WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton has lowered the number of refugees to be allowed legal entry into the United States, granting more entries to refugees from Africa but fewer to those from Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In a memo Wednesday, Clinton authorized entry of up to 78,000 refugees during fiscal 1999, down from 83,000 the year before. That restored the number to its fiscal 1997 level, the lowest figure in a decade.

Admissions are based on country-by-country allocations made each year by the State Department. Applicants must prove a ``well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, membership in a particular social group or political opinion'' to be admitted.

This year, Clinton reduced the entry levels for European refugees by 3,000 and for Latin American refugees by 1,000. His order allowed 5,000 more entries from Africa.

Under the new authorization, 48,000 refugees would be allowed in from Europe, 9,000 from East Asia, 12,000 from Africa, 3,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 4,000 from Near East/South Asia. An additional 2,000 slots were not allocated.

Last year, up to 51,000 European refugees were allowed entry, as well as 14,000 from East Asia, 7,000 from Africa, 4,000 from Latin America and the Caribbean, and 4,000 from Near East/South Asia. There were 3,000 unallocated slots.