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Thousands of past and pending cases may be tainted by the flawed work of the FBI crime lab, defense lawyers said. Their claim followed release of a report detailing mistakes by such lab departments as materials analysis, explosives, and chemistry-toxicology. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said the lab's problems were "even more widespread" than Justice Department officials were admitting to.

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Philip Morris and RJR Nabisco, the nation's largest cigarette makers, are holding secret talks with plaintiffs that could cost them $300 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported. The plaintiffs were identified as attorneys general of six states that have sued to recover the costs of treating health problems brought on by smoking. News of the talks sent tobacco stocks surging in early trading on Wall Street. The White House said it was "monitoring" the discussions.

In tribute to Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball's color barrier in 1947, his uniform number will be retired permanently, acting commissioner Bud Selig announced. At ceremonies in New York on the 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Selig said No. 42 belongs to the late Hall of Famer "for the ages." Players who currently wear that number may keep it until their careers end.

Former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell met more than 70 times with White House officials between resigning his post in March 1994 and pleading guilty nine months later to bilking his former law firm of almost $500,000, The Washington Post reported. It said Hub-bell's contacts included golf dates with Clinton.

Former Soviet President and Nobel laureate Mikhail Gorba-chev warned Congress against backing NATO expansion into eastern Europe if doing so meant "humiliating" Russia. Speaking in Washington, he said it would be a "bad mistake" to expand the alliance without an agreement not to hold back nuclear weapons and combat troops from countries that once were Russia's partners in the Warsaw Pact.

A federal judge's ruling on the execution of a convicted murderer in Pennsylvania was expected, after a hearing on whether he was competent to waive his right to an appeal of the sentence. The state Supreme Court had issued a temporary stay of execution for Gary Heidink, who, psychiatrists testified, was incapable of understanding the proceedings in his behalf. Heidink says he is innocent but has asked to be put to death. In Houston, Mexican immigrant Ricardo Aldape Guerra was to be freed after his murder conviction was thrown out because witness-es against him were found not to be credible. He had spent 14 years on death row.

Acts of violence, discrimination, and harassment against Muslims in the US increased threefold in the year ending March 31, the Council on American-Islamic Relations said in Washington. The largest number of incidents came in the category of bias and discrimination in the workplace, it said.

Housing starts fell 6.4 percent last month - a larger decline than expected, the Commerce Department reported. But the US industrial output for March rose 0.9 percent, more than double what economists had forecast: to 84.1 percent., the highest level in two years.

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ABC's ratings sunk to the lowest nonsummer level for any of the three major commercial TV networks in decades, Nielsen Media Research said. It gave ABC a 7.7 rating and a 13 share of the audience for last week. NBC won the week with a 9.8 rating and a 17 share. A rating point represents just under 1 million households - 1 percent of the nation's estimated TV homes.

Two Detroit newspapers were cited in a federal complaint for failure to rehire all employees who offered to return after a 19-month strike. The News and Free Press say they do not plan to fire 1,200 replacement workers hired since the strike began in July 1995. They have offered jobs to employees who went on strike according to a preferential list and only as positions open.


EU nations brought new momentum to the Mideast peace process, when they arranged a surprise meeting between Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy in Malta, site of a 27-nation economic conference. It was the highest-level contact since construction began on a Jewish housing project last month in southeastern Jerusa-lem. Diplomats described the meeting as "crossing an important psychological barrier." EU nations have been staking their claim for a role in the Mideast peace process.

With North Korea's participation, peace talks on the dividedpeninsula opened in New York. The talks are aimed at securing a treaty to replace the truce that ended the 1950-53 Korean War. Analysts say North Korea is likely to seek concessions such as diplomatic recognition from Washington and an easing of the US trade embargo. Earlier, the US announced an additional $15 million in humanitarian aid to entice Pyongyang to the talks.

Zairean rebel leader Laurent Kabila flew to Cape Town for talks with South African and UN officials trying to find a solution to his country's political crisis. As he left for the talks, Kabila spurned calls for a ceasefire and pledged to unseat President Mobutu Sese Seko in three weeks. Meanwhile, the rebel alliance signed a $1 billion deal with the US firm America Mineral Fields, Inc., to mine copper and zinc in the mineral-rich Shaba province.

Japan's nuclear agency ran into further criticism after disclosing that it had waited 30 hours before reporting a radiation leak at its Tsuruga plant. Separately, the government asked police to pursue criminal charges against the agency for covering up key details of an accident last month at a waste-storage facility 70 miles northeast of Tokyo. Such incidents have drawn criticism for the government's plan to raise dependency on atomic power to 42 percent of total capacity by 2010.

China escaped censure for violations of civil liberties at the annual session of the UN Human Rights Commission, which criticized the record of Indonesia, Iraq, and Cuba. In a politcally charged debate, China overcame Western condemnation with support from developing countries. The Geneva-based organization rebuked Indonesia for torture and killings in East Timor, but saved its toughest language for Iraq: "all-pervasive repression."

Humanitarian aid arrived in Tirana, Albania, as a heavily armed multinational security force took up positions in the troubled country. Meanwhile, European mediator Franz Vranitzky called for participation of southern rebels in talks about Albania's political future, but his sentiments met with immediate criticism from government officials.

Singing praises to Allah, an estimated 2 million Muslims continued to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, a day after a fire at a nearby tent city killed 217 fellow pilgrims, most of them from south Asian countries. The pilgrimage - known as Haj - is Islam's holiest duty. Condolences poured in from around the world. The blaze was caused by exploding gas cylinders, witnesses said.

Seven African nation's will review Burundi's plea to lift econmic sanctions at a meeting in Arusha, Tanzania. The trade embargo was imposed nine months ago with the aim of forcing Tutsi military ruler Pierre Buyoya to embrace democratic reforms and negotiate with Hutu rebels. A recent UN report said smuggling was undercutting the purpose of the sanctions.

Three masked gunmen burst into a discotheque in northern Portugal and set it ablaze with gasoline, killing 12 people and injuring 14. Police were trying to determine a motive for the attack in Amarante, near Lisbon.


"It's impressive that we have the industry on the run .... but it's a long way

to a final settlement."

- Tobacco Products Liability Project's Richard Daynard, on talks aimed at settling massive litigation against cigarette makers.

Colorado researchers and the Postal Service are working on a project that could turn unwanted junk mail in-to ethanol - an alcohol-based fuel that the service would use to power its trucks.

Two of the most successful sitcoms in television history were "Cheers" and "Roseanne." But while the former went out in style in March 1993, the latter appears likely to end more with a whimper than with a bang. ABC will air the last episode featuring controversial comedian Roseanne Barr May 20. It was the top-rated show in 1990; now it's only No. 32.


Rating America's 25 Most Influential People

The most influential for 1997, as listed in the April 21 issue of Time magazine:

Tiger Woods, professional golfer

Kim Polese, Web entrepreneur

Madeleine Albright, secretary of State

US Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona

Don Imus, radio talk show host

Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard Afro-American studies chairman

Robert Thurman, teacher of American Buddhism

Steve Coz, editor, National Enquirer

Richard Scaife, conservative agitator

George Soros, philanthropist

Harvey Weinstein, cochairman, Miramax Films

Chris Carter, "X-Files" creator

Lisa Schultz, fashion designer

Paul Romer, economist

Bonnie Campbell, director, US Justice Department's Violence Against Women office

Babyface Edmonds, pop musician/Grammy-winning producer

Dilbert, working-class hero

Rosie O'Donnell, comedian

Andrew Weil, alternative medicine guru

Robert Earl, CEO, Planet Hollywood

Marcia Angell, medical essayist

Michael Price, Mutual Series fund manager

Colin Powell, former chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

Robert Rubin, Treasury secretary

Trent Reznor, industrial rocker

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