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The US

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright planned to head for Tennessee and North Carolina today on a speaking tour aimed at convincing the American public that the US should attack Iraq if the latest efforts at diplomacy fail. She also was to join Defense Secretary Cohen and National Security Adviser Sandy Berger at Ohio State University, where they tried to drum up support for a US-led attack to contain Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's weapons arsenal. Analysts said the dispatch of UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to Baghdad could delay President Clinton's decision on when to order a military strike.

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Deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey appeared at a courthouse in Washington where the federal grand jury is investigating the president's relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Although Lindsay has been subpoenaed to testify, the White House told Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr's office it may assert executive privilege to prevent him from answering questions about conversations he had with the president. Earlier, the jury heard testimony from Clinton's former personal aide, Steve Goodin. And The Washington Post reported that the jury issued a subpoena to Kathleen Willey, a former volunteer White House aide who allegedly said in a deposition in the Paula Jones case that Clinton groped her in 1993.

Clinton's lawyers asked a Little Rock, Ark., judge to throw out the Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. In a motion for summary judgment filed with US District Judge Susan Wright, they said there was no factual or legal grounds to pursue the case. The president's lawyers also said such a move would protect future presidents from frivolous lawsuits.

Wholesale prices dropped in January to their lowest level since August 1993, the Labor Department said. Analysts blamed the 0.7 percent drop in the producer price index on falling energy prices. Meanwhile, building starts fell 0.3 percent in January, the Commerce Department reported. But permit applications for future construction hit an eight-year high.

Clinton was expected to detail efforts to expand health-care coverage for children during a scheduled visit to a Washington hospital. He also was expected to announce that South Carolina and Colorado have won federal approval to use some of the $24 billion in funding passed in last year's balanced-budget agreement for children's health, an unnamed official said.

Vice President Gore and Federal Emergency Management Director James Witt planned to view flood-damaged areas around San Francisco and in Rio Nido, Calif., where a possible mudslide has forced 150 people from their homes. Rainfall in the state is already nearing the total amount in 1983 - the last year El-Nio-driven storms struck there, the National Weather Service said. More rain was predicted to fall today and Saturday. Meanwhile, record rains and flooding in the Southeast and on the East Coast knocked out power from Florida to Virginia and were blamed for four deaths.

A judge in Amarillo, Texas, threw out key parts of a lawsuit against television star Oprah Winfrey by Texas cattlemen. US District Judge Mary Lou Robinson said the case would continue as a "common law business disparagement" suit, with the plaintiffs having to prove the defendant acted maliciously. The cattlemen claim Winfrey's 1996 show on so-called mad cow disease deliberately misled viewers into believing US beef was unsafe for consumption, which triggered a price drop.

A US spacecraft carrying the sounds of a human kiss and the best wishes of former president Carter became the most distant man-made object in the universe. Voyager 1, more than 6.5 billion miles from Earth, surpassed the distance of the old-er Pioneer 10 spacecraft. Voyager's signals take more than 9-1/2 years to reach home.

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The World

UN Secretary-General was expected to leave for Baghdad as soon as today for what analysts say may be the last chance for a peaceful solution to the Iraqi crisis. Annan planned to meet personally with President Saddam Hussein.

Sinn Fein leaders asked a judge to issue an injunction preventing the party's expulsion from negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland. Both the British and Republic of Ireland governments, cosponsors of the peace talks, say the political ally of the Irish Republican Army should be subjected at least to a temporary ban because of their shared view that the IRA had murdered two pro-British Protestants last week. Sinn Fein says the allegation is unfair because no detailed proof of IRA involvement was offered.

Political dissidents petitioned the government of China not to confirm Premier Li Peng as chairman of parliament. Li is expected to be elected to the post when parliament convenes March 5. He is closely linked to the military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing in 1989, which killed hundreds - and perhaps thousands - of protesters.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Cambodia's deposed copremier, will return from exile next month to help prepare his political party, Funcinpec, for national elections later this year, his spokesman said. Rana-riddh was ousted by his rival, Hun Sen, in a violent coup last July that resulted in the deaths of at least 43 aides and supporters. Hun Sen has insisted that Ranariddh must stand trial for his involvement with the outlawed Khmer Rouge guerrillas if he returns.

Hong Kong's first budget under Communist Chinese rule won praise from business leaders for its proposed corporate-tax cuts and projected surplus for the 1998-99 fiscal year. The long-awaited document also proposed relief for taxpayers, especially on mortgage-interest payments. Financial Secretary Donald Tsang said Asia's deep economic woes had made budget projections the most difficult in years.

Russia will close three of the eight plants used to produce its nuclear weapons, a senior government official announced. He said the move was being made because of severe funding shortages but did not specify which plants would be affected. Reportedly, President Yeltsin's government has budgeted only 30 percent of the money sought for such production.

Because of insufficient evidence, no charges will be brought against anyone who may have shared responsibility for Europe's worst peacetime shipping accident, Swedish prosecutors said. The ferry Estonia sank in the Baltic Sea in September 1994, killing 852 people. The accident was blamed on technical factors. The ship was built in Germany, insured in France, and was inspected for safety by Sweden's Maritime Administration.

A new Belgian national police force under the joint control of the justice and interior ministers was announced in response to public outrage over the country's 1996 child-murder scandal. Prime Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene said the force would interact with local police under the control of the country's mayors. Earlier, a parliamentary report said rivalry among police agencies caused the failure of a search for four missing girls even though their abductor was under surveillance at the time he held some of them captive. Their remains were later found on his property.


You'd think his dialect would have given him away, but from a military base in St. Mawgan, England, comes word that a British restaurant doorman named Mark Looney successfully posed as a US Navy officer for five days before being unmasked. "Lieutenant" Looney regaled listeners with stories of his exploits in Bosnia, until a real American officer noticed that medals on his uniform were plastic. No, he won't be court-martialled, but security at the base is being reviewed.

Then there's the Bulgarian businessman whose striking resemblance to Saddam Hussein prompted him to think he could be of help to Iraq's armed forces. Lyuben Kovachev volunteered - in a letter to the Iraqi embassy in Sofia - to join the defense against a US-led attack. The Iraqi leadership has called on civilians to volunteer for a self-defense force, but Kovachev's offer was declined.

Heard about the fellow in Great Falls, Mont., who was arrested for driving 104 m.p.h. in a 45-m.p.h. zone? His excuse: He was air-drying his pickup truck, which he'd just washed.

The Day's List

Passengers Pick Tampa As Nation's Best Airport

Airports in Tampa, Fla., and Detroit were rated the best and the worst in a survey of about 90,000 air passengers commissioned by 36 of the largest US airports. Their facilities were rated in eight categories, from speed of baggage delivery to quality of restaurants. Passengers were surveyed in the first six months of last year; results were obtained last week by The Detroit News. The poll's top-10 airports:

1. Tampa, Fla.

2. Pittsburgh

3. Charlotte, N.C.

4. Nashville, Tenn.

5. Denver

6. Phoenix

7. Las Vegas

8. Salt Lake City

9. Atlanta

10. Baltimore

- Associated Press

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