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US corporations, eyeing the world's most populous market, hailed passage of the landmark bill that grants China permanent normal trade relations. The House approved the measure - a major foreign-policy victory for President Clinton - by a wider-than-expected margin, a bipartisan 237 to 197. Organized labor, meanwhile, threatened to make the legislation an issue in the November congressional campaigns. The bill now goes to the Senate, where passage is virtually assured by mid-June despite opposition from Sen. Jesse Helms (R), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Ending a stalemate, the Senate confirmed 16 of Clinton's judicial nominees to lifetime terms on the federal bench and voted to place a conservative professor on the Federal Election Commission. Republicans previously had refused to schedule votes on nominees because Democrats were blocking a decision in regard to the FEC on Bradley Smith, who believes there should be no limits on campaign donations. The deal completed Wednesday also cleared four dozen other Clinton appointments to administrative posts large and small.

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Posing as armed law-enforcement officers, investigators for a congressional agency carried unsearched briefcases past security guards at Reagan National Airport, the FBI, the Pentagon, the State Department, and other government buildings, published reports said. Some General Accounting Office investigators, the accounts revealed, roamed freely through buildings and in many cases easily located the offices of head personnel. The report prompted the FBI to announce stricter rules for admitting visitors. The Pentagon also said it would review procedures.

Microsoft will have until next Tuesday to respond to a revised breakup proposal that the government is to draw up by today. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson asked for revisions during a hearing Wednesday in the antitrust case against the software giant. Citing a brief filed by two industry groups, Jackson expressed interest in the possibility of breaking Microsoft into a third component that would focus on the company's Internet browser. He also questioned whether dividing the company in two - as has been proposed by the government - would "simply create two monopolies." But analysts said a three-way breakup was unlikely because the prospects of a stand-alone browser company are doubtful.

Maryland prosecutors dropped criminal wiretapping charges against Linda Tripp, who secretly taped conversations with Monica Lewinsky about the latter's relationship with Clinton. The development came after a judge decided to suppress most of Lewinsky's testimony. Without that, the prosecution said it was unable to prove its case.

New York police launched a massive manhunt for two gunmen who killed five workers at a Wendy's restaurant and wounded two other employees. Officers said they thought the gunmen were intent on robbery, but it was unclear what led to the shootings. Mass killings have been rare in New York in recent years, but police statistics showed the city's murder rate is about 12 percent higher for the first quarter of this year than that of last year.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society