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Pataki, Giuliani patch things up

In a move that could defuse a nasty GOP primary fight, New York Gov. George Pataki endorsed Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for the Senate on Friday and asked Rep. Rick Lazio to defer his decision on whether to enter the race.

"In order to win, the Republican Party must be unified behind one strong candidate. I believe that Rudy Giuliani has earned the right to be that candidate," Pataki said.

Giuliani, who has had a contentious relationship with the governor over the mayor's endorsement in 1994 of incumbent Mario Cuomo, did not attend the news conference but issued a statement saying, "I very much appreciate Gov. George Pataki's strong words of support."

A GOP primary fight between Giuliani and Lazio could deplete GOP funds and leave the winner vulnerable to expected Democratic candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Giuliani, who has not yet said whether he will run, got the endorsement Friday of former Sen. Alfonse D'Amato who also has been at odds with Giuliani.

Dozens hurt in Texas hotel blast

GRAPEVINE, Texas _ A fireball exploded Friday over the swimming pool of a new hotel near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, critically burning at least one person and lacerating dozens with broken glass.

There was no fire after the initial blast. The hotel's manger said a natural gas line could have been the cause of the explosion.

Witnesses told KDFW-TV the blast took place shortly before 7 p.m. in a ground-floor equipment room of the Embassy Suites hotel, which had opened Tuesday but remained under construction.

Manager Bill Bretches said the facility had 600 guests and 200 employees. Everybody was accounted for, he said.

The Grapevine Police Department said six burn victims were taken to hospitals for treatment.

A hotel maintenance man was airlifted to Parkland Health & Hospital System for treatment of second-degree burns. It was believed he had entered the equipment room, carrying a compressed gas tank, just before the explosion.

Dozens of other people were treated at the scene for cuts caused by flying glass.

Elsewhere . . .

ALABAMA EXECUTION: A man who beat, raped and suffocated an 86-year-old woman on Christmas Eve was executed in the electric chair Friday.

Victor Kennedy, 37, spent 17 years on Alabama's death row after his conviction in the slaying of Annie Laura Orr in 1980.