News In Brief

The US

The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a law allowing the state to pay tuition for poor children to attend religious schools. The court ruled 4 to 2 that the program did not violate constitutional church-state separation provisions "because it has a secular purpose" and "will not have the primary effect of advancing religion." Opponents promised an appeal.

The House passed a bill that would tighten federal bankruptcy laws. Individuals with incomes above the median family income level - about $50,000 for families of four - would be required to pay their debts if they had enough discretionary income. In addition to limiting the number of Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions a consumer could file, the bill would also prevent individuals from hiding assets in their homes, which in many states are protected in bankruptcies.

House and Senate negotiators dropped two controversial provisions of an education bill, prompting some Democrats to vow to work with Republicans to try to override a threatened presidential veto. The bill would create special savings accounts with tax-free interest that could be used for school expenses ranging from private tuition to after-school tutoring, from kindergarten up. One dropped amendment would have banned a national educational testing program. The other would have turned many federal education programs into block grants for states.

A Florida jury delivered the biggest liability verdict ever against the cigarette industry, ordering Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. to pay nearly $1 million to the family of a man who died after smoking Lucky Strikes for almost 50 years. The verdict marked the first time a tobacco firm had been ordered to pay punitive damages because smoking cigarettes is inherently dangerous. The jury in Jacksonville award-ed $500,000 in compensatory damages and $450,000 in punitive damages.

California Gov. Pete Wilson (R) urged President Clinton to ban oil development off the state's coast. He spoke out on the eve of a National Ocean Conference that began in Monterey Thursday. Most of California's 1,100-mile coastline is protected by a state-mandated moratorium on oil and gas leasing, but this is only effective up to three miles out. White House officials said Clinton, who was to address the conference today, was considering extending a federal moratorium on offshore oil and gas development that covers the outer continental shelf, excluding the Gulf of Mexico and some of the waters off Alaska.

Clinton called for tougher penalties to strengthen the 1963 Equal Pay Act. He celebrated the 35th anniversary of the act by backing a bill that would permit women - who on average earn three-quarters of what men make - to sue for compensatory and punitive damages if they experience wage discrimination.

The number of General Motors plants shut down by a lack of parts reached seven as the automaker and union negotiators continued to talk. More than 18,000 hourly workers in the US and Canada had been idled so far by a strike in Flint, Mich., but that number was expected to rise quickly if the two sides remained at odds.

Retail sales jumped 0.9 percent last month, the seventh consecutive increase, the Commerce Department said. Pushed by a spending spree on cars and trucks, retail sales jumped to a seasonally adjusted $224.6 billion in May, larger than predicted by economists.

Foreign spending to purchase US companies dropped in 1997 for the first time in five years, the Commerce Department reported. Nonetheless, such spending still remained near record levels as the strong economy attracted overseas investors. Foreigners spent $70.8 billion to buy US companies or establish new businesses last year, down 11.4 percent from the all-time high of $79.9 billion in 1996.

The World

Air strikes against targets "in the whole of Yugoslavia" would be ordered if NATO chose a last-resort strategy to end the violence in Kosovo, Germany's Defense Minister said. Volker Ruehe said a "no fly" zone for the Yugoslav Air Force and a zone of exclusion for all heavy weapons were other measures under consideration by planners. Meanwhile, Russian President Yeltsin invited his Yugoslav counterpart, Slobodan Milosevic, to Moscow to discuss the Kosovo tensions.

The World Bank's president urged Japan to move swiftly to cure its economic malaise because "the world is coming to count on you now." James Wolfensohn spoke amid expectations that Japan will announce today it has sunk into recession. Meanwhile, Thailand added to the international pressure on Japan, criticized for reacting too slowly to its financial woes. A senior official in Bangkok warned that another fall in the yen would spark "a second Asian crisis" and a worldwide depression.

Nigeria's largest city braced for the first public protest today against new military President Abdulsalam Abubakar. Organizers were warned of a "heavy" response if they insisted on mounting demonstrations for democracy. A leading activist also vowed to challenge Abubakar's appointment before the Supreme Court on grounds that Nigerian law does not provide for a military chief of staff to succeed the head of state.

Mainline Zapatista rebels - rather than proxies who support them - were directly involved in a firefight with police and Army troops in the Mexican state of Chiapas, the government said. Nine people died in a battle for control of El Bosque, a town known for Zapatista sympathies. Since a 1996 partial peace accord, most clashes have been between supporters of the rebels and paramilitaries who side with the government.

Emergency crews and food-distribution teams moved into a coastal region of western India after a two-day cyclone that killed at least 550 people. It also left hundreds of thousands of others homeless, flooded virtually every road in the region, cut electricity, and caused upwards of $285 million in property damage. Hardest-hit was the port of Kandla, where officials said no warnings were received that would have given residents time to evacuate.

Pakistan declared a moratorium on nuclear-weapons tests and called on rival India to do the same. The move followed a warning earlier in the day by Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan that the dispute with India over Kashmir could trigger nuclear war "at any time."

The former apartheid government of South Africa once toyed with the idea of developing a biological weapon that would kill only black people, a scientist involved with the project told the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Dr. Daan Goosen said he'd been wrong to work on the project but blamed the "hysterical mood" of the early 1980s, when "communism was coming."

An estimated 700 foreign nationals prepared to flee Guinea-Bissau by ship as government forces readied for another attempt to crush a rebellion by renegade soldiers. The Portuguese, French, and American evacuees could not escape by plane. Bissau's airport has been closed since the rebels, headed by the country's former armed forces chief, launched a coup attempt last weekend.

Filipinos today celebrate the centennial of their country's declaration of independence after 333 years of Spanish rule. The declaration is considered the climax of Asia's first revolution against Western colonialism.

Etceteras

" More people filed for personal bankruptcy than graduated from college last year."

- US Rep. James Moran (D) of Virginia, during debate on a bill passed by the House

that would toughen federal bankruptcy laws.

Having some free time on their hands, seven young friends in Monahans, Texas, decided they'd play basketball. As they did, on town property, a chunk of rock landed dangerously close by. Had someone thrown it at them? Did it fall from a nearby building? Neither. Expert examination showed it was a meteorite. A fight over possession ensued - not among the friends, but with the town council. This week, perhaps sensing they were in a losing public relation battle, the councilors voted unanimously to return the rock to the finders. Next step: selling it and splitting the proceeds. The bidding is already up to $31,000.

In what could be a sign of things to come, Singapore Airlines has installed electronic gambling software in the in-flight entertainment system aboard one of its jets. Access is limited to adults via credit card, and games are played on a monitor at each gambler's seat. A spokesman for the carrier said the trial will last several months and could be extended to other planes if it proves popular. There are no gambling casinos on the ground in the small Asian republic.

The Day's List

US Women-Owned Firms: Where They're Thriving

Among 50 top metropolitan areas, the number of women-owned enterprises is apparently growing fastest in Portland, Ore./Vancouver, Wash. That is the conclusion of a new study by the National Foundation for Women Business Owners, using statistics from 1987 and 1996. Cities showing the fastest growth in women business owners, as measured by the number, employment, and sales of such firms:

1. Portland, Ore./Vancouver, Wash.

2. Seattle/Bellevue/Everett, Wash.

3. Phoenix/Mesa, Ariz.

4. Houston

5. Nashville, Tenn.

6. Miami

7. Sacramento, Calif.

8. Dallas

9. Orlando, Fla.

10. San Diego

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