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U.S., JAPAN OPEN LAST-DITCH TRADE TALKS Senior United States and Japanese negotiators opened a new set of trade talks yesterday, seeking enough common ground to avert a US sanctions threat at the end of the week. US Trade Representative Mickey Kantor and Japanese Trade Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto met over breakfast. Mr. Hashimoto was planning to fly home later in the day. Chief Cabinet Secretary Kozo Igarashi said that Japan would ``do all it can to seek every possible trade deal'' by week's end. President Clinton has given Tokyo until Friday to strike a deal on access to Japan's public procurement market for telecommunications and medical equipment or face sanctions on some Japanese suppliers of US government contracts. US-N. Korea nuclear talks

Top United States and North Korean negotiators met yesterday for what diplomats said could be a make-or-break attempt to reach a quick accord on reshaping Pyongyang's nuclear program. US ambassador-at-large Robert Gallucci went to the North Korean mission in Geneva for the talks in their sixth day with First Deputy Foreign Minister Kang Sok Ju. British rail strike deal

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Employers and union leaders struck a deal yesterday to end Britain's national rail strikes, which have caused widespread disruption over the past three months. The union said the pay and productivity deal would be put to striking signal workers for approval. Italy passes budget

The Cabinet of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi approved a deficit-cutting budget vital to its credibility yesterday, but the success was soured by the threat of a general strike over planned cuts in spending. The budget, which aims to cut some $32 billion from next year's deficit, will now go to parliament for approval and must clear its two houses by year's end.

Norwegian airport strike

A strike by airport personnel grounded most domestic and international flights in Norway yesterday, affecting 30,000 passengers, airline officials said. About 1,600 ground staff responsible for passenger service went on strike after talks on a new wage contract broke down.

Durable goods orders jump

Orders to US factories for big-ticket durable goods soared 6 percent in August - the biggest rise in nearly two years - after a sharp drop the previous month, the government said yesterday. The Commerce Department said the rebound, anticipated by analysts, was led by a turnaround in demand for automobiles and parts.

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