News In Brief

The US

Texas Gov. George W. Bush won a straw poll of GOP activists from Southern states, despite being the only major prospective candidate who declined to show up at a Southern Republican Leadership Conference. Bush won 18 percent of the votes. Second with 15 percent was publisher Steve Forbes. Former vice president Dan Quayle polled 12 percent, Tennessee Sen. Fred Thompson 10 percent, Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft 9 percent, former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander 8 percent, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich 6 percent. Asked who they expected to be the GOP nominee, 31 percent named Bush.

Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan is to appear tomorrow before the federal grand jury investigating ties between the president and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Independent counsel Kenneth Starr has also summoned two private investigators from Arkansas to testify about whether the White House has tried to obstruct justice by spreading "misinformation" about prosecutors. White House aide Sidney Blumenthal testified late last week about his contacts with the press.

Sixty-four percent of Americans approve President Clinton's handling of the Iraq crisis, although most doubt the UN deal with Saddam Hussein will solve anything, a Newsweek poll indicated. Forty-four percent of respondents found it "very likely" the US will take military action against Iraq within a year because Iraq will not honor the accord. Interviews with 752 adults were conducted late last week.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich called for a US veto of any UN resolution on Iraq that does not authorize military action if Baghdad reneges on arms inspections. The Georgia Republican lambasted France and Russia for their opposition to a Security Council resolution that would allow the US to subject Iraq to "very severe consequences" if it breaks the accord recently brokered by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The president urged two US regulatory agencies to implement campaign-finance reform, following a Senate deadlock on the issue. In separate letters, he urged the Federal Communications Commission to provide free and reduced-rate broadcast time to political candidates - and the Federal Election Commission to end the so-called "soft money" system of unregulated donations to political parties. The letters came after Senate opponents blocked passage late last week of a campaign-finance reform bill that would have banned soft-money donations.

The US Supreme Court agreed to rule on the constitutionality of the line-item veto that Congress gave the president last year. The expedited case is scheduled to be argued April 27, and a decision is expected by late June. The Republican-led Congress voted in 1996 to grant the president the unprecedented power to cancel specific items in spending and tax legislation.

Forty-seven percent of randomly audited taxpayers lived in 11 Southern states - and more than 85 percent of them had incomes below $25,000, a General Accounting Office study of 1994-96 returns indicated. However, during these three tax years, only 2,961 of 5.6 million audited returns were random. Such audits are restricted to groups that have raised the suspicions of the IRS. This apparently includes low-income working families who have claimed the earned-income tax credit.

Pan Am rejected a $15 million bailout offer, saying it would run charters and seek other funds to raise enough money to resume commercial flights. The airline had filed for bankruptcy protection in a Miami court late last week, saying it had $50 million in assets and $147 million in debts. It canceled flights over the weekend and through the middle of this week. Rothschild Recovery Fund, a New York investment group, made the $15 million offer Friday.

The World

Life in Indonesia has grown more difficult despite a massive financial bailout by the International Monetary Fund, and a more drastic rescue plan is needed, President Suharto said. He said he'd asked the IMF to help find a "more appropriate alternative" to the sweeping reforms and austerity measures tied to its $38 billion aid package. Ex-US Vice President Walter Mondale is due in Indonesia this week to tell Suharto the Clinton administration will oppose further IMF payments if the original reform plan isn't followed.

Vote counting begins today in India - the final phase of the country's violence-ridden national elections. Security forces kept more than 300 million ballots under heavy guard after voting ended Saturday with eight more deaths. At least 76 people were killed in five days of balloting. No party is expect-ed to win an outright majority in the powerful lower house of Parliament, although the Hindu nationalist BJP appeared likely to emerge with the most seats.

Nigeria braced for possible confrontations tomorrow as rival groups planned mass demonstrations over the presidential elections scheduled for August. Organizers said they hoped 2 million people would march to urge military ruler Sani Abacha to seek the office, which he already is considered certain to do. They said they were assured of "adequate police protection" and the help of the state oil company in transporting people to the march. Meanwhile, police said an anti-Abacha march planned for the commercial capital, Lagos, didn't have authorization and could be prevented by force.

For the first time in six months, Iraqis were given full rations of food and household goods Sunday under terms of the UN relief program. The US and Britain deny Iraqi accusations that they have been responsible for shortages of powdered milk, salt, and other commodities despite the UN's oil-for-food deal. A UN official said full rations were expected to be available from now on unless there are delays in collecting oil revenues.

Carrying placards that read, "Tony Blair Doesn't Care About Country Life," residents of rural areas in England, Scotland, and Wales converged on central London for a day of antigovernment protests. Organizers expected as many as 200,000 people to join the rally against legislation introduced in Parliament by Prime Minister Blair's Labour government that would ban fox hunting, allow hikers to roam across privately owned land, and stop the sale of beef on the bone.

As a senior Burmese military leader was promising a multiparty democracy and a market economy, his government announced the arrests of 40 students for allegedly plotting a campaign of bombings and assassinations, reports from Rangoon said. They said Lt. Gen. Khin Nyunt told visiting US executives that guidelines for a new Constitution were half-finished. Meanwhile, the All Burma Students Democratic Front denied it was behind any plot to kill the country's leaders, calling the charges "usual military propaganda." The arrests took place in January.

Voters trooped to the polls in the German state of Lower Saxony for a gubernatorial election that's likely to decide who challenges Chancellor Kohl's bid for a new term in September. A convincing win for moderate leftist incumbent Gerhard Schroeder could propel him past fellow Social Democrat Oskar Lafontaine for the party's nomination to oppose Kohl, analysts in the state capital, Hannover, said. The Social Democrats planned to announce their candidate for chancellor today.

Etceteras

"I refer to the more appropriate concept as IMF-Plus."

- Indonesian President Suharto, saying International Monetary Fund reforms of his country's battered economy haven't worked and new alternatives are necessary.

Buffalo, N.Y., may not exactly be drowning in crime. But two would-be thieves in the city almost did when they broke into a house to help themselves to the copper plumbing in the basement. They carefully shut off the electricity, but neglected to do the same with the water. Soon it was waist deep. When police arrived - having been tipped off by a neighbor - the suspects tried to escape detection by submerging and holding their breath. Eventually, however, they had to come up for air and their splashing gave them away.

Then there was the Hartford, Conn., man who brought along a Bible to his trial for driving an unregistered car - perhaps on the theory that it could cover a multitude of sins. But then a sheriff's deputy asked to see the book and, flipping through the pages, found a marijuana cigarette apparently being used as a mark-er. The suspect's rap sheet soon grew to include a new charge: drug possession.

The Day's List

Buck-a-Gallon Gasoline Is Increasingly Available

As of mid-February, unleaded regular gasoline was averaging less than a dollar a gallon at self-serve stations in four states, with prices only 1 to 5 cents more in 11 others. Nationally, according to an American Automobile Association survey, the average for the month was $1.11 - the lowest since May 1994. The cheap-gas states and their average prices per gallon:

Georgia $ .96

Missouri .96

Oklahoma .97

South Carolina .98

Arkansas 1.01

Kansas 1.01

Indiana 1.02

Kentucky 1.03

New Jersey 1.03

Texas 1.03

Virginia 1.03

Iowa 1.04

Michigan 1.04

Ohio 1.04

Tennessee 1.04

Mississippi 1.05

North Carolina 1.05

- Associated Press

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