News In Brief

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The US

President Clinton said he would let British and Irish leaders decide whether he should visit Northern Ireland before a May 22 vote on the province's recently negotiated peace agreement. The president said he didn't "want to do something that would undermine the chances for success." His comments came after a meeting with US envoy George Mitchell, who mediated the accord and urged Clinton to make the trip.

Clinton was to take part in a town-hall meeting in Houston on how racial issues help and hurt the world of sports. Among other scheduled panelists: New York Jets wide receiver Keshawn Johnson, Olympic medalist Jackie Joyner-Kersee, St. Johns University basketball player Felipe Lopez, San Diego Padres president John Moores, Cincinnati Reds Hall of Famer Joe Morgan.

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Clinton leaves today for four days in Chile, where he will join heads of state from 34 Western Hemisphere nations for a two-day Summit of the Americas in Santiago. The centerpiece of the summit will be negotiations to produce a hemispheric free-trade zone by 2005.

The State Department tried to block the execution in Virginia of a Paraguayan national, but the Justice Department told the US Supreme Court to deny appeals by death-row inmate Angel Francisco Breard and by Paraguay. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright wrote Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore (R), asking him to stay the execution because of an order by the World Court that it not be carried out. A spokesman said the administration believed the high court did not have power to stay the execution, but that Gilmore did. Breard's lawyers said his 1993 murder conviction was unconstitutional because he was denied access to Paraguayan consular officials during detention, an alleged breach of the 1963 Vienna Convention.

The Supreme Court refused to block a lower-court ruling that North Carolina must fashion a new redistricting plan for its 12th congressional district. Three of the nine justices dissented. Earlier this month, a lower court declared the district plan unconstitutional and ordered reconfiguration for the second time in two years, saying lawmakers had improperly considered racial factors.

A statute allowing the clergy to carry concealed guns in church is scheduled to be signed into law today by Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton (D). Ministers and priests of rural churches reportedly lobbied for the measure after the clergy were left out of a 1996 state law allowing certain people to carry concealed weapons.

Vice President Al Gore announced new steps to improve aviation safety, including more rigorous engine inspections and mandatory installation of enhanced ground-warning systems within three years. US officials say they hope to cut the nation's fatal-accident rate by 80 percent over 10 years.

Sales at retail stores fell in March for the first time in five months, weakened by a falloff in demand for costly durable goods, the Commerce Department said. Total sales declined 0.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted $218.38 billion, following a revised 0.7 percent gain in February that was previously reported as a 0.5 percent rise. Economists had forecast a 0.1 percent increase in March.

The consumer price index was unchanged in March for the second time this year, the Labor Department said. A closely watched "core" index rose a only a slight 0.1 percent - below forecasts of a 0.2 percent increase - after a 0.3 percent rise in February.

Five former commanders of the USS Constitution joined forces to protest plans by the Navy to sail the 200-year-old vessel in open seas this summer. The former commanders of "Old Ironsides" say it is too frail to make a planned trip in August to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

The World

Hundreds of thousands of copies of the new peace agreement landed on the doorsteps of homes across Northern Ireland as the campaign began for ratification in a May 22 referendum. But forces on both sides of the sectarian divide vowed to sabotage it. Speaking for Protestant rejectionists, the Rev. Ian Paisley called the deal a "betrayal" and a "surrender" to the Irish Republican Army. An IRA splinter group said the peace process "ignores Britain's centuries-old subjugation of the Irish nation" and warned it would continue to shoot and bomb targets in the province.

The Communist Speaker of Russia's lower house of parliament urged the confirmation of Prime Minister-designate Sergei Kiriyenko rather than risk having President Yeltsin call new national elections. Gennady Seleznyov left a meeting with Yeltsin saying, "my options have been exhausted." Communists object to Kiriyenko on grounds that he's too inexperienced for the post and led in voting to reject his nomination last week. A second vote is scheduled for Friday.

No serious injuries were reported, but witnesses said riot police arrested hundreds of people as a demonstration in Iran's capital turned violent. It began as a silent protest by university students against the impending trial of Tehran Mayor Gholamhossein Karbaschi on graft charges. But others soon joined, shouting slogans of support for Karbaschi and his ally, President Mohamad Khatami. The two are believed to be the objects of an effort by hard-line conservatives to even the score for Khatami's election victory last year. Khatami had asked the protesters to stay home.

Vaclav Havel, the president of the Czech Republic, was scheduled for emergency surgery in an Austrian hospital because of what his physicians called "a very serious condition" as the Monitor went to press. Havel, who was reelected to a second five-year term in January, was vacationing near Innsbruck.

Lawyers for former South African President P. W. Botha won a postponement of his trial on contempt charges, and reports from Johannesburg said it appeared the charges might even be dropped. Botha, the country's last hard-line leader, has defied repeated subpoenas to testify before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigates apartheid-era atrocities.

Calling the proposed designs "too abstract," Jewish leaders in Berlin asked for more time to reflect on plans to build a Holocaust memorial. Chancellor Kohl reportedly wants a swift decision on the final design so ground can be broken Jan. 27, the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. Berlin's mayor also said none of the designs adequately conveyed the dimensions of the Holocaust.

The bid by producer countries to push up crude-oil prices by slashing output appears to be making little headway, according to reports from Vienna. The Organization of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) said the price per barrel, which rallied briefly after the cut was announced last month, fell to an average of $12.59 last week and slipped further - to $12.43 - as trading opened this week. OPEC's target price is $21.

Thousands of civilians were reported fleeing from eastern Sierra Leone as rebel troops reorganized their command structure and were resisting a push by west African peace-keepers to drive them out. The Nigerian-led force swept the rebels from the capital, Freetown, Feb. 12, restoring the elected government of President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. But so far they have been unable to take the remaining strongholds of Kono and Kailahun.

Etceteras

"That our ministers feel the need to carry weapons in places of worship: What does

that say to our children?"

- Kentucky attorney Kathy Stein, on a new measure enabling the clergy to defend against collection-money theft.

Citigroup: has a nice ring to it, the idea people at Citicorp and Travelers Group decided when their companies committed to history's largest financial merger. But they overlooked one eensy little detail, The Wall Street Journal reports. The name already belongs to a small corporation that distributes gift certificates via the Internet. The new company admits it didn't do the research that would have turned up that information, so now the concerned parties must try to work something out. Stay tuned.

"Almost heaven," the late John Denver sang in his 1971 ode to West Virginia: "Take Me Home, Country Roads." But since that didn't inflate tourism as much as state officials might have hoped, organizers have come up with a new tack. Essays of no more than 100 words are due by July 1 for a contest that offers a free wedding in the scenic town of Buckhannon, gifts worth $15,000, and a scholarship for the winning couple's first child to West Virginia Wesleyan College. Apply for details to: Buckhannon-Upshur Chamber of Commerce, Box 442, Buckhannon, WV 26201.

The Day's List

No Sign That Financial Mega-Mergers Are Over

The three giant mergers announced over the past two weeks rank as the biggest deals in the history of the financial-services sector. And some analysts say consolidation of the domestic banking industry is not yet complete. The industry's top five deals, based on their reported value (in billions) at the time they were completed or on the day of their announcement:

1. Citicorp/Travelers Group April 6, 1998 (pending) $70

2. NationsBank/BankAmerica April 13, 1998 (pending) 59.3

3. Banc One/First Chicago April 13, 1998 (pending) 29.8

4. First Union/CoreStates Fin-ancial, Nov. 18, 1997 (pending) 16.1

5. NationsBank/Barnett Bank, Aug. 29, 1997 (complete) 14.6

- Associated Press

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