LITHUANIA APPLIES TO NATO Lithuania has become the first former Soviet republic to ask for membership in NATO, surprising its Baltic sister states and alarming its giant neighbor, Russia. (US takes a cautious approach to expanding NATO, Page 2.) Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas asked to join the Western military alliance in a letter to NATO Secretary-General Manfred Woerner that was made public Tuesday night. The tiny Baltic states Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 after a half-century of occupation. Many people in all three countries view NATO membership as the best guarantee of their independence, as well as a major step toward cultural and economic incorporation in the West. But the Kremlin quickly expressed its dismay yesterday, warning that expanding NATO could evoke ``a negative reaction in Russian public opinion'' and play into the hands of the country's extreme nationalists. Georgian leader dies

Former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia committed suicide Dec. 31 after being surrounded by enemies in western Georgia, Russian news agencies Interfax and ITAR-Tass yesterday quoted his wife as saying. The reports could not be immediately confirmed. Gamsakhurdia, who was ousted in a civil war in January 1992, had been leading a rebellion in western Georgia against his successor, former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze. His death would likely undermine the rebellion. Coup trial proceeds

Russia's Supreme Court decided yesterday to continue the treason trial of the alleged leaders of the August 1991 Soviet coup, despite the election of two defendants to Russia's new parliament. Lawyers for Anatoly Lukyanov and Vasily Starodubtsev had argued that the two men could not be tried because they now have parliamentary immunity. Russia's new constitution gives parliament members limited immunity. But a judicial panel ruled that the immunity clause does not cover serious past crimes. German unemployment soars

German unemployment rose in December to its highest since unification in 1990, the Federal Labor Office said yesterday. The adjusted jobless total for western Germany also rose, hitting the highest December figure since World War II. Western Germany is mired in its worst post war recession, and smaller eastern Germany is still struggling to rebuild its formerly communist economy. MCI's new network

MCI Communications Corporation will invest $20 billion over six years to upgrade its long-distance network and provide the biggest challenge so far to the regional Bells, it said Tuesday. The high-capacity long-distance cable, already installed on about half the MCI system, was described as the nation's first transcontinental information superhighway. Using fiber optic technology known as SONET, it moves data 15 times faster than any other wire technology now available, MCI said. Competitors Bell Telephone and Sprint argue that MCI is simply upgrading its technology to match theirs. Red Adair retires

The world's best-known fireman Paul ``Red'' Adair traded in his coveralls Tuesday for a fisherman's cap. Adair announced the sale of his Houston-based Red Adair Company Inc. to Global Industries Ltd. of Lafayette, La., for an undisclosed amount. Adair is credited with extinguishing thousands of oil well fires, including those left burning after the 1991 Persian Gulf war. New Osaka theme park

Entertainment giant MCA Inc. has agreed to develop a theme park called ``Universal Studios Japan'' in Osaka, Japan's second-largest city, by 1999, city officials said yesterday. The park would be the first major byproduct of the acquisition of MCA in 1990 by Matsushita Electric Industrial Company, based in Osaka. Matsushita paid $6.2 billion for MCA in the largest purchase ever of an American company by a foreign one.

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