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US, JAPAN OPEN TRADE TALKS The United States and Japan opened exploratory trade talks yesterday, hoping to end a three-month negotiating stalemate and strike a new economic deal. Formal trade negotiations collapsed in February, and the two sides are now trying to resume their dialogue and find a way to cut Japan's $131 billion trade surplus. The US has put down conditions for resuming the talks, and it was unclear what new proposals the Japanese delegation was carrying. Meanwhile, the US Commerce Department reported that the US deficit on trade in goods with Japan climbed to $5.80 billion in March from $4.63 billion in February and was the third-highest monthly shortfall on record. Battle for Yemen

Northern forces yesterday claimed they tightened their grip on the approaches to the southern stronghold of Aden as the Yemen civil war entered its third week. But there was no sign the northern troops were getting any nearer to Aden, Yemen's largest port and site of the country's only oil refinery. Claims by both sides have often proved exaggerated since the war broke out May 5 between the conservative Islamic north and the socialist south. Oregon governor's race

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John Kitzhaber, the physician architect of Oregon's first-in-the-nation health-care rationing plan, coasted to the Democratic nomination for governor Tuesday and will face former congressman Denny Smith in the fall. Caterpillar strike

Caterpillar Inc., the world's No. 1 maker of earth-moving equipment, hit with a strike by 7,200 members of the United Auto Workers union, says it is recalling laid-off workers and hiring new ones. The new hires could permanently replace the strikers, depending on how long the walkout lasts, Jerry Brust, Caterpillar director of labor relations, said Wednesday. The UAW called the announcement ``a vain attempt to intimidate workers and prevent them from exercising their legal right to strike.'' Chunnel opens for truckers

The $15 billion Channel Tunnel shuttled its first load of freight yesterday under the sea between Britain and France. It still will be months before regular passengers can use the tunnel. But 14 truckers drove their vehicles onto the trains bound for the continent. A group of German and French truckers headed for Britain. Gene-engineered tomato

Coming soon to a store near you: a $20 million tomato that will stay fresher longer than Mother Nature ever intended. Calgene Inc., a biotechnology company, got the go-ahead Wednesday from the Food and Drug Administration to sell a genetically altered tomato that looks like the garden variety but is meant to last up to 10 days longer.

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