News In Brief

The US

A federal judge said independent counsel Kenneth Starr could call Monica Lewinsky to testify before a grand jury about an alleged affair with President Clinton and whether anyone had urged her to lie under oath. The decision by Judge Norma Holloway Johnson was under seal, but news organizations said they had confirmed Holloway's finding that Lewinsky had no enforceable deal with Starr to protect her from prosecution. Her attorney pledged to appeal the decision.

The White House announced plans for Clinton to hold his first formal, solo press briefing of the year just as news of the Lewinsky ruling reached the media. The president has had joint news conferences this year with British Prime Minister Blair at the White House and with President Mandela in South Africa. Officials were reportedly hoping this conference would showcase a booming US economy, but once again the Whitewater inquiry threatened to overshadow a White House event.

The US gross domestic product (GDP) increased at a rapid, seasonally adjusted 4.2 percent annual rate in the January-to-March quarter, the Commerce Department reported. That was up from 3.7 percent in the final three months of 1997 and the fastest pace in a year. Nonetheless, a dramatic improvement in a price index tied to the GDP and a separate Labor Department report showing reduced wage pressures helped ease concern about inflation.

Legislation to pay for disaster-relief and military operations in Bosnia and the Persian Gulf was receiving final touches from House and Senate negotiators under threat of a White House veto. The administration complained that a "wide range of extraneous issues" was included in the package while $18 billion in funding for the International Monetary Fund had been left out. The Pentagon said earlier that if the funds were not approved by the end of the week, it would begin preparing for civilian layoffs. Meanwhile, House Speaker Newt Gingrich said IMF funding should clear Congress in coming months, provided the IMF agrees to a set of reforms.

The House easily backed a ban on using any US funds for needle-exchange programs designed to prevent the spread of AIDS among intravenous drug users. The vote was 287 to 140. US funds are not used for needle-exchange programs. Clinton last week endorsed the concept at the local level, but decided not to support it with federal funds.

House and Senate negotiators agreed to let Clinton stop the sale of $207.5 million of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, even though Congress passed a bill last year calling for it. Energy Secretary Federico Pea had asked Congress to take action so he would not be forced to sell oil purchased for more than $30 a barrel at about $15 a barrel. The US keeps an oil reserve, currently 563 million barrels, as a buffer against supply disruptions and price shocks.

US Ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson has expressed interest in heading the Energy Department, officials said. The White House said Richardson would be the front-runner if he chose to pursue the position. Current Secretary Pea has announced he will leave the Cabinet this summer.

The Environmental Protection Agency released a plan for utilities and industries to trade allowances to emit pollution in an effort to cut smog in Eastern states. With the emissions-trade program, the agency said most areas of 22 Eastern states and the District of Columbia would be able to meet air-quality standards without additional pollution controls.

The House approved setting up a commission to design reforms for the Social Security system. The panel would present its recommended changes by Feb. 1, 1999.

Special license plates for opponents of abortion rights won approval of Florida lawmakers. If signed by Gov. Lawton Chiles (D), the measure - passed by a 77-to-41 vote in the House after a 28-to-12 vote in the Senate - would allow car owners to buy the new plate for an extra fee. The state already has 39 other license-plate options.

The World

Israel, which has fought a war every decade of its existence, celebrated 50 years of statehood by showing off its military might. Fighter jets thundered in formation over Jerusalem and the Navy staged an offshore review. The celebrations took place in the shadow of massive security, attended by such guests as Vice President Gore and Britain's Prince Charles. But for Palestinians, the jubilee was a bitter reminder of their own lack of statehood.

Secretary of State Albright could not persuade China to sign a global treaty on curbing missile-technology exports, to open its markets enough to qualify for membership in the World Trade Organization, or to resume talks with the Dalai Lama on the cultural and religious character of Tibet. Ending a two-day visit to Beijing, she told a meeting of American business leaders the Clinton administration is willing to ease sanctions imposed after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown "in the context of progress on China's part" in lowering barriers to US imports.

By a vote of 402 to 79, the European Parliament approved plans for a single currency in 11 countries beginning Jan. 1. The plan still requires the endorsement of European Union heads of state this weekend in Brussels. But analysts warned the meeting could founder on a dispute between France and the Netherlands over who should be president of the EU's central bank, which will set policy for the monetary union.

The Irish Republican Army will refuse to disarm as part of the new Northern Ireland peace accord, its weekly newspaper said. But the IRA gave the OK for its political ally, Sinn Fein, to accept the rest of the compromise deal. Britain's Secretary for Northern Ireland, Mo Mowlam, rejected the stand, saying "people can't pick and choose which parts" of the deal they like. Meanwhile, the leaders of the province's two largest political parties - Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble and Social Democrat and Labour Party leader John Hume - were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for their roles in reaching the April 10 accord.

Six days after its humiliating failure to prevent confirmation by parliament of Prime Minister Sergei Kiriyenko, Russia's Communist Party threatened to block ratification of the Start II arms-control agreement. It also called on opposition groups to form a "single front" that would organize nationwide protests against President Boris Yeltsin's policies. The Communists are the largest single bloc in the lower house of parliament.

A team of FBI experts headed to Guatemala to help investigators searching for the killers of Roman Catholic Bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera. The government is under growing pressure to solve the crime, which is widely seen as a warning not to delve into military wrongdoing during the country's civil war. Two days before his death, Gerardi released a report blaming the Army for most of the human rights violations in the 36-year war.

Ultra-rightists in Germany won a court order permitting a march today in Leipzig, which city leaders had tried to ban. The court said a "credible argument" had not been presented that the march could lead to violent clashes with leftists, who have vowed to hold a counterdemonstration. The march is expected to attract as many as 15,000 people. Meanwhile, Defense Minister Volker Ruhe said a three-month probe of neo-Nazi incidents in the Army had revealed no evidence of deep-seated extremism.


"Roll with the punches - that's our motto."

- A White House aide, after a federal judge in Washington denied Monica Lewinsky's claim that special counsel Kenneth Starr had granted her immunity from prosecution.

You could forgive a Nachi America Corp. worker assigned to unpack a shipment of ball bearings for feeling a little squirrelly about the experience. The sealed carton had been en route from Osaka, Japan, to Carlstadt, N.J., for three weeks. But once open, it was soon apparent that the container held an unexpected bonus. Out popped a marmot, a small, bushy-tailed, burrowing mammal that clearly wasn't on familiar turf. It was turned over to the local animal shelter, which plans to release it into the wild.

The first people to tiptoe through the tulips must have been the Dutch, right? Wrong, according to China's Xinhua news agency. Researchers, it reported this week, have traced the origins of the graceful spring flower to the Quinghai-Tibetan plateau and the Xinjiang region, both in western China. Not until the 17th century, it said, was the tulip brought to what is now the Netherlands.

Speaking of things that flower in the spring, the Environmental Board in Carbondale, Ill., has decided it's time to give the dandelion a good name. Says one board member: "It's really the most nutritious plant on the planet." No comment from the herbicide industry.

Estates of the Wealthy Lean Most on Securities

For the better part of a decade, US Trust has surveyed the wealthiest 1 percent of the US population - approximately 997,000 households that boast an annual adjusted gross income of at least $225,000 or a net worth of at least $3 million. The data collected by the New York-based investment-management company show that the typical estate of these Americans can be roughly divided into seven categories, which account for the following rough percentages of the typical estate:

Investment securities 50%

Investment real estate 20%

Residence(s) 12%

Cash 7%

Business interests 7%

Personal effects 2%

Collectibles 2%

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