News In Brief

The US

The House and Senate are expected to vote tomorrow on a massive spending bill negotiated between the White House and GOP congressional leaders late last week. It's expected to run thousands of pages. Meanwhile, Congress sent President Clinton a fifth temporary spending measure to keep the federal government open.

Outgoing White House chief of staff Erskine Bowles called the budget deal he helped negotiate a happy swan song to his Washington career. Bowles is returning to his native North Carolina, where he is considering a gubernatorial bid. An investment banker, Bowles succeeded Leon Panetta as White House chief of staff after the 1996 election.

The stock market reacted with exuberance after the Federal Reserve cut interest rates on overnight loans between banks by a quarter of a percentage point, to 5 percent. The Fed's decision propelled the Dow Jones Industrial Average to its biggest weekly gain, 517 points - far outdistancing the previous record set June 19, 1997, when the Dow rose 346 points in a week.

Industrial output slumped to recession levels in September, and inflation nearly disappeared. The Fed reported a 0.3 percent drop in industrial activity last month after a 1.6 percent increase in August. For the third quarter, there was no production gain at all after a 1.7 percent second-quarter rise. The Labor Department said slumping oil prices kept the consumer price index unchanged in September after it increased 0.2 percent in August. The inflation rate for the first nine months of the year was just 1.4 percent - even better than the 11-year low of 1.7 percent recorded for all of 1997.

Clinton rejoined Middle East peace talks outside Washington yesterday. Progress on land and security issues had reportedly slowed down Saturday. Palestinians said they were told by US officials that the negotiations - headed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat - should be concluded by tonight.

The Senate voted to give permanent-residence status to Wei Jingsheng, a leading Chinese dissident in exile. Wei spent 18 years in prison in China before being released in November 1997 to obtain medical treatment in the US. He is living in New York on a temporary visa and cannot return to China without facing further imprisonment.

The Agriculture Department announced plans to buy 1,250 tons of albacore tuna on the West Coast and distribute it to food banks and school-lunch programs nationwide to help struggling fishermen. As many as 7,000 tons of tuna are sitting in boats or in cold storage on the West Coast because of a glut in the market that is expected to continue into next season. The department has authority to purchase surplus food products during an economic emergency.

Wal-Mart Stores sued, accusing the Internet bookseller of stealing trade secrets. The lawsuit, filed in New York, says Amazon has recruited former Wal-Mart associates and targeted the firm's vendors to learn more about its database, which analysts say is second in size only to the US government's and includes data on consumer buying habits. A spokesman for Amazon denied the charge and said Amazon was only "hiring the brightest, hardest-working, and most-talented people." Amazon reportedly wants to be the discount superstore of cyberspace.

Clinton said he would award outgoing German Chancellor Helmut Kohl the Medal of Freedom, the highest American civil honor. Kohl, the West's longest-serving leader, was defeated after 16 years in power by Gerhard Schrder's Social Democrats in a Sept. 27 general election.

The World

Serbs and Albanian separatists in Kosovo blamed each other for new armed attacks that took the lives of three policemen at a highway checkpoint and wounded two others. The violence came as at least two Serb troop units were observed withdrawing from Kosovo as agreed by Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic, although NATO officials say the number of troops remaining in the restive province is well in excess of the terms of his deal last week to avert punitive air strikes.

It may be at least a week before ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who was arrested in Britain late Friday, is questioned about human-rights abuses, police sources said. Pinochet was placed in custody while in London for medical treatment - at the request of the government of Spain, which alleges he is responsible for the murders of an unspecified number of Spaniards in Chile between 1973 and 1983. There was no immediate word on whether Spain would ask for his extradition.

Despite sharing the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize, Northern Ireland's leading Protestant and Catholic politicians were to meet separately today with British Prime Minister Tony Blair to try to resolve their ongoing row over Irish Republican Army disarmament. Unionist leader David Trimble complained that the province was moving "too slowly" toward peace despite the "Good Friday" political agreement that won him the Nobel prize. His Catholic counterpart, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Fein, maintains it is not within his power to compel the IRA to disarm.

Only 15 percent of Germans hold out much hope that their new coalition government would manage to fulfill its promise to "do everything a lot better" than the outgoing regime of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, a poll for the Bild newspaper showed. After two weeks of negotiations, Kohl's successor, Gerhard Schrder, and the environmental Green Party are due to formalize their agenda for the next four years tomorrow. Schrder is scheduled to be formally installed by parliament a week from tomorrow.

A "courtesy meeting" in Beijing between President Jiang Zemin and Taiwan's chief envoy was the highest-level contact between the rivals on Chinese soil in almost half a century. Jiang welcomed Koo Chenfu, who had concluded talks last week in Shanghai with "semi-official" Chinese representatives on whether a dialogue should resume on eventual reunification. Koo described the meeting with Jiang as cordial. Excluded, however, was Kang Ninghsiang, a member of Koo's delegation and a leading human-rights advocate.

A low-level meeting scheduled for today is to be the first bilateral attempt at ending weeks of tension between Syria and Turkey that threatened to erupt in fighting. Neither side would divulge where its representatives will discuss Turkey's allegation that Syria is harboring and supporting outlawed Kurdish guerrilla units and their leader, Abdullah Ocalan. Syria denies the accusation. If the outcome of the talks is positive, the foreign ministers of both countries are expected to meet for more intensive negotiations.

In the shadows of ethnic conflict in Kosovo, voters in neighboring Macedonia went to the polls in large numbers for the first of two elections to choose a new parliament. With the help of more than 1,000 UN peace-keepers, Macedonia has managed to avoid Kosovo's violence, but has its own restive Albanian minority. The Skopje government also is at odds with Greece, whose northern region is named Macedonia and which accuses the former of territorial ambitions.


" The Albanians can do whatever they want; the world is protecting them." - An angry police official, after three of his men were killed and two others wounded late Saturday by suspected separatist gunmen despite the withdrawal of some Serb forces from Kosovo.

The new academic year is a little over a month old, but already public-school children are finding themselves in trouble because of local "zero tolerance" policies. The latest is fifth-grader Christopher Wood. He was suspended and - by tonight - could be expelled from Horrell Hill Elementary in suburban Columbia, S.C. His offense: violating safety rules by bringing a butter knife with his lunch. Christopher has new braces on his teeth and his mother wanted him to be able to cut up a banana for easier chewing. Said a school spokesman: "The community wants safe schools, and they are going to get them."

Maine's police chiefs are asking the legislature to ban laser pointers, the new "in" gadget for children, especially teens. Reason: It's difficult to distinguish the red dot they project from those projected by gun-mounted lasers. The devices are readily available from electronics, convenience, and school-supply stores. Police in Brunswick report numerous complaints from residents who were targeted even through the windows of their homes or as they were driving the city's streets. The laser beam also is considered dangerous to the eye.

The Day's List

Which US Airlines Have Best On-Time Records?

Booking travel reservations for the coming holidays? You might be interested in some relevant statistics kept by the US Department of Transportation, which keeps a running record of the percentage of commercial passenger flights arriving on time at the nation's airports. The DOT's ranking of major domestic carriers, based on on-time arrivals from September 1997 to August 1998, and the percentage for each:

1. Southwest 81.1%

2. American 80.6%

3. US Airways 79.8%

4. Delta 77.6%

5. TWA 77.0%

6. Continental 76.0%

7. United 74.1%

8. Northwest 72.8%

9. Alaska 72.5%

10. America West 71.6%

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