News In Brief

As Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan took his turn answering questions for the Senate impeachment trial yesterday, sources familiar with Monica Lewinsky's testimony on Monday said it had closely tracked her earlier grand-jury account. The third and last prosecution witness, White House aide Sidney Blumenthal, is to be deposed today.

The number of farms in the US has fallen to its lowest level since before the Civil War, the Agriculture Department reported. It said a survey found 1.9 million farms in 1997 - the lowest since 1850, when 1.4 million farms were counted. That 1997 figure was down only slightly from 1992, when the previous count took place. Analysts blame the decline on consolidation, improved technology, more know-how, and the rapid spread of information.

Two prominent Republicans would beat Vice President Al Gore if presidential elections were held now, a new poll indicated. The Los Angeles Times survey found Texas Gov. George W. Bush taking 57 percent of the vote to Gore's 39 percent - and Elizabeth Dole beating Gore 50 percent to 42 percent. Gore was the choice of 52 percent of Democrats, followed by Jesse Jackson (11 percent) and Bill Bradley (7 percent). Among Republicans, Bush was the top choice of 39 percent; Dole was preferred by 25 percent. Former Vice President Dan Quayle was the pick of 17 percent.

Former Gov. Lamar Alexander (R) of Tennessee said he will formally launch his candidacy for president on March 9 in Nashville. Several other candidates have signaled intentions to run for president in 2000 or have set up campaign committees, but Alexander (l.) is the first to schedule the traditional announcement that usually inaugurates a presidential campaign.

US warplanes broadened their response to Iraqi challenges of "no fly" zones by attacking an antiship missile battery in southern Iraq after coming under artillery fire, Pentagon officials said. It was the first time in the recent string of almost daily confrontations that US planes have targeted shore-to-ship missile emplacements. US officials said the CSSC-3 missile battery - which was apparently destroyed - could have posed a threat to American naval vessels or commercial ships. There was no indication from US officials that Iraq had fired antiship missiles to provoke the attack. US jets also made at least four attacks on missile and radar sites in the "no fly" zone over northern Iraq after they were apparently targeted. All US aircraft were said to have returned safely to their bases.

Members of Congress were asked to boycott this year's Congressional Prayer Breakfast because Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat may attend. A letter from the Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative Christian group, called the decision to invite Arafat to tomorrow's event "disastrous." Rep. Steve Largent (R) of Oklahoma, who organized the breakfast, said it wasn't meant to be political and he would not rescind the invitation. Several Israeli government officials were also invited, he said.

Americans bought 888,000 new homes last year, the highest annual total since the Commerce Department began tracking sales in 1963. The agency said home purchases were up 10.4 percent from 1997. Sales slipped 3.6 percent in November.

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