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The US

Some House Republicans reacted with dismay to President Clinton's signed responses to 81 questions put to him by the Judiciary Committee. They said his answers provided little information to help the panel decide whether he had committed perjury, obstruction of justice, or abused the powers of his office. On Tuesday, the committee will hear from legal experts and convicted perjurers on the consequences of lying under oath. The panel's chairman, Henry Hyde (R) of Illinois, has invited the president or his lawyers to present a defense one week later. The White House had not yet responded.

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Merger talks between Exxon and Mobil are the clearest sign yet that the lowest world oil prices since the early 1970s are shaking up the entire industry, analysts said. The two largest US oil firms acknowledged late last week that they were discussing a "possible combination transaction." If a merger takes place, the new company would surpass Royal Dutch/Shell to become the world's biggest oil firm.

Clinton is scheduled to meet at the White House today with Yasser Arafat, who will also take part in discussions at the World Bank, Commerce Department, and State Department while in the US. Clinton is to be in Gaza mid-month to address the Palestinian National Council and oversee a reaffirmation of its revocation of clauses in the Palestine Liberation Organization charter that call for Israel's destruction, a critical element of the Mideast peace accord negotiated last month in Maryland. Clinton, who will also visit Israel and the West Bank, is scheduled to depart Washington Dec. 12 and return Dec. 15.

The US will try to mobilize financial support for Middle East peace today at a conference

of donors to the Palestinian economy. Representatives of at least 45 countries are to gather at the State Department in a reprise of a gathering held in Washington in October 1993. The US reportedly expects to raise pledges of more than $2 billion over five years. The value of pledges from the 1993 conference started at $2.3 billion and rose over time to $4 billion. Donors eventually gave $2.1 billion.

Violent weather has cost the world a record $89 billion this year, more money than was lost from weather-related disasters in all of the 1980s, according to preliminary estimates released by the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research group, and Munich Re, the world's largest reinsurer. They indicate that total losses from storms, floods, droughts, and fires for the first 11 months of the year were 48 percent higher than the previous one-year record of more than $60 billion in 1996. The report blames a combination of human-triggered deforestation and general climate change for some of the year's severest disasters.

Critics and supporters of gun control were eager to monitor the launch today of Phase 2 of the 1993 Brady law, during which the FBI will try to provide "instant" background checks for people trying to buy handguns. The new system, which is supposed to operate much like credit-card approvals, replaces a five-day waiting period. It is hoped that a new federal database in Clarksburg, W.Va., can screen would-be buyers for felony convictions, domestic-violence convictions, restraining orders, and other offenses - but FBI officials said a number of financial and technological problems were still unresolved.

The World

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Rebels trying to topple self-declared Congo President Laurent Kabila will ignore a cease-fire agreement reached in their absence, their leader said. Wamba dia Wamba of the Congolese Rally for Democracy said his forces would continue the four-month-old insurgency because their front-line positions were under constant threat of attack. The truce was announced in Paris by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and French President Jacques Chirac, who said it had the support of Kabila as well as Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Rwanda, each of which has troops supporting one of the two sides. The deal is to be signed a week from today. The rebels were not invited to the Paris meeting because Kabila refuses to negotiate with them.

India's resurgent opposition Congress Party will not rush to seek a vote of no-confidence in Prime Minister Atal Bijari Vajpayee's coalition government, its new leader said. Under Sonia Gandhi, the Congress won three major provincial elections last week. The vote was the first big test for Vajpayee's Janata Party (BJP) since it assumed power earlier this year. Mrs. Gandhi said her party would wait for the BJP government to collapse on its own rather than trying to hasten its ouster when Parliament resumes today.

Published reports that Britain and Chile had agreed to a deal that would free former dictator Augusto Pinochet from custody in London were denied by both governments. Two newspapers said they'd learned that Chile would put Pinochet on trial once he returned. Britain's highest court ruled last week that Pinochet was not immune from prosecution, reopening the prospect that he could be extradited to Spain, which wants to try him for alleged crimes against its nationals during his 17 years in power. He was arrested in London Oct. 17 after undergoing medical treatment.

Turkey's powerful armed forces get their chance today to influence the choice of a new prime minister when their commanders meet with President Suleyman Demirel. He must name a successor to caretaker Mesut Yilmaz, whose government lost a vote of no-confidence in parliament last week. The choice is vital because of the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism and because of Turkey's uphill fight to win extradition from Italy of exiled Kurdish rebel chief Abdullah Ocalan.

Separatist rebels in Kosovo are signaling new flexibility in their demand for independence, broadcasts from Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital, said. Citing Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) spokesman Adem Demaci, the reports said armed Albanians there were ready to "temporarily" yield their insistence on sovereignty for the province. The KLA now accepts that "the final solution is reached step by step," Demaci was quoted as saying. But in an interview with an ethnic Albanian newspaper in Pristina, Kosovo's capital, he also said the goal of independence was not being renounced.

An already liberal policy on narcotics would be relaxed even further under a referendum being decided by voters in Switzerland yesterday. The measure would allow anyone 18 or older - after consultation with a physician - to buy such drugs as heroin and marijuana from pharmacies and state-run outlets. Late opinion polls indicated the referendum would fail by as much as a 3-to-1 margin. But analysts said its supporters hoped for at least a 35 percent "yes" vote that would persuade legislators to ease drug laws.

Business and Finance

US financial-services giant GE Capital Corp. is in negotiations to acquire a failed affiliate of the recently nationalized Long-Term Credit Bank of Japan, Tokyo's respected Nihon Keizai business daily reported. Connecticut-based GE Capital is considering buying Japan Leasing Corp. for about $7.4 billion - and the deal, if accomplished, would be the most expensive Japanese-company acquisition yet, the newspaper said.

Britain's General Electric Co. and France's Alcatel group were said to be considering a $49.68 billion merger that would create one of Europe's 20 largest companies, the Sunday (London) Times reported. Such a merger would bring General Electric's core Marconi defense-electronics arm closer to Thomson-CSF, a French group in which Alcatel has a 16 percent stake, the Times said. General Electric officials were not available for comment on the report.


'Deals that exclude us won't be effective - because they won't be implemented.'

- Congo rebel leader Wamba dia Wamba, whose forces weren't represented at UN-led meetings in Paris that produced a cease-fire agreement in the African country's four-month-old civil war.


Maine has red lobsters on its license plates and red lobsters coming out of its cooking pots. It does not, however, have any Red Lobsters on its soil. Which makes it the only one of the "Lower 48" states with that distinction. The nation's largest seafood chain has closed its last two restaurants there, citing low profitability potential. But then, lobster is available all over Maine in eateries ranging from five-star to seaside shacks, so competition was stiff. Ironically, some of the state's 46 million-pound-a-year harvest is sold to the chain.


If you've been receiving Christmas cards from Rabobank, one of the Netherlands' top financial institutions, don't look for one this year. It has joined the ranks of corporate senders deciding that the practice has become "totally impersonal." The bank doesn't want to be thought of as cheap, but the move will save $530,000.

The Day's List

Poll shows Americans feel crime is declining - locally

Although a slim majority still says crime is up nationally, a new USA Today/CNN/Gallup survey finds 48 percent of Americans believe there is less crime in their immediate areas than there was a year ago. That compares with 31 percent who think there's more. It's almost exactly the reverse of what respondents said in a similar national poll last year - and it's the first time in the 10 times Gallup has inquired over the past 26 years that a majority has found crime declining locally. Results of polling in the 10 years when this question was asked: "Is there more or less crime in your area than there was a year ago?" Year More Less

1998 31% 48%

1997 46% 32%

1996 46% 24%

1992 54% 19%

1990 51% 18%

1989 53% 18%

1983 47% 21%

1981 37% 17%

1977 54% 8%

1975 50% 12%

1972 51% 10%

- USA Today

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