News In Brief

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The US

Three Cuban diplomats were ordered to leave the country for activities "incompatible" with their diplomatic mission at the UN, a White House spokesman said. The Washington Post had reported earlier that the State Department had given Cuba's UN delegation 24 hours to argue against expelling the diplomats. The action was reportedly connected to the arrest in Miami in September of 10 people accused of collecting information on military installations and of attempting to infiltrate an anti-Castro group.

The Pentagon said it was withdrawing many of its most sophisticated bombers and the aircraft carrier Enterprise from the Persian Gulf. Defense Secretary William Cohen emphasized that enough troops and equipment would remain there to renew attacks on Iraq if necessary. Meanwhile, the US said it would consider expanding the program that allows Iraq to export oil to buy food if a UN humanitarian mission concludes Iraqi civilians are in need.

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Hispanics and women over 40 hardly exist on the current crop of TV shows, a study for the Screen Actors Guild found. The report by Temple University telecommunications expert George Gerbner shows Asian Americans, native Americans, the disabled, and seniors are also under-represented. For instance, although 10.7 percent of the US population is Hispanic, only 2.6 percent of the characters on prime-time TV - and only 3.7 percent on daytime TV - are Hispanic, the report says.

An R.J. Reynolds tobacco affiliate agreed to pay $15 million for helping to smuggle cigarettes made in Canada back into that country for sale on the black market. Northern Brands International pleaded guilty in US district court in Binghamton, N.Y. It was the first time an affiliate of a major tobacco company had pleaded guilty to a federal crime, according to US Attorney Thomas Maroney. He said the firm, which is now defunct, was set up by R.J. Reynolds specifically for smuggling.

President Clinton was expected to propose boosting federal aid to the homeless by 15 percent next year - to $1.12 billion in fiscal 2000 from $975 million in fiscal 1999. The president was also to announce plans for $850 million in grants this fiscal year to help homeless people obtain housing and social services..

Former Senate majority leader George Mitchell was named to head a US Olympic Committee inquiry into bribery allegations concerning Salt Lake City's successful bid for the 2002 Winter Games. Mitchell, who helped to broker the peace accord in Northern Ireland, will head a five-member panel that expects to report to the committee by late February - and give any evidence of criminal wrongdoing to prosecutors.

General Motors said it had hired Yale University Prof. Henry Turner to study the activities of the world's largest automaker and its German subsidiary immediately before and during World War II. Turner and some assistants will have unrestricted access to GM files, the firm said - and any findings will be made public, even if they contradict the firm's categorical denial that it aided the Nazis.

The World

As many as 60 rockets fired from Lebanon hit villages in northern Israel, wounding 13 people and damaging property. The shelling came in retaliation for an attack by Israeli jets on suspected Hizbullah guerrilla positions that killed a woman and six children.

The UN sought clarification of an order to cancel civilian flights into Iraqi airspace, including one bringing observers to monitor conditions at the border with Kuwait. The order was issued without explanation four days after the cessation of US and British attacks on Iraq and one day after the Baghdad government claimed that jets from the two countries had fired "stray missiles" near the southern city of Basra.

In a bid to end the three-week-old political crisis in Turkey, an ethnic Kurdish Cabinet minister was invited to form a new government. Yalim Erez, currently minister of trade and industry, is known as a dealmaker who has both union and business-group support. Earlier this week, ex-Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit returned his mandate to put together a new government after failing to form a coalition of secular parties.

The former top official of NATO was found guilty of corruption and given a three-year prison sentence, which was then suspended. Belgium's Supreme Court ruled that Willy Claes and other ex-Cabinet ministers bent the rules to ensure than an Italian company would get a 1988 contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to supply Army helicopters. Claes, who was Belgium's economics minister at the time, went on to become NATO Secretary-General. He quit that post in 1994 after 13 months because of the scandal.

"Hundreds" of Cambodians were videotaped in violent protests against the dumping of contaminated chemical waste and will be arrested, the government said. Days of demonstrations against the waste, which was imported from a Taiwanese manufacturer, led to rioting last weekend. At least one person was killed, dozens were hurt, and thousands of others fled the port city of Sihanoukville.

Rail passengers in Germany greeted with relief the news that police had arrested two suspects in the attempted extortion of $6 million from the Deutsche Bahn system. But authorities said they'd continue to monitor train tracks carefully through the holiday period. One of the suspects, a former railway employee, was captured as he tried to pick up a ransom payment. Police said both men have previous extortion records.

Another member of British Prime Minister Tony Blair's Cabinet resigned - the second to do so in two months. Trade and Industry Secretary Peter Mandelson admitted he hadn't disclosed a $627,000 loan from a fellow Cabinet minister at the time of his appointment - which opponents called a conflict of interest. Blair's Secretary for Wales, Ron Davies, resigned Oct. 30 after reports that he'd been robbed in a London neighborhood known for openly homosexual activity.

Business and Finance

US economic growth in the third quarter was slightly less robust than previously thought, the Commerce Department reported. It said the gross domestic product expanded at a 3.7 percent annual rate during the July- to-September period instead of the 3.9 percent estimated a month ago - still more than twice the second quarter's 1.8 percent rate of advance. Muted price rises suggested little or no inflation pressure.

Federal Reserve policymakers left unchanged - at 4.75 percent - the benchmark rate on overnight loans between US banks. The resilience of the economy had some economists speculating that the three quarter-point rate cuts from Sept. 29 through Nov. 17 may be the last the Fed will make for quite some time.

Two key European automakers were busy denying or playing down reports that they might merge with Ford Motor Co. In Munich, Germany, a senior BMW official said the luxury-car company was not discussing such a move and had no plans to do so. Share prices in BMW stock, however, rose because of merger talk. Meanwhile, in Stockholm, a Volvo spokesman refused to comment on a published report that negotiations with Ford would resume after the holidays. As recently as July, however, the Swedish company confirmed that it was discussing "cooperation" with other automakers.

Etceteras

'The experiencing of Christmas ... has to truly sink in. That's a job that could take years.'

- Cardinal Jaime Ortega, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Havana, saying that while Cubans now have their government's OK to celebrate the birth of Jesus again, few of them remember the day's spiritual meaning.

The Day's List

Top Christmas-theme movies rented at Blockbuster stores

You'll look in vain for old chestnuts such as "It's a Wonderful Life," "White Christmas," and "Miracle on 34th Street" among the top dozen holiday movies rented by Blockbuster, the nationwide video-outlet chain - although each of those did finish in the top 25. The 12 most popular Christmas-theme films, compiled after a recent survey of customers:

1. "National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation"

2. "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"

3. "Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too"

4. "Home for the Holidays" (1995 version)

5. "A Christmas Story" (1983)

6. "Home Alone"

7. "Home Alone: Lost in New York"

8. "The Santa Clause"

9. "All I Want for Christmas" (1991)

10. "Frosty the Snowman"

11. "Beavis and Butthead Do Christmas"

12. "Prancer"

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