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NEWS CAPSULES

Around the world

BREAKTHROUGH: Chinese and British negotiators reached a breakthrough Thursday on the future use of military bases in Hong Kong, signaling a marked improvement in Sino-British relations over the colony. The agreement comes just hours after lawmakers voted in favor of sweeping democratic reforms for Hong Kong, defying repeated Chinese warnings against adopting the measures. "This shows the Chinese side's willingness to cooperate on Hong Kong's economic future," senior Chinese representative Guo Fengming said.CHEMICAL ARMS: Romanian Defense Minister George Tinca said Thursday that, contrary to international suspicions, his country does not possess chemical or biological weapons. "Romania does not have such weapons, but we produce seven of the 40 internationally banned lethal substances for lab tests," Tinca told a news conference. He said his statement was meant to "dispel still existing international suspicion."

EARTHQUAKE: A quake measuring 6.2 on the Richter scale jolted the Pakistani capital Islamabad and the northern parts of the country Thursday afternoon. It was not immediately known whether there were any casualties but authorities fear the tremor caused major damage in the mountainous northern region. A major quake two years ago killed hundreds of people in northern Pakistan and neighboring Afghanistan.

Across the nation

BLACKMAIL CHARGES: A lawmaker accused of trying to force a colleague to vote for a budget bill by threatening to tell his wife he was fooling around has been charged with blackmail. "I haven't done anything wrong," Republican Rep. Melvin Neufeld said after he was charged Wednesday in Topeka, Kan. Rep. Richard Alldritt, a freshman Democrat, said Neufeld made the threat during the final days of the 1994 legislative session. GOP leaders were trying to pass the last budget bill as Democrats held out for higher pay increases for state workers.

DEPORTATIONS: An unprecedented agreement with the federal government allowed Florida to deport its first batch of foreign criminals to make room in its crowded prisons. "If I keep them here, then I'm having to turn out a violent Floridian or U.S. citizen," Gov. Lawton Chiles said Wednesday as 15 men in handcuffs and street clothes were paraded by on their way to the airport. Nine female prisoners were handled separately.