SHAKEN JAPAN STRUGGLES TO COPE Hundreds of thousands of people fled by foot, car, and bicycle yesterday from the earthquake-ravaged western port city of Kobe. The death toll now tops 2,500; more than 14,000 are reported injured; and 1,000 people are still missing. But by yesterday, the many wind-whipped fires in Kobe had burned themselves out. In the quake zone, life in a high-tech country is suddenly reduced to the most basic and primitive level. Telephone service, power, gas, and train service are still largely knocked out. In Kobe, which had been a thriving, cosmopolitan city of 1.4 million, people crouch around campfires and use water from ruptured pipes. Hundreds of aftershocks continue to rattle the region. Japan earthquake damage

Almost 12,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged. Kobe's port, which handles 12 percent of Japan's exports, was closed except for emergency use. Hanshin Expressway, a major artery between Osaka and Kobe, collapsed in five places. Bay Coast Highway in Osaka collapsed on a section of reclaimed land. Other national roads were damaged at 20 sites. Rail lines for the high-speed ``bullet'' trains were damaged at 36 places over about 56 miles.

Chechnya fight continues

Despite announcements by Chechen officials in Moscow that a cease-fire would start yesterday in Russia's breakaway republic of Chechnya, Russian forces pounded its capital, Grozny, by ground and air. Chechen fighters continue to mount fierce resistance against the Russian Army and reportedly reclaimed part of the city yesterday.

Balladur announces

French Prime Minister Eduard Balladur, the overwhelming favorite to become president in May, announced his candidacy yesterday and pledged to lead France confidently into the 21st century. Poll after poll suggests that Mr. Balladur is virtually certain to win a seven-year term as successor to President Francois Mitterrand. The first round of voting is April 23, with a runoff scheduled for May 7 if no candidate wins an outright majority.

First bill to Clinton

The Republican Congress sent its first bill to President Clinton Tuesday when the House gave final approval, 390 to 0, to a measure requiring Congress to live by the laws it imposes on other employers.

Frequent-flier suit

People can sue airlines that retroactively restrict their frequent-flier club benefits, the US Supreme Court ruled yesterday. The 6-to-2 decision allows an Illinois class-action lawsuit to go forward against American Airlines, which began the immensely popular frequent-flier plans that every major airline now offers.

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