News In Brief

The US

President Clinton declared much of California a major disaster area Feb. 9, opening the door for federal aid to 27 counties hit by heavy rains, flooding, and mudslides. An early tally put El Nio-driven storm damage at $300 million. In some parts of northern California, precipitation for February is already almost triple the usual amount for the month, a state flood center spokesman said. South of the border, flash floods in Tijuana, Mexico, killed 13 people and forced thousands from their homes.

William Ginsburg, Monica Lewinsky's lawyer, planned to ask a federal judge in Washington Feb. 10 to enforce an immunity deal with Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr or block a grand jury appearance scheduled for Feb. 12 by his client. Starr denied Ginsburg claims that prosecutors agreed to shield the former White House intern from prosecution in exchange for her cooperation. Ginsburg also requested an independent probe into what he called harmful leaks and false stories by Starr's office. Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall, filed for a contempt-of-court ruling against Starr for leaks.

Clinton's approval rating for his job soared to 79 percent, according to a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken Feb. 7. His approval rating in a poll by the same group in December was 59 percent. Sixty-five percent polled said Clinton shouldn't be impeached even if allegations are true that he lied under oath about an affair with Lewinsky. And 64 percent said Starr is using the investigation for partisan political purposes.

The movie "Titanic" received a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations during ceremonies in Beverly Hills, Calif., including for best picture, actress, and director. The only other film to capture as many nominations was "All About Eve," released in 1950.

Clinton's annual economic report to Congress forecast economic growth for the US of 2 percent in 1998, 1999, and 2000. Asia's financial woes probably will depress exports, but will help lower interest rates, it said.

The US immigration service unveiled a plan Feb. 9 to use computers, electronic fingerprint checks, and other high-tech tools to stop fraud and reduce a backlog of 1.7 million applications. The agency has been criticized for allowing thousands of foreigners to become citizens without full criminal background checks.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair departed the US for home Feb. 7 after presenting a united front with Clinton on Iraq and a peace initiative for Northern Ireland. Clinton rolled out the red carpet for Blair, treating him to a 19-gun salute and dinner featuring performances by Elton John and Stevie Wonder.

The computer security systems that control access to 40 airports worldwide through electronic badges have a design flaw that could make them vulnerable to terrorism, The New York Times reported Feb. 8. Government buildings, including the CIA, prisons, and industries with sensitive military or financial information, are also vulnerable to attack, the Times said. In some cases, an individual can dial into the computer and create security badges and unlock doors, the report said.

Democratic fund-raiser Yahlin Charlie Trie was arraigned in Washington Feb. 5 on charges of campaign fund-raising abuses. Clinton's longtime friend flew into Washington's Dulles International Airport and surrendered to the FBI. He fled the US in 1996 and took refuge in China. Earlier, a grand jury brought 15 charges against Trie and Antonio Pan, a business associate, accusing them of funneling illegal foreign contributions to Democratic Party campaign committees during the 1996 election cycle.

The US Supreme Court rejected a final appeal by Karla Faye Tucker, who on Feb. 3 became the first woman to be executed in Texas since 1863 and the first in the nation since 1984. Tucker became a born-again Christian after being convicted of murdering two people in 1983.

The World

Saying, "The window of opportunity is getting narrower" for a diplomatic solution to the Iraq crisis, Defense Secretary William Cohen maintained that no further UN resolutions approving the use of force are needed. Cohen said Feb. 10 "a real coalition" is building in the Gulf region and beyond for air strikes against strategic Iraqi targets. He was on a tour of Gulf states to line up support in the event of a US-led attack.

Expectations for a breakthrough were low as Israeli and Palestinian envoys left home Feb. 9 for meetings in Washington with US officials on the stalled Middle East peace negotiations. The two sides agreed to the visits after Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's talks with their respective leaders last week, but there were no immediate plans for a face-to-face meeting. Discussion was likely to focus on security issues and Israel's overdue withdrawal from more of the West Bank.

The Protestant-dominated Police Authority of Northern Ireland must be made "capable of representing the views" of Catholics, Britain's top official for the province said Feb. 9. Mo Mowlam announced a review of the civilian bureaucracy that controls the country's 12,000 police - 93 percent of whom are Protestants. Analysts said her move confronted Catholic negotiators on the future of Northern Ireland with an agenda based on reforming rather than abolishing unpopular institutions.

The first planeload of relief supplies for earthquake-stricken Afghanistan landed 25 miles from the scene of the worst damage Feb. 9. At least two more relief flights were expected, although bad weather and an unpaved airstrip were hindering other attempts to ferry in needed supplies. Estimates of the number of deaths from the quake ranged between 1,800 and 4,000.

President Chirac and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin of France led memorial ceremonies for their government's assassinated top official on Corsica Feb. 9. A separatist group claimed it shot Prefect Claude Erignac because he had issued a "declaration of war" by attempting to develop the island's tourist industry. The government rejected proposals to delay the island's March 15 election or to turn it into a referendum on whether Corsicans wanted to remain a part of France.

In cities across Germany, thousands of jobless people joined in protests against the country's record unemployment rate Feb. 5. Much of their anger was vented at the government of Chancellor Kohl, who is seeking reelection in September. Kohl only recently offered a plan for generating new jobs, after insisting that market forces would alleviate the problem. The current unemployment rate is 12.8 percent - the highest since World War II.

Women in Portugal were given increased access to abortions under a new law approved by a nine-vote margin in parliament Feb. 5. Pregnancies may now be terminated on request up to the 10th week. The old law allowed abortions up to 12 weeks only in cases of rape or certain narrowly defined medical reasons. Portugal's previous lack of a liberal abortion law caused countless women to travel to Spain for the procedure, family planners said.

As expected, the presidential election on Cyprus will be decided by a runoff Feb. 15. Neither incumbent Glafcos Clerides nor challenger George Iakovou mustered enough of last weekend's vote to win outright. Turkish leaders on the ethnically divided island said the outcome wouldn't matter because neither Clerides nor Iakovou would "change the intentions and policies of the Greek Cypriots."


"If Saddam Hussein has nothing to hide, he has nothing to fear."

- US Defense Secretary William Cohen, insisting that UN weapons inspectors must have unconditional access to Iraqi presidential compounds.

Want to be among the first to visit unspoiled Pitcairn Island? Your opportunity may be approaching. An Australian company has been authorized to build the first airstrip on the British colony immortalized in the film "Mutiny on the Bounty." But before you decide to go, be advised that Pitcairn is one of the remotest places on earth - roughly halfway between New Zealand and Chile in the south Pacific. It has fewer than 70 residents, no hotels, and only six hours of electricity per day.

The Day's List

US Has Costliest Turf in The World for Retailers

Six of the 10 most expensive retail streets of 1997 were in the US, according to an annual survey by Chicago-based Equis Retail Group. Rents on New York's Fifth Avenue between 48th and 57th streets ranked as the priciest - a whopping $580 per square foot. The 10 most expensive streets in the world:

1. Fifth Avenue, New York

2. East 57th Street, New York

3. Oxford Street, London

4. Madison Avenue, New York

5. Avenue des Champs Elyse, Paris

6. Times Square, New York

7. Rodeo Drive, Los Angeles

8. The Ginza, Tokyo

9. Union Square, San Francisco

(tie) Nathan Road, Hong Kong

- Reuter

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