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News Briefs II

Snow of Mercy' Blankets Nagano

The Washington Post

In Nagano, they are calling it the "snow of mercy." The first significant snow in weeks fell Tuesday night covering muddy Olympic ski slopes with a blanket of white just one month before the Winter Games begin.

In Hakuba, a mountain town that will host the downhill races, a glorious eight inches of snow fell, enough to wake up village ski chieftain Tadaaki Matsuzawa, who ran outside at dawn and danced.

"I have waited for the sound of snow on my roof for one month," said the giddy official in charge of the downhill course. "Finally, finally, we got it!

"If this keeps up, we will somehow manage," he said.

If it doesn't, the downhill and other key events may have to be canceled. And Japan, which has spent billions of dollars and most of this decade preparing for next month's Winter Games, could find its dream of a Winter Wonderland praised around the globe washed away by unseasonable warm rain.

An unusually warm winter, which some blame on the El Nino weather pattern and others say comes with selecting the most southerly site ever for the Winter Games, has left four out of five ski resorts around the Olympic area shut or empty for lack of snow.

Officials here hope the Games will prove uniquely Japanese in their simplicity, style and high-tech bent. And they hope to prevent the Games from being too commercial, a criticism leveled by some toward the summer games in Atlanta. Japanese organizers have been careful about limiting advertising, even paying $25,000 to snap up outdoor advertising space near the stage where medals will be awarded, which they will leave blank to avoid the possibility of an eyesore for television viewers.

Cuban Players Head For Nicaragua

The Washington Post

With their welcome in the Bahamas wearing thin and the Major League free-agent market beckoning, two star Cuban baseball players and five companions Tuesday appeared headed to Central America in a deal brokered by a Cuban American congressman from Miami.

Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Aleman informed the Bahamas that he had agreed to grant temporary visas to the Cubans for "humanitarian reasons," the Nicaraguan Embassy here said. The deal represents the newest attempt to allow the entire group to escape deportation back to Cuba, rather than just the three who last week were granted permission to enter the United States.

The visas, valid for up to three months, also will give the defectors a safe haven while agents for the ballplayers work out residency arrangements with the government of Costa Rica, congressional sources said.

The deal, hastily patched together Tuesday with the help of Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., came as the Bahamas ordered the two players to leave the country by Wednesday. The players, pitcher Orlando Hernandez and catcher Alberto Hernandez, who is no relation, were granted "humanitarian parole" by the State Department last week along with Noris Bosch, the pitcher's girlfriend. That status allows them to enter the United States and seek eventual permanent residence here. Bosch took up the offer and flew to Miami on Monday.