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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2003

Briefly

August 16, 2003

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London

Blair spokesman to testify in inquiry

Prime Minister Tony Blair's communications chief will testify next week at a judicial inquiry into the suicide of a scientist who reportedly questioned a key element of an official dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, officials said Friday.

A British Broadcasting Corp. report accused the aide, Alastair Campbell, of having "sexed up" the dossier by including information despite the skepticism of intelligence officials.

The inquiry into the death of weapons adviser David Kelly, who was identified as the BBC's anonymous source, enters its second week Monday. Campbell is to testify Tuesday.

Kelly, 59, a leading British government weapons expert, was found dead July 18, his left wrist slashed, near his home in southern England.

Beijing

China lifts animal ban despite SARS threat

A ban on the sale of civet cats in China has been lifted despite the creature's possible link to the spread of SARS -- a sign that economic concerns are trumping medical precautions barely a season after the height of SARS.

The ban, first imposed at the end of April, prohibited the hunting, transport, sale and purchase of most wild animals. It was one of the many sweeping measures China imposed to curb the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which first appeared in November in the southern province of Guangdong before hop-scotching around the globe and infecting thousands.

This week's decision, issued by China's Forestry Administration, lifted the prohibition on sale and purchase of 54 types of wildlife -- including civet cats, which have been identified as carriers of the SARS virus -- as long as they are farm-raised.

Washington, D.C.

Search for U.S. pilot focuses on crash site

U.S. investigators searching in Iraq for clues to the fate of missing Navy pilot Michael Scott Speicher, shot down on the opening night of the 1991 Gulf War, have returned to an early hypothesis: that he died at or near the site where his F-18 fighter crashed.

A later theory -- that he was captured alive and imprisoned in Baghdad -- has been largely dismissed, based on postwar interrogations of Iraqi officials, searches of the prison system and assessments of Iraqi government documents, three defense officials familiar with the search said Friday.

The idea that Speicher was a prisoner gained currency after intelligence reports in the late 1990s cited claims by Iraqi sources that an American pilot was being held in Baghdad. Upon closer examination since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime those claims have unraveled, officials said.

Paris

Cemeteries confront heat wave's aftermath

Gravediggers were called back to work on a national holiday Friday to deal with the grim aftermath of a heat wave that left up to 3,000 dead in France.

Morgues and cemeteries have been overwhelmed during the heat wave, which the health minister called "a true epidemic." A Paris regional funeral official said families would likely have to wait 10 to 15 days to have relatives buried.

If the preliminary French figures of up to 3,000 deaths holds, the death toll would be among the highest in recent years, officials at the World Health Organization in Geneva said.

Liechtenstein

Controversial prince plans to step down

The outspoken ruling prince of Liechtenstein, who garnered controversy in Europe with his push for more power in the tiny state, announced Friday he would step down and hand over the reins to his son in one year.

Prince Hans-Adam II made the announcement at a drinks party at his castle, to which all of Liechtenstein's 33,000 citizens were invited, to mark the country's national day.

Hans-Adam, 58, said the handover to his 35-year-old son, Prince Alois, would take place on the 2004 national day.

After years of struggle, Hans-Adam increased his power in March when Liechtenstein citizens approved constitutional changes that gave him new powers.

The prince now has the right to dismiss governments he considers incompetent and is able to veto any unwelcome laws simply by refusing to sign them within six months.

Ecuador

Lawmaker receives traditional punishment

A congressman with an Indian rights party got a traditional indigenous punishment for not toeing the line: He was stripped to his underwear, doused with cold water and lashed with nettles.

Ecuador's judicial system allows indigenous communities to apply traditional punishments, and such public humiliation and beatings are common in isolated Andean villages.

Congressman Salvador Quishpe, of the Pachakutik party, had been ordered with the rest of his party to vote against a government-sponsored bill on wage reform. Instead, he left Congress before the vote.

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