Today's Story Line:

'Tis the season for forgiveness, and many world churches are asking official institutions to forgive the debt of the poorest nations. The campaign is a generous but risky attempt to reduce the rich-poor gap between nations (page 1).

America is bound by treaty to defend South Korea, but lately that ally's military has made some blunders that raise serious questions. Officials there are probing whether secrets changed hands when South and North Korean soldiers partied on the border (page 1).

Beijing bureau chief Kevin Platt reports on new twists in the always complex US-China relationship. Beijing's latest moves include the quick sentencing of more dissidents, the release of another, and an offer to work with Washington at the United Nations toward resolving the Iraqi weapons-inspection crisis (this page). Quote of note: "Beijing is probably betting that the American president and Congress are distracted [with impeachment issues] and have no time to pay attention to these trials." - A human rights worker in Hong Kong.

- Clayton Jones

World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB

* SHADES OF TIANANMEN: On the scene in Beijing Dec. 21 for the trial of dissident Xu Wenli, the Monitor's Kevin Platt was reminded of the 1989 trials of pro-democracy activists in the wake of Tiananmen Square, for which he was also on hand. Security was tight around Mr. Xu, Kevin says, with streets cordoned off in a half-mile radius and as many as 150 police officers on hand in what appeared to be "dangerous-terrorist treatment."

UPDATE ON A MONITOR STORY..

* out of sight, out of mind: The National Basketball Association's foray into Latin America, starting in Mexico as reported in this newspaper Jan. 22, 1997, has tripped up. The NBA's strike is taking the wind out of its drive to see basketball overtake soccer as the most popular sport. With NBA games off the air, one of Mexico's largest sporting goods store chains, Mart, is reporting a 30 to 40 percent drop in sales of basketball-related clothing and equipment.

press clips..

* WORD RAGE: Editors at the Oxford English dictionaries are continually trawling for new words to consider as new entries. Some of their latest candidates, as told to London's Independent newspaper:

* Achiever fever: the reduction of life to an incessant round of work-related activity.

* Fashionista: a devotee of the cutting edge of haute couture.

* Irritainment: irritating but nonetheless compelling programs on television.

* Web rage: Internet version of road rage.

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