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News Briefs, part 2

Inflation Report Gives Markets Another Lift

The Washington Post

Nobody can be sure how long it will last, but the U.S. economy appears to be in the best shape it's been in for three years.

Unemployment is falling in most regions of the country. Business profits are up smartly. And just Thursday, the government reported new evidence that inflation remains in check, with prices at the nation's factories actually falling in September by half a percentage point.

Wall Street saluted the news Thursday by extending what has been a week-long celebration. The announcement that producer prices had fallen powered a 50-point rally Thursday morning in the closely-watched Dow Jones industrial average. By the closing bell, however, profit taking had cut the Dow's climb to a more modest 14.80 points. It closed at 3889.95.

Bond investors, whose fear of inflation had driven up interest rates to near 8 percent just last week, regained enough confidence to pull rates back to 7.85 percent Thursday on the benchmark 301/4-year Treasury bond, down from 7.90 percent Wednesday.

And the dollar, which had faded under the summer heat, has recently regained some of its spirit, too. It closed Thursday in New York at 99.46 Japanese yen, down slightly from 99.77 yen the day before but up from a recent low of 97 yen.

"This underscores our belief that the economic fundamentals are sound," said White House spokesman Dee Dee Myers, repeating the Clinton administration mantra of recent days. "We continue to have solid growth with low inflation."

30,000 Believers See Miracle In Virgin Mary Message

The Washington Post

On a misty cold and muddy hill here, more than 30,000 people gathered Thursday in near silence to listen to every amplified syllable spoken by an ordinary-looking woman in a green raincoat.

The soft childlike voice belonged to Nancy Fowler, a 46-year-old homemaker, but Fowler says the words belonged to the Virgin Mary. Catholics chartered buses and drove across the country to hear what Fowler had billed as a special - and possibly final - message from the mother of Christ.

They were not disappointed. Fowler emerged from her farmhouse inner sanctum here after two hours of prayer to say the Virgin had warned of imminent natural disasters, war in the Persian Gulf and continents drifting apart unless people who had strayed from the faith "pray as you have never prayed before."

Many have made repeated trips here to hear her speak on the 13th of each month and testified to witnessing miracles. They say their silver rosaries turned to gold. They say they saw the sun spinning in the sky and smelled roses in the middle of winter. And they passed around Polaroid photographs of clouds in which they say they saw the unmistakable silhouette of the Virgin Mary.

For nearly two hours, Fowler knelt in a corner of the apparition room before a statue of the Virgin Mary. Everything inside was broadcast to the crowd waiting outside on the hill. Priests from Europe, Africa, India, Sri Lanka and the United States recited all 15 mysteries of the rosary in their native languages.

Bell Atlantic, Nynex, MCI Near Pact on Wireless Network

The Washington Post

Bell Atlantic Corp. and Nynex Corp. are close to sealing an agreement with MCI Communications Corp. to create a nationwide wireless communications network, industry sources said Thursday. It would be the first such alliance between local and long-distance telephone giants.

By linking with Washington-based MCI, the nation's second-largest long-distance carrier, the two Bell companies are gambling they could better compete against recently merged AT&T Corp. and McCaw Cellular Communications Inc. in the race to provide the next generation of cellular services.

In June, the two Bell companies announced plans to pool their cellular operations, which together serve 1.8 million customers along the East Coast. With MCI, which has fiber-optic cables to most major U.S. cities that could connect to new cellular networks, the Bells' service territory could stretch from coast to coast.

Cult Leader Jouret Among the Dead, Police Say

The Washington Post

Swiss police Thursday ended the mystery of cult leader Luc Jouret's fate, confirming that he was among the dead found in the Order of the Solar Temple's fire-gutted chalet in the alpine village of Granges-sur-Salvan.

Jouret apparently perished along with 52 of his followers in last week's grisly round of blazes, slayings, bludgeonings and unexplained deaths among members of the apocalyptic order based in Switzerland and Canada.

Swiss authorities did not say how Jouret, 46, a Belgian doctor-turned-guru, had died, leaving open the possibility of suicide. Only one top temple official, Jean-Pierre Vinet, remains unaccounted for.

Early theories of a mass suicide have given way, under revelations from Quebec and Swiss police, to evidence of well-orchestrated execution-style slayings on both sides of the Atlantic on Oct. 4 and 5.

The investigation has become global, as authorities in Australia have joined those in Europe and North America looking into allegedly extensive money-laundering activities by cult members, transactions that may be tied to arms trafficking. A Swiss newspaper, L'Hebdo, Thursday quoted Australian banking sources describing a Jouret associate opening an account there last year with a $93 million deposit from a Swiss bank.