Race relations, AIDS offices won”t close


President Bush scrambled yesterday to defend his commitment to race relations and helping people with AIDS after his chief of staff mistakenly said the offices devoted to those issues would be closed.

White House officials insisted the chief of staff, Andrew Card, had been misinformed when he told USA Today that the offices, both created by President Clinton, would be shuttered. The officials said he plans to keep an AIDS office, although with a smaller staff, and to continue a focus on race relations with a Task Force on Uniting America that will not have its own office but will involve senior officials from several parts of the White House.

The confusion marked the first significant stumble of a White House that has basked in mostly favorable reviews for its smooth and disciplined performance.

Bush was confronted with the issue when he appeared on the South Lawn at 9:30 a.m. for a reunion of the “tax families”” he uses to illustrate the benefits of his tax proposal. Against the photogenic backdrop of racially diverse families and their 20 children in their Sunday best, Bush was asked: “Mr. President, could you tell us how it is, sir, that your chief of staff didn”t know what your plans were for the Office of National AIDS Policy and the President”s Initiative for One America?””

Clintons return items to White House


Former President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton returned about $28,000 worth of sofas, lamps, a needlepoint rug and other furnishings yesterday because of questions over whether the gifts were meant for them or the permanent White House collection.

“As a result of the questions being asked, the property is being returned to government custody until such time that the issues can be resolved,” said Jim McDaniel, the National Park Service”s liaison to the White House. “It may well turn out that that property is rightly the personal property of the Clintons. I think those questions have yet to be resolved.”

After they were criticized for taking $190,000 worth of china, flatware, rugs, televisions, sofas and other gifts with them when they left, the Clintons announced last week that they would pay for $86,000, or nearly half the amount.

Their latest decision to send back $28,000 in gifts brings to $114,000 the value of items the Clintons have either decided to pay for, or return.

McDaniel discussed the matter yesterday with Betty Monkman, the White House curator, and Gary Walters, the chief usher, or executive manager of the White House.

Indonesian president delays impeachment

JAKARTA, Indonesia

Embattled Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid appeared yesterday to have shored up enough political support to stave off an immediate impeachment hearing after military leaders said they would join the country”s two largest political parties in supporting a lengthier, constitutionally outlined process to remove the president.

The military”s decision came as tens of thousands of Wahid”s supporters in Surabaya, the country”s second-largest city, briefly took over the parliament complex and burned down a building belonging to the former Golkar ruling party. The protest was the biggest show of support for Wahid since the political crisis erupted last month and it suggests that any effort to oust the president could lead to a new wave of violence across this Southeast Asian archipelago.

Atlantis to deliver space station piece


Space shuttle Atlantis blasted off yesterday with the most expensive and pivotal piece of the international space station: a $1.4 billion science laboratory.

Atlantis and its crew of five soared into a clear sky at 6:13 p.m.

“We wish you luck as you deliver the heart and soul of the international space station and have fun,” launch director Mike Leinbach told the astronauts moments before liftoff.

The future of the space station, Alpha, is riding on the 11-day mission, three weeks late because of the need to inspect wiring on the shuttle”s boosters.

NASA”s Destiny laboratory is the first of at least three research modules planned for the station. It is so expensive that the space agency could not afford to build a backup. If the lab is damaged or destroyed in flight, the space station will be set back for years.

Mayor charged with battery of his wife


Mayor Joe Carollo was charged with battery and arrested yesterday for allegedly hitting his wife in the head with a teapot.

Maria Ledon Carollo, 42, suffered a golf ball-size lump and bruise on the side of her head, according to police.

Carollo, 45, was denied an emergency bond hearing on the misdemeanor charge and was to wait for Thursday”s hearing in jail.

“I see no reason to treat Mr. Carollo differently than anyone else,” said Circuit Judge Mark King Leban.

If convicted, Carollo is unlikely to face the maximum penalty of a year in jail because he has no prior record, said spokesman Ed Griffith of the Miami-Dade County State Attorney”s Office.

“This could go into a diversion program, with counseling and anger control classes to avoid escalation of violence at any time in the future,” Griffith said.

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