News In Brief

The US

Housing starts plunged 7.9 percent in March, although 30-year mortgage rates fell to 8.45 percent for the month. Analysts had predicted a slight spring rebound. The drop represents the first three-month string of declines in a year, adding to evidence of a slowing economy.

President Clinton eased rules on government secrecy, making declassification of secret information automatic after 25 years, with the exception of nine specified areas. He also set up a panel to hear challenges to classification.

Twelve US cities will hold a presidential-preference vote November 7 to get a jump on the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries next year . CityVote will be held along with regular city elections. Organizer Larry Agran, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1992, said he hopes to spotlight urban problems.

Clinton signed a bill to rescue the the nation's capital from near-certain bankruptcy. The legislation imposes strict new spending controls and strips powers from Mayor Barry and the Washington city council.

Senator Lugar will declare his candidacy for president April 19 on a platform of replacing income taxes with a national sales tax. Analysts don't give the Republican much of a chance of winning the nomination. (Story, Page 1.)

The Supreme Court will decide a damage case relating to the Korean Air Lines flight shot down in Soviet airspace in 1983. An appeals court ruled a mother and sister of a woman killed in the incident must prove they were financially dependent on her before they can collect full damages. The high court made it more difficult for people claiming they were harmed by childhood vaccines to collect money from a government compensation fund. Truck manufacturers, meanwhile, can be sued under state law for failing to install antilock brakes even though they aren't required under current federal safety rules, the court said. The court also made it easier to use a federal debt-collector law to sue lawyers for the work they do in behalf of clients seeking payments of consumer debts.

Clinton said he will not give up on Henry Foster's nomination for surgeon general, which Senator Dole earlier threatened to hold in committee. Analysts said the issue could launch a divisive abortion debate. (Story, Page 4.)

The widow of an executive killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, was awarded $19 million by a federal jury on Long Island.

The biological father of a boy adopted at birth asked a Chicago court to order the police to seize the boy. The adoptive parents have not turned Baby Richard over as they were directed to do in January.

The Postal Service unveiled new efforts to stem workplace violence in the postal system. Plans call for special training for more than 40,000 supervisors on how to spot risky situations before they erupt.

The Federal Aviation Administration said it planned to hold runway-safety hearings April 19. It also released a plan to improve ground safety with a radar-computer system. Clark Fiester, assistant Air Force secretary, was killed in a plane crash in Alabama. His military assistant and six others also died.

Robert Shapiro, defense attorney in the O. J. Simpson double-murder trial, apologized for mockingly handing out fortune cookies and making fun of Chinese-American criminalist Dennis Fung, a prosecution witness the defense is trying to discredit. The prosecution offered exhaustive details showing Fung had not bungled the collection of blood samples.

The World

China, Indonesia, Mexico, and Western European countries were to take the floor April 18 at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in New York. Indonesia and Mexico are pushing for limited extension of the treaty. The US and most Western European countries, which are lobbying for indefinite extension of the treaty, believe they have a majority of votes. China, meanwhile, insisted it will proceed with a nuclear deal with Iran, despite warnings from the US. Israeli Foreign Minister Peres said Iran's efforts to acquire nuclear capabilities were aimed at destroying Israel. (Editorial, Page 20.)

US Treasury Secretary Rubin told India the US had ''extremely strong concern'' about Iran, which Washington has branded an outlaw nation. Rubin and Iranian President Rafsanjani were in India on official visits. India offered Rafsanjani help in beefing up Tehran's defense arsenal. India and the US signed an agreement for environmental action spelling out common goals.

Iraqi parliamentary committees began discussing a UN resolution allowing Iraq to sell $2 billion worth of oil in exchange for food and medicine. Iraqi officials said the resolution, already rejected by Iraq, was a dangerous violation of Iraq's sovereignty.

Bosnian Serb forces mortared a supply route west of Sarajevo and shelled a suburb of the city. France demanded an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council and other steps to improve security for peacekeepers in the former Yugoslavia, warning that French troops might have to be withdrawn. (Editorial, Page 20.)

The Palestinian Authority released dozens of the suspected Islamic militants it detained after a recent suicide bombing, a Palestinian official said. Hamas and PLO officials said earlier their officials were secretly meeting to reach an accord to prevent anti-Israeli attacks. Thousands of Israelis marched from the West Bank to the Mediterranean Sea, protesting plans to turn over more land to Palestinians.

A 12-year-old boy who won international acclaim for highlighting the horrors of child labor in Pakistan was shot and killed in Islamabad. Another activist said he believed Igbal Masih's death was linked to his crusade. At least eight men, including a suspect in the murder of two US consulate employees March 8, were killed in Karachi. (Drug crackdown, Page 1.)

Canada renewed threats of retaliation against Spanish-owned vessels only days after reaching a fishing-conservation agreement with the EU. Canada said two vessels registered in Belize but owned and crewed by Spain were illegally fishing for turbot on the Grand Banks in an area that Canada and Spain have hotly debated since early March.

Amid talk of possible US sanctions, Japanese and US negotiators went back to the bargaining table to look for ways to get Japan to lower barriers to US-made autos. The Clinton administration said it was optimistic even though there have been few signs of progress. The dollar fell in reaction to the talks and the growing perception that Washington is using the lower dollar as a negotiating lever.

Moderate nationalist leader John Hume angrily criticized Britain for refusing talks with Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, on cementing the eight-month-old peace process in Northern Ireland. Hume won international acclaim for helping to broker the IRA's cessation of violence last September. His comments were the latest in a growing clamor from nationalist leaders on both sides of the Irish border for Britain to drop objections to ministerial talks with Sinn Fein.


If Jacques Chirac wins the French presidential election May 7, he will owe victory in part to some rubber puppets that have turned political satire into a prime-time TV hit. ''Les Guignols de L'Info'' (The News Clowns) are so popular, they've just been awarded their own election-night show. Chirac has emerged as the program's more sympathetic character.

California fish farmers are starting to raise the coveted beluga caviar. For decades, 90 percent of the white sturgeon caviar came from countries bordering the Caspian Sea, but because of overfishing and pollution, production is down. The California caviar could sell for nearly $300 per pound.

Germany's new travel craze is driving some travelers crazy. With the ''Schoenes Wochenende,'' or Beautiful Weekend ticket, people can travel anywhere in Germany for 15 deutsche marks ($10.80) from midnight Friday to midnight Sunday. The catch? They can only use the slow-moving regional trains that, as the Germans say, ''stop at every milk jug.''

ABC was the top network in the 1994-95 prime-time ratings derby, according to Nielsen Media Research figures. It was a sweet victory for ABC, which last won the crown 15 years ago. ABC won in the most desirable viewer category -- 18- to 49-year-olds. CBS plummeted from No. 1 to third place. NBC improved over last year, finishing second.

Top-Grossing Films In the US, April 14-16 (Preliminary figures)

1.''Bad Boys,'' $10.8 million

2. ''Rob Roy,'' $7.7 million

3. ''A Goofy Movie,'' $5.7 million

4. ''Jury Duty,'' $5.1 million

5. ''Tommy Boy,'' $4.3 million

6. ''Don Juan DeMarco,'' $3.7 million

7. ''Outbreak,'' $2.7 million

8. ''Circle of Friends,'' $2.6 million

9. ''Dolores Claiborne,'' $2 million

10. ''Major Payne,'' $1.9 million

Associated Press

''What should I have said that would not have brought aid and comfort to the enemy? I was the secretary of defense.''

Robert McNamara on why he didn't speak out earlier about the Vietnam War

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