CHRISTOPHER OFFERS BACKING TO ARAFAT US Secretary of State Warren Christopher is scrambling a brief fact-finding trip to the Middle East to bolster PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat in his two-front struggle with Israel and Islamic militants. As Mr. Christopher flew to Damascus Dec. 6 to see Syrian President Hafez al-Assad on deadlocked negotiations with Israel, US officials said he intended to meet with Arafat in Gaza City Dec. 7 about the progress Arafat has made in taking over management of various Palestinian self-rule powers on the West Bank (see story, Page 9). Quakes jolt L.A. area

A number of earthquakes jolted southern California, shaking homes and buildings but causing little damage or injury Dec. 6. Seismologists said all the tremors were aftershocks of a Jan. 17 earthquake. Seismologist Kate Hutton said aftershocks will continue for at least two years.

Protest in Mexico

Speaking with their feet, thousands of Indian peasants gathered in the capital of Chiapas state Dec. 6 to protest the inauguration of a new governor whom they say won through fraud. The peasants planned a march to protest the Dec. 8 swearing-in of Eduardo Robledo Rincon, the ruling party's candidate for Chiapas governor.

Serbs hold peacekeepers

Refusing to cancel their insurance policy against further NATO bombings, Serbs kept tight hold over 349 UN peacekeepers Dec. 6 despite earlier pledges to set them free. The UN commander in Bosnia, Lt. Gen. Sir Michael Rose, tried to secure their release the night before when he met with the Bosnian Serb deputy chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Milan Gvero.

US senators to N. Korea

US Sens. Frank Murkowski (R) of Alaska and Paul Simon (D) of Illinois plan to travel to North Korea Dec. 13, in the first visit to the isolated Stalinist country by US legislators since the passing in July of longtime ruler Kim Il Sung.

No new Irish government

Efforts collapsed Dec. 6 to form a new government to replace the Fianna Fail-Labor Party coalition that came apart last month. Dick Spring, who precipitated the Nov. 16 crisis when he led his Labor Party out of former Prime Minister Albert Reynolds's administration, withdrew from talks with the new Fianna Fail leader, Bertie Ahern.

Fox counters NBC attack

Fox Inc. says NBC's recent challenge of its ownership is simply an effort to sabotage a growing competitor. NBC is ``trying to ensnare Fox in a large - perhaps fatal - administrative quagmire in order to bring Fox's continued growth and competition to a halt,'' the emerging network told the Federal Communications Commission on Dec. 5, responding to an NBC petition filed Nov. 30.

Stiff levee-sabotage penalty

A man got the maximum sentence of life in prison for inundating 14,000 acres of farmland by removing five sandbags from a Mississippi River levee during the height of the 1993 Midwest floods. James Scott had told friends he wanted to break the levee to strand his former wife.

Texas execution

Texas Dec. 6 executed Herman Clark, a rapist who claimed responsibility for more than 100 attacks, for murder. State attorneys expect to put two more killers to death in Texas' busiest week of executions in eight years.

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