News In Brief

By , Lance Carden, and John Hoyle

The US

The issue of high-technology exports to China gave new life to the House inquiry into campaign fund-raising. Speaker Newt Gingrich named Rep. Chris Cox (R) of California to chair a new select panel to take over the probe. Meanwhile, the House voted unanimously in favor of immunity for four witnesses who are associates of Johnny Chung, a California businessman and Democratic Party fund-raiser who has reportedly said he received $300,000 from a Chinese aerospace official, passed $110,000 to the party, and kept the rest - an allegation China has denied.

The US trade deficit soared to a record $13 billion in March as America's trade gap with Japan, China, and other Asian countries widened yet again. The Commerce Department report showed the March deficit up 7 percent from a $12.2 billion imbalance in February. It was the fourth straight monthly increase.

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Millions of pagers stopped working when a $250 million communications satellite went out of control. The Galaxy 4 satellite, operated by PanAmSat, based in Greenwich, Conn., stopped relaying pager messages, as well as radio and TV feeds, at about 6 p.m. EDT Tuesday when its control system failed. The voice-mail function of pagers was not affected, but pagers stopped beeping or vibrating to indicate messages had been received. Virtually all paging firms were affected.

Three of Florida's gentle, giant manatees were released from captivity into the Everglades in an effort to help save the endangered species. Using a new satellite-tracking system, researchers hope to monitor the progress of the trio, who had been living at Miami's Seaquarium. The manatee, or sea cow, is a plant-eating leathery mammal that averages 10 feet in length and 1,000 pounds in weight.

The Senate tobacco debate bogged down in an emotional dispute over aid to farmers, giving an opening to those hoping to stall the bill indefinitely. Some tobacco-state Democrats had cooperated with the author of the bill, Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona, in exchange for having their tobacco farm-aid program included. But then majority leader Trent Lott announced he was incorporating a proposal by Sen. Richard Lugar (R) of Indiana that would give farmers $18 billion over a five-year period but would end all federal price supports for tobacco.

The US is shipping $5 million worth of safety equipment to Mexican firefighters to help combat a rash of wildfires, the Agency for International Development announced. The blazes have burned more than 1 million acres and affected visibility and air quality throughout Central America and Texas, as well as neighboring states.

Amnesty International accused the US Border Patrol of beating, raping, and mistreating detainees. The Immigration and Naturalization Service asked the Justice Department to look into the charge, but said allegations of civil rights abuses by Border Patrol officials are rare.

Two in 5 Americans have turned to a form of medicine not offered by their regular doctors, a published report indicated. Alternative medicine is equally popular among different racial, income, and gender groups, according to the survey of 1,000 people reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The Stanford University School of Medicine study found that the better- educated and those in relatively poor health were more likely to choose such alternatives as chiropractors, homeopathy, and spiritual healing.

A Tennessee high school senior shot a classmate to death on the school grounds, three days before the two would have graduated. Both were students at Lincoln County High School in Fayetteville, near the Alabama state line. No one else was injured. The exact motive for the two fatal rifle shots was not immediately clear. The incident was the latest in a recent rash of shootings at US schools.

The World

Secretary of State Albright broke her silence on the Indonesian crisis by calling for embattled President Suharto to quit. She said he'd "preserve his legacy" by permitting a transition to democracy. In Jakarta, residents awoke to the biggest display of force in decades, as 35,000 troops patrolled the streets. Opposition leaders canceled a planned nationwide rally, quoting a general as saying he "doesn't care at all" if his troops participated in an attack on protesters like Beijing's 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.

Worried that disgruntled Protestants may prevent a decisive victory tomorrow in the referendum on Northern Ireland's new peace accord, British Prime Minister Blair planned a last-minute, in-person appeal for "yes" votes. The pro-accord campaign picked up some late momentum from a concert in Belfast by the rock group U2, whose lead singer, Bono (center) invited the leaders of Northern Ireland's largest Protestant group (David Trimble, l.) and largest Catholic party (John Hume, r.) onto the stage to thunderous applause.

Rumors of an imminent attack by India on Pakistani-held areas of Kashmir sent the nation's main stock index reeling to its lowest close in more than four years. Meanwhile, in India, Prime Minister Vajpayee visited the site of last week's underground nuclear explosions and said his country was ready to "pay any price" for its security. He said future talks with Pakistan's leader would come only at the latter's initiative.

Under fire from followers in Cambodia's four-party opposition alliance, Prince Norodom Ranariddh resigned as its leader, aides said. Critics blasted Ranariddh for failing to consult with them before agreeing to end a boycott of parliament last week. That allowed passage of laws that give Premier Hun Sen, who ousted Ranariddh in a violent coup last year, greater power to control July's election. The alliance then announced it would sit out the election.

UN inspectors in Iraq resum-ed their search for warheads armed with biological and chemical agents, a spokesman in Baghdad said. Iraq claims to have destroyed and buried 77 such warheads in 1991 and that all but seven have been accounted for. But a month-long hunt that ended March 12 failed to locate them. The Security Council has said it will not lift economic sanctions until the destruction of Iraq's strategic-weapons arsenal is verified.

Workers at Hyundai Motors, South Korea's largest auto-maker, said they'd shut down the company via a strike next Wednesday after it announced 8,200 layoffs. Hyundai, the first conglomerate to announce such cuts because of the country's deep economic woes, said its sales have dropped by 50 percent. Up to half a million employees of South Korea's biggest businesses are expected to lose their jobs in the coming year because of the crisis.

There are no plans to investigate reports of rampant sexual abuse in Canada's military, its senior commander said. Gen. Maurice Baril said he was "extremely concerned" about 27 cases of rape and harassment of women reported by a newsmagazine. He urged others who had been mistreated to come forward, but added: "Changing the mentality of 90,000 people is very difficult."

Spreading social unrest in Russia reached Moscow, where thousands of demonstrators marched on the Kremlin to protest substandard conditions in education. The protests began when striking coal miners blocked two trans-Siberian rail lines at Prokopyevsk, halting a reported 420 trains. The regional governor declared a state of emergency. The miners demand payment of back wages. Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko denied reports that he'd use force to restore order.

Etceteras

" Anyone who abandons peace and returns to violence will find

no friends in America. Period."

- President Clinton, in an open letter to Northern Ireland voters on tomorrow's crucial peace-accord referendum.

Good thing that "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano" was written decades ago. If that pop classic were being compos-ed today, its title might have to be: "When the Swallows Come Back to Van Nuys." Administrators of the famous California mission to which the little birds have returned each spring for centuries from South America say restoration work has intimidated many of them into finding a quieter refuge. So it is that Van Nuys held "Swallows Day" last weekend, attracting hundreds of bird-watchers - some of whom used to trek to that more poetic-sounding habitat.

Speaking of fowl subjects, angry chicken-breeders in Malaysia decided to get even with the Trades Union Congress, which had organized a nationwide boycott because of rising market prices. The breeders dumped 100,000 live chicks at union headquarters in the capital, Kuala Lumpur. So, did the idea work? Not well. Union officials alerted the public, and in two hours all the chicks were gone. Then the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals got into the act, scolding the farmers for using the birds as pawns.

The Day's List

FBI Notes Crime Decline For Sixth Straight Year

The FBI reported recently that serious crime dropped during 1997 in every region of the US. It was the sixth straight annual decline in the number of serious crimes reported to police. The Northeast, where crime had soared the most in the late 1980s, experienced the biggest drop: 6 percent. But every region saw overall improvement. Key percentage changes from 1996 to 1997 by crime type, according to preliminary FBI figures:

Violent crimes - 5%

Murder - 9%

Robbery - 9%

Rape - 1%

Aggravated assault - 2%

Property crimes - 4%

Burglary - 3%

Larceny/theft - 4%

Auto theft - 5%

- Associated Press

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