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Federal agents confiscated $4 million in AK-47 rifles from a Chinese smuggling ring involving two state-controlled Chinese munitions firms. The 16-month sting operation in the San Francisco Bay Area was said to be the largest seizure of smuggled automatic weapons in US history. It resulted in seven arrests and the seizure of 2,000 rifles. The incident is likely to deal another blow to already-strained US-China relations.

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The House plans to try again on a minimum-wage vote after Republicans introduced a provision that would exempt small businesses from the hike. President Clinton vowed to veto the bill if it includes the change, which he said would exempt two-thirds of US businesses. The other half of the package, $5.5 billion in business tax cuts over seven years, passed 414 to 10.

The White House announced that Clinton would sign legislation outlawing gay marriages. A gay-rights group, the Human Rights Campaign, promptly withdrew an invitation for White House advisor George Stephanopoulos to speak at a dinner.

The FBI appeared to be gearing up for a shutdown of electricity at a Montana farm where the "freemen" antigovernment group is holed up. Three tarp-covered tractor-trailer trucks were moved onto an FBI outpost within sight of the compound. Also, mediator Charles Duke, a Colorado state senator, left Montana after saying further talks would be worthless.

Senator Dole met with flat-tax advocate and one-time Republican presidential rival Steve Forbes. Dole says he's working on an economic plan that could include a single-rate income tax and a national sales tax.

Passenger airlines won't be allowed to transport oxygen generators like the ones suspected in the ValuJet crash while investigators continue a safety review, a senior official with the Transportation Department said. Also, ValuJet Airlines Inc. has refunded $4.1 million to customers who have cancelled their reservations. And search efforts continued in the Everglades.

As many as 250,000 attempts were made to infiltrate military computer networks last year, and 65 percent were successful, the Government Accounting Office said. Beyond young hackers, about 120 countries already have or are developing computer attack capabilities, the report said. The military seldom detects or investigates the hackers. The report focused only on unclassified transmissions. Weapons systems and other classified material are secure on other systems, Pentagon spokeswoman Susan Hansen says.

R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company secretly concluded studies in 1973 that rival Philip Morris deliberately enhanced nicotine levels in Marlboro cigarettes to boost sales, The Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times reported. The studies were in documents in a Minnesota lawsuit, one of eight filed by states seeking to recover Medicaid costs spent on treating ailing smokers.

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Jeffrey Vinik, controversial head of the Fidelity's $56 billion Magellan fund, quit to form his own investment company. The country's biggest single mutual fund has gained only 4.7 percent this year. Fidelity said it would replace him with Robert Stansky.

Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald are becoming buddies. McDonald's Corp. and the Walt Disney Company announced a 10-year marketing alliance to promote each other's products worldwide. Also, Disney chairman Michael Eisner announced the opening of the Disney Store on New York's Fifth Avenue.

One in 5 intensive-care nurses admitted hastening the deaths of the terminally ill to end their patients' suffering, usually with drug overdoses, a survey of 852 nurses by a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania found. Some 40 percent said they wanted to perform euthanasia but didn't because they feared getting caught or weren't sure what the patient wanted. Nursing groups called the report flawed.

The Dow Jones industrial average hit 5778.00, the second record in three days Wednesday.


US and European envoys plan to meet Balkan leaders in Geneva next month to urge full compliance with the Dayton accord, European diplomats said. Also, the US may renew sanctions against Serbia if suspected war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic don't give up power, US chief negotiator for Bosnia John Kornblum told Serbian President Milosevic. And international mediator Carl Bildt hinted to Bosnian Serb leaders they could face reimposed sanctions if they held a referendum testing support for Karadzic.

Burma's military junta arrested 191 supporters of the pro-democracy National League for democracy, opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said. The government says it has no plans to arrest Suu Kyi - so far. Suu Kyi says Sunday's crucial meeting will go forward, even if only one person attends.

Labor Party leader Tony Blair backed the government's attempt to end an EU ban on British beef exports. The opposition leader said he would make a "strong case" to the Italian government for lifting the ban. Meanwhile, Britain began making good Prime Minister Major's threat to disrupt EU business by blocking an EU proposal on civil protection at a ministerial level.

Indian soldiers rounded up Kashmiris and herded them to the polls, forcing them to vote in the state's first elections in seven years, Kashmiris said.

Survivors from the Tanzanian ferry that capsized, killing more than 500 people, said the crew accepted bribes and overloaded the boat (designed to hold 441 passengers). The government promised an independent investigation into the incident. The ferry's captain claims he has no memory of the disaster. Also, passenger vessels on Lake Victoria regularly ignore shipping rules, a navy-trained expert said.

Human rights abuses in Colombia, widely considered to be the worst in Latin America, have gotten worse amid the country's deepening political crisis, Amnesty International Secretary-General Pierre Sane said.

Chechen rebel leader Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev agreed to meet President Yeltsin for peace talks in Moscow before June 16 election, a Russian presidential spokesman said. Also Russian forces captured Chechen rebels' biggest stronghold in the village of Bamut. Polls show Russian President Yeltsin leading as Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov tries to infuse new life in his increasingly lackluster campaign.

North Korean air force pilot Captain Li Chol-su defected to South Korea in an aging MiG-19 plane. It is the first such defection in 13 years, and analysts say it could indicate growing discontent among North Korea's elite. Also, Pyongyang and Seoul accused each other of recent naval incursions into the demilitarized zone in violation of an armistice that ended the Korean War.

Central African Republic protesters set fire to the French cultural center in Bangui. They were demonstrating against Paris's intervention in the former French colony. Also, France planned to evacuate more than 1,400 foreigners fleeing widespread chaos as a six-day mutiny continued. Paris stepped up military efforts to bolster President Patasse's government as mutineers call for his resignation.

Spanish Gen. Enrique Rodriguez Galindo was to be detained unconditionally in connection with a 1980s "dirty war" against Basque separatists in which 27 people were killed, the High Court ruled. The charges were the illegal detention, torture, and killing of two presumed Basque separatists.

Germany's largest public employees union broke off wage talks with the government in Stuttgart, saying a half-percent pay-raise offer was unacceptable. Transportation, garbage collection, and other services were stymied by continued strikes.


''Moustaches on the Mona Lisa." -- Cliff Marshall, director of the Blowing Our Stacks Committee in Smelterville, Idaho, describing four smokestacks built in 1976 to lift pollution out of the valley. The former mining town is holding a demolition festival this weekend.

Using a vacuum truck to suck prairie dogs from their holes, a Colorado pest-control company plans to sell them to Japan, where they are prized pets. "These little guys are worth $700 apiece," says Gay Balfour, inventor of the vacuum and co-owner of Dog Gone. They captured about four-dozen young "dogs" in this, their fifth roundup.

"Mission Impossible" shattered "Jurassic Park's opening-day record, earning $3.4 million, according to industry estimates. The movie starring Tom Cruise opened Wednesday.

This summer, Chicago-area residents will be able to turn on their air conditioners by phone before heading home from work. Some 200 test customers will be wired to turn on five or six major appliances - including washing machines and heaters - by punching in phone codes, Ameritech and Wisconsin Energy Corp. announced.

A flawless ruby believed to be the world's largest reportedly was discovered in northern Burma. Weighing 21,450 carats and measuring about 5 by 7 inches, it surpasses a 8,500 carat, 5-1/2-inches-tall ruby in The Guinness Book of Records.


Petrol Prices Worldwide

Price per gallon of gasoline around the world in US dollars:

Venezuela $0.44

Ecuador $1.12

United States (New York) $1.36

Russia (Moscow) $1.89

Nigeria $1.89

Brazil (Rio de Janeiro) $2.46

Israel $3.29

Argentina $3.50

Japan (Tokyo) $3.95

Sweden (Stockholm) $4.43

France $4.50

Norway $5.03

- Associated Press

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