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UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was scheduled to meet with Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms and other key US lawmakers today. His visit to Washington is an attempt to convince critics of the UN that he is committed to reform and the UN is worthy of US support. The Republican-controlled Congress has refused to pay about $1 billion in US arrears to the UN. Annan also plans to meet with President Clinton today and with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate majority leader Trent Lott tomorrow.

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The House voted for the first time to discipline a Speaker for misconduct. The 395-to-28 vote to reprimand Gingrich included a $300,000 penalty.

Clinton proposed $138 billion in Medicare savings over six years, saying he wanted to meet Republicans half way in the effort to reach a balanced-budget plan. In last year's budget, Clinton proposed $124 billion in Medicare savings over seven years. He did not explain how he planned to accomplish the savings, but said his move was a "first gesture" toward reaching a balanced budget by 2002.

Clinton also endorsed legislation to dramatically change campaign finance law. The new rules would prohibit parties from accepting contributions from people who aren't US citizens but are legally in the US, or from US-chartered subsidiaries of foreign corporations. Parties also would be prohibited from accepting more than $100,000 annually from any contributor.

An explosion near a Planned Parenthood clinic in Washington on the anniversary of the US Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion isn't linked to an anti-abortion march, police said. A hotel worker reportedly picked up a detonator protruding from a lamp post, and it went off.

Gulf war soldiers who were near an accidental nerve gas release show higher rates of physical ailments, the Veterans Affairs Department found. The VA's top health official released preliminary results showing health problems among 31 percent of an 81-member demolition team that blew up shells later found to contain sarin nerve gas. It was the first time the VA reported a link between the release of toxic chemicals in Iraq in 1991 and "Gulf war syndrome."

The space shuttle Atlantis touched down at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., returning astronaut John Blaha to Earth. Blaha stretched the number of consecutive days Americans have spent in space to more than 300.

Housing starts dropped 12.2 percent in December to the lowest rate in 1-1/2 years, the Commerce Department said. Despite the plunge, 1996 had the briskest building rate in eight years.

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Parents now can quietly test their children for drug use. The Food and Drug Administration approved the first home testing system that detects cocaine, heroin, marijuana, PCP, amphetamines, and other drugs in a mail-in urine sample. The test is expected to be on drug-store shelves within six weeks and will cost less than $30.

A San Diego US District Court judge ordered the NFL to pay $1.8 million in disability benefits to former all-star Walt Sweeney. Sweeney alleged coaches and trainers for the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins gave him amphetamines before games and depressants afterward, turning him into an addict. He played professisonally from 1963 to 1976 before doctors said his drug and alcohol use made him incapable of continuing.

The parents of a woman cadet who dropped out of The Citadel military college repeatedly told academy officials that she was being harassed, The New York Times reported. The testimony conflicts with statements of Citadel officials, who claim they reacted promptly to Jeanie Mentavlos's complaints.

Two senators plan to propose bipartisan legislation allowing Americans to make fully deductible IRA contributions by the year 2001, The Wall Street Journal said. Current law doesn't allow such deductions for those covered by a retirement plan at work who file jointly and have adjusted gross income above $40,000.


Palestinians will declare statehood when the time is right, despite Israeli objections, Yasser Arafat said. The Palestine Authority president said such a declaration would be "a Palestinian, international, and Arab decision - not an Israeli decision." Israel has threatened harsh action if Palestinians unilaterally declare independent statehood. The two sides are due to complete a final peace agreement by 1999 that determines the status of the West Bank, Gaza, and Jerusalem.

Syria rejected Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's calls for resumed peace negotiations. A government newspaper in Damascus said Netanyahu must first commit himself to the principle of trading land for peace. Netanyahu said earlier in the week that he expected new US efforts to restart the talks - suspended early last year - now that President Clinton has begun his second term in Washington.

Two more North Korean families defected to rival South Korea. It was the second major escape from the communist north in a month and the largest by boat since 1987.

Islamic militants in Algeria were blamed for another powerful explosion in their campaign to turn the Muslim holy month of Ramadan violent. The attack at Blida - 30 miles south of the capital, Algiers - killed at least five people, injured many others, and caused heavy damage to a marketplace. It came one day after a pair of car bombs exploded in the capital, taking more than a dozen lives. Another bomb last weekend killed 42 people.

Peruvian President Fujimori won an endorsement from Japan's lower house of parliament for his handling of the hostage crisis inside the Japanese ambassador's residence. Leftist rebels still hold 73 hostages there. Fujimori has rejected the rebels' demand that he free hundreds of their jailed colleagues in exchange for the hostages. Meanwhile, the rebels fired warning shots after a day of busier-than-usual police activity outside the residence.

Russian President Yeltsin visited his Kremlin office for the first time since falling ill Jan. 6. The move coincided with a debate in parliament to force him from office on grounds that he is physically incapable of handling his duties. He has spent only two weeks on the job since undergoing major surgery Nov. 5.

Bulgarians jammed their capital, Sofia, to witness the inauguration of President Petar Stoyanov. The post is mainly cere- monial, but Stoyanov enjoys wide popularity, and many Bulgarians hope he will break a political crisis currently hindering national economic reform. It was the first peaceful transfer of power between democratically elected presidents in Bulgaria's history.

A Taliban militia leader in Afghanistan said he was informed that the US would not extend diplomatic recognition to his regime. US Embassy sources in Islamabad, Pakistan, confirmed that Mullah Wakil Ahmed had discussed the issue with visiting Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel. The Taliban holds power in more than half of Afghanistan, including the capital, Kabul, but has yet to be recognized by any government.

Thousands of civilians fled their homes on the southern Philippines island of Mindanao as government forces and Muslim rebels engaged in a fierce firefight. The battle, at Buldon, lasted three hours. Military sources said 23 people were killed and four others wounded - most of them rebels. A rebel spokesman said his forces and the Army later arranged a immediate cease-fire. Peace negotiations are due to resume Feb. 25.


I'm going to tell it like it is here. And I'm going to tell it like it is when I go abroad."

- Secretary of State nominee Madeline Albright, prior to the US Senate's vote on her confirmation.

The outcome of Super Bowl XXXI won't be determined until Sunday night, but the home state of the Green Bay Packers (Wisconsin) already has beaten the home state of the New England Patriots (Massachusetts) in one other head-to-head contest. The US Department of Agriculture says Wisconsin produced 1.9 million barrels of cranberries last year, to 1.7 million for Massachusetts. Together, the two states grow 80 percent of the US crop.

File this one under "U," for unbelievable. A young man in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., was burglarizing an insurance office when a witness spotted him and called police. The suspect fled through some woods and into a nearby restaurant, while a patrolman tracked him by means of footprints in the snow. And who should happen to be in the restaurant? How about 150 other cops, attending a retirement party. Needless to say, it didn't take long to make the arrest.

Business is really taking off for a Rhode Island couple, Joe and Terri McNamara. For $225, they release a flock of white doves into the air as a finishing touch to weddings. The birds are trained to return home afterward.


National Parks Fees Rise

Individual and vehicle fees are going up in February at 47 parks and sites managed by the National Park Service. The following are some of the higher vehicle charges (with former fees in parentheses):

Castillo de San Marcos, Fla $10 (free)

Crater Lake, Ore. $10 ($5)

Everglades, Fla. $10 ($5)

Glacier, Mont. $10 ($5)

Grand Canyon, Ariz. $20 ($10)

Grand Teton, Wyo. $20 ($10)

Mesa Verde, Colo. $10 ($5)

Mount Ranier, Wash. $10 ($5)

Petrified Forest, Ariz. $10 ($5)

Rocky Mountain, Colo. $10 ($5)

Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Calif. $10 ($5)

Shenandoah, Va. $10 ($5)

Yellowstone, Wyo. $20 ($10)

Yosemite, Calif. $20 ($5)

- Associated Press

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