News In Brief

The supreme court struck down a California law that limits welfare benefits to new residents. On a 7-to-2 vote, the justices declared unconstitutional a statute that prohibits welfare recipients - during their first year of residency - from receiving more benefits than they received in states where they previously lived.

The high court also made it harder for federal judges to strike down election districts for being racially gerrymandered. The justices reversed a lower-court decision that North Carolina's 12th Congressional District was unlawfully drawn in 1997. The decision puts district courts on notice that more than circumstantial evidence that race was the primary consideration is required before redistricting can be invalidated.

A former Australian government intelligence official was charged with attempted espionage for selling US defense secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as a foreign spy, law-enforcement officials said. Jean-Philippe Wispelaere obtained $120,000 from undercover FBI agents in exchange for more than 713 classified documents in two batches last month and earlier this month, they said.

Descendants of Thomas and Martha Jefferson refused to allow relatives of his slave Sally Hemings to join the Monticello Association. They also blocked a vote to give relatives of Jefferson's alleged mistress honorary membership while a paternity claim is researched. Three-dozen Hemings descendants were invited to a reunion luncheon and business meeting in Charlottesville, Va., for the first time since the association was formed 86 years ago. In November, a DNA study concluded that Jefferson was likely the father of Eston Hemings, the slave's youngest son.

The Pentagon has warned the Clinton administration it cannot achieve its aims in Yugoslavia without using ground troops, Newsweek magazine reported. It said the Joint Chiefs of Staff sent a letter to Defense Secretary William Cohen a few weeks ago saying "only ground troops would guarantee fulfillment of the administration's political objectives." Pentagon officials had no immediate comment.

The hot US economy will take center stage today at a Federal Reserve meeting after a year in which its Open Market Committee has focused on global crises. Analysts said debate among the policymakers would most likely center - not on a change in interest rates at this time - but on whether to adopt a formal "bias," or inclination to raise rates in the future.

Two Serb soldiers held as prisoners of war in Germany were close to being released, a senior Pentagon official said. Release of the men has been under consideration since Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic agreed earlier this month to free three US soldiers captured March 31 along the Kosovo-Macedonia border.

Three tornadoes touched down in western Iowa, killing two people and injuring at least 14 others, authorities said. The worst damage was in Logan, about 30 miles north of Omaha, Neb.

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