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UNITED STATESThe United States Commerce Department yesterday nearly halved its prediction of growth in business spending this year, saying the final figure will be the lowest increase in five years. Spending is now expected to rise a scant 1.6 percent in 1991 after inflation.... The largest black organization in the US, the National Baptist Convention USA, called on its 33,000 churches and 8.7 million members to lobby against the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the US Supreme Court. The Senate begins confirmation he arings next Tuesday.... The American Lung Association yesterday released a report suggesting that poor ventilation, inadequate maintenance, and improper energy conservation threaten the health of children in the nation's schools.... Jury selection for the drug-trafficking trial of Panamanian Gen. Manuel Noriega was set to open yesterday in Miami.... In Hamlet, N.C., officials investigating an explosion and fire at a chicken processing plant, which killed 25 people and injured dozens more, probed charges tha t all but one of the plant's nine exits were locked or blocked.... Two US professors, using a desk-top computer, have reconstructed a secret text of the Dead Sea Scrolls, ending a four-decade monopoly by a small band of scholars who had guarded the ancient parchments in a Jerusalem museum. EUROPE AND SOVIET UNION In Yugoslavia, Serbian guerrillas yesterday launched mortar attacks on several Croatian towns in a fresh outbreak of fighting.... In Prague, the 35-nation Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe called for an embargo on arms sales to Yugoslavia and the battling factions in its war-torn republics for the duration of the crisis.... Leningrad Mayor Anatoly Sobchak yesterday asked the Congresss of People's Deputies to approve removing Vladimir Lenin's body from the mausoleum in Red Square for burial in Leningrad.

OIL AND ENVIRONMENT The US Environmental Protection Agency Wednesday outlined plans to encourage the recycling of used oil. The plan would set safety standards for service stations and oil recyclers and would ban road oiling. The nation now generates nearly 1.3 billion gallons of used oil each year.... Lawyers for an oil-spill-damage fund said not everyone hurt by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill is entitled to collect damages. When Congress approved the trans-Alaska pipeline, it created the $100 million fund to cover damage caused by Alaskan oil spills. Claims filed with the fund over the 1989 spill have been estimated at more than $56 billion.... The Marine Spill Response Corporation, created by the US oil industry, signed contracts to buy 16 large ships capable of responding quickly to tanker accidents.

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LOOKING AHEAD Tuesday: The US Senate returns from its August recess.... Wednesday: The US House of Representatives returns.

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