News In Brief

The US

Chrysler Corp. and Daimler-Benz confirmed that they would merge in a $36 billion deal that will change the automaking industry and give both companies a bigger stake in the global market. The new company, DaimlerChrysler, combines the German luxury-carmaker with the No. 3 US automaker that once trumpeted a "Buy American" slogan.

President Clinton has decided against visiting Ireland ahead of a referendum May 22 on a Northern Ireland peace accord, the White House reported. A spokesman said the president was satisfied that there was "enormous public support" to approve the deal.

The House defeated a measure that would have eliminated race and gender preferences at public colleges and universities. The vote was 249 to 171, with more than 50 Republicans joining Democrats in defeating the proposal. After the affirmative-action showdown, the House passed on a 414-to-4 vote a $101 billion, five-year higher-education bill that would provide cheaper loans for students. It faces the possibility of a presidential veto, however, because of a provision that would subsidize banks providing the loans.

Final Senate action was expected on legislation to reform the Internal Revenue Service after a proposal to help pay for the bill was approved despite Democratic opposition. New funds would be raised by allowing more people over age 70-1/2 to convert traditional IRAs into Roth IRAs. The Senate reform bill is more expensive than the House version.

Senators just back from the Gulf reported severe morale problems among US troops keeping watch there and said it was time to begin a pullback. While not agreeing that morale was low, Clinton said more should be done to support the troops. He also said he had not decided whether to cut US naval power near Iraq from two aircraft carriers to one.

A group of House Democrats and moderate Republicans sought more support for a bill to charge the tobacco industry $500 billion over 25 years by proposing that more than half the money be used to pay down the federal debt. The plan was praised by public-health groups and the White House, but was not immediately embraced by House Republicans.

A lawyer for Clinton filed a court motion seeking a contempt ruling against the office of independent counsel Kenneth Starr for alleged "flagrant" leaks of a judge's sealed decision. The motion refers to the leaking of a ruling that two Clinton aides could not invoke executive privilege to avoid testifying before a Whitewater grand jury. Starr's office denied it had leaked the ruling, called the motion "reckless," and demanded it be withdrawn.

A lawyer for Whitewater convict Susan McDougal asked a federal judge in Little Rock, Ark., to reduce her two-year prison sentence to probation, citing recent reports that prosecutors knew a key witness against her had received payments from a conservative publisher.

Productivity growth, the key gauge of how quickly living standards can improve, slowed sharply in the first three months of the year, rising at an annual rate of just 0.2 percent, the Labor Department said. It was the weakest showing since a 0.7 percent decline in the third quarter of 1996, and it followed a revised 1.4 percent advance in the final three months of 1997.

The National Association of Securities Dealers, the parent of Nasdaq, is considering shifting the electronic stock market's headquarters to Manhattan from Washington, the New York Times reported. A city official said NASD was might move its entire operations and 1,500 employees to New York.

The World

Israeli Prime Minister Netan-yahu summoned special US envoy Dennis Ross to Jerusa-lem for last-minute discussions on modifying the American proposals for a West Bank pullback. Israel's Cabinet planned to vote Sunday on the proposals, which Netanyahu said could prevent his accepting an invitation to talks Monday in Washington with Palestinian leaders. The outcome was thrown into uncertainty after first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton told an audience in Geneva that she supported an eventual Palestinian state - comments that go further than current US policy.

Heavily armed military reinforcements poured into the Indonesian city of Medan under orders to get tough with rioters who have vented their anger at rising commodity prices and the 32-year rule of President Suharto. Much of their wrath was directed at Chinese merchants, hundreds of whom fled the city. The tensions caused the government to raise interest rates to protect the rupiah, which fell to its lowest level against the US dollar since mid-March.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan appeared to meet Rwandan government demands by apologizing for the UN's failure to prevent the 1994 genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 people. In an address, Annan told Rwanda's parliament in Kigali that the UN and the international community "could not muster the political will to confront it." Rwandan officials said they expected reparations from the UN for the failure.

Negotiators for peace in Burundi will try again next month to convene discussions, international mediators said. The talks tentatively are scheduled for June 15 in neighboring Tanzania. A spokesman for the Organization for African Unity said Burundi's Tutsi-led government had pledged to attend after backing out of an earlier round of talks last August, citing bias and security concerns. More than 150,000 people, mostly civilians, have died in the five-year, low-key civil war with Hutu rebels.

Christians in Pakistan gathered to mourn after a leading Roman Catholic bishop committed suicide to protest the death sentence of a parishioner for blaspheming Islam. The Rev. John Joseph took his own life in the courthouse where Ayub Massih was convicted last month for speaking favorably of author Salman Rushdie. Rushdie's own death has been ordered by the Islamic government of neighboring Iran for what it considers his blasphemous novel, "The Satanic Verses." Christians in Pakistan say they experience discrimination for their religious views.

Left-wing opposition lawmakers erupted in cheers after Brazil's government announced it had failed by one vote in Congress to pass a crucial fiscal reform plan. President Fernando Henrique Cardoso had spent three years promoting the measure, which would have overhauled the deficit-ridden social security system. Analysts worry that if Brazil's huge but heavily inflated economy follows those of Asian countries into crisis, much of the rest of Latin America could go with it.

One day after peace talks on Sudan broke off, the government said it would not object to the separatist-minded southern region of the country becoming sovereign. The two sides agreed to an internationally supervised referendum on self-determination, but made no progress on such issues as the government's effort to impose Islamic law on the mainly black, Christian, and animist south or on where southern Sudan's boundary would be drawn. An estimated 1.3 million people have died in the current phase of their civil war.


" This could precipitate a wholesale set of mega-mergers ..."

- David Cole, director of the University of Michigan's Center for the Study of Automotive Transportation, on how the proposed merger of Chrysler and Daimler-Benz might affect the auto industry.

In a sign of the times, Springfield, Mass., publish-er Merriam-Webster will print italicized notations in front of about 200 entries in its 1999 Collegiate Dictionary. The targeted words are racial slurs or obscenities, and the notations will call attention to their offensive nature. But the publisher refused to remove the words or to sanitize them via rewritten definitions. "A dictionary," it said, "is a scholarly reference, not a political tool."

But a lookup of a politically charged word has satisfied the folks of Saratoga, Calif., that their town isn't an offensive place after all. For more than a century, it was assumed that the town's name meant "scum" in the Mohawk Indian language. But recently, town officials decided to research the origin of the name in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., which was once Mohawk turf, and found the meaning is more like "hillside country of the great river." Now the only problem is that no such river flows through Saratoga, Calif.

The Day's List

Timely Tribute to Some 'Totally Awesome Moms'

In honor of Mother's Day, Fran Lent, founder of Fran's Healthy Helpings, a maker of frozen meals for children, has released a list of Totally Awesome Moms to recognize women who balance a commitment to family, community, and career. Her top 10, in alphabetical order:

Gloria Estefan: singer/co-founder, Oye! Opportunities for Youth Employment

Debbi Fields: founder, Mrs. Fields Cookies

Andie MacDowell: actress/ model

Mable Mosley: foster-care parent to hundreds of young people in the San Jose, Calif, area

Rosie O'Donnell: spokeswoman, Children's Defense Fund

Deborah Phillips: director, Board of Children, Youth, and Families, National Research Council

Maria Shriver: TV journalist

Sheryl Swoopes: professional basketball player

Michelle Pfeiffer: actress

Valora Washington: program director, W. K. Kellogg Foundation

- PRNewswire

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