News In Brief

The US

There were 34 Senate seats, 435 House seats, and 36 governorships up for grabs as voters across the country went to the polls to mark midterm-election ballots. Political analysts predicted a low turnout and said the electorate didn't appear to be in a mood to dramatically change the nation's political landscape.

Responding to Democratic charges that Republicans were trying to harass minority voters, the Justice Department warned that videotaping voters at or near polling places violates the Voting Rights Act. Republican leaders responded to the election-eve accusation by denying any attempt to intimidate voters and demanding that Democrats apologize for making the charge.

The US is providing more than $1 million just for aircraft to ferry aid to Central American victims of hurricane Mitch, officials said. In a separate announcement, the US Agency for International Development put the assistance figure for Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and southeastern Mexico at $3.5 million. Of that amount, $2.3 million was earmarked for Honduras.

A key measure of future economic activity was unchanged in September for the second straight month. The Conference Board, a private research group, said its index of leading economic indicators held at 105.5 in September, the same level as in July and August. Economists had expected a slight decrease. Combined with the performance of two sister indicators, the index signals that the economy will continue to grow at a slow pace, the Conference Board said.

Manufacturing activity slowed for the fifth straight month in October, a survey of corporate purchasing executives indicated. The National Association of Purchasing Management reported that its monthly index of business activity fell to 48.3 percent last month from 49.4 percent in September. Any reading under 50 percent is considered a sign of industrial contraction. The news boosted widespread speculation that the Federal Reserve will push interest rates lower when its policymaking committee meets again Nov. 17.

A Nuclear Regulatory Commission counter-terrorism program has been dropped in a cost-cutting reorganization - just three weeks after the NRC recommended increased security at nuclear plants, the Los Angeles Times reported. The program, designed to identify security lapses at commercial nuclear plants, ended in September. It had identified serious security lapses at nearly half the nation's 104 nuclear-power reactors, the Times said. Some industry officials had criticized the program as too expensive.

Union contracts can require compulsory membership without spelling out that workers do not have to become full union members, the Supreme Court ruled. The justices decided unanimously against a part-time actress in Washington state who challenged a clause in an actors' union contract that requires working actors to be a "member of the union in good standing."

The media can be sued for repeating another publication's libelous statement about a private figure, the California Supreme Court ruled, upholding damages for a man falsely accused of assassinating Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. On a 7-to-0 vote, the court decision went against The Globe, a supermarket tabloid that claims 15 million readers. It affirmed a $1.175 million verdict for Khalid Khawar. A lawyer for The Globe said a decision had not been made on whether to appeal.

The World

US Defense Secretary William Cohen headed to the Persian Gulf to consult with US allies on Iraq. Earlier, he discussed the crisis with his British counterpart George Robertson in London. Meanwhile, London's Guardian newspaper quoted Iraqi defector Abbas Al-Janabi, former private secretary to Saddam Hussein's son, as saying Hussein has a cache of chemical and biological weapons he keeps secret from even his most senior advisers.

Palestinians reacted angrily as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu postponed a key Cabinet meeting that was to discuss ratification of the peace agreement. Israeli Defense Minister Yitzhak Morde-chai said the Palestinians still need to submit a list of their 30 most-wanted and a timetable for their arrests. But US State Department spokesman James Rubin contradicted Mordechai, saying those plans were "provided on time, prior to entry into force" of the pact. At least six of the 18 Cabinet members are undecided about ratification, and three are opposed.

Honduran President Carlos Flores Facusse appealed for international help and suspended constitutional liberties in response to widespread looting and vandalism in his country. The two-week "state of exception" allows authorities the right to seize property, detain suspects, and conduct unlimited searches. Honduras has suffered the greatest toll from hurricane Mitch, with an estimated 5,000 people dead and 600,000 homeless.

A Spanish judge filed an extradition request to bring former Chilean dictator Gen. Augusto Pinochet to Madrid to face charges of genocide, terrorism, and torture. Pinochet was arrested in London Oct. 16 after the same justice, Judge Baltasar Garzon, issued a detention order. Also, France issued a temporary arrest order for the general to British authorities - the final step necessary before asking for his extradition.

A US diplomatic mission to help broker a cease-fire in the Congo stalled when the Clinton administration's top Africa official, Susan Rice, sat for hours waiting for a meeting with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe. The delegation was expected to fly to Rwanda next for talks with President Pasteur Bizimungu and Maj. Gen. Paul Kagame, who is vice president and minister of defense. Congo President Laurent Kabila and Mugabe have sharply criticized US efforts to broker an agreement.

Recuperating Russian President Boris Yeltsin met with his defense minister, Igor Sergeyev, to discuss military reforms while hardliners in Russia's parliament continued to call for Yeltsin's resignation. The lower house of parliament will consider a bill tomorrow that would require Yeltsin to undergo a medical exam. Meanwhile, a delegation from the US Department of Agriculture met with the Russian government to discuss food aid.

Hundreds of businesses in Moldova closed after the country's currency lost about half its value in one day. It was the worst drop by the leu since the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. The plunge came a day after the Central Bank said it would stop propping up the leu.

A French NATO commander was arrested for allegedly supplying information on planned air strikes to Serb authorities. Pierre Bunel, an Air Force official posted in Brussels, was placed under investigation for tipping the Serbs off during October's standoff over troop withdrawals from Kosovo, judicial officials said.


"Instead of playing these sorry political games, he should just stand up and say ...

'I won't implement what I have signed.' " - Palestinian negotiator Hassan Asfour, after Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu delayed ratification of the peace accord.

The 200 residents of Delain, a village in eastern France, had their own version of Halloween this year. Vases were exploding and candlesticks were flying around in the village church. People were flocking to witness the mysterious occurrences, first seen by 50 people during preparations for a concert. Then Mayor Thierry Marceaux admitted it was all a hoax. He had been hiding in the shadows and throwing the objects - then appearing seconds later to express his horror. He was detained last week.

Then there's the Colorado bandit who is apparently so successful he is protecting his demand note for money between plastic sheets. Local detectives believe he is responsible for robbing 19 fast-food restaurants, shoe stores, and flower shops over a 28-day period. A local policeman is quoted by the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph as saying: "Apparently [the demand note] got so tattered that he had it laminated."

The Day's List

Supernatural Films Enjoy Big Box-Office Weekend

Six of the Halloween weekend's top-10 films dealt with the sinister or the supernatural. Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey's "Beloved" struggled, earning only $2.6 million in ticket sales for the weekend and just $18.6 million after three weeks. Among films in limited release, "Beloved" scriptwriter Richard LaGravenese's directing debut, "Living Out Loud," opened well, collecting $142,700 while appearing on just eight screens. Reported grosses for top films at North American theaters Oct. 30 to Nov. 1 (in millions):

1. "John Carpenter's Vampires" $9.1

2. "Pleasantville" 6.9

3. "Practical Magic" 5.4

4. "Antz" 4.5

5. "Bride of Chucky" 4.0

6. "Rush Hour" 3.8

7. "Soldier" 2.8

8. "Beloved" 2.7

9. "What Dreams May Come" 2.3

10. "Apt Pupil" 1.7

- Exhibitor Relations Inc./AP

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