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News Briefs 1

Kremlin to Focus on Terrorism

Los Angeles Times

Elite paramilitary troops stormed a bus where gunmen were holding 18 people hostage in the volatile Caucasus on Thursday, freeing the captives, seizing the perpetrators and rectifying somewhat the bungling image of Russia's anti-terrorist forces.

But the tense, daylong standoff in the republic of Dagestan, and several fresh incidents of insurgency in neighboring Chechnya, have served to remind the Kremlin of its unresolved conflicts with the restless regions of Russia's southern fringes.

Now that a clash with Western nations over Bosnia policy has subsided with the suspension of NATO bombings, Russian domestic crises fed by independence movements and the government's attempts to quash them have again asserted themselves.

Federal authorities made no immediate connection between the hostage-taking in the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala and the rekindling tensions in Chechnya, but it fit into a pattern of terrorist acts that have racked the Caucasus region since Russian federal forces attacked Chechen rebels in December.

A day after an assassination attempt against President Boris N. Yeltsin's special envoy in the Chechen capital, Grozny, another suspicious explosion rocked the shattered city's oil refinery, and two Russian soldiers were taken captive by rebel gunmen, Russian media reported.

The series of incidents compelled Moscow to recognize that its July agreement with rebels loyal to Chechen President Dzhokhar M. Dudayev is at risk of collapse. Few of the military disengagement terms have been complied with, and the warring factions have made no progress since then on the more contentious political issues.

Congress Bucks Clinton on Cuba, Backs Him on Pakistan

Los Angeles Times

The House brushed aside the objections of the Clinton administration on Thursday and voted overwhelmingly to tighten the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba and slap secondary sanctions on countries that help Fidel Castro's regime.

Supporters of the legislation said it will hasten Castro's downfall by drying up Cuba's remaining sources of hard currency, despite Secretary of State Warren Christopher's warning that the measure will stifle U.S. efforts to foster peaceful change in Cuba and jeopardize U.S. interests around the world by requiring action against Russia and other countries that deal with Havana.

About the same time the House was moving to restrict the administration's ability to maneuver in its relations with Cuba, the Senate sought to give the president new latitude in its policy toward Pakistan by approving a White House request to ease the U.S. arms embargo on Pakistan.

Loan Plan Has Colleges Fuming

The Washington Post

The year-long battle in Congress over federal student loans has intensified again, this time over a proposal in the Senate to have colleges and universities pay the government a fee based on how much loan money they get from students.

In a move that has enraged both the Education Department and higher education officials, Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum, R-Kan., the chairwoman of the Senate's Labor and Human Resources Committee, wants to require colleges and universities to pay an annual 2 percent charge on their volume of student loans. That will help achieve the $10 billion in savings that Republicans want to cut from federal student loan programs in the next seven years.

Under Kassebaum's plan, a university that collects $40 million in loan money from students each year would owe the federal government $800,000 annually. Her proposal also forbids universities from paying for the charge by raising tuition and fees. She estimates that it will raise more than $4 billion in seven years.

Kassebaum staunchly defended the idea Wednesday, saying it was "the only choice" Congress had if it intends to balance the federal budget partly with cuts in college student aid.