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Productivity of US workers surged at a 4.6 percent annual rate in the final quarter last year - the best showing in six years, the Labor Department reported. The revised seasonally adjusted increase in output per hour of work at nonfarm businesses was even better than the initial estimate last month of 3.7 percent and the largest gain since the final quarter of 1992. For all of 1998, productivity increased a healthy 2.2 percent. Economists consider productivity gains the key to higher living standards.

The Energy Department said it fired a Chinese-American scientist at the Los Alamos nuclear laboratory in New Mexico who allegedly handed over nuclear secrets to China. The scientist, identified in newspaper reports as Wen Ho Lee, had not been criminally charged. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson denied statements by congressional Republicans that the administration failed to act decisively after learning in the mid-1990s that nuclear secrets were leaked to China in the 1980s.

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Nearly 3,000 illegal immigrants from El Salvador and Guatemala faced quick deportation after a temporary amnesty program expired. Despite protests from their governments, the White House said those countries were now able to absorb illegal immigrants who have been living in the US since hurricane Mitch hit the region last fall. Illegal immigrants from Nicaragua and Honduras are eligible for a different amnesty program that extends into next year.

GOP leaders said Congress will approve nearly $1 billion in US aid for hurricane-battered Central America as soon as lawmakers settle a dispute over how to pay for it. The package includes debt relief, as well as funds to help the countries rebuild. Republicans have suggested cutting a wide variety of programs - from food stamps to environmental initiatives - to pay for the aid. The White House accused GOP leaders of starting a "political fight" over critical humanitarian relief.

Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander launched his second GOP presidential campaign. Alexander, who ran unsuccessfully for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, said he would make education the centerpiece of his bid. In the past three years, Alexander has been effectively running for president - seeking to hone his political message, expand his political base, and increase his network of contributors.

A federal trial began in Little Rock, Ark., for two reputed white supremacists who are accused of murders, kidnapping, bombing, and theft in Arkansas and Washington to finance an all-white "Aryan nation" in the Pacific Northwest. The government is seeking the death penalty against Chevie O'Brien Kehoe of Collville, Wash., and Daniel Lewis Lee of Yukon, Okla. Cheyne Kehoe, the defendant's brother, has pleaded guilty and is reportedly cooperating with prosecutors.

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