Israeli Cabinet calls for Arafat exile

JERUSALEM

A finger-wagging Yasser Arafat warned yesterday against any attempt to send him into exile, while Israeli Cabinet ministers repeated calls to drive the Palestinian leader out of the region after the latest attack killed five Israelis.

In the biggest sweep in months, Israeli troops stormed into Nablus in dozens of tanks and armored vehicles, rounding up 30 suspected Palestinian militants. The West Bank’s largest city is a hotbed for militants, and troops have been in and out for the past seven months.

The proposal to expel Arafat, backed by several members of Israel’s Security Cabinet, failed to win approval yesterday.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said in a television interview yesterday that Israel’s security chiefs have advised him not to expel Arafat, as demanded by several hard-line ministers in his Cabinet. But he also said the debate would continue.

Sharon also predicted that a Palestinian state would be created after the current round of Mideast violence ends. Asked by Channel 2 TV if he favored creating such a state formally, Sharon replied: “In the end, when terrorism will end … there will be a political settlement that will also bring this about.”

Sharon’s comments came after Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged for the second time in two days that Arafat be expelled.

Ofcials believe bin Laden tape is authentic

WASHINGTON

Counterterrorism officials pored over the audio recording believed to be from Osama bin Laden yesterday, seeking clues about the terrorist chief’s whereabouts and his intentions to strike America and its allies.

Officials said they were treating the tape as a real message from al-Qaida’s missing leader, even as the CIA and National Security Agency conducted a technical analysis of the tape aimed at further authenticating it.

President Bush said he was taking the message “very seriously.”

“Whoever put the tape out has put the world on notice yet again that we’re at war,” the president said after a Cabinet meeting at the White House.

The president bristled when asked if bin Laden should have been captured sooner by U.S. and coalition forces. “We’re making great progress in the war on terror. Slowly, but surely, we are dismantling the terrorist network,” he said.

Many intelligence analysts have concluded the audiotape almost certainly was made by bin Laden, said a senior law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity. Other U.S. officials were more conservative, saying it probably came from bin Laden.

Greenspan says rates can still be cut

WASHINGTON

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said yesterday the economy has hit a “soft patch” as corporate accounting scandals and a possible war with Iraq have shaken consumer and business confidence.

Greenspan made clear in testimony to Congress that the Fed would not hesitate to cut interest rates further if necessary to bolster the wobbly economy. But he also indicated that the central bank believes the most likely economic outcome is a return to stronger growth next year.

If the economy does rebound, Greenspan said, the Fed is ready to quickly reverse course and begin raising interest rates to make sure that the extraordinarily low interest rates of the past year do not drive prices higher.

The central bank last week reduced its target for overnight bank loans by a half-point to 1.25 percent, the lowest level since July 1961.

Bishops approve of sex abuse policy

WASHINGTON

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops overwhelmingly approved a compromise sex abuse policy yesterday after the Vatican demanded they make changes to balance fairness to priests with compassion for victims.

Weary of scandal, bishops hoped the new plan would restore their credibility after 10 months of revelations that church leaders have sheltered molesters in the clergy. Victims and some rank-and-file Catholics were dissatisfied, and pledged to fight on for greater accountability from bishops.

The Vatican still must approve the policy to make it church law, and therefore binding on the bishops, but the revisions were worked out with officials from the Holy See. U.S. prelates said they are certain the document will receive Vatican approval.

Jiang likely to step down as president

BEIJING

The list naming China’s next ruling elite was ready yesterday but sealed to the rest of the world until the Communist Party wraps up its congress – a process expected to culminate in the retiring of President Jiang Zemin as the nation begins five, increasingly capitalist years of new government.

Party leaders had approved candidates to be elected today to its Central Committee, setting in motion what could become the communist government’s first orderly change of leadership.

The new committee will in turn appoint the exclusive Politburo and its Standing Committee – the party’s highest echelon of power – a day later.

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