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News In Brief

The US

Minnesota became the fourth state to settle with the tobacco industry over costs of treating illnesses said to be smoking-related. Cigarette companies settled for $6.6 billion, just as the case was about to go to a jury. They also agreed, among other things, to ban marketing to minors, to stop industry-paid placement of tobacco products in movies, and to restrict sales of promotional merchandise.

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The unemployment rate tumbled to a low not seen in almost three decades and job creation picked up last month, the Labor Department said. The jobless rate fell to 4.3 percent in April - the lowest since 4.2 percent in February 1970. Job growth outside the farm sector grew by a brisk 262,000 in April, beating economists' expectations and rebounding from a 24,000 drop in March.

Webster Hubbell pleaded not guilty to tax-evasion charges brought by Whitewater prosecutors. Hubbell's wife, Suzanna; attorney Charles Owen; and accountant Michael Schaufele also entered not-guilty pleas. A defense lawyer said they would seek dismissal of the indictment on grounds that it falls outside the special prosecutor's jurisdiction.

Regulators bowed to a torrent of public protest and said US organic-food standards will not permit irradiation, genetic engineering, or use of sewage sludge as fertilizer. The Agriculture Department said it would start over again in drafting standards for a fast-growing industry with sales expected to reach $4 billion this year.

Legislation to reform the Internal Revenue Service won unanimous Senate approval. It would give taxpayers new rights, shifting the burden of proof to the IRS in certain court cases. It also would provide new protections for divorced people who face collection actions due to mistakes of former spouses. IRS penalties and interest would be suspended in some circumstances, and a new oversight board would be given broad authority. The House passed a similar measure last year.

The 1998 allotment of visas for highly skilled foreigners is already exhausted, the Immigration and Naturalization Service said. A freeze on new applications would normally continue until Oct. 1, the start of the next fiscal year. But Congress is moving swiftly to pass legislation that would raise the ceiling both for this year and for the next several years. Microsoft, Intel, Netscape, and other high-tech companies have been lobbying Congress to expand the H-1B visa program.

The remains of a Vietnam veteran buried in the Tomb of the Unknowns were ordered exhumed to settle questions about whether they can be identified. The family of former Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Blassie believes the remains may be his. Methods of identification have improved since 1984, when the Vietnam veteran was interred, the Defense Department said.

House GOP leaders agreed to set up a special working group to confer weekly and address concerns of Christian conservatives. House Speaker Newt Gingrich led a delegation of senior Republicans who met with conservatives who had expressed unhappiness with the lawmakers' record on abortion and certain other social issues.

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Utah unveiled a proposed land swap with the federal government that would safeguard thousands of acres of red-rock canyons currently owned by the state's schools. The deal, which includes a $50 million cash payment to the schools from the US Treasury, would settle an acrimonious issue of school trust lands locked within national forests, parks, monuments, and an Indian reservation.

The World

Angry at being portrayed as an obstacle to peace, Israeli leader Netanyahu refused to attend today's planned summit in Washington with Palestinian Authority President Arafat. Netanyahu met three times over the weekend in Jerusalem with special US envoy Dennis Ross, but was not persuaded to accept a proposed 13 percent Israeli troop pullback from the West Bank. Netanyahu is due in Washington Wednesday for another meeting and is expected to use the visit for a media offensive, analysts said.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams challenged the Irish Republican Army to embrace the new compromise peace plan for Northern Ireland. He presented 1,000 IRA grass-roots supporters with two motions to consider at a conference in Dublin: one calling on them to amend the movement's "constitutional ban" on participating in any Northern Ireland government; the other to campaign actively for a "yes" vote on the accord in referenda that are scheduled for both the divided province and the Irish Republic May 22.

Senior US envoys Richard Holbrooke and Robert Gelbard failed to persuade Yugoslav President Milosevic to accept outside mediation in talks with ethnic Albanians on the political future of Kosovo province. They were to meet next with Albanian separatist leader Ibrahim Rugova after Milosevic rebuffed them despite imminent new sanctions because of his refusal to negotiate. More talks with Milosevic were expected today.

Two senior Iraqi leaders began a new diplomatic offensive aimed at rallying support for the lifting of UN economic sanctions. Foreign Minister Mohammed al-Sahaf was to meet with King Hussein of Jordan and then tour African capitals. Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz announced visits to France, Belgium, and Italy. The sanctions were extended last month after UN inspections chief Richard Butler said virtually no progress had been made in dismantling Iraq's strategic-weapons arsenal. Last week, Iraq warned of "grave consequences" if sanctions were not stopped quickly.

Despite the opposition of President Fidel Ramos and the Roman Catholic Church, opposition party candidate Joseph Estrada is expected to win today's national election in the Philippines. Almost 150,000 soldiers and police have been deployed to keep voting peaceful.

Sectarian tensions boiled over in Pakistan as hundreds of Muslim extremists burned a Christian neighborhood during funeral services for a Roman Catholic bishop. Police in the city of Faisalabad - after being summoned to disperse the marauders - also used tear gas against angry Christians who accused them of standing by until much of the damage was done. The incident was triggered by the death of the Rev. John Joseph, who took his own life in protest at the death sentence of a parishioner convicted for insulting Islam.

Italy's most senior political leaders joined thousands of survivors at memorial services for 95 people killed in last week's mudslides. Much of the damage in the town of Sarno is attributed to illegal building on mountain slopes that had been made unstable by the clearing of trees for firewood and construction. But the government also is blamed for not issuing adequate warning of the landslide danger as days of heavy rain fell on a three-province region south of Naples.

Sunny skies across Hungary contributed to a heavy voter turnout in the first round of elections for control of parliament. Analysts said the outcome would be close, but predicted that despite his dull image and leadership style, Premier Gulya Horn of the Socialist Party would retain power for another four years.

In Paraguay, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere, voters were choosing only their second civilian president in 51 years. Campaigning ended peacefully, and international monitors expect-ed the voting to be free and fair.


" Whoever thinks it's galloping ahead is mistaken."

- Israeli President Ezer Weizman, on the Middle East peace process after Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to attend a three-way summit in Washington today with the US and the Palestinians.

From Norway: yet another example of life imitating art. Some Oslo residents griped because so little mail was finding its way to them. Postal officials investigated and found it was because the letter carrier on their route was lazy. In his basement were 800 pounds of unopened envelopes. As this was happening, Norway's latest film export - "Junk Mail" - reached theaters in the US. Its subject: a postman who throws away mail he doesn't feel like delivering.

True story: As a bribery trial wound down in India last week, a law clerk rose to hear the verdict against him. He'd been caught red-handed - by a judge, no less - slipping money to another court officer in a traffic-accident compensation case. In the end, he walked because the court ruled he'd acted as an agent for his boss. The amount of the bribe: five rupees (12 cents US). The trial lasted nine years. And you thought the wheels of justice turned slowly in this country!

The Day's List

What the US's Best-Paid Corporate Bosses Earn

Hard as it may seem to believe, in Forbes magazine's annual tally of the nation's most richly rewarded chief executives, Bill Gates isn't even in the top 700. The Microsoft chief ranks 749th. Compensation for 1997 was determined by adding salary, bonus, stock options, and such benefits as life insurance premiums. The magazine's top10, their companies, and how much they received (in millions):

1. Sanford Weill Travelers Group $228

2. Stephen Hilbert, Conseco 125

3. Richard Scrushy Healthsouth 107

4. Ray Irani Occidental Petroleum 105

5. Lawrence Bossid Allied Signal 58

6. Andrew Grove, Intel 53

7. Charles McCall, HBO 52

8. Robert Shapiro Monsanto 52

9. Philip Purcell, Morgan Stanley, Dean Witter 48

10. Henry Silverman, Cendant 44

- Reuters

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