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Exxon Corporation said yesterday it has sold its interest in its two South African affiliates, joining the ranks of US companies taking such action in recent months. President Lawrence Rawl cited a deteriorating ``economic and business climate'' as the reason for the company's withdrawal.

Exxon, the second largest US corporation, said the two small South African companies had been sold to an independent trust. The affiliates accounted for 0.2 percent of Exxon's revenue in 1985.

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US hikes import tariffs on European products

The United States announced sharply higher import tariffs on a range of goods from the European Community yesterday. The US will impose import duties of up to 200 percent on $400 million worth of European products, Trade Representative Clayton Yeutter announced. The European goods affected by the new tariffs include canned ham, certain cheeses, olives, several kinds of alcoholic beverages, and other products.

The duties are in response to the EC's failure to adequately compensate the US for lost feed grain markets after Spain joined the community.

Charges changed in Howard Beach case

Police beefed up patrols in the predominantly white Howard Beach neighborhood after murder and other charges were dropped against three white youths. The three will instead face charges of reckless endangerment. The charges, which were dismissed for lack of evidence after the two surviving victims refused to testify, could be reinstated by a grand jury later. The case involves Michael Griffith, who was struck and killed by a car Dec. 19 as he fled a white gang.

Cardinal O'Connor to curtail Israel meetings

John Cardinal O'Connor, archbishop of New York, said yesterday he plans to visit Israel tomorrow, despite calls from some Jewish leaders to abandon his trip. The cardinal was forced to cancel planned meetings with Israeli President Chaim Herzog, Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres because the Vatican does not have diplomatic ties with Israel and insists that Jerusalem be given special international status. The cardinal met with Foreign Minister Taher Masri of Jordan yesterday.

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Thais to close camp for Cambodian refugees

After six years as a haven for Cambodian refugees, the Thai government is closing the Khao I Dang camp. The camp was set up as a temporary shelter for people seeking asylum in other nations, but Prasong Soonsiri, secretary-general to the prime minister, said interest from other nations in taking in refugees has waned, leaving Thailand with an unfair burden.

The camp is scheduled to close today. Its more than 25,000 residents will be moved to other border camps. At its peak in 1980, the camp was home to 147,000 Cambodians.

S. African newspaper calls for reporter's release

South Africa's influential Business Day newspaper bitterly attacked authorities yesterday for detaining one of its black reporters and demanded that he be released or put on trial. Sipho Ngcobo, who reported on black townships in South Africa, has been held since Monday under the Internal Security Act, which permits indefinite detention without trial and without access to lawyers.

Meanwhile, Edward Perkins, the new US ambassador to South Africa, met with Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, who told Mr. Perkins, the first black to hold that post, that his color would be an asset in performing his job.

Bombing of civilians reported in Afghanistan

Western diplomats said yesterday that 450 civilians reportedly died in bombing attacks earlier this month on Kandahar in southern Afghanistan. Diplomats said Soviet planes bombed Kandahar, a city of about 180,000, on Dec. 8 and hit the offices of the provincial governor, the secret service, and the Communist Party. They said another bombing on Dec. 16 hit a girls' school and a state-owned radio station. Soviet and Afghan aircraft have bombed civilian areas before, but mostly small towns and villages.

Strikers demonstrate as French rail talks begin

Thousands of striking railway workers and their supporters demonstrated yesterday in Paris, Marseille, and other major cities as talks began between union representatives, government officials, and management. A government-appointed mediator began working to reach a solution in the 14-day French rail strike that has seriously disrupted service on long distance and commuter trains.

US envoy expected in Mideast next month

US Assistant Secretary of State Richard Murphy is expected in Israel in January during a three-nation tour tied to efforts to resume the Middle East peace process, Israeli Foreign Ministry sources said yesterday. Mr. Murphy will also meet Egyptian and Jordanian leaders during his tour, the sources said.


The headline on Monday's story on Brazilian auto imports into North America incorrectly said the Volkswagen ``Bug'' would be back. Volkswagen will introduce a new small car, but it will not look like the Beetle. Details about the car's design are embargoed until mid-January.

Israeli role in diversion reported. Iran-contra update.

Attorney General Edwin Meese informed congressional investigators that he was told by Lt. Col. Oliver North that the idea of diverting proceeds of Iran arms sales to Nicaraguan contra rebels came from Israel, the New York Times reported yesterday. The paper, quoting congressional sources, said Mr. Meese told a closed committee hearing that when he questioned Colonel North on Nov. 23, the officer told him the idea was suggested by a senior Israeli official.

According to the reports of Meese's testimony, North told the attorney general of a meeting about a year ago with an Israeli official to discuss funding for the Nicaraguan rebels. The official was identified by a congressional source and a Justice Department source as David Kimche, director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Mr. Kimche responded to the report, saying he met with North twice but that the diversion of funds was not discussed.

The Israeli government has repeatedly denied any connection to the diversion of money to the Nicaraguan rebels.

In other developments:

Talks on returning Iranian assets continued yesterday. An Iranian official said progress was made with US delegates on the return of a $507.7 million overpayment being held in a Federal Reserve account.

An Arab League representative said the Iran-contra affair demonstrates Israel's undue influence over US Mideast policy. Clovis Maksoud said yesterday the controversy should cause a reassessment of America's policy toward Israel.

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