US RETAIL SALES RISE 1.2 PERCENT Retail sales surged 1.2 percent in November, the sixth straight advance, as the Christmas shopping season got off to a flying start. The Commerce Department also revised upward to 1.3 percent from an earlier estimate of 1.1 percent the increase in total sales for October. The November gain, more than double what many analysts predicted, was practically across the board and likely will fuel new speculation that the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates yet again to slow a consumer-driven economic expansion in mid-December. Retail sales have risen every month since May, when they were unchanged. They are now 8.7 percent higher than a year ago. Panama's Cuban deadline

Five days after Cuban refugees rioted in camps here, Panama's president announced Dec. 12 that all 8,500 of them must leave the country by March 6. ``It was six months and it will be six months,'' President Ernesto Perez Balladares said, referring to the time he told President Clinton the refugees could remain in Panama. IBM stops PC shipments

IBM stopped shipments Dec. 12 of personal computers with Intel's flawed Pentium chip, dealing another blow to Intel as it struggles to cope with the problem in its flagship product. IBM is the world's largest PC maker and is a co-developer of a rival processor.

Orange County squeeze

Orange County's financial squeeze worsened Dec. 12 when the Water District asked a bankruptcy judge for permission to withdraw from the California county's shriveled investment fund to pay creditors and avoid defaulting on its bonds.

The request was expected to lead to the first showdown among the county's creditors over which one gets access to remaining funds.

Canadian A-plant shut

Part of Canada's oldest nuclear plant will remain switched off until officials can determine what caused the first emergency shutdown of a commercial reactor in the country. Ontario Hydro says the reactor automatically shut down Dec. 10 after a faulty valve caused 132 tons of heavy water to spill at the Pickering nuclear station 20 miles east of Toronto.

Campus protest in Texas

Female students seized and occupied the admissions office at Texas Woman's University in Denton Dec. 12, launching what they promise to be a week-long protest of plans to admit men to all university programs.

Space center chief to quit

Kennedy Space Center director Robert Crippen, a former astronaut who piloted the first space shuttle flight, announced he is leaving NASA. His resignation is effective Jan. 21. He said he will pursue a career in private industry.

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