WASHINGTON

Study says IRS declined business audits

The Internal Revenue Service audited fewer corporations, small
businesses and partnerships last year but more individual
taxpayers, according to a study of government data.

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access
Clearinghouse, in its analysis of IRS data, concluded that the
audit rate for businesses of all sizes slid slightly last year to
2.1 audits for every 1,000 businesses, down from 2.2 audits per
1,000 businesses the previous year.

At the same time, the IRS audited 14 percent more individual tax
returns. The audit rate for individuals increased last year to 6.5
audits for every 1,000 taxpayers.

Official audit rates released by the IRS last month show a
similar trend.

Researchers said the declining audits of businesses exposes a
flaw in the administration’s tough stance against corporate
wrongdoing.

“These and a number of other measures — documented
by the agency’s own data — indicate that the actual
performance of the IRS differs in significant ways from some of the
Bush administration claims when it comes to cracking down on
corporate scofflaws,” the report said.

 

BAGHDAD

U.S. helicopter shot down west of Baghdad

Gunmen shot down a U.S. attack helicopter near Baghdad
yesterday, killing two crewmembers. A fragile cease-fire held
between Sunni insurgents and Marines in the city of Fallujah, while
the U.S. military suggested it is open to a negotiated solution in
its showdown with a radical Shiite cleric in the south.

More than 600 Iraqis, mostly women, children and elderly, have
been killed in a week of fighting in Fallujah, Rafie al-Issawi, the
director of the city hospital, told The Associated Press. But a
Marine commander said most of the dead were probably
insurgents.

Fallujah residents took advantage of the lull in fighting to
bury their dead in two soccer fields. One of the fields had rows of
freshly dug graves, some marked on headstones as children or with
the names of women.

The Fallujah violence spilled over to the nearby western
entrance of Baghdad, where gunmen shot down an AH-64 Apache
helicopter. As a team moved in to secure the bodies of the two dead
crewmen, a large force of tanks and troops pushed down the highway
outside the Iraqi capital, aiming to crush insurgents.

 

JERUSALEM

Likud sets date for vote on withdrawal

Israel’s ruling Likud party will vote April 29 on Prime
Minister Ariel Sharon’s hotly debated plan to pull out of the
Gaza Strip and four West Bank settlements, a party spokesman said
yesterday.

Seeking the vote is an enormous gamble for Sharon because his
hard-line party is divided over the plan and approval is far from
assured. Sharon has pledged to honor the outcome and could come
under growing pressure to resign if he loses.

Likud spokesman Shmuel Dahan said the date was chosen at a
meeting of the party’s Central Election Committee. If he wins
approval from Likud’s 200,000 members, Sharon reportedly will
seek Cabinet and parliamentary approval within days.

The decision on the date came a day before Sharon was to leave
for Washington.

 

JERUSALEM

Suicide bombers funded by Hezbollah

The Islamic group Hezbollah has become a key sponsor of
Palestinian violence, funding suicide bombings that have killed
dozens of Israelis in recent months, Israeli intelligence sources,
Palestinian Authority officials and militants have told The
Associated Press.

The Iranian-backed group, based in Lebanon, first earned a
foothold in the 3 1/2-year-old Palestinian uprising by giving money
to Hamas and Islamic Jihad, ideological allies that also seek the
destruction of Israel.

In recent months, it has pulled off something akin to a hostile
takeover of some cells of the Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades,
wrenching them away from Yasser Arafat’s secular Fatah
movement and turning them into a proxy army.

 

VATICAN CITY

Pope’s Easter plea: End conf lict in Iraq

Pope John Paul II celebrated Easter Mass yesterday with calls
for world leaders to resolve conflicts in Iraq, the Holy Land and
Africa, as Christians around the world marked the holiest day on
the church calendar.

John Paul delivered a message of peace on the steps of St.
Peter’s Basilica, praying that hope would conquer the
“inhuman” phenomenon of terrorism and urging
Christians, Muslims and Jews to seek greater unity with each
other.

“May the culture of life and love render vain the logic of
death,” he told tens of thousands of the faithful and
tourists gathered in St. Peter’s under tight security on an
overcast day.

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