News In Brief

The US

A showdown over campaign-finance reform is expected this week in the House after supporters of the so-called Shays-Meehan bill defeated 19 amendments they said were designed to fracture their coalition and peel off support for the measure. Cosponsored by Rep. Marty Meehan (D) of Massachusetts and Christopher Shays (R) of Connecticut, the proposal would ban soft-money and more tightly restrict issue-advocacy ads. The bill is similar to one that died in the Senate earlier this year, but supporters hope a House victory will provide enough momentum to force the Senate to take up the issue again.

Hearings on constitutional questions surrounding a president involved in a criminal case will be held this month, Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft announced. The Republican presidential hopeful said the Senate Judiciary subcommittee he chairs will hold hearings on whether "a sitting president is subject to regular criminal processes" or if "impeachment is the only avenue available for addressing presidential wrongdoing." The hearings will be held while most of the Senate is away for August recess.

Attorneys for Paula Jones asked a US appeals court to reinstate her sexual-harassment suit against President Clinton. Jones's lawyers also filed a petition to lift a seal on briefs and documents in the case, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reaffirmed a confidentiality order won by Clinton's attorneys last year.

Clinton's testimony in the Monica Lewinsky case will be transmitted live to members of the grand jury, his private attorney said. David Kendall, clarifying earlier comments, told reporters there will be "one-way audio-video" of the Aug. 17 testimony for the benefit of jurors at the courthouse - plus a videotape for jurors unable to be present. Meanwhile, independent counsel Kenneth Starr said he is taking unpaid leave from his law firm. He has been criticized for collecting nearly $1 million a year in legal fees from private clients while investigating the president over the past four years.

Congressional Republicans sought an accord with the White House to avoid a repeat of the 1995-96 government shutdown. Senate majority leader Trent Lott and House Speaker Newt Gingrich said they were concerned Clinton would veto some of their "most important" spending bills. In one of its last major tasks before recessing for the year in October, Congress is struggling to pass the 13 spending bills to fund government after the Oct. 1 start of a new fiscal year. The White House has threatened to veto five House versions of the bills and two of the Senate's.

Consumers kept the economy expanding in the second quarter despite the drag of a lengthy General Motors strike and declining US exports to Asia, the Commerce Department reported. But the pace of expansion in the US gross domestic product slowed to a 1.4 percent annual rate, the weakest since a 0.4 percent rate during the second quarter of 1995.

The Senate confirmed Bill Richardson as the next Energy Department secretary. He will soon leave his post as US ambassador to the UN to take up the position recently vacated by Federico Pea.

Heirs of a French art dealer sued the Seattle Art Museum, nine months after asking it to show proof of ownership or return a work by Henri Matisse. The suit by heirs of Paul Rosenberg, a Parisian art dealer between the two world wars, seeks the return of "Odalisque," a 1927-28 oil painting. Rosenberg fled to New York after the Nazis invaded France in 1940, leaving 300 major paintings behind. John Reed, a museum lawyer, said museum consultants were investigating the ownership history of "Odalisque."

The World

Serb forces renewed an attack against separatist ethnic Albanians in central Kosovo, despite last Thursday's promise by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic that the offensive was over. More than 270 villages were reportedly shelled and at least 60,000 people were uprooted from their homes by the week-long offensive, a local human-rights group said. The rebel fighters were considering a US plan to hold peace talks including Milosevic and ethnic Albanian politicians.

As negotiators prepared for "decisive" Middle East peace talks today, leaders from Israel's opposition party were due to meet senior US officials in an attempt to break the deadlock. An aide said Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would call off the talks if Israel did not bring "new ideas" to the meeting. Meanwhile, Israel's Labor Party leaders, who have urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hand over West Bank land for Palestinian self-rule, were due to meet with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and members of Congress in Washington to present "alternative" proposals.

The UN Yugoslav war-crimes tribunal announced an inquiry into a top suspect's death, the second since late June. Bosnian Serb Milan Kovacevic, the only suspect on trial for genocide, died of a heart attack in his prison cell. Kovacevic was accused of helping set up prison camps in which Muslims and Croats were raped, tortured, and killed. On June 29 a former Serb mayor, implicated in a massacre of more than 200 hospital patients in Croatia, hanged himself in his cell as judges considered a verdict.

The first six IRA prisoners were released early as part of the April 10 Northern Ireland peace settlement. Several hundred prisoners involved in the sectarian violence are to be released early over the next two years. Meanwhile, the pro-British Ulster Unionist Party blamed republican terrorists opposed to the settlement for a car-bomb explosion in Banbridge, near Belfast, that wounded 35 people.

Political analysts were predicting the quick demise of Japan's new government after a newspaper poll indicated it was already unpopular. The survey found 52 percent of 1,500 respondents disapproving the Cabinet installed last week by new Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi.

Reviving a timeworn controversy over the role of the US military in the Philippines, Defense Secretary William Cohen and the Filipino president, Joseph Estrada, were scheduled to discuss an unratified agreement paving the way for the return of US forces. Estrada helped lead a nationalistic movement in 1992 that drove out US troops, but he has pledged support for the accord.

A four-day clash between India and Pakistan over the disputed Kashmir border appeared to be easing, Pakistani officials said. They claimed India was responsible for shelling Pakistani villages in Kashmir to undermine last week's peace talks between the countries' leaders, aimed at resolving conflicts intensified by their May nuclear tests. The talks were declared a "failure." The renewed fighting has reportedly killed 84 people.

South Korean rescuers were searching valleys in the rugged Chiri Mountains, where hundreds of sleeping campers were swept away Saturday by swollen streams. Officials reported there were 34 fatalities, and some 70 people remained missing.

Etceteras

"If they don't bring new ideas during [today's] meeting, it will be the last meeting."

- An aide to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, expressing frustration over the failure of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to break a 16-month deadlock in Mideast peace talks.

What has opera to do with keeping late-night revelers off the streets? The Minneapolis Police Department thinks high-decibel arias might disperse rowdies refusing to go home when nightclubs close. Police are said to be "a couple of weeks away" from setting up loudspeakers. The artistic director of the Minneapolis Opera has suggested "Ride of the Valkyries," from Wagner's Ring cycle. Stay tuned....

Speaking of rings, when Lisa Courtemanche's brand-new engagement band slid from her finger and sank from sight into the harbor at Newport, R.I., a police officer kindly informed her all hope was lost. But her tax-lawyer fianc, Moore McLaughlin, was not to be denied. He called in Jim Broccoli, a friend and recreational diver. After an intense search through thick eelgrass, Broccoli surfaced with the ring on his pinkie.

Border signs have mysteriously disappeared along the eastern Ukraine and Russian frontier. Are we talking espionage? Terrorism? Cross-border smuggling? Well, no ... Ukraine media are speculating some locals simply want more room to fish and hunt.

The Day's List

Baseball's Homer Derby In Historical Perspective

August is a crucial month for batters pursuing the season record of 61 home runs set by Roger Maris on the last day of the 1961 season. Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals, Ken Griffey Jr. of the Seattle Mariners, Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs, and Greg Vaughn of the San Diego Padres (who has 38) are within reach of Maris - with McGwire and Sosa well ahead of historical precedent. Most homers hit by a major-leaguer through July 31:

Mark McGwire (1998) 45

Sammy Sosa (1998) 42

Babe Ruth (1928) 41

Jimmie Fox (1932) 41

Ken Griffey Jr. (1998) 41

Roger Maris (1961) 40

Reggie Jackson (1969) 40

Matt Williams (1993) 40

- USA Today

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