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News In Brief

The US

New York City and several immigrant aid groups filed a class-action lawsuit in an attempt to overturn a new welfare law. The suit filed in a New York federal district court seeks to reinstate food-stamp eligibility and disability aid for about 100,000 legal immigrants. The groups plan to file a second suit in San Francisco on behalf of the immigrants in New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and California. Separately, California Gov. Pete Wilson unveiled a proposal to deny illegal immigrants access to 200 state programs, including rent assistance and student aid, while continuing aid in nine limited areas.

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Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms reversed his position and said he was negotiating with the Clinton administration on the chemical weapons treaty. Ratification of the pact by the Senate is now possible, he said. He made the comments at a news conference with Secretary of state Madeleine Albright. The two spent a day in Helms's home state of North Carolina talking with community leaders, businessmen, and students, and said they are developing a good friendship.

Orders to US factories for big-ticket durable goods rose 1.5 percent to a record level in February, the Commerce Department reported. And Americans are extremely optimistic about the economy and job market, the Conference Board found in a survey. Consumer confidence in February was the highest since the summer of 1989, The Wall Street Journal said.

Be prepared for several more rate hikes before the end of the year. That's what economists are predicting after the Federal Reserve raised a key short-term interest rate by a quarter of a percentage point, to 5.5 percent. That means more expensive car loans, adjustable-rate mortgages, and credit-card borrowing.

President Clinton was scheduled to name some members of his Health Care Quality Commission, fulfilling a campaign prom-ise. The panel is to issue a report later this year. Also, Clinton said he will delay an April 14-15 trip to Mexico until early May due to a knee injury. May visits to Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela also will be postponed until October.

Federal investigators are urging an unfair-advertising case against cigarette maker R. J. Reynolds over its cartoon character Joe Camel, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Federal Trade Commission is expected to vote on the action within two months. Its expected to reverse a 1994 decision not to bring a case against Reynolds because of new evidence about tobacco industry advertising tactics.

Several GOP senators, including majority leader Trent Lott, are renewing efforts to cut away at estate taxes. Their bill would raise the basic estate-tax exclusion from $600,000 to $1 million over six years, The Wall Street Journal reported. The bill also would allow new exclusions for family-owned businesses passed on to succeeding generations.

Consumers should be allowed to deactivate air bags in their cars, Washington's Insurance Institute for Highway Safety recommended. The longtime advocate of air bags reversed its position because it's concerned public pressure might lead to the elimination of laws requiring the controversial devices.

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The US's most expensive desegregation program must close its doors in three years, Kansas City's US district court ruled. More than $1.6 billion has been spent during the past 10 years on the court-ordered program, which tried to attract white students with offers of field trips and swimming pools. Judge Russell Clark approved an agreement by the state to pay nearly $320 million to the Kansas City School District. However, he did not rule the district was fully integrated and said more effort by school officials was required.

The Hartford Whalers hockey team agreed to pay Connecticut a $20.5 million penalty to leave the state at the end of this season, Gov. John Rowland announced at a news conference. The team claims it can no longer survive in Hartford, he said. Under its lease with the Hartford Civic Center, the team must stay in the city through the end of next season or pay a penalty. The Whalers haven't had a winning season since 1989-90.

The World

Palestinian protesters burned US and Israeli flags in Bethlehem and said new US efforts to put the Middle East peace pro-cess back on track would fail unless American envoy Dennis Ross could achieve a halt to the construction of Jewish housing in East Jerusalem. All sides awaited the return from an Asian tour by Palestinian Authority President Arafat. Ross was expected to meet Arafat in Morocco, followed by talks in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahyu.

Train service throughout northern England was disrupted by two explosions that appeared to be the work of the IRA. Damage to tracks and signaling equipment was extensive, but there were no casualties. Prior to the explosions warnings were received in code used by the IRA.

African heads of state and UN Secretary-General Kofi Anan met with Zairean rebel representatives in an attempt to find solutions to the country's ongoing crisis. The meeting, in Togo, centered on wehther the rebels and the Zairean government could be persuaded to talk with each other or on whether a cease-fire should come first.

Vice President Gore said he was "not in a position to judge" whether Chinese denials of political donations to the Democratic Party were believable. Gore, winding up his visit to Beijing, said the issue had not come up in talks with President Jiang Zemin, but had been raised with Premier Li Peng. Gore said he told Chinese officials that proof of such payments make the matter "very serious."

In the past year, Mexican drug traffickers have murdered "hundreds of honest police officers, prosecutors, and judges," US drug czar Barry McCaffrey claimed. He also said $6 billion a year in drug profits goes to bribe Mexican officials so that cocaine, marijuana, and heroin can flow unimpeded into the US. In its efforts to help the US curb illegal drugs, Mexico has been reluctant to quantify the human toll on its law-enforcement system.

Canada's armed forces need better training and a more modern justice system, two blue-ribbon panels recommended. The measures were among 100 reforms suggested by the panels in the wake of image-damaging scandals: the torture-slaying of a Somali teenager by Canadian peacekeepers in the early '90s and the reported abuse of patients in a mental hospital in Bosnia during a UN peacekeeping tour. The defense ministry pledged quick action on some of the recommendations.

Bowing to public and military pressure, the prime minister of Papua New Guinea resigned. Julius Chan's move followed 10 days of turmoil over his unpopular attempt to put down a rebellion on Bougainville island by the use of mercenaries. The prime minister said parliament would select an interim successor within 24 hours.

Sri Lanka made public a new draft constitution that offers partial autonomy to minority groups and attempts to end the costly 13-year civil war against Tamil secessionists. Tamil leaders already have dismissed the plan, vowing to continue fighting for a separate homeland.

El Salvador's elections left the national legislature with no absolute majority, according to final results. The ruling Nationalist Republican Alliance won 28 of the body's 84 seats to the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front's 27, meaning that each will have to seek alliances with smaller parties to gain a voting edge.

Malaysia will suspend relations with neighboring Singapore, according to reports from the capital, Kuala Lumpur. A foreign ministry statement said Malaysians were deeply offend-ed at remarks by senior Singapore political leader Lee Kuan Yew, despite his apology. Lee called the Malaysian state of Johore "notorious for shootings, muggings, and carjackings."


"Someone at the State Department Loves Me."

- Wording on a T-shirt given to controversial Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Jesse Helms by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who declared the two were "developing a pretty good friendship."

South African President Nelson Mandela has long advocated a war on crime. Some of the country's cops, however, apparently don't share his views. Mandela's own home was broken into recently. So were those of Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, Public Protector Selby Baqwa, and other Cabinet ministers. No arrests yet in the Mbeki case, but in each of the others those charged with the misdeed were policemen.

The "Category 5" blaze brought 52 trucks and do-zens of firefighters to the scene. Hoses poured water onto the flames, but they still shot high into the sky. In the end, the building had to be abandoned when the roof collapsed. What was it that went up in so much smoke? The advanced Technical Firemen's School in St. Petersburg, Russia.

The Day's List

What Ex-Lawmakers Do With Leftover Donations

The 86 members of Congress who didn't seek reelection or lost their election bids last year reported more than $8.1 million in leftover contributions. Federal law prohibits retired lawmakers from making personal use of such funds. So what are they doing with the money? Here are some results of an Associated Press survey:

Senate majority leader Bob Dole ($1.3 million) - no decision yet.

Sen. J. James Exon (D) of Nebraska ($175,000) - has set up an Exon library/study center.

Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R) of Kansas ($104,500) - will divide it among charities promoting education.

Sen. Sam Nunn (D) of Georgia ($900,000) - some went to charity, but he also plans a permanent exhibit of Nunn memorabilia.

Sen. Bob Packwood (R) of Oregon ($342,200) - holding it in case he runs for office again.

Rep. Dan Frisa (R) of New York ($140,000) - will donate some for medical research.

Rep. Mel Hancock (R) of Missouri ($170,500) - will revive a tax-exempt Taxpayers' Survival Association.

Rep. Pat Schroeder (D) of Colorado (more than $360,700) - "hasn't thought about it."

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