Hussein urges support for inspections


President Saddam Hussein urged the Iraqi people yesterday to support the new U.N. arms inspections as a welcome opportunity to disprove American allegations that his government still harbors weapons of mass destruction.

The White House quickly rejected those claims, insisting they lack credibility. In a holiday greeting to Iraqi leaders, Saddam said he agreed to the inspections, in which one of his own palaces was searched, “to keep our people out of harm’s way” in the face of U.S. threats.

The Iraqi president’s remarks contrasted sharply with a vice president’s harsh words about the inspections late Wednesday.

Taha Yassin Ramadan had accused the U.N. monitors of being U.S. and Israeli spies and of staging the presidential palace inspection as a provocation.

He denounced an “unjust, arrogant, debased American tyranny.”

Then, turning to U.S. allegations that Iraq retains chemical and biological weapons, he said Iraqis wanted to disprove those claims.

“Some might claim that we didn’t give them a proper chance to resist, with tangible evidence, the American allegations,” Saddam said.

Ex-pharmacist will serve 30 years in prison


A pharmacist who diluted chemotherapy drugs given to thousands of cancer patients was sentenced to the maximum of 30 years in prison yesterday after the victims’ families tearfully told how the scheme had cost them precious days with their loved ones.

“Your crimes are a shock to the civilized conscience,” U.S. District Judge Ortrie Smith told Robert Courtney. “They are beyond understanding.”

Courtney, 50, was also ordered to pay $10.4 million in restitution and a $25,000 fine. He showed no emotion as the judge announced his sentence.

His lawyers said he was remorseful, and they urged the judge to impose the lightest possible sentence under the plea agreement – 17 1/2 years without parole.

“I have committed a terrible crime that I deeply and severely regret,” Courtney told the court in soft, shaky voice before being sentenced. “I wish I could change everything.”

But federal prosecutors requested the maximum for a “cold-blooded” crime they said hastened at least one patient’s death and was motivated by greed.

United falls closer to bankruptcy ling


United Airlines stock plummeted yesterday, losing two-thirds of its value, amid rampant speculation that the world’s second-largest airline was about to declare bankruptcy.

The airline’s outlook appeared bleak after the government on Wednesday rejected a request for a $1.8 billion federal loan guarantee that United said it needed to stave off a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

It would be the biggest bankruptcy in airline industry history.

United’s parent, UAL Corp., opened at $3.12 on the New York Stock Exchange and closed at $1, the lowest level in more than 40 years.

Trading was suspended for most of the morning because of what the NYSE said was “news that’s pending that could materially affect the trading of the stock.” But trading resumed later in the day with no announcement from United on its next move.

Prosecutors question rape convictions


Citing DNA on a sock, prosecutors asked a judge yesterday to throw out the convictions of five young men found guilty of beating and gang-raping a jogger during a 1989 “wilding” spree in Central Park that exposed the city’s deep racial divide to the rest of the nation.

District Attorney Robert Morgenthau’s recommendation came 11 months after a convicted rapist who had never before come under suspicion in the case confessed. Also, DNA tests confirmed that his semen was on one of the socks the victim was wearing 13 years ago.

Morgenthau stopped short of declaring the five innocent, but said the confession and the tests create “a probability that the verdicts would have been more favorable to the defendants.”

Sharon gives support to U.S. peace plan


Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offered his strongest endorsement of a U.S.-sponsored framework for peace that ends with creation of a Palestinian state, promising to push for its approval if re-elected.

In a speech to a national security conference late Wednesday night, Sharon also reiterated his insistence that Yasser Arafat has to be removed as the Palestinian leader and that violence against Israeli targets has to end before progress can be made. “Israel can no longer be expected to make political concessions until there is proven calm and Palestinian governmental reforms,” Sharon said.

Fears of new violence rose yesterday after Sharon said several members of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network have infiltrated the Gaza Strip and Lebanon.

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