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MIDDLE EAST AND GULF US Secretary of State James Baker III and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara said Wednesday they had failed to resolve differences on a proposed regional Middle East peace conference. Baker was sharply critical of new Israeli settlements built in occupied Arab lands. Washington wants Israel to trade such land for peace, while Syria wants to regain the Golan Heights from Israel.... Some 23 countries have expressed interest in taking part in a "Rebuild Kuwait" exhibition in Bahrain, its organizers sa id Wednesday. The six-day exhibition of technology, to start Nov. 2, to repair war damage to the emirate has attracted support from government export agencies including China and the US.... Kuwaiti officials say they are increasingly concerned about the fate of more than 4,000 civilians and soldiers who continue to be detained in squalid Iraqi prison cells.


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The senior US government auditor has found that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation fund that protects bank deposits is in substantially worse shape than has been reported and may be worth only about half of the $8.4 billion regulators had calculated, says FDIC chairman L. William Seidman.... Gov. Pete Wilson has urged the federal government in a letter to Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan to abandon its plans to allow oil and natural gas drilling off the southern California coast.... The nation's f irst statewide adult literacy survey shows most Oregonians can understand a short newspaper article, but are stumped by using a bus schedule or calculating per-ounce grocery prices.... Alaskan and federal oil spill cleanup coordinators officially launched the third year in the Exxon Valdez cleanup by making plans to inspect 577 beaches and plotting how to get at remaining crude oil.


President Mikhail Gorbachev and his political rival, Boris Yeltsin, have jointly called for an end to strikes crippling industry in the Soviet Union. The appeal was contained in a statement also signed by leaders of eight other republics after crisis talks in Moscow.... Bonn, the birthplace of Beethoven, is upset at Chancellor Helmut Kohl's backing for Berlin as united Germany's seat of government. Kohl said the transfer should take place over 10 to 15 years and some ministries, such as defense, should stay in Bonn.... China, in a major reform of food prices frozen since the 1960s, will sharply raise the cost of rice and other staples May 1 and is taking measures to avert panic buying and civil unrest.... Four baby red pandas were released from seclusion at Australia's Taronga Zoo for the first time Wednesday. The four births late last year bring to 19 the number of pandas born at the zoo since 1976.... The Philippines has recovered assets worth $455 million in five years of tracking down wealth linked to former President Ferdinand Marcos, officials say.

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