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News Briefs II

Civil Rights Nominee Faces Heightened Opposition

Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles public-interest lawyer's bid to become the first Asian American to head the Justice Department's civil rights division appears to be in increasing peril, with the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee expected to announce his opposition Tuesday.

The mounting criticism of attorney Bill Lann Lee is attributable to his opposition to Proposition 209 and his work on a sweeping consent decree that would have established aggressive goals for hiring women and minorities at the Los Angeles Police Department.

With a Senate Judiciary Committee vote on Lee's fate scheduled for Thursday, the panel's chairman, Utah Republican Orrin Hatch, wrote a lengthy letter to Attorney General Janet Reno Monday saying he believes he has a "fundamental disagreement" with the nominee about "principles at the heart of what this nation stands for."

Reno and White House spokesman Mike McCurry said they were undeterred by the new criticism, and would only step up their efforts to get him confirmed. "If the argument is that the (Clinton administration's affirmative action) policy is wrong, Orrin Hatch has to elect a president more to his liking. That's the way our system works."

If Lee were rejected, he would be the third of the last five nominees for the civil rights posts who failed to win confirmation, a record that makes it among the most contentious slots in government.

Prime Minister of Thailand Intends To Step Down after Criticism

Los Angeles Times
BANGKOK, Thailand

Embattled Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, facing mounting criticism over his nation's economic tailspin, on Monday said he will step down later this week. Thais and foreign business people reacted positively to the news, which was expected to boost the battered Thai stock market and currency.

An end to Thailand's political infighting would be good news in the West, where the economic crises in Southeast Asia are blamed for triggering last week's dramatic gyrations in world stock markets.

Last week, the United States demonstrated its concern about the region's financial instability by offering to contribute $3 billion to a $23 billion bailout for Indonesia orchestrated by the International Monetary Fund. In August, the IMF had approved a $17.2 billion package for Thailand.

"I think there will be quite a positive reaction from most Thais to the news [of Chavalit's impending departure] and it will fuel a short-term rally," said Kenneth White, managing director of Pacific Siam Strategic Consulting Co. in Bangkok. "More importantly, I think it will give them a sense of hope for the future.

But Abhisit Vejjajiva, a member of the National Assembly and spokesman for the Democrat Party, said Chavalit will have no choice but to resign once his comments are circulated widely and the public sentiment stacks up against him.

If Chavalit steps aside, the coalition government will choose a replacement from its member parties, Abhisit said. The new prime minister would hold office only for a few months, because the constitution requires that elections be held by May.