Americans face a five-day wait for buying guns

THE FIRST big national gun- control initiative in the United States since the 1960s comes into effect today. Under the so- called 'Brady Bill', Americans wanting to buy a handgun will have to wait five days before they can get it. This will allow police to run checks to see if the buyer has a criminal record or known mental problems. The bill aims to curb crime in one of the world's most violent nations, where around 60 people die of gunshot wounds every day. According to President Bill Clinton, 'The law will prevent thousands of handgun murders.'

Murder will be far from the President's mind when he meets John Major in Pittsburgh today. The Prime Minister, turning the tables on the thousands of Americans who cross the Atlantic every year to dig for their ancestral roots, is coming to see where an ancestor worked on blast furnaces for steel mills. Mr Major's paternal grandparents lived in the Pittsburgh area in the late 19th century. During Mr Major's whirlwind visit the two leaders will discuss Bosnia and Northern Ireland, among other topics.

South Africa will close the final chapter in its colonial history today by hauling down its flag over Walvis Bay after 84 years of rule and handing the territory to Namibia. Namibia's President, Sam Nujoma, who grew up in Walvis Bay, will officiate at the ceremony.

When Namibia gained independence from South Africa in March 1990, Pretoria kept Walvis Bay and President F W de Klerk's government said the enclave would not be returned. But the African National Congress and its allies forced the issue before the multi-party negotiating forum and the government was made to concede its return.

A circuit judge in Manassas, Virginia, is to decide today whether to release Lorena Bobbitt from a mental hospital. She has been there since she was acquitted on grounds of insanity last month of malicious wounding following a trial for cutting off her husband's penis. Her lawyers said the doctors who examined her recommended she be released.

Today sees the return of another case that attracted a blaze of media attention. A new trial date is to be set today in Los Angeles for the Menendez brothers, who admitted killing their wealthy Beverly Hills parents. A mistrial was declared last month after two juries deadlocked on first-degree murder charges. The prosecutors who failed to win convictions in the murder trial were removed last week.

In Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela, the ANC president, meets Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the president of the Zulu-based Inkatha Freedom Party, tomorrow. Mr Mandela hopes to convince his main black political rival to contest South Africa's first all-race elections in April and help bring peace to the country. Chief Buthelezi and his white right-wing allies in the Freedom Alliance have warned of civil war. They say that they cannot take part in the April vote, complaining that the interim constitution ignores their demands for ethnic self- determination.

The US film director, Steven Spielberg - whose bonanza at the box office has made him the bete noir of defenders of French culture - will meet President Francois Mitterrand tomorrow. The French government successfully fought to have cultural goods, including film, kept out of the Gatt world trade agreement last year. France, backed by other European nations, argued for some form of protectionism to stop an invasion of Hollyood productions, which would harm European film and television.