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AT HELM: Chandrika Kumara-tunga, whose socialist party won Sri Lanka's national election, has been appointed prime minister and is forming a government, sources said Thursday. Kumaratunga - who entered politics after both her parents served as prime minister and one of them was assassinated - has promised to begin negotiations with the Tamil rebels who have been fighting for independence in Sri Lanka for 11 years.NO LIFTOFF: A Japanese-developed rocket carrying a two-ton communications satellite failed to lift off Thursday after its two secondary engines did not ignite. Japan's National Space Development Agency said it would reschedule the launch date for the H-2 rocket, probably for some time next week. The launch was to be the second blastoff of a locally made rocket, and officials were hoping it would help boost the credibility of the coutry's space program.

Across the nation

TOGETHERNESS: For the second time in five months, German tourists have unknowingly spent the night in a south Florida motel room that contained a rotting corpse, police said Wednesday. The latest incident occurred at the Venice hotel in Fort Lauderdale, where the manager found the decaying body of a man wrapped in a plastic bag and stuffed under a bed Wednesday. Air fresheners had been placed inside the fly-covered bag. Police said the man had been dead several days but that the last guests who stayed in the room apparently did not know the corpse was there.

NO MIRACLE: A man who mistakenly received a government check for nearly $837,000 may have believed it was a miracle, but a Kansas City, Mo., jury didn't. William H. Irvin III illegally cashed the check for $836,939.19 in June 1992, a federal jury concluded Wednesday, convicting him of knowingly spending government money, filing a false tax return and laundering some of it through cashier's checks. Irvin said he believed the money was a gift from God because it appeared after he prayed for self-sufficiency on a lonely road one night. He is an airport security officer who makes about $12,000 a year.