News In Brief

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The US

Profits of US corporations endured their sharpest decline in nearly four years during the final three months of 1997, the Commerce Department said. After-tax profits slipped 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter, to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $483.7 billion, despite an economy that grew during the quarter at a brisk 3.7 percent annual rate. The drop in profits was the worst since the first quarter of 1994.

A congressional agency recommended delaying the Air Force's F-22 fighter program. Citing engineering problems and a lack of testing, the General Accounting Office said the Pentagon should delay a decision to spend $595 million on production of the first two planes until late 1999. The Air Force insisted it is ready to approve production in December 1998 - and that delay would add billions to program costs.

Recommended: Default

The Senate called for a UN tally of how much the US has spent enforcing Security Council resolutions since 1990. The nonbinding resolution was approved on a 90-to-10 vote as part of a bill that includes funding for military operations in Bosnia and Iraq. It also calls on the UN to reduce the US share of the cost of peacekeeping operations from about 30 percent to 25 percent. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina sponsored the measure to counter criticism of Washington for not paying approximately $1 billion in back dues that the US owes to the UN.

Helms reportedly has doubts about Clinton's current choice to be ambassador to Mexico. The president apparently has decided on career diplomat Jeffrey Davidow for the post. Helms shot down the original choice, former Gov. William Weld (R) of Massachusetts last summer. Congressional sources said Helms believes Davidow, who heads the State Department's Latin America bureau, has not moved aggressively to enforce a 1996 statute that denies visas to executives of foreign firms in Cuba that do business on property confiscated from Americans.

The House Oversight Committee approved $1.3 million to hire 18 new staff members for the Judiciary Committee. The funds were requested in December by Judiciary chairman Henry Hyde (R) of Illinois, who said the positions were needed to strengthen oversight of the Justice Department although they could take on an impeachment probe if necessary. The GOP-dominated Oversight Committee also approved another $1.8 million to continue the House probe of possible campaign fund-raising abuses.

The FBI disputed a former agent's claim that he found evidence supporting a frame-up in the assassination of civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Donald Wilson said earlier this week he had discovered the evidence, two slips of paper, in James Earl Ray's car six days after King was shot by a sniper in Memphis, Tenn., April 4, 1968, but did not tell anyone. FBI records show Wilson was not among the five agents who searched the car - and his claim is a "total fabrication," an agency spokesman said. Ray has been seeking a new trial since pleading guilty in 1969 to assassinating King.

A federal judge told Terry Nichols he probably would be sentenced to life in prison unless he helps to resolve lingering questions about the Oklahoma City bombing. Nichols was convicted Dec. 23 in Denver of a conspiracy and eight counts of involuntary manslaughter in the April 19, 1995, bombing that killed 168 people and injured hundreds of others.

If the US space agency sold tickets for the shuttle, it would have to charge $10 million apiece just to break even, a study by the agency and private industry concluded. The report said offering vacations in space to civilians is potentially lucrative, but prices would have to be held to about $100,000 for it to be a feasible business.

Sturgeon, the source for some of the finest caviar, are facing extinction unless international regulations to halt their decline are followed, a US agency reported. Caspian Sea sturgeon, which supply about 90 percent of the market, have declined by about 70 percent over the past 20 years due to poaching and overfishing, a Fish and Wildlife Service official said.

The World

With senior diplomats in tow, UN weapons inspectors set off to check the first of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's palace compounds. Reporters were barred from following the group, which appeared to be headed to Radwaniyah, a compound near Baghdad's airport. The group did not include UN inspection chief Richard Butler, who left Iraq before the mission began.

President Yeltsin kept Russians guessing about whom he will choose as new prime minister, but challenged the acting head of government to prove he is worthy of the position. Yeltsin said he wanted to hear today how interim Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko would tackle Russia's problems before making the appointment permanent. Leaders of the Communist-dominated lower house of parliament cast doubt of Kiriyenko's qualifications for the post, noting that he has little economic or administrative experience.

US envoy Robert Gelbard was shuttling between Belgrade and Kosovo in an attempt to urge Yugoslav President Milosevic and ethnic Albanian leaders to negotiate on the future of the troubled province. The six-nation "contact group" wants to see whether Milosevic will open talks before it meets again in four weeks to consider tough new sanctions against his government. But state-run news media broadcast unusually strong criticism of "foreign meddling" in Yugoslav affairs, suggesting diplomatic efforts will meet resistance.

New Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee appeared likely to survive his first no-confidence test in Parliament, where a vote is expected tomorrow. Those prospects were enhanced when an influential regional leader said his party's 12 lawmakers would abstain from the vote. Without their help, Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party and its coalition partners would be too few in number to defeat the motion.

President Clinton became the first US chief executive to visit South Africa. He was to address parliament and hold talks with senior government and business leaders before heading to Botswana and Senegal for the second week of his African tour.

Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party surprised analysts by announcing a $124 billion economic stimulus plan - almost twice as large as first expected. It was not immediately clear whether the package would lean more heavily toward an income-tax cut or increased government spending on public-works projects. The latter would likely deepen Japan's budget deficit and delay hopes to bring it under control early in the next century.

In Canada, the stage was set for a new confrontation over separatism as Conservative Party leader Jean Charest prepared to announce he will jump to the rival Quebec Liberal Party. Charest is an outspoken advocate of Canadian unity. Opinion polls show he is the only politician popular enough to challenge the separatist Parti Quebecois and its fiery leader, Premier Lucien Bouchard, in the next provincial election, which must be held by the fall of 1999.

Thousands of peasant farmers in central China clashed violently with police sent to disperse them, causing scores of injuries, a monitoring group reported. Human Rights in China said its sources placed the incident on the Kaifeng-Zhengzhou highway, 370 miles south of Beijing. It said the farmers, angry over government plans to seize their land and sell it for a business development zone, blocked the highway when local officials ignored their complaints. The report was denied by a spokesman in Beijing.

Etceteras

"Our mission is very important. I wish that we will succeed in it -

for the benefit of everybody."

- Italian diplomat Pietro Cordone, on joining the first UN weapons inspection of an Iraqi presidential palace.

The biggest winner - or should that be wiener? - once baseball season opens next week may be . . . the Los Angeles Dodgers. The National Hot Dog and Sausage Council predicts the team will sell 2.2 million frankfurts this year to hungry fans, more than any other major league franchise. In all - ballpark figures, now - it's estimated that baseball spectators will consume 26 million hot dogs by the time the World Series ends in October, or enough to circle the bases 36,000 times.

Even with President Clinton away in Africa, plenty of dirt is still being spread around the White House. Literally. It seems that since the Lewinsky story broke TV crews have trampled the lawn in front of the executive mansion to mud. Taking advantage of the President's absence, gardeners are repairing the damage with fresh topsoil.

In New York this week, 10 couples met for a contest to see which one could hold a kiss longest and - perhaps - gain admission to the Guinness Book of World Records. Also awaiting the winners: a trip to Paris, the City of Love.

The Day's List

Top Book Publishers in North American Market

When the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG announced this week its intent to buy Random House - one of the five largest US book publishers - it raised fresh concerns in literary circles over the rapid consolidation taking place in the industry. Bertelsmann's move will put half of the US's 20 largest publishers in foreign hands and give the combined company a 10 percent share of the $21 billion-a-year North American book market. The major North American publishers and their sales in 1996 (in billions):

Simon & Schuster $2.3

Thomson Corp. 1.5

McGraw-Hill 1.3

Random House 1.3

Pearson 1.2

Time Warner 1.1

Harcourt General 1.1

Bertelsmann Group 1.0

- The New York Times

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