaked and "is going down."

Iraq's Parliament complained that initiatives to resolve the inspections crisis have gone unheeded by the US and postponed any resolution on the situation until next week. Iraq invited members of Russia's parliament for "field visits" to presidential palaces. A similar invitation was extended to members of the US Congress last week.

The US reinforced its naval fleet in the Gulf with a battle group including the aircraft carrier Independence. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the UN Richardson flew to Brazil, another nonpermanent member of the Security Council, to seek support for a possible attack on Iraq after similar talks with Portuguese, Slovenian, Swedish, Kenyan, Gabonese, and Gambian officials. In Ottawa, Prime Minister Jean Chretien promised a debate in Parliament before any Canadians were committed to an assault.

France and China, both permanent members of the Security Council, announced unyielding opposition to an attack. But the Beijing government demanded Iraq comply with UN arms inspections. In 1990, China abstained from the vote to authorize a war against Iraq, the only permanent council member to do so.

Truckloads of live chickens - the first to be allowed into Hong Kong in six weeks - are due to arrive from other parts of China tomorrow morning. Imports were banned and 1.4 million chickens were slaughtered in late December after six people died from what authorities said was a virus previously thought to affect only birds. The government paid $97 million in compensation to Hong Kong's poultry industry.

In cities across Germany, thousands of jobless people joined in protests against the country's record unemployment rate. Much of their anger was vented at the government of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who is seeking reelection in September. Kohl only recently offered a plan for generating new jobs, after insisting that market forces would alleviate the problem. The current unemployment rate is 12.8 percent - the highest since World War II.

China reversed a decision to deny the use of its air space to three European balloonists - but too late to salvage their round-the world mission. The crew was expected to land in Burma today after attempting to set one more record: the longest nonstop, unrefueled flight, currently held by a US experimental plane.

Women in Portugal were given increased access to abortions under a new law approved by a nine-vote margin in parliament. Pregnancies may now be terminated on request up to the 10th week. The old law allowed abortions up to 12 weeks only in cases of rape or certain narrowly defined medical reasons. Portugal was one of the last countries in Europe without a liberal abortion law, causing countless women to travel to Spain for the procedure, family planners said.

Political observers on Cyprus predicted a runoff would be necessary to choose a new president, with opinion polls showing virtually even support for incumbent Glafcos Clerides and challenger George Iakovou in Sunday's election. International mediators say they hope the eventual winner can coax the Turkish community on the divided island to join in negotiations for membership in the European Union in the spring.

"We saw what the French were doing, and it gave us ideas. The Germans aren't so spontaneous."

- An out-of-work Berliner, comparing nationwide unemployment protests in Germany to those in neighboring France.

Etceteras

Ryan Gerken's integrity was on the line when a drug-sniffing dog led police to his locker at Bowling Green (Ohio) Junior High. Inside was a plastic bag containing greenish powder. It was analyzed in the police lab and then by the health department. Was the stuff barbiturates? Maybe amphetamines? When all tests proved inconclusive, Ryan was called in to explain. And the substance turned out to be . . . laundry soap mixed with glue and paint to form a model of Earth for last fall's science project. It had been crushed under the weight of his schoolbooks.

It turns out there still is a brisk market for paparazzi. Just ask Bill Gates. A prankster in Brussels hit the Microsoft chairman in the face with a cream pie as he arrived for a meeting with Belgian government and business leaders. As he was led away to tidy up, TV networks began bidding up to $4,000 apiece for pictures of the incident.

The Day's List

Who Are the 15 Richest Members of Congress?

1. Sen. John Kerry (D) Massachusetts $550 million

2. Rep. Amos Houghton (R) New York $350 million

3. Sen. Herbert Kohl (D) Wisconsin $300 million

4. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D) West Virginia $200 million

5. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) California $50 million

6. Sen. Frank Lautenberg ( D) New Jersey $40 million

7. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) Massachusetts $35 million

8. Sen. Robert Bennett (R) Utah $30 million

(tie) Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R) New Jersey $30 million

(tie) Rep. Norm Sisisky (D) Virginia $30 million

(tie) Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D) California $30 million

12. Rep. Chris Cannon (R) Utah $20 million

(tie) Sen. Bill Frist (R) Tennessee $20 million

(tie) Sen. Chuck Robb (D) Virginia $20 million

15. Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R) North Carolina $17 million

- Roll Call Inc., Washington

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