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The US

President Clinton kicked off the most extensive African trip by an American head of state, promising US help in promoting trade and democracy on a continent still beset by civil war and poverty. Accompanied by his wife, Hillary, Clinton was met in Accra, the capital of Ghana, by President Jerry Rawlings - and by enthusiastic, sometimes unruly crowds. The Clintons were to spend less than a day in the West African nation before proceeding to Uganda, the next stop on their 12-day, six-nation tour.

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Clinton will visit China in late June and early July, five months earlier than first planned, the White House announced. The visit would be the first by a US president since the disruption in US-China ties following the massacre of civilians in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. President Jiang Zemin invited Clinton to Beijing when he visited the US in October.

The US Supreme Court let stand without comment a California term-limits law, barring legislators who reach a limit of three two-year terms in the state Assembly or two four-year terms in the Senate from running again. The court also:

- Let stand, on a 6-to-3 vote, an appeals-court ruling that declared unconstitutional an Ohio law banning so-called "partial-birth" abortions.

- Turned down a Tennessee State University professor's challenge to the use of prayers or moments of silence at graduation ceremonies.

- Rejected a former Federal Express pilot's challenge to the federal requirement that commercial pilots retire at age 60.

Raising cigarette taxes by $1.10 a pack over five years would cut teenage smoking 42 percent, Vice President Al Gore said. Cigarette prices now average about $1.80 a pack. The current federal tax is 34 cents a pack. Critics of the Clinton-Gore plan claim a price increase of $1.50 would create a new black market for untaxed cigarettes.

The judge in a Minnesota trial has sanctioned a British tobacco group, the St. Paul Pioneer Press said. The newspaper said Judge Kenneth Fitzpatrick ordered BAT Industries and its affiliate, British-American Tobacco Co., to disclose some 2,000 documents and pay plaintiffs' lawyers $148,000 for expenses incur-red in trying to get testimony from two former BAT employees. BAT lawyers said they would appeal the order.

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The Justice Department will challenge in court a proposed merger of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., a Reuters report from Washington said. The government had been concerned that the merger would cut or eliminate competition on many defense products.

The United Auto Workers Union approved a six-year contract with Caterpillar Inc., covering some 13,000 workers in Illinois, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Colorado, and Tennessee. The deal was approved by 54 percent of the voters, a union official said. It includes a moratorium on closing most plants, wage increases, improved retirement benefits, limits on overtime, and a wage scale that will allow the hiring of new workers at relatively low rates.

A surprise snowstorm dumped up to a foot of snow on the Northeast, delaying hundreds of flights. New Jersey and New York received their biggest snowfall of a remarkably mild season. Five inches fell in New York City, where LaGuardia Airport was closed for about five hours. In New England, up to seven inches of snow fell in northern Connecticut, Massachusetts, and southern New Hampshire.

German media conglomerate Bertelsmann AG said it will buy Random House, the largest US book publisher. Bertelsmann already owns Bantam Doubleday Dell, and has been seeking to expand its English-language business. A combined publishing firm will reportedly retain the Random House name. The purchase price was not disclosed.

The World

Russian Communists hailed the dismissal of President Yeltsin's entire government, calling the move long overdue. Yeltsin blamed his old Cabinet for wasting time on political infighting and said a new one was needed to ensure the success of economic reforms. Most ministers were ordered to continue on a temporary basis until their replacements are named. Outgoing Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin also was ordered to begin preparations for the 2000 presidential election.

Sinn Fein and its rival Protestant parties are under pressure from Britain and the Irish Republic, sponsors of the talks, to reach an accord by Easter - 20 days away. Sinn Fein was suspended last month as punishment for the murders of two pro-British loyalists blamed on the IRA.

The first political compromise in Kosovo was reached between Albanian and Serb leaders after the violent crackdown earlier this month that killed at least 80 people. Representatives of both sides signed an agreement that is to allow Albanian students back into state-run high schools and universities in June, after an absence of seven years. Despite the breakthrough, Albanians continued to boycott discussions with a Serb government team in the capital, Pristina, on the future of the province.

Prices rose quickly on the futures market as other oil producers vowed to join Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Mexico in reducing supplies. Algeria, Libya, Kuwait, Iran, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates said they would lower production. In early trading, the price per barrel surged by $1.75 in London, $1.58 in Singapore, and $1.35 in New York. But analysts said oil nations might find it difficult to follow through with promised cuts once the price stabilized at higher levels.

A protest over the effects of inflation on education loans and lowered admission requirements at Kenya's Nairobi University turned violent. Police fired tear gas and, reportedly, live ammunition to disperse thousands of students, but were still struggling to maintain control five hours later. Two vehicles were set on fire, one of them from the state-owned broadcasting company, and a reporter and a photographer were beaten. There was no immediate word on other injuries or arrests.

"A hostile local population" drove UN investigators away from a town in Congo (formerly Zaire) - but not before they unearthed evidence of a mass grave, their leader said. The forces of self-proclaimed President Laurent Kabila are accused of killing thousands of Rwandan Hutu refugees in the area during the rebellion that brought him to power last May. Kabila's regime stalled for months before allowing forensic and human-rights investigators to look into alleged atrocities. The probe is under a May 1 deadline to complete its work.

Fellow Cuban refugees at a detention center in the Bahamas protested bitterly as it appeared four newly arrived baseball stars might be given special treatment. The players and a coach were transferred to the camp outside Nassau after being picked up by a fishing boat - joining more than a hundred other Cubans who fled the Communist island months earlier. Their first visitor was a Miami-based agent who works to secure contracts with major league teams. Another baseball star, Orlando Hernandez, was granted asylum by the US Dec. 31, five days after fleeing Cuba.


"We are all equal - not just the sports stars!"

- Unidentified Cuban refugee at a detention camp in the Bahamas, protesting the appearance of special treatment for four newly arrived countrymen, all baseball players.

It has been called a bad-boy sport with a culture of rebellion against authority. But snowboarding's march to respectability, which took a giant step at the recent Olympic Winter Games, may be about to take another. From the Boy Scouts of America comes word that a committee is considering whether snowboarding should be given merit-badge status, alongside such activities as public speaking and coin collecting. The proposal is expected to slide right on through.

If you're a devotee of those Danish butter cookies that supermarkets sell in colorful, round tin cans, you'll be pleased to know that supplies should continue uninterrupted. By a 2-to-1 vote, the International Trade Commission in Washington crumbled the argument of US cookie bakers that the imports were "materially injuring" their business.

The Day's List

US Blacks Touring Africa With President Clinton

The president's 12-day, six-nation Africa tour is assuming biblical significance to some African-Americans. The Rev. Jesse Jackson compares it to the story of Joseph: "We who were taken or sold into slavery have become the Josephs of this situation; we go back to help both America and the African family." The American blacks accompanying Clinton:

Dennis Archer, mayor of Detroit

US Rep. John Conyers (D) of Michigan

Alexis Herman, secretary of Labor

The Rev. Jesse Jackson

The Rev. Fred Calhoun James, bishop, African Methodist Episcopal Church

Robert Johnson, president, Black Entertainment Television

Kweisi Mfume, president, NAACP

US Rep. Charles Rangel (D) of New York

Rodney Slater, secretary of Transportation

Lottie Shackelford, executive vice president, Global USA

US Rep. Maxine Waters (D) of California

- Associated Press

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