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News Briefs I

Many Say Yeltsin Can Still Win

The Washington Post

President Boris Yeltsin, whose approval ratings have been stuck in single digits for more than a year, is lagging badly in all the polls - third place in one recent survey, tied for fifth in another. It is no exaggeration to say that he is among the most despised men in Russia.

Yet many analysts and ordinary Russians - and not only his partisans - say he remains the man to beat in presidential elections this summer, even if the resurgent Communists are currently more than twice as popular as the president in the polls. Some say flatly that Yeltsin, 65, will win.

Their confidence in him is rooted partly in the power of the Russian presidency and partly in his own nearly mythic political instincts, which in the past have kicked into high gear precisely when he most looked like a goner.

But it is more than blind faith and constitutional clout that favors Yeltsin, some analysts say. More to the point, he has fashioned an electoral game plan that, coupled with some basic political arithmetic, gives him at least a plausible shot at reelection.

The election - a first round is to be held June 16, followed by a probable runoff between the two top finishers in July - is a crucial test for Russia's flimsy young democracy and shaky transition to a market economy.

Anti-AIDS Drug Passes Federal Panel

Los Angeles Times

A federal advisory committee Thursday recommended limited government approval of a powerful new AIDS drug that recent research has shown can decrease or prevent AIDS-related complications, and prolong life in very sick patients.

The drug, ritonavir, developed by Abbott Laboratories, is one of a new class of potent antiviral drugs called protease inhibitors that has AIDS specialists very excited.

Researchers studying ritonavir said that once on the drug, patients already very sick with AIDS suffered fewer symptoms and lived significantly longer than those taking a placebo.

However, committee members, troubled by the lack of information on patients with earlier stage AIDS infection, approved the drug for use only in advanced cases. They urged the company to design further research in healthier infected populations in order to gain wider marketing approval. Experts do not yet know how well protease inhibitors will work over the long term, particularly in infected individuals who have not yet developed symptoms. One of the problems with all AIDS drugs is the eventual development of viral strains that are drug-resistant. Also, the long-term toxicities of the drug are unknown.

U.S. to Help With Nuclear Materials

The Washington Post

The Clinton administration fears that nuclear materials in the former Soviet Union remain "very vulnerable" to theft by terrorists or rogue nations and plans to spend $330 million on new security measures to help prevent such thefts over the next six years, a senior Energy Department official said Wednesday.

The aim of the increased U.S. effort is to assist authorities in seven former Soviet republics to develop and install modern surveillance and monitoring equipment for use at an estimated 40 to 50 sites on their territory where such sensitive materials are stored, Deputy Secretary Charles B. Curtis said.

Explaining that he visited several of the sites last year and found antiquated security measures consisting largely of "guards, guns and gates," Curtis said the task of upgrading this security will take years. "We are going to have to be lucky" to complete the job before a major theft occurs, Curtis told a luncheon group called the Nuclear Roundtable, associated with the Stimson Center.