News In Brief

The US

A deeply divided Supreme Court sternly chastised a lower federal court for postponing a California inmate's execution two days before he was to die last August. By a 5-to-4 vote, the justices ruled the action of the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of convicted murderer and rapist Thomas Thompson was "a grave abuse of discretion." The circuit court blocked the execution to review a challenge it previously had rejected - that he had been denied adequate legal aid.

The Arizona Supreme Court said a law requiring that only English be used in government is unconstitutional. It ruled that a voter-approved statute requiring that official state- and local-government business be conducted only in English encroaches on free-speech rights. Arizona is one of at least 21 states that have enacted official-English statutes - although most are largely symbolic, merely saying English is the official state language.

A presidential veto was promised after the Senate approved paying the UN $926 million in back dues - but added new restrictions on Americans seeking abortions overseas. By a 51-to-49 vote, the Senate gave final approval to a State Department bill that includes an amendment added by House conservatives barring any of the money from being used, even indirectly, to support family-planning groups that advocate abortion rights.

A strong economy has postponed the projected insolvency of Social Security by three years - from 2029 to 2032 - the Social Security Board of Trustees said. In addition, Medicare's Hospital Insurance program is reportedly projected to remain solvent through 2008, seven years later than estimated last year. Nonetheless, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin warned that funding for Medicare and Social Security in the long term is still a serious cause for concern.

Economic prosperity has failed to ease the shortage of affordable housing, a federal report noted. A Housing and Urban Development study concluded that a record 5.3 million US households with low incomes need housing aid. Those households are made up of an estimated 12.5 million people - including 4.5 million children, nearly 1.5 million elderly, and at least 1.1 million adults with disabilities, the report said.

Hillary Rodham Clinton refused to answer two questions posed by independent counsel Kenneth Starr during a five-hour interview Saturday, President Clinton's attorney said. David Kendall told reporters the two questions were related to conversations Mrs. Clinton may have had with the president, "conversations that plainly fell under the long-established common-law privilege for marital communications."

Former FBI and CIA chief William Webster will head a special inquiry into the IRS's criminal-investigation division, the Treasury Department announced. The appointment of Webster came as the Senate Finance Committee began four days of hearings into alleged abuses by the US tax-collection agency.

One of the big five cigarette-makers agreed to aid prosecutors investigating the tobacco industry. Liggett & Myers agreed, among other things, to shed light on whether the industry hid evidence of the health damage of smoking from Congress and regulators, manipulated nicotine levels, and targeted children. Meanwhile, a coalition of Blue Cross and Blue Shield plans in at least 35 states filed federal lawsuits against major tobacco firms to recover smoking-related expenses. The suits were filed in US district courts in New York, Chicago, and Seattle.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich has drafted a bill to make larger cuts in the capital-gains tax. Gingrich told a group of investors in his suburban Atlanta district that his proposal would lower to 15 percent the maximum capital-gains rate of 20 percent - but still raise more taxes because the lower rate would encourage taxpayers to sell more of their investments.

Clinton said he will nominate career diplomat Jeffrey Davidow as ambassador to Mexico. Davidow, a former ambassador to Venezuela, is assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs.

The World

Israelis prepared for today's 50th anniversary of independence by paying special tribute to all soldiers who died in the nation's wars and giving special recognition for the first time to civilians killed in Arab terror attacks. But in one Jerusalem neighborhood, some ultra-Orthodox Jews angrily rebuffed a TV crew attempting to shoot footage of them ignoring the call to honor the dead.

President Clinton is determined to develop an increasingly warm relationship with China for the 21st century, Secretary of State Albright told officials of that government in Beijing. On a two-day mission to prepare the ground for Clinton's state visit in June, she told Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan that the US places greater emphasis on mutual cooperation than on its concerns over China's human rights record and foreign policies. She and Tang signed an agreement for a "hot line" between the White House and China's presidential palace.

Negotiations between union leaders and Danish employer groups appeared imminent as the effects of a nationwide strike set in. Food stores and gas stations were expected to run short of supplies as soon as this weekend, and lost production is estimated at $150 million a day. Denmark's center-left government, which relies on union support, has said it will not intervene.

Anti-Suharto tensions escalated across Indonesia as one of the country's largest universities was shut down for a week and students scuffled with police in two other locations. The worst violence was at Medan, where rioting tied up the city for six hours until police broke it up with tear gas. The University of North Sumatra, on the outskirts, was ordered closed until May 7.

Fighter jets and 40 battalions of Army troops, the largest force in 14 years, was moving against Kurdish separatists in southern Turkey. The five-day-old assault - centered in the city and province of Diyarbakir - so far has resulted in the deaths of 35 rebels and three soldiers, commanders said. Usually, both sides wait for the arrival of spring weather to initiate their heaviest attacks.

The first black chief of South Africa's armed forces was announced by President Mandela's Cabinet. Lt. Gen. Siphiwe Nyanda succeeds white Gen. Georg Meiring, who resigned after being reprimanded earlier this month for presenting a false warning to Mandela that other senior blacks in his government and in the military were plotting a coup.

Ordered by Zimbabwe's Supreme Court not to interfere, police stood by as thousands of students marched to the center of the capital, demanding that President Robert Mugabe step down. The demonstration, the largest of its kind so far, tied up Harare for more than two hours. Mugabe, who has held power continuously since 1980, is blamed for the nation's growing economic woes.

Flooding and landslides triggered by the heaviest rains in 30 years have killed more than 100 people and left at least 4,000 others homeless, a government official in Tajikistan said. Dozens of people are still reported missing in mountain villages, where broken communications lines are hindering the work of emergency crews.

Fighting back tears, former Philippines first lady Imelda Marcos announced her withdrawal from the country's May 11 presidential election. She reportedly was holding talks with the two leading candidates, which analysts said could result in a deal to trade her support for a guarantee that would keep her out of prison for a graft conviction.


" We need to push beyond the siege mentality of our first 50 years. We should

turn ... our faces toward peace."

- Jerusalem Post commentator David Newman, as Israelis prepared to celebrate a half-century of independence.

Argentine bantamweight champion Marcos Garro was feeling boxed in despite a successful defense of his title last Saturday night. Garro, who'd been on the run from police because he was wanted on rape and drug charges, couldn't resist climbing back into the ring. But the match was on television, and among those watching at home were some cops. They recognized him, phoned a judge for an arrest warrant, and were waiting with handcuffs as Garro left the ring.

Next time you're tempted to complain about your treatment at the hands of the Internal Revenue Service, think of Romeo Gatmaitan. He's a former longtime IRS employee, but that didn't keep the agency from going after him for - shall we say - overtaxing himself in preparing his return. A federal court in San Francisco sentenced him to six months in a correctional center, 100 hours of community service, a $3,500 fine, and other penalties for claiming deductions to which he wasn't entitled.

The Day's List

New VW Beetle Sparkles In Small-Car Crash Tests

Volkswagen's New Beetle easily outscored 11 small-car competitors in the ability of its front and rear bumpers to withstand slow-speed crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, a research group supported by the insurance industry, tested the cars by backing them straight into a flat barrier at 5 m.p.h., then repeating the test at an angle. It also backed them into a pole like those sometimes found in parking lots. Damage estimates to 1997-98 cars after four slow-speed tests:

Car Damage Estimate

New VW Beetle $134

Saturn SL2 656

Toyota Corolla LE 849

Nissan Sentra GXE 1,029

Dodge Neon Highline 1,038

Volkswagen Jetta GL 1,095

Honda Civic LX 1,392

Ford Escort LX 1,784

Mazda Protege LX 1, 895

Mitsubishi Mirage DE 2,633

Kia Sephia LS 2,816

Hyundai Elantra 3,042

- Associated Press

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