News in brief


Published March 5, 2001

Palestinian suicide bomber kills three


A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up and killed three Israelis at a bustling intersection yesterday, the second lethal explosion in four days as militant Islamic groups vowed more attacks against Israel"s incoming government.

With Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon preparing to assume power, possibly this week, the pair of bombings has shown that Israel remains vulnerable despite sealing off Palestinian areas in a bid to keep out militants.

Sharon, a former general who says he will restore security to Israel after five months of fighting, said "the terror attack is a very serious one that shows that the Palestinian Authority is not taking the necessary steps" to halt violence.

"We know very well that the most loyal forces of (Palestinian leader Yasser) Arafat are involved in attacks," Sharon said. However, he did not directly link Arafat loyalists to yesterday"s bombing.

The unidentified Palestinian attacker detonated the bomb just before 9 a.m. at a busy street corner in the coastal resort town of Netanya. The force hurled a car into the air, shattered shop windows and crumpled street stalls in the city"s central market area. The Israeli dead included an 85-year-old man and two women, Israeli officials said.

"It was horrible, just horrible," said William Weiss, a municipal worker. "There were hands, legs, flesh, and a head thrown around. It turned out that was apparently the terrorist"s head."

Police scoured the streets for evidence while a team of volunteer Jewish Orthodox men picked up pieces of flesh on the bloodied street to ensure a proper Jewish burial for the dead Israelis.

Israel has been hit by multiple bombings since the Israel-Palestinian fighting began in September, contributing to a general sense of vulnerability. Sunday"s attack came on the heels of a taxi van bombing Thursday in northern Israel that killed an Israeli man and wounded nine others, including the bomber.

No one has claimed responsibility for the latest blast, but the two leading Islamic militant groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, both have said they would carry out attacks to undermine Sharon"s government.

"Resistance will continue until we push the occupiers out of our land," said Mahmoud Zahar, a spokesman for Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Clinton considers questioning on pardons


Former President Clinton is considering an offer to be questioned in private by senators about his last-minute pardons, an aide said yesterday.

The Republican leading the Senate"s pardons investigation said he thinks Clinton "may be inclined" to accept the offer, while the former president"s spokeswoman said it was too early to say what might happen.

Senate leaders, treading gingerly over the prospect of trying to compel Clinton"s testimony about his 176 last-minute pardons and commutations, have suggested a meeting with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and a Democrat as a way of "getting to the basic facts," Specter said.

Clinton"s spokeswoman, Julia Payne, responded: "With all due respect to Senator Specter, it is very premature to talk about what the president may or may not do."

She said Clinton had no time frame for making a decision about the proposal.

Specter, who heads the Senate Judiciary Committee"s investigation, said he discussed the option with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) as well as the committee chairman, Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah, and other Senate leaders. He detailed the proposal in a letter to Clinton last week.

Specter also said he had an "informal conversation" with Clinton"s chief of staff, Karen Tramontano, and was told Clinton "is thinking about it." Payne said Tramontano had wanted more information about the offer.

"I think as the facts build up, the president is evaluating it and may be inclined to come in," Specter said on ABC"s "This Week."

Committees in both the House and Senate are investigating whether the pardons, including one granted to fugitive financier Marc Rich, were linked to political contributions.

Specter said he suggested "very professional questioning by me with another Democrat, if the president chooses, in an office, his office if he would like, getting to the basic facts."

Were Clinton to reject the proposal, Specter said he did not know what would happen. "Technically there could be a subpoena. I don"t think that will happen," he said, citing the "sensitivity" of forcing a president to testify.

On Monday, the House Government Reform Committee was expected to get more details about large donations to the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, which is raising money for a library to be built in Little Rock, Ark. The committee already has received a list of the top donors, but was awaiting specific information, including dates of contributions.

Rich"s ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, contributed $450,000 to the foundation and her friend, Beth Dozoretz, a former finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, has pledged to raise $1 million for the library project.

Dozoretz refused to testify before the House committee last week about her involvement in Rich"s pardon, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination. Denise Rich also has refused to testify.

IRA suspected in blast outside BBC


Raising the specter of a campaign of attacks by opponents of the peace process in Northern Ireland, a powerful bomb blamed by police on IRA dissidents went off early yesterday outside the British Broadcasting Corp."s television center. One man was hurt.

Britain was on high alert against new attacks following the blast, which Prime Minister Tony Blair denounced as a "cowardly act." He said it would not deter peace efforts in Northern Ireland.

"There are those outside the peace process who are set on trying to turn the clock back to the days before the Good Friday Agreement," Blair said through a spokesman, referring to the province"s 1998 peace accord.

"We will not allow them to take our focus from working with all parties to move the process on."

No group claimed responsibility for the bombing, but Scotland Yard blamed defectors from the Irish Republican Army, which has observed a cease-fire since 1997. IRA splinter groups that want to keep up the fight to drive British troops out of Northern Ireland have been linked by police to a series of attacks in recent months in London.

"It is quite clear that we are dealing with ruthless terrorists who are quite prepared to use ruthless tactics without any care for the consequences," said Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alan Fry, head of the anti-terrorist branch of the Metropolitan Police. "I fear we will see more attacks in coming days or weeks."

Hours after that warning, the area around busy Victoria Station in the heart of London crowded with tourists and shoppers was cordoned off for about 90 minutes after a vehicle deemed suspicious was spotted. The bomb squad moved in and carried out a "controlled explosion," police said, but no explosive device was found.

The BBC blast, which ripped through a quiet neighborhood in west London shortly after midnight and sent an orange fireball into the sky, was preceded by two telephoned warnings that used code words known to police.

Police said the bomb was made of 10 to 20 pounds of high explosive they did not disclose the type and planted in a red taxi that was left parked outside the BBC building, facing the wrong way with its lights turned on. The device, controlled by a timer, was detonated as police tried to disable it by remote control.

The taxi was destroyed in the blast, but it was traced to a north London dealer who said he had sold it the day before to a man with a Northern Ireland accent, according to police. Forensic experts spent the day scouring the scene for clues.

The television center"s main building was evacuated before the explosion police said there would almost certainly have been "significant injuries" otherwise. The blast, which could be heard miles away, shattered windows and cracked plaster in nearby buildings, scattering debris over a wide area.

Tom Ryan, who lives in a nearby building, said he was woken by a "tremendous bang" that shook the room. "We went outside and there was police everywhere telling us to get back inside," he said.

A London subway system worker was treated at the scene for cuts from flying glass.

The BBC said it handed over tapes from its surveillance cameras in the parking lot to the authorities, but had no other immediate comment, saying the investigation was a police matter. BBC programming was not interrupted.

Tensions in Northern Ireland have been rising in recent months over stalled IRA disarmament and bitter quarrels over police reforms in the province. David Trimble, the Protestant leader of Northern Ireland"s struggling power-sharing government, said he believed IRA dissidents wanted to "pull off a spectacular" attack before general elections expected this spring in Britain.

The senior Catholic in the Northern Ireland government, Seamus Mallon, said the bombers were going against the will of the people of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, who overwhelmingly endorsed the Good Friday accord in a referendum.

Fry, the deputy assistant commissioner, said police were looking at the possibility that the attack was staged partly in retaliation for a hard-hitting BBC documentary last year that focused on the Real IRA, an IRA splinter group which carried out a 1998 bombing in the Northern Ireland town of Omagh.

The Omagh blast, which killed 29 people, was the worst terrorist strike in Northern Ireland"s history.

Drug companies sue South Africa


Nearly every major pharmaceutical company in the world is suing the government of South Africa in a case viewed as a landmark in the battle to get cheap AIDS medication to many of the world"s poorest countries.

The more than three dozen companies argue that a 1997 South African law allowing the government to import or produce cheap, generic versions of patented drugs is too broad and unfairly targets drug manufacturers. They plan to ask the Pretoria High Court to invalidate the law in hearings beginning Monday.

The government, AIDS activists and international human rights groups say the drug companies are trying to wring profits out of a public health nightmare that threatens to devastate South Africa and dozens of other impoverished countries.

The case is about whether "the commercial interests of the companies or the human rights of the people who are trying to stay alive" is more important, said Belinda Coote, regional director of the relief agency Oxfam.

More than 25 million of the 36 million people infected with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa, one of the world"s most impoverished regions. In 2000, 2.4 million people in the region died from the effects of AIDS.

These statistics, coupled with a perception that some drug companies care more about stopping the spread of generic drugs than the spread of HIV, have damaged the industry"s standing.

"I don"t think it"s good for their image and I think that a lot of them will just eventually give these drugs away," said Henry Grabowski, professor of economics at Duke University.

But access to AIDS medication has proven an embarrassing issue for the government and the United States as well.

Under former President Nelson Mandela, South Africa was criticized for spending millions of dollars of its precious health budget on a controversial AIDS awareness play and developing its own AIDS medication, Virodene, which was found to contain an industrial solvent.

The new government has yet to make a relatively inexpensive course of anti-retroviral medication widely available to pregnant woman to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

When South Africa passed a law in 1997 giving the health minister a limited right to import generic versions of patented drugs or license their domestic production, the U.S. government put South Africa on a watch list for trade sanctions.

After AIDS activists repeatedly embarrassed Vice President Al Gore with the issue at the start of his presidential campaign, the government reversed itself, agreeing to support South Africa as long as the law was applied consistently with international trade regulations.

The law has never been applied, however, because of the lawsuit.

The case is not about "patents versus patients" and has little to do with AIDS, said Mirryena Deeb, head of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of South Africa, which is part of the lawsuit.

Under the law, the health minister would have the authority to essentially invalidate the patents of any medicine, she said, destroying the companies" profits and their efforts to recoup their costs for developing the drugs.

"This fight is about broad powers, arbitrary powers and a law that we still don"t know what it means," Deeb said.

The government says the industry is overreacting, and the health minister would invoke the law only in times of emergency such as now.

"The intention of this act is simply to ensure that South Africa meets its constitutional obligation to provide health care to all South Africans," said Dr. Ayanti Ntsaluba, director general of South Africa"s health ministry.

But the pharmaceutical industry says South Africa has been unwilling to take advantage of several companies" offers of vastly reduced prices for their AIDS drugs.

Bad weather cripples crash recovery


Military officials battled slick, muddy conditions yesterday as they worked to recover the remains of 21 National Guard personnel killed when their twin-engine C-23 Sherpa crashed in a field in heavy rain.

Officials weren"t sure how long the recovery would take because of deep mud in the area, which has had nearly 4 inches of rain over the weekend.

"It"s a quagmire," said Lt. Col. Deborah Bertrand, a Robins Air Force Base spokeswoman.

Three Army personnel and 18 Air National Guard members were killed when the transport plane crashed Saturday morning south of Macon and burst into flame.

Officials said there were two debris fields: one 400-feet-by-400-feet and a smaller one about a quarter-mile away.

Yesterday, skies were overcast and winds were strong as about 150 workers searched slowly through the wreckage.

"They"re far more concerned with safety at this point, than speed," said Maj. Randy Noller, spokesman in National Guard Bureau in Washington. "Slippery mud makes it a relatively dangerous site."

The bodies will be taken to an Air Force casualty center in Dover, Del.

In-flight data and voice recorders have been found, but investigators don"t know yet if they were working, said Col. Dan Woodward, an Air Force spokesman.

Officials have not determined the cause of the crash, which is being investigated by the Army Safety Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., with the help of the National Transportation Safety Board.

Air Force officials on Sunday escorted reporters and photographers past dozens of muddy all-terrain vehicles and Humvees to a command post about a half-mile from the main crash site. The area could be reached only by a dirt road marked by gullies carved by the heavy weekend rains. Water stood in ditches and fields that had been plowed 3 feet deep in preparation for spring planting.

The Lakeland, Fla.-based plane, assigned to the Florida National Guard"s 171st Aviation Battalion, took off without any problems from Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, said Air Force Capt. Carol Kanode, a field spokeswoman. The aircraft was headed to Oceana Naval Air Station, Va.

All 18 of passengers were members of a Virginia-based military construction and engineering crew on a routine training mission. The plane"s pilot and two other crew members were members of the Florida battalion.

"Military service involves great danger, in times of peace as well as war, and this accident provides stark proof of that," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfield said Sunday in a statement.

In Virginia, Gov. Jim Gilmore ordered state flags to be lowered to half-staff.

Families of and friends the 18 passengers all members of the 203rd Red Horse Unit of the National Guard were gathered at Camp Pendleton State Military Reservation in Virginia Beach.

"It"s a real bad situation when everyone on that list is someone that you knew," said Angelo Holley, 36, a member of the 203rd. Staff Sgt. Ronald Elkin, one of the victims, had been among his closest friends.