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News In Brief

The US

President Clinton decided to appoint Bill Lann Lee as acting head of the Justice Department's civil rights division, White House officials said. Lee can serve until the end of Clinton's term. The president was expected to avoid using a constitutionally allowed "recess appointment" that would have sparked major tensions with congressional Republicans.

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Increased output of computers and cars boosted US factory production 0.8 percent in November, the Federal Reserve announced. The industrial operating rate is now 83.2 percent of capacity - the highest since September 1995.

Clinton said he would welcome dialogue with Iran "as long as we can have an honest discussion of the relevant issues." On Sunday, Iranian President Mohamad Khatami said he had "a great deal of respect" for the US - a departure from many years of anti-American rhetoric by that country's leaders. Khatami said he would soon have a "historic message" for the US - probably before Christmas. Meanwhile, an Israeli newspaper reported US and Iranian envoys have been meeting secretly since Khatami's election last May.

Closing arguments began in the Oklahoma City bombing trial of Terry Nichols. Although he wasn't in Oklahoma City on the day of the blast, prosecutors charge he was a full partner in the crime. The case will likely go to the jury this week.

Much of the snow from a surprise storm in the South melted after temperatures rose above freezing. But children in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama who had never seen snow reveled in school closings and making snowmen.

With a one-day Christmas trip to Bosnia, Clinton aimed to bolster troop morale and to begin making the case for extending the US mission there. The White House said he may leave as early as Dec. 21. The 8,500 US troops in the region are due to leave in June, but Clinton is expected to lengthen their stay over congressional opposition.

The Agriculture Department released new regulations for organic foods. The industry - which produces fertilizer- and pesticide-free foods - has been growing at a rate of 25 percent per year. The new rules aim to give uniformity to an industry that has been regulated by states and private groups. The clarity the rules bring may help boost exports to Europe and Japan, two big organic-foods markets.

Tax credits for parents' child-care expenses and for employer-sponsored child care will be among the elements of a new Clinton legislative program, the White House said. Details haven't been solidified, and Clinton may save the announcement for his State of the Union address in early 1998.

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Fraternity leaders are among the heaviest users of alcohol on college campuses, a study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol reported. Seventy-four percent of fraternity leaders told researchers they had engaged in "binge" drinking in the past two weeks. Of students only somewhat involved in fraternities, 58 percent said they had binged recently. For students not connected to fraternities, the figure was 42 percent.

The global-warming treaty hammered out in Kyoto last week is "not finished yet," Energy Secretary Federico Pena said. He signaled that the administration agrees with a Senate resolution requiring that China, India, and other developing nations sign on to the treaty before the US will ratify it. A follow-up conference next year will attempt to get developing nations involved.

The US Supreme Court turned away a bias suit about religion in the workplace. A Massachusetts woman argued that to keep her job she shouldn't have to attend a nondenominational seminar that included many biblical references. The court refused to hear the case.

The World

International donors should improve upon the $100 billion they've pledged to help bail out Asia's troubled economies, government leaders said at a regional conference in Malaysia. Speaking for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Philippines President Fidel Ramos said the group was asking Japan to encourage other donors "to come in and give a hand" because the situation was "bound to get worse before it gets better." In reaction, the Indonesian, Thai, and Malaysian currencies all hit record lows in international trading.

South Koreans began their presidential election week by hoarding flour, sugar, cooking oil, and other essentials - a signal that analysts said showed little confidence in the short-term future of the economy. Trading on the Seoul stock exchange closed a record 7.2 percent higher as investors looked forward to early payment of international loans to help bail out the battered economy. But credit-ratings agencies warned of further downgrades until fundamental problems were met.

UN weapons-inspection chief Richard Butler awaited Iraq's response to his demand for access to sites the latter has declared off limits. In Baghdad, Butler left his second discussion in as many days with Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz saying, "This is a defining moment." Iraq's refusal to let UN inspectors into 60 sites considered as possible arms storehouses has heightened friction. Butler also called a report by Aziz on Iraqi biological-weapons capability "rather defiant" and containing "nothing new."

Saying he did not feel welcome and feared for his safety, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan canceled a planned visit to Jerusalem. At Ramallah on the West Bank, he boarded a bus for Jordan complaining of "Jewish influence" on US foreign policy. A spokesman for Prime Minister Netanyahu said Farrakhan would not be received by Israeli leaders until he apologized for "vulgar" remarks about Judaism.

German Defense Minister Volker Ruhe scrambled to address new allegations of rising neo-Nazism in the country's armed forces. Incidents involving the chanting of banned slogans by soldiers assigned to peacekeeping duties in Croatia and the rental to extreme right-wingers of an elite officers' academy were reported by popular magazines.

"As a gesture to the pope," Cuban President Fidel Castro offered to declare Christmas a one-time holiday. Cuba officially has been atheist since 1962, and Castro took away Christmas as a holiday seven years later, saying it interfered with the sugar harvest. But he was asked to restore it in a meeting with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in November 1996 and was reminded of the request last week. The pope is scheduled to visit Cuba next month.

Serb delegates boycotted a session of Bosnia's parliament, blocking an attempt to define common citizenship. Serbs oppose the concept because it would weaken their efforts to establish a separate state. Analysts said the move increased the likelihood that international peace brokers would impose a binding citizenship measure on the former Yugoslav republic.

The first white president of Guyana could emerge from that country's national elections, political observers said. Late opinion polls suggested voters in the ethnically mixed country would choose US-born newspaper editor Janet Jagan, widow of President Cheddi Jagan, over Desmond Hoyte, another former chief of state. Guyana is South America's only English-speaking nation.


"Who has time for elections when the economy is troubled?"

- Seoul business executive Kim Jin-moon, on the low-key atmosphere surrounding this week's vote for a new president

in South Korea.

Just in time for Christmas, the state of Alaska has come to the rescue of all those whose gift lists include someone really hard to shop for. Just $5 (plus shipping) buys a sample originally collected as evidence from the US's worst oil spill - the 11 million gallons that leaked from the Exxon Valdez in 1989. With each sample comes a certificate of authenticity.

As onlookers in the Bronx cheered, a plumber from upstate New York struck a blow for everyone whose car has been impounded for a parking violation. Literally. He told a tow-truck driver he had no other way home. The reply: too bad. So, even with his front wheels off the ground, he rammed the truck, then switched to it as the frightened driver got out, and drove off, towing his own car. The truck was found nearby. The plumber and his vehicle were not.

If you're keeping score at home, Li Enhai claims the world noodle-stretching record. A chef in the Xinjiang region of China, he divided 2.2 pounds of dough into 65,536 strands as thin as human hair. Laid end to end, they stretch 62 miles.

The Day's List

World's Freest and Most Repressive Economies

China's July 1 takeover of Hong Kong hasn't damaged the former British colony's standing as the world's freest economy, according to an analysis of 156 nations by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. Their ratings are based on 50 variables: 1 is the freest and 5 is the least free.

Freest Economies

1. Hong Kong 1.25

2. Singapore 1.3

3. Bahrain 1.7

4. New Zealand 1.75

5. Switzerland 1.9

tie United States 1.9

Most Repressed Economies

1. North Korea 5.0

tie Laos 5.0

tie Cuba 5.0

4. Iraq 4.9

5. Bosnia 4.8

- Associated Press

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