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News In Brief

The US

Attorney General Janet Reno is to tell a special court today whether she is ordering an independent-counsel investigation of President Clinton over Democratic campaign financing during the 1996 election. Reno had received strong recommendations from her advisers against ordering an independent inquiry, officials said.

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The House Judiciary Committee asked the White House to justify its request for three or four days to defend Clinton at impeachment hearings this week. The committee had set just one day for White House lawyers to present their case before taking its expected vote Friday on articles of impeachment. The White House said Clinton's attorneys would argue that he did nothing that warrants impeachment and that independent counsel Kenneth Starr was overzealous in his investigation.

Endeavour's astronauts were poised to connect the first US piece of the international space

station with a Russian module already in orbit. In preparation for the rendezvous, the astronauts moved the 25,000-pound Unity chamber to a docking ring.

James P. Hoffa became the apparent winner of the presidency of the Teamsters Union 41 years after his father was elected to the same post. Rival candidate Tom Leedham conceded that early returns showed he could not win.

Former US Sen. Bill Bradley (D) of New Jersey became the first major politician to take a formal step toward a possible White House run in 2000. Bradley, who's also in the Basketball Hall of Fame, said he was filing a "statement of organization" with the Federal Election Commission, but was not yet ready to declare his candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination.

The US and Canada agreed to lower trade barriers for grain and livestock - and to address longstanding allegations that the Canadians are dumping wheat onto US markets. The accord is the result of two months of talks that started after several state governors slowed border traffic by stepping up inspections of Canadian trucks. The governors praised the agreement, but said more needs to be done.

CIA officials who passed along to a satellite contractor sensitive data about a Senate inquiry are being investigated by the Justice Department, officials said. The inquiry will try to clarify whether the information compromised a Senate Intelligence Committee investigation into allegations that Hughes Electronics and other firms violated US export laws by sharing restricted technology with China as part of commercial-satellite export deals.

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The chairman of the commission trying to solve the government's Y2K computer challenge said he's so confident that the turn of the century won't cause major problems that he's booked an airplane flight for Dec. 31, 1999. John Koskinen, chairman of president's Year 2000 Commission, said 61 percent of US "mission critical systems" are already fixed for the Y2K problem - and that he'll fly to New York Friday evening, Dec. 31, 1999, and catch the first flight back to Washington Saturday morning.

The World

The much-publicized weekend meeting between UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was "merely" a courtesy call that did nothing to hasten the handover of two suspects in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, the Tripoli government said. Annan left the session saying he hoped for "good news" soon on the handover of intelligence agents accused of the bombing, which killed 270 people 10 years ago next weekend. The US and Britain seek to put the men on trial. But a Libyan official called the 1988 blast an "accident" and said any handover would require unspecified "arrangements."

Saying, "We ask permission to rejoin society," the last known remnants of the communist Khmer Rouge rebel movement formally surrendered to the government of Cambodia. The nationally televised move, which Army troops were never able to achieve on the ground, brought an end to the insurgency that began in 1967 and ultimately was blamed for the deaths of almost 2 million people. It followed by one day the readmission of Cambodia to the UN General Assembly.

Voting in higher-than-expected numbers in key local and state elections, Nigerians appeared to favor a coalition of political elements once opposed to the late dictator Sani Abacha. The Peoples' Democratic Party of traditional chiefs, businessmen, academicians, and retired Army commanders, was ahead of rival parties in early returns. The elections were the first step in interim President Abdulsalam Abubakar's program to restore democracy. National elections for a new head of state are scheduled for Feb. 15.

The hand of Taiwan President Lee Teng Hui was strengthened in negotiating the reunification of the island with mainland China after weekend elections dominated by his Nationalist Party. The Nationalists won 123 of the 225 seats in parliament and ousted the opposition mayor of Taipei, the capital. Analysts said the outcome means Lee can comfortably steer a middle course between critics who want aggressive moves toward reunification and those who insist on independence.

There was silence from Afghan-istan's Taliban movement on two published reports relating to the status of its "guest," suspected terrorism-financier Osama bin Laden. The Friday Times in neighboring Pakistan said four agents hired to assassinate bin Laden were intercepted and killed only a mile from his base. The report said the Taliban "are convinced that the effort was financed" by the US, which launched cruise missiles in August at a training camp he allegedly used. A London newspaper said bin Laden was ready to leave Afghanistan for refuge in Chechnya.

Led by current and former winners of the Nobel Peace Prize, international celebrities gathered in Paris for a week of events marking the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The document was signed there Dec. 10, 1948. Its pronouncement that "all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights" is considered both the most-quoted and most-ignored of modern times.

Business and Finance

Crude oil prices have fallen to the lowest annual average in 22 years - $13.60 a barrel - and US motorists are reaping the benefits. On a trip last week from Massachusetts to Florida, a Monitor editor paid these prices for unleaded regular gasoline: Saugus, Mass., 95.9 cents; Fort Lee, N.J., 92.9; Arlington, Va., 95.9; Kenly, N.C., 89.9; Richmond Hill, Ga., 75.9; St. Augustine, Fla., 98.9. Low state taxes in Georgia account for the bargain prices there.

Coping with the collapse in crude-oil prices is expected to dominate today's summit of Persian Gulf Arab states in Abu Dhabi. The region's oil revenues this year - $55 billion - are 31 percent below those of 1997, causing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates to slash spending by up to 35 percent. Last month, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries couldn't agree on any moves to halt the price decline.

After issuing assurances for weeks that its goal of 8 percent economic growth for 1998 would be met, the Chinese government announced it would lower interest rates once again. The new cuts - averaging 0.5 percent - are the third in 14 months and take effect today. Through September, China's economy struggled to reach 7.2 percent growth.


'Pinochet's arrest makes a very nice 50th anniversary present.' - Human Rights Watch director Kenneth Roth, on the convergence of ex-Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's possible extradition from Britain to Spain and anniversary ceremonies for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


Some employers keep track of their workers' movements via fixed video cameras. Others electronically monitor how much their staffers use the Internet when they're supposed to be busy elsewhere. They're pikers compared with the British waste-management company, Onyx, which has invested $100,000 in the satellite-based Global Positioning System. Among its capabilities: peering down at Onyx's trash collectors in the town of Teignmouth - to make sure they don't spend too much time hanging out at a favorite cafe. The company says it only wants to provide improved service. But, rising to defend the dustmen, a town councillor complained: "It sounds as if the days of Big Brother have arrived at last."


A Portland, Ore., bus driver didn't have to go far to find a cop when she was in a minor accident. She'd tried to cross an intersection as the traffic light turned yellow and collided with police Chief Charles Moore's car. The outcome: "rib damage" - from her fellow drivers - and a $170 fine.

The Day's List

Apple, Dell rated tops in new survey of computer owners

A recent reader poll conducted by Consumer Reports magazine found 3 out of 4 respondents highly satisfied with their computers, but only half of them highly satisfied with the technical support offered by computer manufacturers. In addition to service, questionnaires returned by 18,000 readers covered price, performance, and reliability of machines with either a Pentium or Power PC processor bought between 1995 and 1998. A score of 100 indicated respondents were completely satisfied; 80 meant very satisfied. The readers' rating of their satisfaction with various brands:

Apple 86%

Dell 86

Micron 85

Gateway 2000 84

IBM 81

Hewlett-Packard 79

Compaq 76

Acer 73

Packard Bell 71

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