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Minority admissions to key campuses of the University of California plunged more than 54 percent this year, the first since the state scrapped affirmative action, official figures showed. Next year's freshman class will be the first affected by a 1995 Board of Regents decision and a 1996 state law that abolished the use of race, ethnicity, and gender in deciding which students to accept.

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Congressional Democrats urged Republicans to help force a vote on campaign-finance reform. They were pinning their hopes to a parliamentary tool that would automatically schedule votes on proposals favored by minority Democrats and certain Republican dissidents. But the maneuver requires a House majority - 218 signatures - on a "discharge petition." More than 180 Democrats and six Republicans had reportedly joined the effort.

The General Accounting Office of Congress criticized the Clinton administration after the US government failed the first audit of all its operations. The GAO said hundreds of billions of dollars worth of assets could not be accounted for. It cited "problems with fundamental bookkeeping, incomplete documentation, and weak internal controls." The audit was required as part of a 1994 law designed to apply more private-sector practices to public-sector operations.

The Senate Finance Committee voted for sweeping changes at the Internal Revenue Service. The panel gave unanimous approval to a bill that would create an IRS oversight board and include such taxpayer-relief measures as a provision designed to prevent one spouse from being saddled with the tax liabilities of the other. The House had already approved its own version of IRS reform.

The House approved a plan to take funds from Democratic-backed domestic programs to pay for disaster relief and military operations in Bosnia and Iraq. The proposal would make sizable cuts in low-income housing, bilingual education, and other areas. The White House has said the president would veto the measure if it reached his desk.

Growth in the manufacturing sector expanded at a sharp clip in March, but analysts said this did not signal a rekindling of inflation. The National Association of Purchasing Management said its index of business activity surged to 54.8 last month, from 53.3 in February. Economists expected the March figure to be unchanged or slightly lower.

Administration officials said they found slave-labor conditions in the Northern Mariana Islands, a US territory. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt urged the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to apply immigration and wage rules to the territory, where he said recruiters were luring people from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, and other nations with promises of US citizenship and high wages - then forcing them into slave labor and prostitution.

The Whitewater inquiry had cost $35 million by the end of September, an audit of the independent counsel's expenses showed. Independent counsel Kenneth Starr had spent more than $29 million, and his predecessor, Robert Fisk, about $6 million in their four-year investigation of President Clinton's land dealings. Starr appears on track to surpass independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, who spent $40 million on the Iran-Contra inquiry.

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House and Senate Democrats outlined a bill that would regulate managed health care and enact a "patients' bill of rights" advocated by Clinton. The measure assures access to specialists, gives patients more data about health plans, and sets up grievance procedures.

Former US Rep. Bella Abzug, who died in New York, was a colorful pioneer in the contemporary feminist movement. A liberal Democrat, she served in Congress from 1971 to 1977.


A final framework for negotiations on the future of Northern Ireland was expected to be put before Protestant and Catholic leaders as soon as tomorrow by US mediator George Mitchell. The two sides are under growing pressure to come up with a settlement to the sectarian divide by next Thursday's deadline. Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Blair and his Republic of Ireland counterpart, Bertie Ahearn, were shuttling between talks with each other and with leaders of the north's largest political factions, who disagree on how two power-sharing councils would work.

The Islamic militant group Hamas vowed swift revenge for what it said was the shooting death of suspected bomber Muhyideen al-Sharif by Israel. His remains were found next to a car that exploded on the West Bank last weekend. The assassination in 1996 of another Hamas bombing suspect, Yahya Ayash, was followed by a wave of suicide attacks against Israeli targets. Israel denied having any hand in Sharif's death. Above, the victim's brother and sister react to the Israeli claim.

Russian President Yeltsin granted the appeal of parliament and invited key legislators to a meeting with Prime Minister-designate Sergei Kiriyenko. His appointment is controversial because, Communists say, he lacks experience. They seek concessions from Yeltsin on economic policy and other Cabinet nominations before voting to confirm Kiriyenko. In a nonbinding resolution, parliament has asked Yeltsin to withdraw Kiriyenko's nomination.

As vote-counting neared an end in Ukraine, Communists appeared to have won 121 of the 450 seats in parliament. Victories by other leftist parties likely to form a coalition with the Communists would push the total to 173 seats - well short of the 226 needed for a majority and too few to block economic reforms pursued by President Leonid Kuchma.

Supporters and opponents of deposed Cambodian co-Premier Norodom Ranariddh clashed violently in the streets of Phnom Penh as he weighed whether to commit his party to participation in the July 26 national election. Ranariddh, who returned from exile earlier this week, said the political climate would make it difficult for him to campaign freely, with fair access to the news media.

Australia moved a step closer to possible early national elections as Parliament took up a controversial bill on Aboriginal rights. The measure would guarantee Aborigines access to federal land now leased by farmers but would limit their rights to claim such access. The Senate defeated the bill last year, and Prime Minister John Howard has threatened to call an election as soon as July if it loses a second time.

In a move considered certain to stir new anger on both sides of the border, a Mexican court cleared confessed killer Alfonso Gonzalez Sanchez of the murder of a US businessman. He was rearrested last month after originally being freed for the Dec. 15 death of Peter Zarate, although the judge in the case was suspended for procedural errors. In the latest ruling, a second judge rejected the evidence used against Gonzalez.

The former Angolan rebel movement UNITA failed to meet a UN deadline to relocate from its highlands stronghold to the capital, Luanda. The UN is overseeing the implementation of a 1994 peace accord between the government and UNITA to end two decades of civil war. Thousands of UNITA fighters have been demobiliz-ed, but the government has accused ex-rebels of several random attacks in recent weeks.

Correction: One line in the list on this page yesterday was in error. It should have noted that Boris Becker was first ranked as the No. 1 men's tennis professional in 1991, instead of 1998.


Birds of a feather flock together, it's said. True, especially in Salem, Va. - even when the birds aren't real. Evans and Jennifer Halstead got an unsigned letter in the mail calling their property "a disgrace" and urging them to "try cleaning it up." They responded by planting two pink plastic flamingos in the front yard to show what they thought of the gesture. Word spread, and now lawns all along their street are bristling with the spindly legged ornaments in a show of solidarity. Said one indignant neighbor: "I'll keep putting more out until somebody apologizes."

Maybe the anonymous letter-writer should move to Wilson, N.C. City councillors there have voted to ban residents from dragging upholstered furniture and refrigerators out onto the front porch or the lawn. Police won't be assigned to patrol for offenders. But violators will be prosecuted once they've been turned in by eagle-eyed neigbors.

Most Powerful People in Hollywood: Magazine List

Premiere magazine has unveiled its annual ranking of the most powerful players in Tinseltown. Michael Eisner now ranks No. 1, after trailing Rupert Murdoch last year, and "Titanic" director-producer James Cameron has moved up from the 30th spot to No. 9. The magazine's top 10:

1. Michael Eisner, chairman and CEO, Walt Disney Co.

2. Rupert Murdoch, media mogul

3. Sumner Redstone, chairman and CEO, Viacom

4. Steven Spielberg, director, cofounder of DreamWorks

5. Edgar Bronfman Jr., chairman, Seagram Co.

6. Tom Cruise, actor

7. Joe Roth, Walt Disney Co. executive

8. Robert Daly and Terry Semel, co-chairmen, Warner Brothers

9. James Cameron, writer/director/producer

10. Peter Chernin and Bill Mechanic, chairman of Twentieth Century Fox and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment, respectively

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