GOP SENATORS FOCUS ON CLINTON AIDES In their first major action on Whitewater since the election, Senate Banking Committee Republicans are requesting a criminal investigation into the congressional Whitewater testimony by two Clinton aides. Last summer's testimony by George Stephanopoulos and Harold Ickes ``appears to raise significant questions of veracity,'' the Republicans said in a letter to independent counsel Kenneth Starr. In Little Rock, Ark., Mr. Starr's office said it is reviewing the GOP letter. At the White House, press secretary Dee Dee Myers said that Starr's office has already reviewed the record from the hearings and that ``it's time to move on.'' Cruise ship burns

The Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro caught fire off Somalia yesterday. Most of the nearly 1,000 people aboard escaped in lifeboats but at least three people were reported dead. The ship, which gained notoriety when Palestinian terrorists hijacked it in 1985, was listing badly about 15 miles off shore in the Indian Ocean.

Aid for Arafat

After listening to a plea from Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, foreign donors were expected to agree yesterday to free up $125 million in aid for his self-rule authority, diplomats said. Wrapping up a two-day conference in Brussels on aid to the Palestinian territories, donors were also considering setting up an international committee to monitor the distribution of funds by Arafat's administration.

Nepal Communists

A minority Communist government took office yesterday in Nepal with promises to encourage business and help the landless poor in this remote Himalayan nation. King Birendra gave the oath of office to Prime Minister Manmohan Adhikari, the chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal. The man often described as the real power in the party, Madhav Kumar Nepal, was named to three important posts: deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs and defense.

Yeltsin privatizes TV

President Boris Yeltsin ordered the government yesterday to sell off shares of Russia's largest state television and radio company, with 51 percent of the stock remaining in state hands. Ostankino, once called commonwealth television, is broadcast throughout the former Soviet Union. Yeltsin's decree said the new venture would inherit Ostankino's nationwide Channel One and would pay for the broadcast time on unchanged terms.

Corruption in France

A French court yesterday placed the business empire of millionaire leftist politician Bernard Tapie into receivership, dealing him a blow that could end his turbulent political life. The Commercial Court of Paris froze for six months activities of Tapie companies.

AIDS conference

Representatives from 42 nations are scheduled to meet in Paris today for the first international political summit on AIDS and on ways to combat the disease. Today, by UN proclamation, is World AIDS Day.

Grand Ayatollah Ali Araki

The Grand Ayatollah Ali Araki, supreme leader of the world's 100 million Shiite Muslims, died Tuesday in Tehran. He was designated the marja ala, or supreme leader, of Shiite Muslims around the world only last year, after the death in quick succession of two other supreme leaders. Shiites make up about 10 percent of the world's 1 billion Muslims.

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