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News In Brief

The US

Snow, wind, rain, and fog delayed thousands of travelers in the Northwest. In northern California, a blanket of fog grounded dozens of flights at San Francisco and San Jose airports. In Washington, thousands of motorists were forced to turn around after heavy snow closed two key passes in the Cascades. And heavy rains in the western part of the state raised the risk of flooding. In western Oregon, driving rain and melted snow triggered floods and mudslides, blocking roads and stranding some residents.

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A federal judge, clearing the way for lethal injections of two Texas inmates, harshly criticized clemency procedures in the state, which leads the nation in executions. The inmates had sought and received stays of execution based on claims that the Texas clemency process is unconstitutional because the parole board votes in secrecy. In lifting the stays, US district Judge Sam Sparks said state courts should decide the issue - but that giving reasons for parole-board decisions and holding hearings to allow petitioners and others to present evidence would not harm the process.

A Missouri student's free-speech rights were violated when he was suspended for criticizing his high school on the Internet, a US district judge ruled. In February, Brandon Beussink set up an Internet home page, criticizing his school's official Web site and urging visitors to send e-mail to school officials saying the school site was bad. In a preliminary injunction, the judge prohibited Woodland School District in Marble Hill from punishing Beussink or restricting his use of the Internet. The case is one of the first of its kind to reach the courts, said an official of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit.

This will be the last New Year's Eve for the aluminum ball that ushers in the new year at Times Square, officials in New York said. A new crystal ball is to be made by Waterford in Ireland for next December's minute-long descent during the millennial celebration. The current ball - boasting 12,000 rhinestones - is six feet in diameter, and is illuminated by a 10,000-watt Xenon lamp, 180 halogen lamps, and 144 strobe lights.

President Clinton proposed new steps to combat violence against children. As part of the initiative, the Justice Department will propose legislation defining murder to include the death of a child resulting from a pattern of abuse and setting criminal penalties for acts of violence against others in the presence of a child. The White House said about one-third of all US violent-crime victims are teenagers and an additional 2.8 million children are abused or neglected each year.

A US judge rejected punitive damages against Business Week magazine for fraudulently obtaining data for a story because it was "a matter of vital public interest." In Cincinnati, district Judge Herman Weber awarded $7,500 in damages to WDIA Corp. of Cincinnati, which provides firms with online access to credit reports. WDIA, which sought $75,000 in actual damages and $45 million in punitive damages, said it may appeal. The judge ruled reporters misled WDIA by saying they'd use credit data to screen prospective employees - instead using it for a story showing how easy it is to obtain the credit reports.

The World

Iraq insisted it had shot down a Western plane during Monday's missile strike by the US. But US officials said American jet fighters had returned to base safely. During the clash, US pilots fired at an Iraqi air defense position after they were targeted by missiles. Iraq's vice president vowed its armed forces would continue to fire at US and British planes, patroling "no-fly" zones over the country.

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Reflecting internal divisions over Iraq, Arab foreign ministers canceled a summit scheduled for today to discuss this month's bombing of the country. The Arab League meeting was postponed to Jan. 24 at the request of Gulf Arab states, an official said. Although the airstrikes provoked mass protests across the region, there was little official reaction from Arab governments.

Russia and Belarus will introduce a single currency and joint budget by 2000, a senior Russian official said - noting that the former Soviet republics would preserve their separate national budgets. The governments agreed last week to merge the two countries.

A plan to forge a new Japanese coalition government was postponed until next year because of a dispute over the country's defense policy, an official of the conservative opposition Liberal Party said. The party - engaged in alliance talks with the ruling Liberal Democratic Party - demanded Japanese troops participate more fully in UN military missions. But Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi maintained the country's Constitution bans Japanese use of force abroad. Coalition negotiations between the two parties were scheduled to resume Jan. 6.

Two top Khmer Rouge defectors returned to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, amid mounting pressure that they be tried for genocide. Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chen were welcomed by Prime Minister Hun Sen. The two men apologized for the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 reign, when an estimated 1.7 million people died. But echoing the prime minster, Khieu Samphan urged Cambodia "to forget the past in order to have real national reconciliation."

US billionaire Larry Ellison was the winner of a stormy, tragic yacht race between Sydney and Hobart, Australia. The computer executive said he and his crew were subsumed in a battle "to keep us alive" after 90-mph winds and 35-ft swells struck the fleet of 115 yachts. Four competitors were killed in the storm, and two others are presumed drowned.

Four British tourists - two men and two women - were killed during an attempt to rescue them and 13 other Western hostages, kidnapped in Yemen by Islamic militants. The other hostages were freed after a shootout between Yemeni security forces and the kidnappers. The group was ambushed near the town of Mawdiyah - south of the capital San`a - by militants who had demanded the release of a jailed colleague.

Business and Finance

Sales of existing US homes rose to a near-record level in November as mild weather and low mortgage rates boosted turnover, the National Association of Realtors said. Home resales rose 2.7 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 4.90 million units - just short of the record pace of 4.91 million units in July.

Consumers' confidence in the US economy was steady in December, although Americans grew more cautious in their outlook for coming months, the Conference Board reported. Its index of consumer confidence fell a marginal 0.3 to 126.1 from a revised 126.4 in November. The index had rebounded last month after a four-month slide.

The average US retail price for regular unleaded gasoline dropped this week to 93.7 cents a gallon, the Department of Energy reported. That price is the lowest recorded since the department began tracking weekly retail motor-fuel costs in August 1990 - and it bests the 94.4-cents-a-gallon record set just last week. It also marks the third consecutive week gasoline prices have set a new record low. Retail pump prices have deflated sharply from $1.13 a gallon a year ago.


'It is ... clear the Texas clemency procedure is extremely poor and certainly minimal.'

- US district Judge Sam Sparks, in an opinion that criticized the state parole board

for its secrecy and autonomy.


For most drivers, using seat belts and turn signals is just common sense. But traffic police in Angleton, Texas - 30 miles south of Houston - are rewarding such behavior, pulling over law-abiding motorists and giving them congratulatory letters and certificates for free meals. "A lot of people [are] ... kind of shocked," says officer Jay Burridge. The road-safety program ends Jan. 5.


A motorist in eastern Germany recently drove his BMW past a stop sign, down a ferry ramp, and into the Havel River. Neither driver nor passenger was hurt, but both were abashed to learn that the car's satellite-guided navigation system evidently failed to note that the road in Caputh, near Potsdam, ends at a ferry crossing.

The Day's List

Elton John was top draw on US concert tour in 1998

In releasing its ranking of the year's top-10 money earners, the concert-business trade publication Pollstar noted that this was generally a flat year for the live-music industry. Consumers spent an estimated $1.3 billion on 1998 concerts, about the same as in 1997, Pollstar said. The industry record of $1.4 billion was set in 1994. Three country acts are among the top 10. Last year's winners, the Rolling Stones, earned $31.8 million in 1998 from just 20 US shows. The venerable rockers spent most of their time overseas, where they earned an estimated $161 million this year. The Stones are coming back to the US for more concert dates early next year. Pollstar's 1998 concert-circuit top 10 and the estimated earnings of each (in millions):

1. Elton John $46.2

2. Dave Matthews Band $40.1

3. Celine Dion $38.1

4. Yanni $37.4

5. Garth Brooks $37.2

6. Eric Clapton $33.6

7. Shania Twain $33.5

8. Janet Jackson $33.1

9. George Strait Country Music Festival $33.0

10. Rolling Stones $31.8

- Associated Press

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