News In Brief

The US

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said US and state antitrust suits filed against the software giant were "without merit," and he vowed to fight them in court. The antitrust case accuses Microsoft of denying consumers choices in buying and using computers. Among other things, it accuses the company of requiring computermakers to install Microsoft's Internet browser as a condition of selling Windows 98 software and entering into agreements with Internet firms that limit the market for Netscape's browser.

A bipartisan commission proposed shoring up the Social Security system by establishing personal investment accounts and gradually raising the retirement age to 70. The report from the National Commission on Retirement Policy - a private group of lawmakers, economists, and business executives - said the rescue plan would make Social Security solvent for at least 75 years without raising taxes.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich said President Clinton should postpone a trip to China until the Justice Department determines whether two US firms gave sensitive missile data to Beijing in 1996. Gingrich is considering setting up a special committee to look into whether Clinton's decision this year to approve the export of satellite technology to China was influenced by illegal campaign donations from the Communist nation. Clinton is to visit Beijing next month for a summit with President Jiang Zemin.

Efforts by Clinton to resolve a trade dispute with Europe over US sanctions on firms investing in Cuba, Iran, and Libya drew a skeptical response from key GOP lawmakers. Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R) of New York blasted Clinton's decision to waive sanctions against three foreign firms over an investment in Iran. Secretary of State Albright had cited improved cooperation with the European Union and Russia to prevent Iran from developing weapons of mass destruction as a reason for the decision. Sen. Jesse Helms (R) of North Carolina characterized the accord with Europe as "a lot of hot air."

The Federal Reserve met in Washington amid expectations it would not raise interest rates despite growing concern about inflation among some Fed officials. Weighing risks of the economy overheating against the threat of a slowdown posed by Asia's economic crisis has been a theme at the Fed since the fall.

Gov. Pete Wilson (R) vetoed a bill that would have given California schools freedom to select any approach to bilingual education. He instead endorsed a ballot initiative that would teach immigrant children almost exclusively in English.

The government charged officials of some of Mexico's biggest banks with involvement in laundering profits that Colombian and Mexican drug lords made in the US. Among those charged were officials from 12 of Mexico's 19 largest banks. US Treasury officials said 112 people had been arrested and $35 million in drug money seized. Indictments were made public in US District Court in Los Angeles.

Leaders of the Mormon Church denied a report that they were preparing to disavow allegedly racist statements and doctrines promulgated by past officers. Church officials called the report "erroneous," adding they had "no plans" to issue such a statement.

House and Senate conferees decided to try to coax states to lower allowable blood-alcohol levels, rather than force them to do so. The Senate had overwhelmingly approved cutting highway funds to states that did not lower the levels to 0.08 percent from the more widely used 0.10 percent. House legislation favored the use of financial incentives. Critics said the bill's $500 million pool of money would be an insufficient incentive.

New housing starts slowed to a five-month low during April, the Commerce Department said. Total starts declined 2.3 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.538 million units.

The World

Indonesia's main Muslim opposition leader pledged to go ahead with a massive nationwide protest today after President Suharto's refusal to resign immediately. Student protesters occupying parliament grounds in Jakarta howled in dismay as Suharto announced he would call a new election for president "as soon as possible." He gave no date, but said he would not be a candidate. In the nation's No. 2 city, Sura-baya, dozens of people were hurt when Army troops drove trucks into two anti-Suharto rallies.

The Clinton administration hasn't pressed Israel hard enough to end the deadlock in Middle East peace negotiations, a senior Palestinian Authority official complained. He spoke after Secretary of State Albright failed in another round of diplomacy to break the 15-month stalemate. Albright reportedly lost her temper at Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in one inconclusive meeting last week. Back in Israel after his talks with Albright, Netanyahu denied reports that he'd accepted her proposal to yield 13.1 percent more West Bank land to Palestinians.

India said rival Pakistan was likely to retaliate for last week's nuclear tests by stepping up hostilities in the disputed region of Kashmir. Meanwhile, almost 100 Indian scientists, in a rare public display of criticism, signed a letter asking why their government had an expensive nuclear program but was not building needed schools and hospitals.

Reports that the daughter of a senior military officer gave generously to the 1996 Democratic Party election campaign in the US were denied by two government departments in China. The Foreign Ministry and a spokeswoman for China Aerospace called such accounts - in the Monitor and other US news outlets - "purely fabricated," "rumors," and a "political plot that will never get anywhere."

"Ninety-nine percent" of the forest fires that were sweeping across Mexico have been extinguished,the government said. The El Nio-driven blazes, which have cloaked parts of Texas and most of Central America in smoky haze, were being battled by more than 36,000 Army troops, firefighters, and volunteers.

Plans for a midsummer summit between presidents Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton were thrown into doubt when Russia's lower house of parliament delayed debate on ratifying the START-2 nuclear arms-reduction treaty until September. A spokesman for the Communist-dominated Duma said too little time remained to consider ratification before a scheduled July recess. Yeltsin and Clinton haven't met privately in more than a year, but reportedly agree that a summit is pointless without ratification.

Sixty-five people boarded a chartered plane in Nassau without protest as the Bahamas resumed deportation of refugees to Cuba after a five-month pause. Almost 200 other Cubans remain in a detention center, also awaiting possible deportation. A government spokesman called the cost of caring for Cuban and Haitian immigrants "astronomical."

The war of words between Ethiopia and Eritrea grew more heated as the latter was accused of deploying at least 20,000 troops along their common border and "building defenses." Eritrea admits its Army briefly engaged Ethiopian forces May 6 to retake disputed territory seized last November. Since last weekend, US envoy Susan Rice has been leading an international diplomatic effort to mediate the row.

Etceteras

" In the name of the Arab nation, I thank her from deep inside my heart."

- Palestinian Authority President Arafat, saying Hillary Rodham Clinton's endorsement of statehood for his people would help him justify a declaration of sovereignty next May.

Near-pandemonium reigned at the airport in Windhoek, Namibia, last Sunday as 13 heads of state arrived for a Southern African Development Community conference. Zambia's and Zimbabwe's leaders, among others, must have been delighted to see the hundreds of people cheering and surging forward as their planes rolled to a stop - until they learned the real reason why so many were there. Arriving at the same time was pop star Michael Jackson.

Rail service in Japan is famous for its efficiency and punctuality. Sometimes it even delivers a little extra for the money. Take the commuter run from Tokyo to Shinmachi last Sunday. In addition to their 56-mile trip, riders got an additional 900 yards when the distracted driver failed to apply the brakes until the train was already past the station. Reports cited "a little trouble" aboard because of 13 irate passengers who wanted to get off.

In India, a Hindu group has unveiled plans to build an "abode of cosmic energy" shrine as close as possible to the site of last week's nuclear tests.

'Deep Impact' Remains Dominant at Box Office

For the second week in a row, "Deep Impact" - skewered by critics and given only a fair shot at success by industry observers - was No. 1 at movie theaters in the US and Canada. Analysts said it needed a quick start to recoup some of its $80 million cost before the summer's first major release, "Godzilla," scrunches the competition. Grosses for top movies at North American theaters May 15-17 (in millions):

1. "Deep Impact" $23

2. "The Horse Whisperer" 14

3. "The Quest for Camelot" 6.0

4. "City of Angels" 3.1

5. "He Got Game" 2.4

6. "Titanic" 2.1

7. "Woo" 1.7

8. "Paulie" 1.6

9. "Les Miserables" 1.5

10. "The Big Hit" 1.4

- Exhibitor Relations Inc./AP

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