Terrorism warning issued for holidays

WASHINGTON

President Bush urged Americans yesterday to return to a high state of alert for holiday season terrorist strikes after U.S. intelligence officials reported an increase in credible threats.

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge, standing in for Bush to announce the third government alert since the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings, said the information does not point to a specific target or type of attack, either in the United States or abroad.

“The convergence of information suggests, ladies and gentlemen of America, you know, we”re at war, be on alert,” Ridge told reporters in the White House briefing room.

“Now is not the time to back off,” Ridge said, echoing a warning he issued the nation”s governors in a conference call yesterday.

The FBI put 18,000 law enforcement agencies “on the highest alert” because of threats culled from intelligence sources across the globe, he said.

In the last several days, intelligence and law enforcement officials reported increased threats. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the threat comes from people with links to al-Qaida, the terrorist network headed by Osama bin Laden and suspected in the Sept. 11 attacks that killed almost 3,500.

Factions agree on post-Taliban framework

KOENIGSWINTER, Germany

Four Afghan factions agreed early today on a framework for a post-Taliban administration, making speedy progress after the United States pressured the northern alliance to drop obstacles threatening to derail talks on Afghanistan”s political future.

In a night of hectic diplomacy, White House official Zalmay Khalilzad telephoned northern alliance leader Burhanuddin Rabbani in Kabul, winning a promise to release a long-delayed list of candidates for the interim administration, U.S. envoy James F. Dobbins said.

With the list finally on the table, delegations representing the northern alliance, exiles loyal to former King Mohammad Zaher Shah and two smaller exile groups quickly finalized the text of an agreement establishing a 29-member interim governing council, U.N. spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

He said they would haggle over who would sit on the council today. A Western diplomat said that could take another 48 hours.

The northern alliance, which has captured Kabul and much of the country from the Taliban with the backing of U.S. forces, has promised to transfer power to the 29-member interim administration once it is formed.

Anthrax discovered at Stamford postal office

STAMFORD, Conn.

A 94-year-old woman who mysteriously died of anthrax more than a week ago likely was the victim of cross-contaminated mail, state and federal officials said yesterday.

Investigators said they have not conclusively determined how Ottilie Lundgren contracted anthrax. But over the past three days, they have found trace amounts of anthrax at a postal distribution facility in Wallingford and in a piece of mail sent to a house in nearby Seymour.

The findings support the theory that Lundgren”s mail picked up spores of anthrax from contaminated letters, officials said.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said he believes experts have now found enough evidence to label the Nov. 21 death of Lundgren as a case of cross-contamination.

Age discrimination, a civil rights issue

WASHINGTON

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide whether older people may use a civil rights lawsuit to claim that company layoffs targeted them more heavily than younger workers.

The court said it will hear an appeal from fired Florida utility workers who claim that company layoffs fell disproportionately on older workers.

The case involves a class-action lawsuit filed by former Florida Power employees who were 40 or older when fired as part of company reorganizations in the early 1990s. The workers claim they were fired because the company wanted to change its image and reduce its costs for salaries and pensions. More than 70 percent of the laid-off workers were 40 or older, the suit claimed.

The justices also refused to interfere with a court-ordered housing desegregation plan for Yonkers, N.Y.

New AIDS meds may improve quality of life

WASHINGTON

An on-and-off medication cycle in which AIDS patients take a powerful drug combination for a week and then stop for a week may be able to control HIV, reduce side effects and cut costs in half.

Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases report that HIV infection did not grow worse in a small group of patients put on the alternating medication cycle.

“If further studies bear out what we”ve seen so far, it will mean that you can reduce the cost of therapy by 50 percent,” said Mark Dybul, a clinical researcher at NIAID, which is one of the National Institutes of Health.

He said the study, which appears today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests the approach may lower the toxicities of the drugs enough to give “a dramatic improvement in a patient”s quality of life.”

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