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President Clinton announced final repayment of a $13.5 billion loan to Mexico, saying it proved the success of a controversial rescue of the Mexican economy. The US funds were part of a $50 billion international aid package the Clinton administration assembled in early 1995 after a bungled devaluation of the peso threatened to send Mexico into default.

Clinton was asked by 149 members of Congress to release $420 million in emergency aid to help poor families pay heating bills. He received the plea as he was releasing $5 million to help residents of North and South Dakota deal with an unusually harsh winter. The president can tap into Low-Income Home Energy Assistance funds at his discretion. He released $180 million from the program last winter.

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Clinton plans to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to defeated GOP rival Bob Dole, a White House official said. The anonymous official said the medal would be presented today at a ceremony unveiling the design for a World War II monument. Meanwhile, a preinaugural poll indicated approval of the president's job performance is at an all-time high. A Pew Research Center survey found 59 percent of respondents approving his performance and 31 percent disapproving.

US companies could begin selling high-performance aircraft and other weapons to Latin America under a proposal sent to Clinton. Relaxing a ban on such sales had been advocated by Secretary of Defense William Perry, but was opposed by Secretary of State Warren Christopher. However, in an apparent compromise, recent memos to the president from both departing secretaries advocate the sales on a case-by-case basis, a Pentagon official said.

Rep. David Hobson (R) of Ohio removed himself from the House ethics committee review of the case against Speaker Newt Gingrich to preserve the panel's partisan balance. The move leaves a panel of four Democrats and four Republicans to recommend appropriate punishment for Gingrich's confessed violations of House rules. Committee member Jim McDermott (D) of Washington had recused himself earlier in the week.

US safety officials are ordering Boeing Company to modify the rudder system of its 737 jets, Vice President Al Gore said. Two 737s have been involved in still-unexplained crashes. Gore said changes would help prevent inadvertent rudder movement, which can throw the plane into a sudden, uncontrolled roll. The retrofitting is to be accomplished in three years.

A state judge struck down a Wisconsin plan to use taxpayer money to send some Milwaukee children to religious schools. He also blocked the state from expanding its first-in-the-nation program that gives students tuition vouchers to attend private, non-religious schools. Since 1990, Wisconsin has allowed some children to attend private schools at state expense.

Significant environmental or safety problems plague many of the sites where the US stores highly enriched uranium, the Energy Department said. Officials cited conditions at 13 of 22 sites in nine states, including problems with packaging, the condition of storage facilities, and management shortcomings that fail to protect workers.

Claims for first-time jobless benefits fell last week to the lowest level in nearly three months, the Labor Department said. Initial jobless claims in the week ended Jan. 11 dropped to 323,000 from a revised 355,000 in the previous week.

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Consumers should stop using 13,000 Binky Newborn Orthodontic Pacifiers and 26,000 Baby Buzz stretch mobiles, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said. Officials said the products pose a choking hazard for young children.

Two explosions rocked a building containing an abortion clinic north of Atlanta. The first blast was at a building that houses Atlanta Northside Family Planning Services. The second, an hour later, was reportedly in a nearby parking lot. A federal agent investigating the first blast was injured in the second.


Israeli troops lowered the Star of David flag from their base in Hebron and began their pullback from the West Bank city, a day after their government reached a deal with Palestinian negotiators. The deal was approved by both Cabinets after stormy debate. Israel's parliament was considering ratification of the pact, also amid angry exchanges.

South Korea's ruling party apologized for the way it ram-med tough new labor legislation through parliament. But it did not offer to revise the bill that has triggered three weeks of violent street protests and strikes. The legislation makes it easier for employers to lay off workers and forbids the formation of new unions for up to five years. It was passed in a secret predawn session Dec. 26.

Leftist Tpac Amaru rebels in Peru pledged not to execute the remaining 74 hostages they hold in the Japanese ambassador's residence. But they warned the Peruvian government to prepare for a long standoff unless it releases hundreds of their followers from jail. Earlier in the week, rebel leaders accepted a government proposal for a commission to mediate the month-long hostage crisis.

Russia "probably won't" form a new military alliance to counter NATO expansion, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov said. His remarks - four days before NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana visits Moscow - appeared to be a reversal of earlier comments suggesting that Russia might respond with a new defensive union if NATO accepts formerly communist eastern European countries into membership. The Kremlin claims that such expansion would threaten military balance in the region.

A new package of incentives aimed at softening Russian resistance to NATO expansion will be offered by the US and its allies, the Washington Post reported. The newspaper said it had learned that the incentives would include increased economic assistance, new Western flexibility on arms-control issues, and a special consulting role for the Kremlin when NATO considers such problems as terrorism, nuclear proliferation, and international peacekeeping.

Hours after Algerian security forces wiped out a band of Muslim militants, a bomb exploded in a busy marketplace near the capital, Algiers. Officials said at least 12 people were killed in the blast. Suspicion fell on the Arm-ed Islamic Group, which has stepped up attacks in recent weeks. It began an insurgency against Algeria's military-backed government in 1992 after national elections were cancelled.

Tanzania will not force an estimated 115,000 refugees to return to Burundi while their home country remains in political turmoil, a government spokesman said. The announcement came after Burundian troops killed 122 refugees who had been expelled last week. Tanzania drew international criticism for deporting more than 500,000 Rwandan Hutu refugees last month.

Authorities in Malaysia issued an ultimatum to the country's estimated 1 million illegal immigrants: surrender by Feb. 1 or face harsh penalties. Punishment could include caning, heavy fines, and imprisonment, the government said. The warning also applies to employers who hire such immigrants. Most of the aliens - who work in factories or farms - are believed to be from Indonesia and Bangladesh. They are blamed for a rising crime rate and other social problems.

To correct what it called widespread "misunderstandings," North Korea began English-language reports on the Internet. A government spokesman said "for a number of reasons, information [about North Korea] has not been correctly conveyed to the outside world." The Internet address is: Rival South Korea threatened Internet providers with imprisonment if they distribute North Korean information.


We have all the time in the world."

- Tpac Amaru hostage-taker Nestor Cerpa Cartolini, warning Peru's government to prepare for a long standoff unless it releases hundreds of his followers from prison.

If you were wondering what project filmmaker Ken Burns would tackle next, the producer of "Baseball" and "The Civil War" plans a new documentary on the history of jazz. Burns has been awarded $1 million by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to cover some of the cost of the project. The 12-hour production is expected to air in 2000.

The accounting firm Ernst & Young has some advice for taxpayers on often-overlooked deductions as the April deadline for filing approaches. Property damage from last winter's worst storms, cellular phone use for business, transportation to and from doctors' offices, prescription eyeglasses, and hearing devices are all tax-deductible, the firm says.

Packer-mania, it seems, has even affected the high-brow Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. Prior to the Jan. 26 Super Bowl, concert-goers can attend two performances for the price of one if they show up at the box office wearing green and gold, the Packers' colors. The orchestra wants its patrons to continue dressing that way even during the concerts.


Best Places for Sledding

Snowiest US cities, as measured in inches of accumulation by the National Climatic Data Center.

1. Blue Canyon, Calif. 240.8

2. Marquette, Mich. 129.2

3. Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. 116.1

4. Syracuse, N.Y. 114.0

5. Caribou, Maine 110.0

6. Mount Shasta, Calif. 104.9

7. Lander, Wyo. 102.2

8. Flagstaff, Ariz. 100.8

9. Sexton Summit, Ore. 97.8

10. Muskegon, Mich. 97.1

- "The Top 10 of Everything, 1997," by Russell Ash, Dorling Kindersley Publishing

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