News In Brief

The US

President Clinton was to head home from Africa, his political fortunes boosted by a judge's surprise decision to toss out the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. US District Judge Susan Webber Wright dismissed the suit, saying its claims "fall far short" of being worthy of trial. Jones's legal team vowed to appeal. Jones was not available for comment. Special prosecutor Kenneth Starr said the ruling would not affect his Whitewater inquiry.

The Barnes & Noble book chain said it would try to block a subpoena by Starr's office demanding records of purchases made by former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The retailer said a subpoena served March 25 requests records related to 12 purchases made since November 1995, at a store in Washington. The firm said the subpoena "raises the issue of whether the government has the right to pry into the reading preferences of every individual."

More Americans than ever want to see an end to probes into Clinton's alleged sexual indiscretions, a survey indicated. The Gallup-CNN-USA Today poll, taken hours after the ruling in the Jones case, found a wide majority of respondents saying the decision was correct and "good for the country." Sixty-seven percent said the inquiries should now stop, up from 61 percent in a poll taken about 10 days earlier. Thirty-one percent said the probes should continue.

A US Senate panel voted overwhelmingly for a comprehensive tobacco bill that would raise cigarette prices by $1.10 over five years and limit tobacco firms' legal liability to $6.5 billion a year. The Commerce Committee cleared the way for the bill to go to the Senate floor on a 19-to-1 vote.

Smoking by high-school students rose 36 percent between 1991 and 1997, fueled by an 80 percent increase in smoking rates among black teenagers, US health officials reported. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said cigarette smoking increased by 28 percent among white students and 34 percent among Hispanic students during the same period.

The House approved a massive six-year, $217 billion transportation-funding plan, dismissing objections from the White House and fiscal conservatives. Passed by a 337-to-80 margin, the bill would boost spending by 43 percent. It exceeds limits set in last year's US budget by $26 billion. Republicans failed for the second time in a month to eliminate an affirmative-action program that seeks to award companies owned by minorities and women 10 percent of all federal transportation contracts.

The House also approved a measure that would allow credit unions to expand beyond their traditional membership base. The 411-to-8 vote would reverse a Supreme Court ruling that these nonprofit, untaxed financial institutions have been expanding illegally over the past 16 years.

Proposals to use US budget surpluses to set up private retirement accounts drew support from House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Launching GOP plans to promote Social Security changes, Gingrich said the accounts he supports would be an add-on to Social Security and not replace any part of the current system.

Orders to factories fell sharply in February, pulled down by a decline in demand for aircraft, the Commerce Department said. The 0.9 percent drop followed a 0.6 percent increase in January. Meanwhile, state applications for unemployment benefits fell to a seasonally adjusted 309,000 last week, a decrease of 5,000 from the week before, the Labor Department said. The level signals strong demand for labor.

The World

Japan's economy is in deep recession and "on the verge of collapsing," leading analysts said. The Bank of Japan's gauge of business confidence for March fell to its lowest level since mid-1994, small companies reported that banks are increasingly reluctant to lend to them, and the chairman of powerful Sony Corp. warned of a "long spiral of deflation [that would] have a damaging effect on the world economy." The news sent the Nikkei index on the Tokyo stock exchange to its lowest close of the year and the yen slumped in trading against the US dollar.

With a vote looming in parliament on confirmation of his controversial nominee for prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin agreed to widen talks on the future of his government. The talks now will include trade-union and regional political leaders as well as key members of parliament, reports said. Rival Communists, who control the lower house of parliament, object to Yeltsin's choice of Sergei Kiriyenko on grounds he is too inexperienced. But they agreed to postpone the confirmation vote from today to next Wednesday.

A 980-pound terrorist bomb, one of the largest ever assembled in the Northern Ireland conflict, was intercepted by police. It was found in a car waiting to board a ferry from Dublin in the Irish Republic to Britain. The unidentified driver, believed linked to a dissident faction of the Irish Republican Army, was arrested.

A New York Times report claiming the US and China had made a deal that would free leading political dissident Wang Dan was denied by the Foreign Ministry in Beijing. Wang, who is ill, was jailed for sedition in 1995. The Times said he would be sent into exile to reciprocate for the US decision last month not to cosponsor a UN resolution criticizing China's human-rights record.

What may have been the final obstacles to the introduction of the euro next Jan. 1 were struck down by Germany's highest court. It rejected two challenges to the single currency brought by academicians who claimed that they were denied the right to participate in Germany's decision to accept the euro and that it would erode the value of their savings and property.

Jewish groups protested the fact that French Nazi collaborator Maurice Papon received only a 10-year prison sentence instead of a symbolic life term for deporting more than 1,000 people to German death camps between 1942 and 1944. He was convicted in Bordeaux after the longest trial in postwar France. Papon, a former senior government official, will serve no prison time until his appeals are exhausted, which could take years.

Ultranationalist leader Jean-Marie Le Pen was expected to appeal a French court ruling stripping him of his civic rights for two years. The controversial National Front chief was convicted of assaulting a woman candidate from a rival party in a campaign-stop scuffle last May. If the ruling is upheld, he'll lose his regional office, his seat in the European Parliament, and his right to vote. The court also fined him $3,000.

The special committee mediating talks between the Mexican government and Zapatista rebels is biased and favors confrontation instead of dialogue, the Interior Ministry said. Analysts said the accusation was aimed at reining in the panel, formed in 1994 of academicians, writers, and clergymen with a record of criticizing the government. It achieved early success in helping arrange peace talks, but those broke off more than a year ago. Meanwhile, the government scored a public-relations victory as thousands of people in Ococingo marched in support of an Indian-rights proposal to end the four-year Zapatista uprising.

Eceteras

"Both Bill and I have felt throughout this whole thing that it would turn out fine ... based on the fact there was no evidence to support these groundless claims."

- Hillary Rodham Clinton, on the court ruling throwing out Paula Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit.

Critics of income-tax agencies offer the New Mexico Department of Revenue as proof that they have no sense of humor. To test the reliability of the department's new $30 million computer system, auditors for the legislature filed fake returns under such names as Bozo and Bozette Clown and Lassie Collie. The computer rejected each one. But to revenue officials it was no laughing matter. "They had no permission to do that," one fumed. "If the computer hadn't caught them, they'd have done a report on how bad we are."

Could you use a cool paperweight featuring the likenesses of Boris Yeltsin, Jacques Chirac, and Helmut Kohl? Apply to the Ural Mountain city of Yekaterinburg, Yeltsin's hometown. You'll find a buyers' market. It has loads of them, left over from a meeting of the Russian, French, and German leaders that was to have been held there last month. But, after the city spent $11 million to put the best face on the get-together, it was shifted at the last minute to a resort outside Moscow. No summit, no international exposure, and now - it appears - no reimbursement either from the cash-strapped Russian treasury.

Ranking the World's Top Manufacturing Centers

A world-class manufacturing area is distinguished by productivity, competitiveness, enterprise, and community commitment, say the editors of IndustryWeek magazine. It has just published a list of what it says are the world's top manufacturing centers. The editors note that it is in large measure the manufacturers themselves who have chosen these locations - by investing heavily in them. The top eight, in alphabetical order:

Detroit

Glasgow/Edinburgh, Scotland

Kokomo, Ind.

Osaka, Japan

So Paulo, Brazil

Shanghai, China

Tokyo

Toronto

- Reuters

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