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MIDDLE EAST US firefighters battling Kuwait's 600 burning oil wells extinguished the 150th blaze this weekend and said that up to 300 might be snuffed by summer's end. Workers say sandstorms are especially troublesome now and are all the worse because the tanks deployed during the Gulf war loosened up the desert floor. An article in the New York Times Sunday magazine reported that the well fires are burning three times Kuwait's prewar production and that the greatest local environmental threat now may be a temperature inversion that would keep toxic fumes at ground level.... A Kuwaiti martial law court Saturday condemned a stateless man to die for joining the Iraqi Army during the occupation of Kuwait, handing down the first death sentence in the nation's collaboration trials. Human rights observers criticized the judgment for having been based on pretrial investigations rather than cross-examination.


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The commander of space shuttle Columbia, Bryan O'Connor, had a rare disagreement with Mission Control this weekend over the need for a spacewalk to repair a faulty door seal that could block the payload bay doors from closing. Ground controllers had decided the seal problem did not appear to pose a serious enough threat to warrant the repair, at least until an effort is made to close the doors June 14, the planned reentry day.... A federal judge in San Francisco denie d TV station KQED permission to videotape an execution in San Quentin's gas chamber for inclusion in a documentary on capital punishment.... Police in Gainesville, Fla., yesterday arrested an employee of a carpet cleaning company who confessed to strangling two University of Florida coeds this past week - a crime which shocked this city less than a year after five college students were murdered.... Bridgeport, Conn., strapped with a $12 million budget deficit, became the largest US city ever to file for bankruptcy protection, but angry state officials warned Friday they would go to court to block the action.


China's hard-line leadership has underlined its continued intolerance of dissent by purging three newspaper officials for publishing articles in the China Machinery and Electrical Gazette two years ago supporting freedom of speech, Chinese journalists said. They said the newspaper purge was a signal that the recent rehabilitation of reformist Hu Qili and two other officials who lost their jobs in 1989 was not a clear victory for reformers.... The Vietnamese mili tary is supplying weapons, including machineguns, to pirates who prey on Thai fishermen, a Thai naval officer said yesterday. The officer said the information came from Vietnamese arrested in a two-week-old crackdown on piracy in the Gulf of Thailand.... When bands hired for Chinese funerals have turned from playing traditional tunes to pop songs, it was too much for the official China Youth News. The paper suggested the bands be prosecuted for noise pol lution under environmental protection statutes.

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