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A major earthquake tore through three Mexican states and Mexico City early yesterday, killing an unknown number of people and shattering scores of buildings, Mexican television reported. It said the government declared the capital a disaster area. The quake was initially reported to be one of the strongest since the San Francisco quake of 1906, in which about 700 people were killed. The US Geological Survey said yesterday's quake registered 7.8 on the open-ended Richter scale, centered about 16 miles from the resort city of Acapulco.

Officials of Mexico's Seismological Institute said the main quake had struck at 7:18 a.m., local time, and was followed by numerous aftershocks.

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Mexican television, monitored here, showed firemen in Mexico City, a capital of 18 million, fighting to put out blazes started by the quake. The main communications tower in the capital was on fire and nationwide communications were disrupted.

The Mexican Defense Ministry said troops had been deployed to prevent looting, and residents in the capital were asked to stay indoors. Mexican President Miguel de la Madrid met his defense and interior ministers to coordinate relief.

The US embassy in Mexico City reported that the capital's old city suffered significant damage, the State Department said in Washington. It added that the embassy, reporting by radio because telephone lines were down, said that many buildings in the city had collapsed and there was some damage in the Zona Rosa, a popular American tourist spot. The US embassy had offered assistance to the Mexican government and American citizens in the city.

Reports from the Mexican Embassy in the US confirmed that four hospitals in Mexico City had been evacuated, at least one hotel collapsed, and many buildings were severely damaged. It also reported that cathedrals had also collapsed in the states of Jalisco, Guerrero, and Michoac'an. At time of writing, the damage in Acapulco itself, in the state of Guerrero, was undetermined.

Mexico is one of the world's most active earthquake areas. About 2,000 earthquakes are registered in the country each year.

Pressure grows in Bonn for Cabinet resignation

The opposition Social Democrats stepped up demands yesterday for the dismissal of Interior Minister Friedrich Zimmermann, responsible for internal security. The Interior Ministry admitted Wednesday that Mr. Zimmermann and Chancellor Helmut Kohl had rejected a request by intelligence services to put the secretary, Herta-Astrid Willner, and her husband under surveillance only days before they defected to East Germany.

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Bolivia calls siege, arrests unionists to quell strike

The government yesterday declared a state of siege, sent tanks onto the streets, and arrested thousands of workers and labor leaders in a bid to break an outlawed 16-day-old general strike. A six-hour curfew was due to begin at midnight, local time. Bolivia's Labor Confederation started the strike Sept. 3 to protest austerity moves aimed at stopping 14,000 percent inflation.

Muslim militias continue fight for Lebanese port

In the northern port of Tripoli, rival Muslim militias fought for control of the city for the fifth straight day Thursday. Police said three militiamen were killed in gunfire and artillery duels. The battles between the pro-Syrian Arabian Knights and the pro-Palestinian Tawheed Islami eased by midmorning, but not before six Lebanese Army soldiers were reported wounded, police and reporters said. The report raised the known casualty toll to 79 killed and 217 wounded since Sunday.

In other developments, a group calling itself Arab Egypt League claimed responsibility for the latest suicide car bombing attack against a checkpoint onthe edge of Israel's ``security zone'' in southern Lebanon.

Botha to ask repeal of law barring Indians in key area

South African President P. W. Botha said yesterday he will ask Parliament to repeal a law barring Indians from living in the Afrikaners' heartland, the Orange Free State Province.

El Salvador rejects demands for Mrs. Dur'an's release

The government has rejected rebel demands that military operations be halted before talks begin on the release of the kidnapped daughter of President Jos'e Napole'on Duarte, In'es Guadalupe Duarte Dur'an. The government, through the International Red Cross, gave the leftist rebels a radio transmitter to keep in contact. He said they had been in communication.

High court bars US lawyers in '85-86 abortion, jobs cases

The Supreme Court has refused to let the Justice Department argue cases on abortion and affirmative action in the next court term. In both cases, the parties the Justice Department intended to support refused to let the department use any of the 30 minutes alloted them for oral arguments. The Justice Department had asked that more time be given so the department could present its oral arguments.

In each instance, government participation would have extended the argument session beyond the 60 minutes (30 minutes per side) already set aside by the justices.

Group tied to Beirut kidnap says it caused Rome blast

The Revolutionary Organization of Socialist Moslems, a group that claims it kidnapped a British journalist in Beirut six months ago, claimed responsibility yesterday for Monday's grenade attack on a caf'e in Rome that wounded 38 people. Italian authorities have charged a Palestinian born in Lebanon with the attack. He has denied responsibility.

Argentine prosecutor closes arguments in `rights' case

The chief prosecutor made his closing arguments Wednesday in the trial of nine former military rulers accused of human rights violations during an antisubversion campaign in which 9,000 people disappeared. He requested life sentences for five defendants and prison sentences of 10 to 15 years for the four other defendants. Verdicts and sentences are not expected before mid-November.

O'Neill, Dole say tax reform unlikely before end of year

House Speaker TThomas P. O'Neill (D) of Massachusetts and Senate majority leader Robert Dole (R) of Kansas said Wednesday it was unlikely that Congress would finish tax reform legislation by the end of the year. The White House said yesterday President Reagan is still committed to getting a tax bill before Christmas. Members of Congress discussing the calendar said other business is more pressing, and Speaker O'Neill said, ``We've agreed that we're going to be out of here before Thanksgiving.''

California to limit funding to firms using Sullivan code

Gov. George Deukmejian issued an executive order Wednesday asking that pension funds limit investments to companies that follow the Sullivan Principles, a set of guidelines that US companies pledge to use with their South African employees.

US witness against The Order says he lied; data secondhand

Denver Daw Parmenter II, a key government witness against 10 members of The Order admitted he has only secondhand information on many of the crimes he described and that he has lied to FBI agents. In four days on the stand, Parmenter has described a 11/2-year crime campaign that included the murder of Denver radio show host Alan Berg, counterfeiting, and armored car and bank robberies that netted more than $4 million.

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