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The US

President Clinton used his State of the Union address to underscore US economic strength and his own leadership. The speech, touching on a wide range of domestic and foreign-policy issues, included a warning to Iraq, a challenge to Congress to bolster the Social Security pension system, and plans to improve education in primary and secondary schools. It made no mention of an alleged Clinton affair with a young White House intern.

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Former Clinton chief of staff Leon Panetta arrived at the courthouse where a grand jury began its second day of probing the allegations engulfing the White House. On the first day, Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary, was questioned - and Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr dismissed as "nonsense" an accusation by Hillary Rodham Clinton that he is aligned with a right-wing conspiracy to smear her husband.

Mrs. Clinton returned to the air waves in an interview from the White House with ABC's "Good Morning America," saying the president would not offer a detailed public explanation of the Monica Lewinsky scandal anytime soon because of the ongoing investigation. Meanwhile, her husband boarded the presidential jet to test the waters outside Washington. The president and Vice President Gore were scheduled for public appearances at the University of Illinois and in La Crosse, Wis.

The US intensified pressure on Iraq to open its suspected weapons sites. Clinton sent Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to Europe and the Persian Gulf to drum up support for military action, should diplomatic efforts fail to win the cooperation of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The Pentagon's chief spokesman said US forces would target not only suspected chemical weapons sites but also numerous military units that help keep Hussein in power if military strikes are ordered.

Groups that assist Holocaust survivors would share up to $25 million under a bill the House sent to Clinton. The measure, approved by voice vote, authorizes an additional $5 million for archival research to help restore assets looted or extorted from Holocaust victims. The Senate passed the legislation in November.

The head of the Internal Revenue Service was reportedly scheduled to unveil the biggest overhaul in the 45-year history of the agency. In an effort to seize the initiative in proposing major changes before Senate Republicans begin reworking an IRS reform bill that passed the House in November, commissioner Charles Rossotti was to unveil the administration's plan before the Senate Finance Committee.

Twenty people were indicted on charges of fraud for letting as many as 13,000 immigrants pay up to $500 each for help on citizenship exams. The 20 either worked for or operated testing centers as subcontractors for the Immigration and Naturalization Service. They are accused of collecting more than $3 million from immigrants in 22 states in exchange for providing test answers, correcting faulty answers, or even filling in entire tests.

The shuttle Endeavour prepared for its scheduled departure this morning from Mir, the Russian space outpost. US Astronaut David Wolf was to return to Earth after four months aboard Mir. Astronaut Andrew Thomas is replacing Wolf on the station for the next 4-1/2 months.

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Orders for durable goods recorded their worst monthly drop in six years in December, pulled down by a slump in demand for aircraft, the Commerce Department said. Orders to factories reportedly fell 6.1 percent to a seasonally adjusted $183.6 billion. That followed a 5.1 percent surge in November, the biggest monthly jump in almost five years. Orders rose 7.1 percent in 1997 after increasing 5.3 percent in 1996, 8 percent in 1995, and 12.4 percent in 1994.

The World

In blunt terms, Israel's government warned it would use its own might to make any Iraqi missile attack "very, very dangerous - for Iraq" But Defense Minister Yitzhak Mordechai also urged Israelis who don't already have gas masks to get them now. One Jerusalem newspaper reported that the US Central Intelligence Agency had warned Israel of a likely Iraqi missile strike with "nonconventional" warheads should Iraq be punished militarily for its noncooperation on UN weapons inspections.

Yasser Arafat told President Clinton last week he would resign as leader of the Palestinian Authority before accepting anything less than a full Israeli troop redeployment on the West Bank, senior aides said. They said a US proposal for small Israeli pullbacks, each accompanied by tightened Palestinian security measures against terrorism, "is rejected."

Saying, "Why should I?" the leader of Northern Ireland's largest Protestant political party rejected a challenge to meet privately with Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams. David Trimble of the Ulster Unionist Party said all matters of substance in peace negotiations with Sinn Fein, the political ally of the Irish Republican Army, can be communicated through US mediator George Mitchell. Neither side appeared ready to heed a plea by British Prime Minister Blair to end feuding that has held up progress in the talks.

Twenty-nine defendants were convicted of conspiring to assassinate Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, and all but three were sentenced to death. The verdicts ended a six-year trial. The three defendants who escaped sentencing are Tamil rebels from Sri Lanka, where they're believed to be leading the insurgency against that country's government. Gandhi and 17 others died in a suicide bomb attack at a political rally.

Passage of a $16 billion income-tax cut to stimulate the Japanese economy appeared certain after it was OK'd by the powerful lower house of parliament. The weaker upper house was to vote on the measure today. More stimulus proposals are expected from the government before the Group of Seven finance ministers meet next month. An economic turnaround in Japan is considered vital to efforts to help other economically troubled Asian countries. Many Asian financial markets closed Wednesday for the Lunar New Year holiday.

Swiss adventurer Bertrand Piccard, a Belgian pilot, and a British engineer lifted off from a resort village in Switzerland on the latest attempt at a nonstop, round-the-world balloon flight. If all goes well, the crew expected to complete the trip in two weeks.

In his first public remarks since last week's trip to Cuba, Pope John Paul II said he hoped it would yield "similar fruit" to the 1979 visit that helped lead to the fall of communism in Poland. Historians credit the pope's first visit to his homeland with strengthening the Roman Catholic Church there and with giving Poles courage to form Solidarity, the first independent trade union in the Soviet bloc. The church later played a role in Poland's peaceful transition from totalitarian rule.

The UN observer mission in Angola - due to end tomorrow - was extended until April 30 by the Security Council. The action reportedly was taken because of concern that the UNITA rebel movement hasn't fully met terms of the 1994 peace accord it signed with the Angolan government. The mission replaced an international peacekeeping force last June. The council gave Secretary-General Kofi Annan until March 13 to present proposals for a long-term UN presence in Angola.


"He did not come across ... as a weak president. He came across as an assured,

forceful, aggressive leader."

- US Rep. John Lewis (D) of Georgia, offering his reaction to the Clinton State of the Union address.

Almost all US homes have at least one TV set. Many homes have several. And then there are the Wheelers of Montesano, Wash. They were notified that their younger daughter, Lisa, had won a national contest entered via the Internet. Her prize: 100 TVs. Taking the equivalent in cash - about $31,000 - wasn't an option. But her parents hope to sell most of them and use the money for college expenses.

Minnesota voters will have a new candidacy to grapple with when they turn out for this year's election for governor. Joining the field this week: ex-professional wrestler Jesse "the Body" Ventura, who retired from the - um - sport in 1986 and now works as a broadcaster. His ring nickname won't appear in campaign ads - at least not his own.

A London luxury-hotel maid inadvertently struck a blow against conspicuous consumption when she drained the bathtub in a suite whose occupants had planned to bathe in pink champagne - purchased at a cost of $1,660. But first, the guests went off to dinner. In their absence, the maid believed the tub to be filled with dirty water and pulled the plug.

The Day's List

Best-Mannered US City: It's Charleston, S.C.

Charleston, S.C. was selected as the country's best-mannered city for the fifth year in a row by nationally known etiquette expert Marjabelle Young Stewart. Her unscientific annual survey is based on comments solicited from executives and others who have taken Stewart's courses. Her top 10 most mannerly cities:

1. Charleston, S.C.

2. Council Bluffs, Iowa

3. Seattle

4. Boston

5. Nashville and Memphis, Tenn.

6. New Orleans

7. Savannah, Ga.

8. Chicago

9. Minneapolis

10. Orlando, Fla.

- Associated Press

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