Party says theater rescue was botched


A Russian political party said yesterday that its investigation into last month’s deadly hostage crisis revealed officials in charge of the rescue acted negligently.

Almost all of the 128 hostages who died in the crisis were killed by an opiate gas used to knock out the gunmen before Russian special forces troops raided the building. Many human rights groups and liberal lawmakers criticized the government because it didn’t tell doctors about the gas quickly enough and didn’t organize timely treatment of victims.

“Negligence on the part of officials in charge … was the chief cause of the numerous deaths,” said lawmaker Eduard Vorobyov, who led the liberal Union of Right Forces’ probe, according to the Interfax news agency.

The government has said it had to release the gas to avoid more casualties among the 800 people in the audience. Officials have also said more than 1,000 doses of antidote were prepared to help victims.

Vorobyov said the party interviewed 11 experts, including people who took part in the events. In remarks on NTV television, he quoted one expert as saying that saving people was not the authorities’ first priority.

“The primary task was liquidating the terrorists. What would happen to the people – that was secondary,” he quoted the expert as saying.

Vorobyov said the expert told him doctors should have been given details of the gas immediately.

Russian officials were reluctant to release the name of the gas used, though they insisted doctors had enough information to treat victims. After an international outcry, they acknowledged several days later that the gas was fentanyl, a powerful opiate most often prescribed as a painkiller.

The 41 hostage-takers were killed, some with execution-style shots to the head, apparently after they too succumbed to the gas.

Union of Right Forces party leader Boris Nemtsov said many officials should be tried for criminal negligence and for organizing a cover-up that had lethal consequences. But he said an official investigation was unlikely.

President Vladimir Putin has promised to appoint an official to investigate the crisis. Many Russians have said they supported the government’s tactics with the rebels, who threatened to blow themselves up with more than 100 pounds of explosives they brought into the theater.

Britain considers revising sex offense laws


Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government yesterday proposed an overhaul of Britain’s Victorian-era sex offense laws, urging Parliament to crack down on sexual predators and to repeal remaining laws against gay male sex.

“The law on sexual offenses is archaic and incoherent,” Home Secretary David Blunkett told the House of Commons, saying that the last major sex offense act, passed 46 years ago, was mostly a consolidation of 19th-century law.

“Our proposals for reform reflect changes in society and social attitudes, and most importantly will better protect the public, particularly children and the vulnerable,” said Blunkett, the minister responsible for law and order.

Proposed new statutes would prohibit buying the sexual services of a child, causing or encouraging children to be sexually exploited and facilitating the commercial sexual exploitation of a child. The legislation would cover victims up to the age of 18.

Blunkett also suggested creating a new offense against “grooming” children for sexual exploitation which would apply to adults who meet a child – in person or on the Internet – with the intention of taking sexual advantage.

Such a statute could apply to an adult who buys ice cream or lunch for a child as an intended prelude to sex.

“Inappropriate adult behavior” such as sending explicit e-mails and photographs to children would also be barred under the proposed package.

“Sex crimes, particularly against children, can tear apart the fabric of society,” Blunkett said, winning support for the new pedophilia proposals from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

The government also proposed getting rid of the offenses of sodomy, solicitation by men and gross indecency – the crime Irish-born writer Oscar Wilde was convicted of in the 1890s, a scandal that ruined him.

“Criminalizing acts between homosexuals that are not against the law for heterosexuals goes against the principle of equality,” Blunkett said. Britain began in 1967 to repeal those laws, and Sacha Deshmukh of the gay rights group Stonewall said Blunkett’s proposals would complete that process. “The changes are long overdue,” he said.

Police cars become newest spot for ads


Cash-strapped police departments around the country are considering selling advertising space on their patrol cars – an idea that has some officers worried they will get stuck driving around with a really embarrassing ad.

“I don’t want my officers driving around in a car that says, ‘Trojan: Ribbed for extra pleasure,'” said Louis Napoletano, public safety director of Long Branch. “We’ve come a long way to be perceived as professional, and this would set us way back.”

Government Acquisitions LLC, a company in Charlotte N.C., started selling the ads about two months ago.

The deal works like this: A police department agrees to put ads on its patrol cars, usually on the hoods or on the side and rear. In return, Government Acquisitions provides new patrol cars to the department for $1, and replaces them every three years. The company keeps the ad revenue.

“Due to a lack of government funding and tight budgets, police departments across America don’t have the equipment they need,” said Ken Allison, president of Government Acquisitions. “If you’re home at night with your wife and kids and some maniac breaks into your house, you call 911 and you want a police car there. You don’t care if there’s a Burger King logo on the trunk.”

So far, 20 mostly smaller municipalities around the country have signed contracts, and scores of other cities have expressed interest, Allison said. The first cars should be delivered within a few months.

NATO meets as war in Iraq looms ahead

PRAGUE, Czech Republic

President Bush urged NATO allies to “come with us” and help disarm Saddam Hussein, even as summit diplomats said yesterday the alliance will not take up arms collectively against Iraq.

Bush, arriving first among 19 NATO leaders for a two-day gathering shadowed by intense security, said alliance nations can find ways individually to support his campaign against Saddam.

“Everybody can contribute something,” he told Czech TV as the White House sought to lower expectations for a major NATO statement on Iraq.

“It all has got to be done within the strategy of the true threats we face in the 21st century, which is global terrorism. That’s the biggest threat to freedom right now,” he said.

NATO intends tomorrow to create a 21,000-strong rapid response force that could mobilize in seven to 30 days to confront threats from terrorists, renegade governments or regional crises.

In a historic reach toward Russia, the alliance also plans to invite seven former communist states into NATO – Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Romania, Slovenia, Slovakia and Bulgaria.

The threat of terrorism loomed over the summit as the Czech government mobilized 12,000 police officers, 2,200 heavily armed soldiers and special anti-terrorist units to protect the presidents and prime ministers.

Engines growling from above, U.S. warplanes helped Czech airmen in small, aging Soviet-era planes protect the Prague airspace. Intelligence officials fear the leaders are an inviting target for al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations.

Men paid homeless to fight, lawyers say

EL CAJON, Calif.

Prosecutors brought new charges yesterday against four men accused of paying the homeless to fight for a videotape, saying the defendants induced some of the brawls by offering beer and doughnuts.

The men were charged with battery, illegal fight promotion and conspiracy in connection with the “Bumfights: A Cause for Concern” videotape sold over the Internet. They were already charged with soliciting an assault with deadly force.

All four entered innocent pleas and said through their attorneys they plan to challenge the charges. Defense lawyers have said much of the action on the tape was staged and contend the charges are vague and legally inadequate.

A note posted on the Bumfights Web site called the charges “nonsense” and said a sequel is in the works.

The video, promoted by broadcast shock jock Howard Stern and denounced on the floor of the House of Representatives, has sold about 300,000 copies at $20 each, according to police in the San Diego suburb of La Mesa.

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