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The number of serious crimes dropped dramatically in 1998, the FBI reported. Preliminary figures on violent crime and so-called property crime showed a 7 percent decrease from 1997. The number of murders fell in all regions: 11 percent in the Northeast and West, 7 percent in the South, 5 percent in the Midwest. The biggest downturn occurred in robberies, which plummeted 11 percent.

A showdown is expected in Congress this week over final shape of a broad juvenile-crime bill. In a turnaround by Republicans, the Senate backed by a one-vote margin late last week mandatory background checks of people buying weapons at gun shows. Democrats, who had failed earlier to get the GOP-controlled Senate to support a similar but tougher measure, said the new version would loosen regulation of pawnshop gun redemptions and give gun sellers exemption from some civil lawsuits.

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Four boys were charged with plotting a shooting spree at a middle school in Port Huron, Mich. Justin Schnepp and Jedaiah Zinzo, age 14, were charged as adults with conspiracy to commit murder for allegedly planning to kill as many as possible of their classmates at 560-student Holland Woods Middle School. Two others, ages 12 and 13, were charged as juveniles.

Congress decided not to provide $40 million to compensate families of victims of the Marine helicopter accident that killed 20 skiers in the Italian Alps last year. The measure had been approved in March by the Senate, but ran into opposition in the House. Pentagon officials have said they support compensation under a treaty that requires such matters to be pursued in Italian courts.

The Environmental Protection Agency can't enforce tough air-quality standards set in July 1997, a US appeals court ruled. The EPA said it will ask the Justice Department to appeal the 2-to-1 decision, which reportedly calls into question the authority of Congress to delegate such issues. The lawsuit, filed by a number of industrial groups, objects to requirements that states dramatically reduce amounts of smog and soot in the air. The standards weren't to take effect in most areas for at least four more years.

Three firms offered at least $30 million in endorsement fees for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in Salt Lake City. They were the first new sponsorships for the event since a bribery scandal erupted last year. Questar Corp., Marker Ltd., and O.C. Tanner Co. - a natural-gas company, a sportswear maker, and a jewelry firm - are Utah companies.

The State Department signaled its intent to keep the US embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv, even after a May 31 deadline set by Congress for moving it to Jerusalem. Spokesman James Rubin said the US didn't want to take a step that would have "clear negative repercussions" for peace talks. In 1995, when Congress ordered the move, it gave the president power to overrule provisions of the act.

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