CONSUMER PRICES RISE SLOWLY Consumer prices rose 0.3 percent in November as a rebound in energy prices and rising food costs gave the United States its biggest inflation spurt since August. The Labor Department said yesterday the Consumer Price Index, the most closely watched barometer of Americans' cost of living, rose three times faster than October's tiny 0.1 percent gain. Still, inflation at the retail level is rising at an annual rate of just 2.7 percent, meaning that the US is headed for its third straight year with price increases below 3 percent, something that has not occurred in three decades. In other economic news, a record gap in merchandise trade widened the broadest measure of the US trade deficit by 10 percent in the third quarter, as the trade gap grew to its largest three-month total in nearly seven years. US, New Zealand mend ties

The United States moved yesterday to improve relations with New Zealand by agreeing to honor the country's ban against carrying nuclear weapons into its territory. The US formally split ties with New Zealand in 1987 because of Wellington's policy of barring US Navy vessels and military aircraft unless they declared they were not carrying nuclear weapons.

Japan-US research pact

Japan and the United States will spend $90 million on joint defense research projects, including the development of advanced steel technology, ceramic vehicle engines, and ``eye-safe'' lasers. The programs come under a US strategy to rely more on commercially available technology in developing high-tech arms.

Taiwan Cabinet shake-up

Taiwan's premier reshuffled his Cabinet yesterday, making changes such as putting a top economic official in charge of Chinese affairs that could improve relations with rival China. The shake-up announced by Premier Lien Chan was also seen as an attempt by the ruling Nationalist Party to boost its chances in the 1996 presidential election.

GOP eyes San Diego

Republicans have taken another step toward selecting San Diego as the site of the party's 1996 national convention. The GOP national committee's site-selection panel authorized negotiations be undertaken with city officials to see if details can be worked out for the Aug. 12 to 15 convention.

Four towns evacuated

About 2,500 people from four towns were evacuated after shrapnel from a chemical plant explosion punctured an ammonia tank, sending a cloud of fumes rolling across the Missouri River. The blast that demolished the Terra Industries plant in Sioux City, Iowa, killed four workers and reduced a seven-story building to a crater Tuesday. The Iowa towns of Homer, Hubbard, and Winnebago and Macy, Neb., were evacuated.

Prehistoric pines

Thirty-nine trees related to a species that existed 150 million years ago in Australia have been found west of Sydney, but the New South Wales government yesterday said it would keep their exact location secret to ensure their safety. The previously unknown trees, some 131 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter, are in a deep gorge in the Woollemi National Park, about 125 miles west of Sydney.

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