News In Brief

By , Lance Carden, and Caryn Coatney

The US

Rain fell on northern and central Florida, assisting fire crews but not dousing out-of-control wildfires. There were reports the fires were hurting Florida's $37 billion tourism industry, but officials said the impact on tourism wouldn't be known for a month or two. Wildlife also was suffering from the many blazes. President Clinton was to meet with residents and rescue workers in Volusia County tomorrow.

The White House said Clinton had accepted an invitation to meet with President Yeltsin in Russia in early September, confirming an earlier announcement by the Kremlin. A spokesman said the two leaders could lay the groundwork for talks on further arms cuts, even though the Russian parliament has made no progress toward ratifying the Start II treaty, which would sharply cut the nuclear-warhead stockpiles of both countries. The spokesman said there were no plans yet to add a much-anticipated stop in Northern Ireland to the Russia journey.

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Senate majority leader Trent Lott said he was astonished by Clinton's statement in China that the US continued to oppose independence for Taiwan. Lott told reporters that he found the statement "counterproductive" - and Congress might have to "repair the damage." Lott noted that Congress had taken steps to bolster US relations with Taiwan in the past.

Clinton toughened US enforcement of a 1996 law that allows people to keep their health insurance when they switch jobs. The president authorized the Office of Personnel Management to cancel federal contracts with health-insurance companies that violate the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.

Maryland's state attorney opened a grand jury probe into whether Linda Tripp's secret tape recordings of former White House intern Monica Lewinsky violated state law. As Tripp returned for a third day of testimony before the Whitewater special prosecutor's grand jury in Washington, Maryland state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli said his grand jury would look into whether Mrs. Tripp violated the state's wiretapping law by making the tape recordings without Lewinsky's knowledge or permission.

Thousands of Puerto Rican protesters blocked the highway to San Juan's airport as labor unions and some civic groups launched a general strike to protest the sale of the island's government-owned telephone company. Union leaders said up to half a million of the island's 3.8 million people might join the 48-hour strike. Some 6,400 employees stopped working June 18 to protest the sale of the company to GTE Corporation. Union leaders said they wanted Gov. Pedro Rossello to abandon the sale or to schedule a referendum on the issue.

A grand jury in Jasper, Texas, indicted three white men on capital murder charges for allegedly chaining a black man to a pickup truck and dragging him to his death on a remote country road June 7. The indictments allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty in a case that attracted national attention.

The State Department called on the Swiss government and local US finance officials to exercise restraint and reflection - but it gave no promise Washington would or could block boycotts of Swiss banks. State and local governments are threatening sanctions in an attempt to force Swiss banks to settle class-action suits brought on behalf of Holocaust survivors.

A retired two-star Army general engaged in "inappropriate behavior" with the wives of four subordinates while he was the top US officer at a NATO base in Turkey, a Defense Department probe concluded. Maj. Gen. David Hale also sanctioned the misuse of funds for travel and made "false and misleading statements" to investigators, the report said. The Army said last week it was opening a criminal investigation of Hale, who retired earlier this year. The report said Hale had denied all the allegations.

The World

Militant Protestants ignored appeals for calm by their own leaders and clashed with Northern Ireland security forces in Belfast and other cities for a second straight night. Their anger over a banned Orange Order parade through a Catholic section of Portadown brought an agreement by British Prime Minister Tony Blair to meet as soon as today with delegates from the group. But he said there would be no negotiation of the order preventing the march on the disputed Garvaghy Road.

With the threat of a NATO intervention in Kosovo waning due to Russian opposition, the six-nation Contact Group is to meet today to consider drawing up a plan giving the province autonomy. Officials said the group would scale back calls for a Serb withdrawal from Kosovo and instead focus on achieving a cease-fire.

Visiting US diplomats met twice with Nigeria's new military ruler but also with opposition politicians and recently freed political prisoners in a bid to repair strained relations and promote democracy. Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar is scheduled to address the nation tonight, and many Nigerians expect him to discuss the fate of apparent 1993 presidential election winner Moshood Abiola, who remains in custody despite indications that his release was imminent.

The Palestine Liberation Organization's UN "observer status" would be upgraded to nonvoting member under an Arab-sponsored resolution that was expected to pass in the General Assembly. The resolution was opposed by Israel and the US, which argued it would jeopardize peace talks.

Some of the worst summer flooding in modern history killed at least 376 people in China and caused economic losses in the hundreds of millions of dollars, officials said. Rains intensified by El Nio affected more than 20 million people from central and southern China and spread to the normally drought-stricken north. In the central province of Hunan, 200,000 people were evacuated from their homes.

There was some good news for the sagging reelection hopes of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl as the country's job market showed "unusually strong" improvement in June, officials said. They reported a drop in unemployment of 122,300 for the month - due, in part, to a government-sponsored job-generation program. High unemployment has been the central issue in the campaign for Germany's Sept. 27 election.

Almost unnoticed amid the national fervor over defending its World Cup soccer title, campaigning officially opened for Brazil's Oct. 4 presidential election. The key issue, analysts say, is whether incumbent Fernando Henrique Cardoso can win enough votes to avoid a runoff against leftist opposition leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva or ex-Finance Minister Ciro Gomes. Cardoso, the first president to seek a second consecutive term, leads in most early opinion polls.

At least seven people died, dozens more were hurt, and 180 were arrested as Indonesian police and soldiers clashed with supporters of a banned separatist organization, reports said. The violence in mineral-rich Irian Jaya Province is similar to that in East Timor, where insurgents have been campaigning for independence. The Army refused to comment on casualties, but its chief of staff warned of "countermeasures" if the Irian Jaya separatists raised their flag in public.

Etceteras

" Focusing on symbols likely to divide, rather than on steps to promote cooperation,

will lead us nowhere." - US Ambassador Bill Richardson, arguing against upgrading Palestinian observer status at the UN to nonvoting state.

Patrick Sweeney and Laurie Darfler have been close friends for years, are members of the same running club, and were both entered in last weekend's Adirondack Distance Run at Bolton Landing, N.Y. Yet from the time they toed the starting line, they did everything they could to avoid each other. Out of fierce competitiveness? No, it had more to do with tradition. You see, awaiting them at race's end was a wedding ceremony - their own. And since she ran in her gown, he wasn't supposed to see her until it was time to exchange vows.

The cozy-looking house had flowers blooming in the front yard. Visible through one window was a downstairs bathroom. Nearby stood a double-wide mobile home suitable for, say, a mother-in-law apartment. But like a movie set, it was all a faade. And when drug agents arrived at the Eureka, Calif., property, they found a sophisticated marijuana-growing operation. If the three people busted are found guilty, they could end up in a far more substantial dwelling - prison.

The Day's List

'Armageddon' Has Less Than Stellar Weekend

Disney's costliest film, "Arma-geddon," pulled in $34.8 million in its weekend debut - a lot of money, but not enough to merit blockbuster status. Analysts noted that the film, about a Texas-size asteroid headed for Earth, had little competition over the holiday weekend, but said ticket sales may have lagged because July 4 festivities fell on Saturday, usually a big day for moviegoing. The reported grosses for top releases at North American theaters July 3-5 (in millions):

1. "Armageddon" $36.1

2. "Dr. Dolittle" 19.7

3. "Mulan" 11.5

4. "Out of Sight" 6.6

5. "The X-Files" 6.3

6. "The Truman Show" 6.0

7. "Six Days, Seven Nights" 5.8

8. "A Perfect Murder" 3.3

9. "Hope Floats" 1.6

10. "The Horse Whisperer" 1.3

- Exhibitor Relations Inc./AP

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