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CLINTON GIVES HOMELESS A HOLIDAY GIFT Calling homelessness a national embarrassment, President Clinton released $411 million to programs that aid the homeless, and appealed for kindness toward homeless people during the holiday season. The grants given Wednesday go to 187 programs in 44 states, the largest single award for homeless initiatives. The grants will be available immediately, said Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros. The money is separate from other funds for the homeless announced in recent weeks. The Clinton administration also has earmarked $20 million for a special pilot program in the District of Columbia, and $25 million for cities that wish to set up a similar pilot program. The president spoke of how, each morning, he jogs past a cluster of homeless men who sleep on sidewalk heating grates near the White House, exchanging waves and greetings. ``I wish to goodness on the days that are cold and windy when I find it difficult to have the courage to run, they at least didn't have to spend the night there,'' Mr. Clinton said. Guinea elections

Guinean military leader Lansana Conte has retained the presidency in the country's first multiparty election, according to results announced yesterday. Opponents, foreign observers, and religious leaders unsuccessfully urged Mr. Conte to postpone the election until the poll could be better organized. Nuclear refunds proposed

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Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary wants to give a rebate of sorts to thousands of electricity users who for years have paid into a federal fund for disposing of nuclear waste, only to see the money sit in the US Treasury. The refund would go to people who use electricity generated by nuclear power. A Castro flees Cuba

Fidel Castro's daughter Alina Fernandez Revuelta is beginning a new life in the US, away from the father she refers to as a tyrant. On Monday, she was granted political asylum by the US Embassy in Madrid. The Clinton administration, exile groups, and members of Congress all agreed this reflects the difficult conditions in Cuba. MIT settles suit

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology agreed Wednesday to stop fixing financial-aid amounts with Ivy League schools, a practice the universities had followed so they would not get into bidding wars for top students needing assistance. But MIT still can exchange family and income information on an applicant in order to determine scholarship amounts. The Justice Department announced the settlement to end a price-fixing suit it brought against MIT two years ago. Jackson defends himself

Michael Jackson defended himself against child-molestation allegations during an extraordinary TV broadcast Wednesday that afforded no opportunity for questions. ``Don't treat me like a criminal, because I am innocent,'' he pleaded in a live message carried by satellite worldwide, an opportunity usually reserved for heads of state. No handguns in Wal-Mart

Wal-Mart, the nation's biggest retailer, is taking handguns off its shelves and will offer them through catalogs instead. The company said Wednesday that it was making the changes to keep its customers comfortable, not because of the Brady bill or a lawsuit by survivors of a shooting by a mentally ill man who bought a gun at Wal-Mart. US economy perking

Americans' personal income rose 0.6 percent in November, helping to support an increase of 0.4 percent in consumer spending, the eighth straight advance, the government said yesterday. Incomes grew faster than expenditures, so the report likely was encouraging to economists who have worried that lagging income growth earlier in the year would curb spending and slow economic growth. In related economic news, orders to US factories for durable goods jumped 2 percent in November, the fourth straight advance that marked the longest string of gains in more than six years.

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