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The probe of the EgyptAir crash off Nantucket, Mass., has been turned over to the FBI, Clinton administration officials said on condition of anonymity. The National Transportation Safety Board's charter says it's the primary investigative authority for transportation accidents until there is evidence of crime. Earlier, a law-enforcement official said the question of whether to open a criminal probe was raised, in part, because "a crew member is heard on the cockpit voice recorder to say something religious in nature." Speculation about a crime had increased after the plane's cockpit data recorder described such difficult-to-explain developments as the autopilot being shut off during what seemed otherwise to be a normal flight.

Negotiations on the 2000 federal budget turned to one of its final hurdles: how to pay for extra spending the White House had won from Republicans without breaking GOP promises to leave Social Security surpluses untouched. Among the latest compromises: debt relief for the third world, more funds to buy land for public parks, and higher royalties for oil companies that drill on public land.

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Federal officials released data on efforts by US air carriers to cope with potential Y2K computer problems. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said at 91 percent of 2,822 carriers - including the 10 largest airlines - it found nothing that would affect their ability to comply with its rules. Thirty-five nonscheduled passenger carriers received the lowest FAA rating, which may mean delays and disruptions, but has nothing to do with in-flight safety, an FAA official said. John Koskinen, chairman of the federal Council of Year 2000 Conversion, plays host to news reporters at a White House Y2K crisis center scheduled to go "online" Dec. 28.

The State Department said a Royal Dutch-Shell agreement to develop Persian Gulf oil fields for Iran would be reviewed. The probe will focus on whether Shell should be penalized for accepting the $800 million contract. The 1996 Iran-Libya Sanctions Act authorizes US sanctions to discourage investment in the two countries. Analysts noted that the US waived sanctions last year against the French company Total SA, which had signed a $2 billion gas-exploration deal with Iran in 1997.

More than 1,000 teachers and school employees went on strike in Birmingham, Ala., to protest a $30,000 raise for the school superintendent at a time of meager pay boosts for other system employees. School officials said about 30,000 of some 38,000 students were absent. The strike followed a "sick-out" Friday by about 600 teachers after the school board gave Superintendent Johnny Brown a 20 percent pay increase - from $151,000 to $181,000.

Banks in San Francisco and Santa Monica can collect ATM fees from noncustomers while a lawsuit challenging bans on the surcharges moves forward, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled. District Judge Vaughn Walker granted a preliminary injunction to Wells Fargo and Bank of America, which have sued to block enforcement of the bans. He said a voter-approved ban on ATM surcharges in San Francisco and a similar ban approved by the Santa Monica City Council were likely to be found unconstitutional.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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