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The Florida Supreme Court said the jury in a class-action suit against the tobacco industry may consider a lump-sum award when the trial resumes Jan. 18. Although jurors will be presented with the specific claims of three cancer victims, they can now determine whether to collectively compensate as many as hundreds of thousands of sick or deceased smokers.

Meanwhile in US District Court in Washington, cigarettemakers filed papers asking federal Judge Gladys Kessler to throw out a government lawsuit against them. The government wants to recover more than $20 billion a year that it says was spent treating federal employees, military veterans, and Medicare recipients for smoking-related ailments.

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The crew of the Discovery space shuttle completed an eight-day, 3.26-million-mile repair mission by landing Monday night at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The successful effort to fix the Hubble Space Telescope provided NASA with a much-needed high note at the end of a trying year. Two missions to Mars were lost and frayed wires discovered in all four shuttles.

Aly Abuzaakouk, executive director of the American Muslim Council, hailed State Department efforts to separate terrorism from the Islamic faith. Earlier this month he had expressed concerns about a department communication associating terrorist threats with the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright invited Abuzaakouk to dinner last week and said the department would try to hire more American Muslims.

Burger King Corp. announced that it would recall 25 million containers used in a children's meal promotion. The decision came following the reported death of a California baby who suffocated when half a plastic sphere, used to enclose Pokmon toys and trading cards, covered the child's nose and mouth. The hollow Pokmon balls, which measure about 3 inches in diameter, are being recalled - but not the toys based on the Japanese video game and movie characters.

The burgeoning online-prescription drug trade was the focus of a new Clinton-administration initiative. The plan, if approved by Congress, would put the Food and Drug Administration in charge of regulating Web sites that dispense medicine. Fines of as much $500,000 could be levied against sites that sell drugs without first obtaining a valid prescription from an online buyer.

A bail appeal by the nuclear scientist charged with illegally transferring secret data at the Los Alamos National Laboratory began in Albuquerque, N.M. Taiwanese-born Wen Ho Lee, a US citizen, was seeking to be freed on bail pending his trial, which is expected to begin late next year. Lee has been jailed since Dec. 10.

Plans are proceeding to use the Washington Monument as a shimmering, 550-foot countdown pole to the new year. Not all are thrilled, however, including Rep. Ralph Regula (R) of Ohio, who calls efforts to turn the obelisk into a giant sparkler a "desecration."

A judge in Urbana, Ill., began to hear a lawsuit brought by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition against school officials. In a US district court, Jackson's group said Urbana school officials violated due process when they expelled six black students for fighting at a football game. Attorneys for the defendents are expected to say public safety is the overriding issue in the case.

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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