News In Brief

The US

No assurances can be given "that an agreement will be reached or a transaction consummated," an America Online statement said after negotiations to buy Netscape Communications Corp. intensified over the weekend. A deal, estimated at $4 billion, would bring together the world's No. 1 Internet provider and the company whose software is credited with popularizing the World Wide Web. A third party, Sun Micro-systems, also has been involved in the talks for at least two weeks.

Prosecutors in Oakland County, Mich., said they'd respond by the end of the day Monday to the challenge issued on the CBS TV program "60 Minutes" by Dr. Jack Kevorkian. The retired pathologist was shown administering a lethal injection to a terminally ill patient and daring authorities to charge him with manslaughter or murder. He said he wanted to force a legal showdown over assisted suicide and euthanasia.

Because of weakened threats to national security and growing budget concerns, the Defense Department has quietly recommended unilateral cuts in the US nuclear-weapons arsenal, The New York Times reported. Citing Pentagon sources, the paper said it was believed the reductions would have no effect on the ability to deter a nuclear adversary. The proposed cuts would drop the US arsenal below the 6,000 warheads allowed by the START I treaty with Russia.

By a 6-to-1 vote, Georgia's Supreme Court struck down a state anti-sodomy law, ruling that it violated constitutional guarantees of the right to privacy. The move came in a 1996 case involving a defendant and his teenage niece. The Georgia law had survived previous challenges and was upheld by the US Supreme Court in 1986.

As much as $1 million in Chicago high school antipoverty funds was diverted to political purposes by supporters of Puerto Rican independence, a report by a special legislative committee said. It said a unit of the Armed Forces of the Political Liberation had plotted to gain control of Clemente High School in 1989, impose a "shadow administration" over its operations, including tapping into the budget, and "indoctrinating students." The group succeeded in ousting a principal opposed to its plan.

No arrests were made, but an estimated 2,000 marchers were bused off the grounds of Fort Benning, Ga., after a protest against the Army's controversial School of the Americas. It was the largest in eight years of such rallies. Opponents say the school teaches assassination and torture methods to Latin American soldiers.

For service to her community, Karen Chan, a freshman at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., was honored Sunday at the National Organization of Women Legislators' (NOWL) annual conference in Charleston, S.C. She is the first recipient of the Freshman College Award, sponsored by NOWL and The Christian Science Monitor. The award honored her "inspired and selfless service" to Oakland's inner-city youth.

The World

Russia's communist opposition renewed its calls for early elections after President Boris Yeltsin was admitted to a Moscow hospital - the second time in less than a month that he was ordered by doctors to undergo treatment or complete rest. Yeltsin did, however, meet visiting Chinese President Jiang Zemin. A growing number of centrist politicians also were questioning whether Yeltsin was able even to carry out the ceremonial duties of his office.

British officials held talks with 16 Iraqi opposition groups as part of a plan to try to end the current standoff in Iraq over UN weapons inspections by ousting President Saddam Hussein. But doubts remained over whether the often-competing opposition leaders could find common ground and pave the way for a democracy in Iraq. Meanwhile, UN special envoy Prakash Shah arrived in Baghdad to seek a resolution of the latest row between the government and arms inspectors. (Related story, page 6; editorial, page 10.)

The European Union lifted a worldwide export ban on British beef, imposed in 1996 amid worries about contamination from so-called "mad cow" disease. A majority of EU farm ministers voted to end the ban - despite opposition from Germany - after scientists advised the beef was safe for human consumption.

Jewish settlers seized more West Bank land in their campaign to prevent the areas from falling into Palestinian hands. Under last month's peace accord, Israel agreed to withdraw from 13 percent of the West Bank by Jan. 31. Jewish settlers had reportedly seized nearly a dozen hills since the accord. Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian officials were expected to ask the US for more aid to bolster their conflicting claims to the West Bank.

Mexico's Zapatista guerrilla leaders, campaigning for improved Indian rights in the southern Chiapas state, ended a rare peace meeting with government negotiators. While a congressional committee said the meeting brought fresh hopes for peace, the rebels were apparently no closer to their goal of Indian autonomy.

North Korea denied it was secretly building an underground nuclear facility, declaring it was the target of a smear campaign. The US has accused the Pyongyang government of possibly building a facility. US officials, hoping to see the suspected site, said they'd rejected North Korea's demand for a $300 million payment to inspect it.

Three senior officials resigned in Brazil in a scandal that dealt a new blow to the government, struggling with a financial crisis. The communications minister, foreign trade secretary, and national development bank head quit amid allegations of favoritism in a $19 billion privatization deal. The resignations came as the government prepared to vote on austerity measures, needed if it's to qualify for $41.5 billion in new international loans.

Western mediators prepared to meet Serb leaders to turn last month's ceasefire in the secessionist Kosovo province into a lasting peace.

Business and Finance

Plugging a gap in his media empire, Rupert Murdoch announced a new venture to enter the pay-TV market in Italy. News Corp. Europe, to be based in Milan, also will be charged with exploring and managing media investments on the Continent. Murdoch's BSkyB already is the dominant force in pay-TV in Britain.

The "white knight" rumored ready to save high-profile electronics manufacturer AMP Inc. from an unwanted takeover by AlliedSignal Inc. turned out to be Tyco International Ltd. Tyco said it agreed to acquire the Harrisburg, Pa., company for $11.3 billion in a stock trade. The merger will give Tyco-AMP operations in more than 80 countries. AMP has been fending off a $10 billion takeover bid by AlliedSignal since August.

Two companies propelled Charlotte, N.C., into the headlines via multibillion-dollar deals. Coltec Industries, the leading maker of landing-gear systems for the aerospace industry, was acquired by former tire manufacturer B.F. Goodrich in a $2.2 billion stock swap. Goodrich said it would move its headquarters to Charlotte. Meanwhile, Duke Energy Corp. positioned itself to become the No. 1 natural-gas liquids producer in the US via a $1.35 billion purchase of Union Pacific Resources Group. Natural-gas liquids are used in power generation, chemical production, and barbecue grills.

Etceteras

"'The first step toward getting rid of Saddam is to persuade the Iraqi people that they have friends and supporters outside who can help them succeed.' - Exiled opposition-group leader Ayad Alawi, on how the West could hasten the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

BARTER ECONOMY

Town officials in Tawas City, Mich., don't want to be called nuts. But they don't apologize for the fact that after failing to sell their 1977-vintage fire truck, they traded it to a rural volunteer department in Ocilla, Ga., for ... pecans. The truck was declared surplus because a new pumper had been ordered. The old one was valued at between $2,500 and $3,500, but attracted no offers after being on the market for months. The Georgians didn't have that kind of money to - shall we say - shell out, but pecans retail for about $6 a pound, so it was agreed 500 pounds would be a fair exchange.

SPEAKING FROM EXPERIENCE

A crime wave appears to be sweeping formerly communist Bulgaria. Just ask Boiko Rashkov, whose apartment in Sofia, the capital, was broken into one night last week. Police, alerted by a neighbor, arrived too late to catch the thief, or thieves, who fled just ahead of them. Why single out Rashkov, you ask? As the new director of the National Investigation Service, he is Bulgaria's top cop.

The Day's List

Who gets biggest bucks in state tobacco settlements

In the agreement with the US tobacco industry endorsed last week by 46 states, the District of Columbia, and five overseas territories, $195.9 billion will be divided over a 25-year period. The total falls short of the $206 billion announced earlier to recoup public costs for treating smoking-related illnesses. That's because some of the money has yet to be allocated, while the rest is earmarked for uses such as public education programs. The states scheduled to receive the largest shares of the money (in billions):

1. California $25.0

2. New York 25.0

3. Pennsylvania 11.2

4. Ohio 9.8

5. Illinois 9.1

6. Michigan 8.5

7. Massachusetts 7.9

8. Georgia 4.8

9. Tennessee 4.7

10. North Carolina 4.5

- Associated Press

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