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President Clinton let it be known - rather calmly - last week that an attack on the United States with chemical and biological weapons is highly likely in the next few years. Anti-US terrorists and rogue states such as North Korea are developing the means to reach US shores with weapons of mass destruction, some the size of suitcases. What to do? First, the president warned, don't panic. After all, this isn't a Hollywood action film. Still, the US has launched a new effort at "homeland defense" even as it tries to reduce the threat. One suggested action: vaccine shots for the public against biological weapons. But even the president worries that the program might impinge on civil liberties.

A US-size nation of 200 million people, Indonesia took two giant leaps in the name of freedom this week. Its unpopular leader, B.J. Habibie - perhaps trying to be reelected - opened the way for free elections and hinted that East Timor, a former Portuguese colony taken by force in 1975, might be freed. Quote of note: "Why do we have to hang on to East Timor if it is hurting us so much and the Timorese feel so unhappy about it?" - Habibie's foreign relations adviser.

American troops in Kosovo by Valentine's Day? Events are moving that way as the US and NATO hints of aggressive action if both sides in the conflict don't cease fighting and make progress in negotiations. Even United Nations chief Kofi Annan gave a nod to NATO intervention against Serbia.

Old age didn't stop one woman in Kazakstan from becoming an activist. Quote of note: "I fought the Nazis. I survived the 900-day blockade of Leningrad. Now I'm fighting for my rights as a pensioner."- a follower of Irina Savostina.

A close-out sale at a Tokyo store reveals what consumers want in Japan. And a former pro football player tries to spread the sport in Brazil.

- Clayton Jones World editor

REPORTERS ON THE JOB * LOW-PRICED FERRAGAMOS CAN DO THAT: The Japanese mind their manners like few other people on earth, but not, it appears, when there's a bargain at stake (page 8). Tokyo correspondent Nicole Gaouette was standing by the shoe racks at a department store close-out sale when she and a small silver-haired Japanese woman bumped into each other. Nicole began apologizing - saying sorry is a constant part of daily life in Japan, a way of smoothing social exchanges even when nothing is wrong. Nicole finished, and waited for the woman's obligatory show of repentance, which was sure to be gracefully phrased. "You," she said with her jaw clenched, "are in my way."

Let us hear from you. Mail to: One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115 via e-mail: world@csmonitor.com


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