News In Brief

The US

Congress was to vote on a stopgap bill to keep the federal government operating through midnight tomorrow. Spokesmen for the Senate and House appropriations committees said they were continuing to negotiate with the White House to resolve issues blocking passage of a "catchall" package that would fund the government through next September. Among those issues: abortion, the 2000 census, and certain environmental policies.

A tentative agreement clearing the way for Congress to approve $18 billion in payments to the International Monetary Fund was reached with the Treasury Department, Republican negotiators said. The deal, subject to modification by the GOP leadership, would provide the funds - sought by the Clinton administration - for bailouts of economies in crisis in exchange for such reforms as shorter loan maturities, lending at closer to market rates, and publishing detailed summaries of the IMF's secret board meetings. The House has balked at that level of funding, despite Senate approval.

American B-52 bombers would launch cruise missiles from beyond the reach of Yugoslav air defenses as the first stage of punitive military action in the Kosovo crisis, senior defense officials said. On condition of anonymity, they said US stealth bombers operating at night would follow by targeting bunkers and underground hideouts for Serbian warplanes and command posts.

Laramie, Wyo., became the focus of national attention as police considered whether to upgrade charges against four people in an apparent "gay bashing." Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who reportedly led an openly homosexual lifestyle, died four days after being beaten and tied to a fence. Two male suspects were charged first with attempted murder, kidnapping, and robbery.

Hundreds of United Methodist clergy in 37 states signed a letter calling on their church to reverse its policy of punishing pastors who officiate at "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions." The move was prompted by the elevating of what had been a guideline into church law in August after an Omaha, Neb., pastor was asked to leave for blessing the marriage of two women.

The FBI plans to open a new and improved national data base today to help stop serial rapists and other repeat criminal offenders, The New York Times reported. The computerized service, operating from a secret location, will have access to DNA data kept by all 50 states and may be used only by law-enforcement personnel, the Times said. All states require sex offenders to supply DNA samples, but only four states require them of every felon.

Bed straps, straightjackets, and other restraints have caused perhaps hundreds of deaths over the past decade at facilities for the mentally ill and impaired, The Hartford Courant reported. It said its investigation showed at least 142 deaths since 1988 - with experts estimating the total up to 10 times higher because many deaths are not reported to authorities. Restraints, meant only as a last resort, are commonly used instead for the convenience of psychiatric staff, the Courant said.

Orders for machine tools, which industry uses to shape metal parts for a huge range of products, fell 16 percent between July and August - and 31 percent from the same period a year ago, two trade groups reported. Demand for such tools is carefully watched as an indicator of future manufacturing growth.

Three Americans will share the 1998 Nobel Prize for medicine, it was announced in Stockholm. Robert Furchgott of the State University of New York Health Science Center in Brooklyn, Louis Ignarro of UCLA, and Ferid Murad of the University of Texas Medical School in Houston were honored for their work in understanding the effects of nitric oxide on the human cardiovascular system.

The World

NATO was positioning itself to launch airstrikes on Yugoslavia should emergency talks collapse between the country's President Slobodan Milosevic and US envoy Richard Holbrooke. The governments of NATO member nations Italy, France, and Germany threw their support behind a military strike to halt Milosevic's crackdown against Albanian secessionist rebels in Kosovo. Milosevic was reportedly balking at Holbrooke's demand that he allow an international monitoring team into Kosovo. The UN Security Council has demanded that Milosevic declare an immediate cease-fire and allow refugees to return home.

A visit to Central Asia by Russian President Boris Yeltsin was overshadowed by growing concerns over his grip on power. Yeltsin cut short a trip to Uzbekistan - aimed at strengthening borders against possible threats from Afghanistan - for health reasons. Last week, Yeltsin declared he'd serve out his full term until mid-2000, after protesters demanded he resign.

Russia's finance minister said the government would not make long-term plans on rescuing its crisis-ridden economy "for at least the next three months." International Monetary Fund officials demanded the government implement rescue measures before they release the next installment of a $22.6 billion loan. But finance minister Mikhail Zadornov said "it would be rather difficult to draw up such a comprehensive program now" because of the changing situation and sophisticated nature of the problem.

Japan announced a plan to inject public money into the nation's troubled banking sector - a move seen by analysts as essential to rebuild confidence in the world's second-largest economy. Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said a government bill to provide "quite a large amount of money" to banks would send a strong message to the world that the country was serious about halting its economic downslide. The plan, which has won support from opposition parties, is due to be debated in the parliament's lower house today.

After the collapse of Italy's 28-month, center-left government, senior politicians were urgently trying to find ways to avoid holding an election two and a half years early. Prime Minister Romano Prodi narrowly lost a vote of confidence in the parliament's lower house last Friday and resigned. The vote came after Prodi's Communist allies withdrew support for his 1999 deficit-cutting budget proposal.

Veteran Azerbaijan President Heidar Aliyev was re-elected for another five years - but his main contender accused him of cheating and demanded a second round of voting. Aides to Aliyev won about 75 percent of the vote against 11 percent for his closest challenger, Etibar Mamedov. Aliyev, a former Communist, said the elections showed the world the country was "on the road of democratic development." But five opposition candidates boycotted the elections, predicting they'd be rigged.

Former Mali dictator Moussa Traore, his wife, and four associates stood trial on charges of embezzling public funds to enrich themselves during the West African leader's 23 years in power. Traore faces the death penalty if found guilty of the charges.

A court martial in Sierra Leone sentenced 34 soldiers to death for their roles in a 1997 coup that overthrew the country's elected president, Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. In March, Kabbah was restored to power.

Etceteras

"The international community is, unfortunately, repeating its notorious mistake - considering intervention at five minutes past midnight instead of taking preventive action."

- Czech President Vaclav Havel, saying it had been clear for 15 years that ethnic tensions in Kosovo could erupt.

What would you give for a private tour of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates's $53 million mansion in suburban Seattle? Company employees are bidding for that very plum - the No. 1 attraction in an annual charity auction. The top offer, at last report: $25,025.

The pesky Christmas tree that takes up so much space each year must go this time, officials at London's Westminster Cathedral decided. To make more room for the faithful, the 20-foot-high tree in the nave would be replaced by smaller ones at the information desks. At least, that was the plan - until someone remembered that the majestic yule symbol is a gift of Queen Elizabeth II.

Let's suppose you tend to be heavy on the gas when you drive. What if you were guaranteed that being pulled over for speeding wouldn't cost you a cent in fines -much less an entry on your permanent record? Never happen, you say? Wrong. The city of Belgorod in southern Russia is offering instant pardons to speeders, provided their violations have no serious consequences. Yes, there's a catch: Drivers must prepay part of the cost of new streets the city is building.

The Day's List

Music Poll Places Bowie No. 1, Ahead of Beatles

David Bowie, who released his first album 31 years ago and has been reinventing his image and music to suit the times ever since, has edged the Beatles as top music star of the past 30 years in a survey of his British contemporaries. A London listings magazine, Time Out, conducted the poll of pop stars, musicians, critics, and industry figures to mark its 30th birthday. Time Out's top 10:

1. David Bowie

2. Beatles

3. Bob Marley

4. James Brown

5. Marvin Gaye

6. Jimi Hendrix

7. Stevie Wonder

8. Kraftwerk

9. Iggy Pop

10. Bob Dylan

- Associated Press

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