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News Briefs I

Retired Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, 90, Dies

Los Angeles Times

Retired Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr., the soft-spoken, courtly Virginian who set the United States on a middle-road course on the issue of race and affirmative action, died Tuesday at age 90.

Increasingly frail and weak in recent years, Powell had retreated to his Richmond, Va., home, where he died in his sleep, the Supreme Court announced.

President Clinton praised him as "one of our most conscientious and thoughtful justices (who) approached each case without an ideological agenda. His opinions were a model of balance and judiciousness."

On matters ranging from civil rights and affirmative action to the death penalty and abortion, his decision became the Supreme Court's decision. He was a moderate-liberal on civil rights and civil liberties, a conservative on crime, and as a result, so was the court during his 15 years on the bench.

U.S. Objects to Underground North Korean Nuclear Facility

The Washington Post

The United States has told North Korea that it strongly objects to construction of a vast, secret underground nuclear facility that U.S. intelligence analysts believe is being dug secretly in a mountainside near a former North Korean nuclear research center at Yongbyon.

However, U.S. officials said, because the precise nature of the secret installation is not known, the United States does not intend to abandon the 1994 framework agreement in which North Korea pledged to freeze and eventually dismantle its nuclear program in exchange for a U.S. promise of billions of dollars in international aid and help in building two nuclear power plants.

The officials said the U.S. position was conveyed to the North Koreans by Charles Kartman, U.S. special envoy for Korean nuclear affairs, during three days of talks in New York.

U.S. officials told the North Koreans that the tunneling at Yongbyon "is not acceptable to the United States, and that activities intended to permit them to start (their nuclear program) on a moment's notice are not acceptable," said a senior administration official.

The administration has concluded that the underground construction should not be a deal-breaker, and officials have not, for example, given the North Koreans a deadline for ceasing activity at the site.

Rising Interest Rates Stunt Mexico's Recovery

Los Angeles Times

Driven by global uncertainty and a plunging peso, Mexico's interest rates have soared to their highest levels since 1996, threatening to undercut this year's hard-won recovery among consumers.

At Tuesday's weekly Central Bank auction, rates on the government's bellwether 28-day Cetes, or treasury bill, leaped 5.16 percentage points to 27.16 percent. The main interbank lending rate also rose Tuesday to 29.61 percent, up from a rate of 21.62 percent as recently as Aug. 3.

Most analysts see the current rates surge as a straightforward reaction to global uncertainty unrelated to Mexico's healthy economy. But some are starting to worry about the potential impact if rates remain high for long.

Observers here note the spillover from the Asia crisis is afflicting all emerging markets, including the rest of Latin America. But some cite Mexico as uniquely positioned to prosper because of North American Free Trade Agreement.