News In Brief

The US

Investigators searched for clues to a mass suicide at a mansion in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., that resulted in 39 deaths. The mansion was the center for a thriving sect-operated business called Higher Source, which created Web pages for some of San Diego's most prominent businesses. Attorney General Janet Reno offered FBI assistance in what is being called one of the biggest mass suicides in US history.

Police evacuated about 300 people from their homes in a posh Queens neighborhood in New York after discovering more than 200 gallons of possibly hazardous materials, including a container labeled "sarin" - a deadly nerve gas. The search took place after police arrested an unidentified man following a standoff.

Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic met with President Clinton in the Oval Office and said he received assurances that war criminals in Bosnia will be brought to justice. A special international military force is being considered to hunt them down.

A US proposal to allow law-enforcement agencies to eavesdrop on the Internet to combat online crime faced rejection at a Paris meeting of the 29-nation Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Agencies would need a court order to access the new international system of computer-security codes. Despite support from Britain and France, the proposal is under fire from several industrial nations concerned about privacy rights for their citizens.

Home sales soared again in February to their second highest level on record - the strongest since May, the National Association of Realtors said. The 9 percent rise was attributed to relatively low interest rates, warm weather, and strong economic growth.

The financially troubled Democratic National Committee faces $14.4 million in debts next year and estimated legal bills of $4 million, The New York Times reported. Yet the party has only $1.7 million on hand, spokeswoman Amy Weiss Tobe said. That makes it challenging to repay $1.5 million in questionable donations to the 1996 campaigns it promised to return.

Senate Republican budget-writers are considering proposing about $77 billion in tax cuts over the next five years. But that would be contingent on Congress voting to eliminate federal deficits first, aides said. The package could eventually grow to $140 billion. House Speaker Newt Gingrich recently was blasted by fellow Republicans for suggesting a similar strategy for delaying final votes on tax cuts.

The US asked Belarussian ambassador Valery Tsepkalo to delay assuming his post in Washington after the Minsk government expelled a US diplomat. Belarus arrested US first secretary Serzh Alexandrov, who is of Belarussian origin, at a rally against hardline President Alex- ander Lukashenko last weekend and accused him of "provocative" actions. The US said he was observing the political demonstration - a normal diplomatic duty.

Maine became the 18th state to ban marriages between homosexuals. Because the bill was initiated by a petition drive, a vote by the legislature to kill it would have automatically triggered a November referendum. Gov. Angus King has said he will not veto the measure.

Norfolk Southern Corp. is expected to acquire more than half of Conrail Inc.'s routes and spend an unanticipated $700 million in expansion and modernization, The Wall Street Journal reported. Earlier this month, Norfolk Southern of Norfolk, Va, and CSX of Richmond, Va,. decided to drop takeover bids and split the rail company. Terms of the deal are expected to be released within a week.

"Natural causes" not "acts of God" are behind tornadoes, floods, and storms, the Arkansas legislature agreed after much debate. It inserted the new term into a disaster-relief bill after Gov. Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, called the former phrase offensive and refused to sign the measure until the wording was changed.

The World

Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and US envoy Dennis Ross concluded "very thorough" discussions in Moroc-co on regaining momentum in the Middle East peace process. Ross was due to meet on the subject with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and report his findings to President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright by the weekend.

Zairean rebel negotiators will meet with representatives of President Mobutu's government soon, a rebel spokesman said. He indicated the talks likely would be held in South Africa but did not say whether they would involve Mobutu and rebel chief Laurent Kabila. Both sides sent delegates to a meeting on the Zairean crisis in Togo, but they did not talk directly with each other.

Albanian leaders met with visiting European relief experts to find a formula for protecting humanitarian aid shipments aimed at helping to pull the country back from the brink of anarchy. Analysts say sending in an international security force would be tricky because it could be seen as a move to prop up unpopular President Sali Berisha.

Communist North Korea is willing to join proposed peace negotiations with the US and South Korea if they first guarantee food aid, officials in Seoul announced. The move was the North's first official response to the four-sided talks proposed by the US and South Korea. China also would sit in on all talks. Aid agencies have estimated that North Korea may only be weeks away from mass starvation because of devastating floods.

A nationwide protest in Russia over unpaid wages appeared to fall well short of the expected turnout, news reports said. The interior ministry estimated the turnout at 500,00 people. Organizers had predicted 17 million supporters would join the one-day protest.

Chinese investigators found no evidence that their government illegally attempted to influence US policy through donations to the Democratic Party, Ambassador James Sasser said he was informed. He said Chinese leaders told him they were "very offended" at such allegations but chose not to reveal their anger to visiting Vice President Al Gore. Officials traveling with Gore said they had few details on how the investigators had looked into the issue.

The world's only doctor-assisted suicide law was struck down in Australia's Northern Territory. The measure was used four times, with two other people said to be planning similar action when Governor-General William Deane signed a new federal law making it illegal.

A subscription drive to fund the main stadium for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney ended in failure, organizers said. It fell an estimated $180 million short of its goal because analysts said shares were priced too high. Australia's Olympic Committee also has reported heavy losses from investments in a gambling casino. The chief of Sydney's organizing committee for the games also quit unexpectedly.

Land mines have been clear-ed, most automatic weapons have been surrendered to peacekeepers, and Liberia appears ready for its 758,000 civil-war refugees to return home, the UN said. But it said many of them have fled as far away as Nigeria and can't return in time for Liberia's May 30 elections.

Nigerian protesters seized more of Royal Dutch Shell's production facilities in what the company said was a political dispute. Shell said the protesters were angry because oil revenues from the area went mostly to help other Nigerian tribes that are better connected politically. The government in Abuja so far has stayed out of the dispute.


"The world should know what are the real issues in Zaire. The Zairean people want freedom, a better life, human rights ..."

- Rebel strategist Bizima Karaha, on what his forces are seeking in their uprising against the Mobutu government.

Norm Hankoff gets a sinking feeling when he sees other folks sitting down to a meal. The Santa Rosa, Calif., resident founded the International Association of People Who Dine Over the Kitchen Sink, which claims a membership of more than 1,000 on-the-go types who want to save time. Everybody does it at some point, he says. But what about a nice romantic dinner with that special someone? Turn on the faucet, Hankoff advises, for a view overlooking the water.

What to do, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wondered, with the leftovers from its Oscar Governors Ball? The solution: a luncheon for dozens of poor and homeless women in Los Angeles. They dined on king salmon, pasta, raspberries, and chocolate cake and then were treated to a private screening of "The English Patient," which won the Oscar for Best Picture.

Peruvians see an Olympic gold medal in Sylvia Figue-roa's future. On command, she splashed into a Lima pool, and - using her best freestyle technique - swam 40 laps in a time of 48 minutes . . . without stopping. That averages out to a relatively slow 1:20 per lap. But then, Sylvia is only 3.

The Day's List

Winners in the Game of World Competitiveness

The US remained the world's most competitive country last year, as measured by the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland. It rated 46 nations on 244 criteria - among them technology, management, financial services, and government policies. Russia finished in last place. The top 12:

1. United States

2. Singapore

3. Hong Kong

4. Finland

5. Netherlands

6. Norway

7. Denmark

8. Switzerland

9. Canada

10. New Zealand

11. Japan

12. Britain

- Associated Press

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