UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS PLUNGE The number of Americans filing the first time for unemployment benefits plummeted by 39,000 last week to the lowest level in nearly five years, the Labor Department said yesterday. In a report that shows just how volatile the job market really is, the agency said initial claims declined to a seasonally adjusted 291,000 in the week ending Dec. 25, down from a revised 330,000 for the previous week. That was the lowest level since Feb. 4, 1989, when initial claims totaled 286,000. Economists had predicted a decline in part because of the Christmas holiday. Initial claims usually decline during holiday weeks. But the drop of 39,000 was nearly four times what they had expected. The huge decrease was fueled in part by fewer layoffs in the construction, manufacturing, and textile industries. Convoy crosses border

After more than two days on the road, buses packed with 900 refugees from Sarajevo crossed the Bosnia-Croatia border yesterday. UN officials said the refugees, primarily women, children, and elderly people, would arrive in the Adriatic port of Split late last night. After months of delays, the refugees, about half of them Muslims, left the besieged Bosnian capital on Tuesday. The evacuation is a private effort planned nearly a year ago and assisted by the UN and the Red Cross. Elsewhere in Bosnia, UN officials yesterday reported two shooting incidents involving UN peacekeepers. Two Nordic-led humanitarian aid convoys came under mortar and gunfire from Serbian positions. `Prehistoric' Rose Parade

Dinosaurs will be the featured attraction at the Tournament of Roses Parade on New Year's Day. ``Prehistoric Adventure'' is this year's theme for the annual extravaganza, which will be followed by the Rose Bowl football game matching UCLA and the University of Wisconsin. Wolf kills prevented

Countering a controversial new state regulation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service issued a new rule banning same-day aerial hunting of wolves in national wildlife refuges in Alaska. The federal rule comes in reaction to a decision by the Alaska Board of Game legalizing same-day airborne wolf hunting. The Alaska regulation allows hunters to fly to remote sites in the state, land their planes, and shoot wolves on the same day. But Fish and Wildlife Service officials said that allowing same-day airborne hunting invites violations of the Airborne Hunting Act, which bans aircraft harassment of wildlife. New home sales soar

Sales of new homes shot up 11.3 percent in November to the highest rate in more than seven years, the government said yesterday. Most of the gain came in the West. The November gain surprised economists, who were expecting an increase of 2 percent or 3 percent. It followed a revised 2.2 percent drop in October, previously reported as a 6.5 percent decline. EU replaces EC

For the third time in its 37-year history, the European Community has adopted a new name the European Union. The new name represents the community's long-term goal of becoming a united political and economic bloc. The name European Community has existed since 1957.

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