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President Clinton was expected to propose tougher auto-pollution controls, designed to cut smog-causing emissions from cars, vans, and sport-utility vehicles by 90 percent over the next decade, government and private sources said. The new program - to be phased in over five years, beginning with 2004 models - will reportedly require sport-utility vehicles and minivans to meet the same emission standards as cars. Also, the sources said the Environmental Protection Agency will direct that sulfur levels in gasoline not exceed 80 parts per million with an average of 30 parts per million nationwide. On average, sulfur levels are currently about 10 times higher.

Space shuttle Discovery and its seven-man crew were to reach the Hubble Space Telescope and pull it into the cargo bay with a robot arm for three days of repairs. Space-agency officials are eager to get the $3 billion observatory working again. It costs $25 million a month to operate, whether it's working or not. The eight-day mission is the third service flight to Hubble.

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A district court ruled Cleveland's school-voucher program unconstitutional because it uses public money for religious instruction. Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery said she'll appeal the ruling to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. The city's voucher program, which will continue while the appeal is heard, gives needy families with children up to $2,500 in tuition vouchers. Most of the 3,543 affected children are in religious schools.

The State Department was set to block a $500 million loan to Russia's oil sector, according to a government source. The official said the department would invoke a seldom-used law that allows the administration to block Export-Import Bank loans when US officials determine they're not in the "national interest." The administration has come under pressure to block the funding for Tyumen Oil to protest Moscow's military campaign against Chechnya and its alleged failure to protect foreign investment.

Strides toward democracy in 1999 have capped a "dramatic expansion" of rights worldwide in this century, Freedom House said. Its an annual report found that 85 nations, or 44 percent of the total, are "free" and their people enjoy "a broad range of political rights." Freedom was found to have gained ground in 26 nations, and to have suffered setbacks in 18.

Federal Reserve policymakers were expected to leave interest rates unchanged at their last meeting of the year in Washington. However, many economists said the Fed was likely to change its policy stance from neutral to one leaning toward a possible future rate increase.

US embassies abroad will not issue nonimmigrant visas for the first two working days of the new year so personnel can concentrate on possible year-2000 computer problems, the State Department said. The embassies will also stop issuing immigrant visas for the first two weeks of the year.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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