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News In Brief

The US

The nation's violent-crime rate fell almost 7 percent in 1997 to the lowest level since record keeping began 25 years ago, the Justice Department announced. In 1997, the last year for which full statistics are available, there were an estimated 39 violent crimes per thousand residents age 12 or older. That rate is down from the 42 per thousand the year before - and marks a 21 percent decline since 1993.

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Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York gave the Democrats' drive to avoid an impeachment trial in the Senate some new momentum by coming out in favor of censuring President Clinton. Moynihan told The New York Times that moves to oust Clinton threaten to "very readily destabilize the presidency." Moynihan was one of the first Democratic senators to publicly criticize Clinton's behavior.

Trans World Airlines reported far fewer cancellations after a US district judge ordered flight attendants in St. Louis to end a "sickout" and report back to work. In an apparent show of frustration over not having a new contract, dozens of union attendants had called in sick Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, snarling schedules at TWA's St. Louis hub. Officials canceled about 40 flights Saturday, down from more than 90 Friday.

Clinton said he would again support requiring states to lower the blood-alcohol-test limit for drunk driving to 0.08 percent from the more common 0.10 percent. Congress this year rejected his call for giving states three years to impose the lower limit or risk losing US funds they receive to maintain highways. At present, 16 states and the District of Columbia have the lower test limit. Clinton noted a Department of Health and Human Services estimate that in 1996, 28 percent - or 46.5 million - of the nation's 166 million drivers had at least once used drugs, alcohol, or both within two hours of getting behind the wheel. The figures are based on a 1996 survey of 12,000 drivers.

The latest effort to fly nonstop around the world in a hot-air balloon ended in failure as bad weather forced British tycoon Richard Branson, Chicago stock-options broker Steve Fossett, and Sweden's Per Lindstrand to abort a flight off Hawaii. Their balloon, which took off from Morocco Dec. 18, traveled about 8,200 miles - about half of its intended odyssey - before being abandoned on Christmas Day after they lost the high-altitude winds needed to complete the trip with their remaining fuel. The three adventurers were plucked from the sea by Coast Guard helicopters.

Utility crews were still restoring electrical service to thousands of consumers in the South over the weekend, after ice storms from Arkansas to South Carolina left hundreds of thousands without heat or lights Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. The worst outages were in Virginia, where officials said service would not be restored to some homes until early this week. Slick roads were blamed for at least six traffic fatalities in Alabama, six in Virginia, and two in South Carolina.

The World

Heading into a new confrontation with the US and Britain, Iraq declared it would fire at planes patroling over its territory. Iraqi Vice President Taha Yassin Ramadan said the government did not recognize "no-fly zones" patrolled by the allies' aircraft and vowed that "any violation" of airspace "will be met by Iraqi fire." Earlier, the government said it had fired at planes attacking a post in southern Iraq.

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Arab parliamentarians condemned this month's bombings of Iraq. Jordan called an emergency meeting of the Arab Parliamentary Union to rally support for Iraq amid widespread regional anger against the strikes. The APU said the bombings jeopardized regional peace and worsened economic hardships for Iraqis.

Two Khmer Rouge leaders were refusing to surrender to the Cambodian government until they were guaranteed they would not be tried for genocide overseas, a military source said. Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea - members of Pol Pot's ruling clique during his 1975-79 dictatorship - earlier announced they would give up their guerrilla struggle against the government. Prime Minister Hun Sen welcomed their "return to society," saying it would help national reconciliation. But officials of Human Rights Watch urged they be tried for genocide.

Serb forces were waging a four-day offensive against a rebel stronghold in northern Kosovo. It was the most serious fighting since an October truce between the Yugoslav government and Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who are fighting for an independent state. At least 10 ethnic Albanians were reported killed in the latest clashes, and hundreds of villagers fled the fighting.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's prospects for re-election improved considerably after a top contender dropped his bid for leadership of the Likud Party. Another challenger from the party announced his intention to unseat Netanyahu, but admitted his chances "looked slim." Israel's elections were moved forward to early 1999 after right-wingers condemned Netanyahu for agreeing to a peace deal with Palestinians. Meanwhile, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accused Israel of orchestrating early elections to "completely freeze" the peace accord.

Widening a government crackdown against dissidents, a Chinese court jailed labor activist Zhang Shanguang for 10 years - apparently because he'd given interviews to overseas media, a human rights group reported. Last week, three Chinese dissidents - who'd tried to form a democratic party - were charged with endangering state security and given 11-to-13-year sentences.

Heavy fighting in Angola's central highlands was hindering the search for survivors from a UN plane crash. The UN called on the Angolan government and UNITA rebels to observe a 48-hour ceasefire so rescuers could search for the aircraft and any survivors. Angola's state radio accused UNITA of gunning down the plane, which was carrying 10 UN peace monitors and a crew of four. UNITA said it was investigating the crash.

Business and Finance

A Japanese government report blamed official inaction and delay over the past decade for triggering the nation's deepest recession since World War II. The year-end report by the Economic Planning Agency detailed a public and private failure to quickly come to grips with the collapse of the speculative "bubble" economy of the 1980s.

Earlier, Japan's Financial Supervisory Agency said the nation's banks had about $426 billion in problem loans as of the end of the last fiscal year in March. That's about 12 percent more than the banks' own estimate of $379 billion. Bad loans have mushroomed amid Japan's recession as cash-strapped borrowers have increasing trouble repaying funds that were readily extended during the economic boom of the late 1980s. No breakdown of the loan burden was given for individual banks.

Reports of US retail sales have been good so far this holiday season, but not as strong as originally expected. Some industry analysts trimmed estimates for sales growth to 3 percent or 4 percent from the 4 to 5 percent projected as the season began.


'To allow these men to return to society as if one of the worst massacres of the 20th century never took place - that's unthinkable.' - Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, as Cambodia debates how to deal with two Khmer Rouge leaders.


Talk about a story that has legs! Perhaps you recall an item in this space Dec. 1 about John and Gert Knight. They're the Swansea, Mass., couple whose ornamental cement frog was swiped from their lawn and taken on a world tour by a prankster. For eight months, the Knights received letters on their frog's whereabouts, often accompanied by photos. One note said the frog would return by Christmas. It did. Four days early, a limousine pulled up at the Knight home, and the driver handed back the 15-pound amphibian - safe and sound.


Then there's young Joshua Saffle, who watched helplessly as an unknown man stole his bike from the yard of his Wichita, Kan., home. It had been last year's Christmas present. Rather than bewail the loss, he posted a sign saying: "You really hurt my feelings ... but I FORGIVE YOU!!!" Two days later, the sign was face-down on the lawn. And nearby was the bike, with new handlebars and other improvements.

The Day's List

Critics group releases its list of year's 10 top US movies

The Broadcast Film Critics Association unveiled last week the names of movies it will consider for its 1998 best-picture award. Although the group will not announce that winner until Jan. 25, it did name its picks for other awards. Sir Ian McKellen was named best actor for his role in "Gods and Monsters." Cate Blanchett received the best-actress nod for her work in "Elizabeth." Steven Spielberg was selected best director for "Saving Private Ryan," and the Italian-made "Life Is Beautiful" was named best foreign film. The contenders for best-picture, in alphabetical order:


"Gods and Monsters"

"Life Is Beautiful"

"Out of Sight"


"Saving Private Ryan"

"Shakespeare in Love"

"A Simple Plan"

"The Thin Red Line"

"The Truman Show"

- Reuters

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