News In Brief

The US

President Clinton nominated UN Ambassador Bill Richardson as the next energy secretary and chose Bosnian peace broker Richard Holbrooke as his replacement. If confirmed by the Senate, Richardson would take over the energy post from Federico Pea, who is stepping down in July. Holbrooke (r.) has served as special US envoy to Bosnia, as ambassador to Germany, and as an assistant secretary of state.

The Senate killed its giant tobacco bill after a month of debate over a measure that would have raised cigarette prices by $1.10 a pack over five years. After the 53-to-46 vote, several Democrats vowed to force the issue back onto the Senate floor before the November elections, accusing conservative Republicans of doing the bidding of the tobacco industry. Majority leader Trent Lott said the measure had become a big-government "tax and spend" bill.

The US trade deficit soared to a record $14.5 billion in April, as the Asian financial crisis battered exports, pushing down sales of everything from aircraft to farm products. The Commerce Department said the April deficit was 9.5 percent higher than a March imbalance of $13.2 billion, the previous record. Imports declined a slight 0.9 percent in April; exports fell 2.6 percent.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright offered a friendlier relationship to Iran, if the Tehran government is willing to abide by international standards of conduct. In a speech to the Asia Society in New York, she said Iran has become more cooperative recently, citing its efforts to combat drugs, its treatment of more than 2 million Iraqi and Afghan refugees, and its efforts to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan.

The Clinton administration was expected to announce the scope of US sanctions against India and Pakistan. Soon after last month's nuclear tests,Clinton invoked a 1994 antiproliferation statute that mandates US sanctions, but much of the law's impact on US firms doing business on the subcontinent is subject to interpretation of the statute. The Wall Street Journal said the most serious possible impacts on US businesses would be averted.

Presbyterians and Lutherans approved a pact to more closely align their denominations. The new status, called "full communion," is not a merger of the 2.6-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) and the 5.2-million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. But it commits them to developing procedures for the exchange of clergy.

The House voted to abolish the current federal tax system in an election-year bid by Republicans to capitalize on public frustration with the tax code. On a 219-to-209 vote, the House approved a bill that directs Congress to enact a new tax system by July 4, 2002, and end the current tax code by Dec. 31, 2002. The measure, which sets up no alternative tax system, reportedly has little hope of becoming law.

Forcing Clinton bodyguards to testify in the Monica Lewinsky probe will lead to an assassination, 12 former Secret Service agents told an appeals court in recently released court documents. The statement says independent counsel Kenneth Starr's demands for testimony of two Secret Service guards "will lead inexorably to the successful assassination of another American president."

Maryland's state prosecutor has decided to begin an inquiry into whether Linda Tripp broke state law when she secretly recorded telephone conversations she had with Monica Lewinsky, The Sun (Baltimore) reported. The newspaper said prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli had been expected to allow Starr to complete his grand-jury proceedings, but that he has become frustrated by the slow progress of that inquiry.

Acting commissioner Bud Selig has decided to officially accept the job of Major League Baseball commissioner - and will call a meeting of team owners in the next few weeks for a formal vote, baseball sources said. Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, has been interim commissioner for six years.

The World

Senior Yugoslav officials appeared to reinforce Western suspicions that President Milosevic wasn't sincere in agreeing to resume talks on the future of Kosovo. His foreign minister said Serb troops would not withdraw from Kosovo because "it's not foreign territory." He also rejected international mediators. Both are conditions set by Albanian separatists for returning to the negotiations. A second official said it was the separatists who were refusing to negotiate. Meanwhile, hundreds of parents of Serb soldiers serving in Kosovo rallied in the Yugoslav capital, demanding their sons be recalled.

China dampened President Clinton's hopes to strike a deal preventing it and the US from aiming nuclear missiles at each other. As Clinton's visit to Beijing drew closer, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said it was more important that both countries agreed not to initiate attacks.

Japan's yen appeared to be pulling out of its tailspin with the US dollar, and the region'sbattered stock and currency markets recorded some big gains. But economists warned the good news was not significant enough to mark a "turning point" in the Asian economic crisis. Under intense pressure after a US move to prop up the yen, Prime Minister Hashimoto said his government's stimulus plan would revive the country's economic health. Meanwhile, China kept the heat on, appealing for "courage and wisdom" from the US and Japan to stop the yen's slide, warning again that failure to do so could force a devaluation of the yuan.

Lampooned by angry communists as "our great Russian beggar," controversial Anatoly Chubais was placed back in charge of economic reforms. Seeking to placate critics, President Boris Yeltsin - who has already fired and rehired Chubais twice before - announced the appointment was only "temporary." Chubais' first move was to call for $10 billion to $15 billion in new international aid, although not under strict loan conditions. Officials of the International Monetary Fund are expected in Moscow Monday for critical talks before the government announces details of a plan to pull the country out of its serious economic problems.

In a mission to restore peace to the Horn of Africa, delegates from the Organization of African Unity met the feuding leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea. They planned to urge the latter to accept a peace plan devised by the US and Rwanda. Ethiopia has already agreed to the proposal.

The plight of Guinea-Bissau remained alarming, the Red Cross reported. A spokesman said more than 30,000 civilians had fled the capital, Bissau, because of the military revolt against the government. Shelling again erupted in Bissau minutes before a Gambian mediator was due to meet rebels to persuade them to negotiate with the government.

Over vigorous leftist objections, a resolution condemning communism was adopted by parliament in Poland. The measure, which passed by a 100-vote margin with 31 abstentions, also holds the communist former United Workers Party responsible "in the highest degree" for "crimes and offenses" - among them the executions of thousands of Nazi resistance movement members in 1945 and the crushing of popular social protests since 1956. No former Communist leaders have been prosecuted for those actions. The measure, however, was still softer than proponents wanted.

Etceteras

Plumbing supply houses in Windsor, Ont., are - you might say - flushed with delight at the extra business they're doing because of the North American Free Trade Agreement. It seems a 1994 federal law limits all new toilets sold in the US to 1.6 gallons of water at a time. Older models use 3.5 gallons, but they apparently are more popular with many homeowners. They're also still available, duty-free under NAFTA, in Canada. Customs officials in Detroit report returnees bringing as many as four each from trips to Windsor . . . presumably in vehicles that can only be called commodious.

When snow falls on your yard, does it become your property? Answer: Yes - if you live in New Zealand. Last week, in what legal scholars there are describing as a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court ordered an insurer to pay $2.6 million in damages to a ski resort operator whose slopes had to be closed during the winters of 1995 and 1996 because of the ash spewing from a nearby volcano. Since snow is "capable of being shaped," the court found, it is therefore a "tangible" asset.

The Day's List

Poll Ranks Professions According to Prestige

Physicians, scientists, and teachers were named most often in a recent telephone poll of 950 US adults that asked them which of 17 professions they would rate as having "very great prestige." At the bottom of the Harris survey (in descending order) were athletes, entertainers, business-persons, bankers, accountants, journalists, and union leaders. The 10 professions topping the prestige list and the percentage of respondents placing each in the "very great" category:

1. Medical doctors 61

2. Scientists 55

3. Teachers 53

4. Ministers 46

5. Police 41

6. Engineers 34

7. Military officers 34

8. Architects 26

9. Members of Congress 25

10. Lawyers 23

- Reuters

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