News In Brief

The US

Prosecutors rejected another offer from accused Unabomber Theodore Kaczynski to plead guilty and try to avoid the death penalty, The New York Times reported. His attorneys and federal prosecutors are trying to find a way to end the trial, the Times said, after Kaczynski apparently tried to commit suicide last week and demanded to represent himself. Such developments increased pressure on the government to justify the expense and effort to obtain the death penalty. Kaczynski apparently insisted during the weekend talks on retaining the right to appeal certain pretrial rulings.

President Clinton planned to sign a directive to bar states from receiving more federal funds for prisons until they determine and report the extent of illicit drug use among their inmates. The directive reflects the administration's belief that stanching the supply of drugs in prisons will lessen demand for them after convicts are released, The New York Times reported.

The Clinton administration was scheduled to unveil a plan in Berkeley, Calif., that would provide millions of dollars in grants to help train more computer programmers. A study conducted by Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., estimates there are 346,000 vacancies in computer-programmer and system-analyst jobs in US companies with more than 100 employees, The Washington Post reported. The shortage has spread to banks, hospitals, and retailers that depend on programmers to design and operate their systems, the Post said.

The US Supreme Court said it will speed up consideration of a dispute over efforts to open the $100 billion local phone market to long-distance companies. The justices said they will consider appeals by the Clinton administration, AT&T, and MCI at a closed-door conference Jan. 23. At issue is a federal appeals court ruling that struck down Federal Communications Commission guidelines for the prices competitors must pay to connect with local phone companies' networks.

Federal Aviation Administration documents allegedly show safety problems still exist at ValuJet Airlines, The Cleveland Plain Dealer said. And safety violations were allegedly greater now than in February 1996, when FAA inspectors recommended grounding the airline, which now calls itself AirTran. The FAA is still evaluating the results of the inspection, which it expects to complete this month.

The administration will consider ways to promote cultural exchanges with Iran in response to President Mohamad Khatami's request, National Security Advisor Samuel Berger told CNN's "Late Edition." And it will review tough visa restrictions on Iranians. But he cited these impediments to a change in relations: Iran's alleged state support for terrorism, pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, and violent opposition to the US-sponsored Mideast peace process.

A survey scheduled to be released tomorrow estimates intellectual property losses in the US from foreign and domestic espionage may have exceeded $300 billion in 1997, the Los Angeles Times reported. US-based companies reported more than 1,100 documented incidents of economic spying and 550 suspected incidents last year, the survey by the American Society for Industrial Security in Arlington, Va., shows. Governments of at least 23 countries - among them China, Germany, Russia, Israel, and France - have increased economic espionage against US-based companies, the Times said, quoting the FBI.

Paula Jones is now asking for $2 million and an apology in her sexual harassment case against Clinton, The Washington Post reported. No out-of-court settlement appears imminent, the Post said. Clinton is scheduled to give a deposition in the case Saturday, and the trial is scheduled to begin in May.

The World

Across much of Asia, stock prices fell to their lowest levels in years as economic news continued to worry investors. Hong Kong's Hang Seng index dropped 8.7 percent, partly on news that Peregrine Investment Holdings, one of the region's most powerful institutions, was filing for liquidation. Singapore's main stock index hit a seven-year low, with other losses reported in Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, and Taiwan.

In Tokyo, the Nikkei index fell 330 points as the government announced that problem loans by Japanese banks had reached $575 billion - more than three times higher than previously estimated. An official said the new report was aimed at increasing public awareness of the country's deep economic woes. Prime Minister Hashimoto opened the new session of parliament by appealing for support of his proposals to stabilize the financial system.

International Monetary Fund officials said they had a "very, very good" meeting with Indonesian President Suharto and were optimistic he would act decisively to control the country's economic crisis. Suharto has been under mounting pressure from world leaders to commit to strong reform measures demanded by the IMF in return for a $38 billion bailout.

Despite its economic problems, Malaysia has no plans to deport 1 million foreign workers, a senior official said. Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim contradicted published reports quoting another official as saying half of the country's guest workers would be sent home because of the weak economy. He said those with proper immigration documents would be redeployed to sectors where there are job openings.

Multiparty negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland resumed as the British and Irish governments agreed on new proposals to ease tensions between Protestants and Catholics. They were thought to include a blueprint for a new power-sharing council that would link the London and Dublin governments.

New violence in Algeria added 220 more to the number of casualties since the latest attacks began with the start of the Ramadan holy month. Reports said suspected Muslim militants hit a caf, a mosque, and a public room used for screening films in villages near the capital, Algiers. At least 103 people died; more than 100 others were hurt.

Members of Israel's parliament waded through the first snowfall in six years to vote on a motion of no confidence in Prime Minister Netanyahu. Analysts expected former Foreign Minister Levy, who resigned last week, to join those voting in favor of the motion. But unless it attracted an absolute majority of 61 lawmakers - considered unlikely - the government would not fall.

North Korea offered a rare expression of gratitude for international help in meeting its ongoing food shortage. An official statement thanked the World Food Program and other donors "for their sympathy and humanitarian assistance," which, it said, "will encourage the Korean people in their efforts" at recovery.

Security police checked for weapons but took no other immediate action as thousands of supporters of Montenegro's outgoing president, Momir Bulatovic, protested the impending inauguration of his successor. The demonstration took place in the capital, Podgorica, where reformer Milo Djukanovic is to be sworn in Thursday. Bulatovic lost to him in October but claims the voting was tainted by fraud and has refused to give up the office.


"If they can say the right thing at the right time, it could help the region tremendously."

- Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister Supachai Panitchpakdi, appealing for continued US and European support in the face of Asia's downward economic spiral.

Barbara Mitchell's attempt to show displeasure with a Costa Mesa, Calif., trattoria backfired - big time. She paid for a lunch of salad, pasta, and iced tea by credit card, writing in a one-cent tip for the waiter because of poor service. But when her monthly bill arrived, the tip had been inflated 1 million times. It seems the waiter entered 010000 on the restaurant's computer, which processed it as $10,000. He was suspended, while she got an apology. But she wishes she'd left cash instead.

There are easy police arrests, and then there is what happened in Anchorage, Alaska, when officers responded to a robbery call at an adult-book store. Not content with emptying the cash register, the culprit had yanked it off the counter and fled. But one end of the register tape remained behind, causing the rest to unroll as he ran. The cops simply followed the tape until they spotted him three blocks up the street and arrested him.

In Lincoln, Neb., Bryan Memorial Hospital is doing its best to compete for attention with the one 200 miles away in Iowa, where the McCaughey septuplets were born Nov. 20. Bryan's claim: five pairs of twins, all delivered in a 48-hour span. Said one administrator: "You'd think we were having a special."

The Day's List

'Titanic' Cruises Ahead, Pulls in Record Receipts

No other film in history had grossed more than $20 million four weekends in a row until "Titanic" did so Jan. 9-11. The estimated gross receipts for the 10 leading films over the past weekend (in millions):

1. "Titanic" $29.2

2. "Good Will Hunting" 10.3

3. "As Good As It Gets" 9.3

4. "Wag the Dog" 8.2

5. "Tomorrow Never Dies" 7.5

6. "Mouse Hunt" 5.0

7. "Firestorm" 4.0

8. "Jackie Brown" 3.8

9. "Scream 2" 3.7

10. "Amistad" 2.7

- Exhibitor Relations, Inc./AP

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