Libyan convicted in Lockerbie trial

CAMP ZEIST, Netherlands

A Scottish court, in a verdict that linked Libya to terrorism, yesterday gave a life sentence to a Libyan intelligence agent for the murder of 270 people in the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 but allowed a second Libyan to walk free.

Tears and jubilation from victims” relatives greeted the guilty verdict read out by presiding judge Lord Ranald Sutherland. The three-judge court convicted Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, 48, and sentenced him to a minimum of 20 years in a Scottish prison before he would be eligible for parole.

The court found that al-Megrahi “was serving a foreign government.”” The statement bolstered claims of victims” relatives that Libyan Col. Moammar Gadhafi and his government are responsible for the bombing of the New York-bound flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, on Dec. 21, 1988. The conviction could also give impetus to civil actions that the relatives have filed against Libya.

The verdict was the climax of an $80 million trial and nearly nine months of hearings at a special court in the Netherlands. The White House said U.N. and U.S. sanctions on Libya would remain in place, and U.S. and British officials said they will keep investigating the bombing. President Bush said at a Cabinet Room meeting with members of Congress that Libya should remain isolated until Gadhafi agrees to “accept responsibility for this act and to compensate the families.””

Bush meets with black lawmaker caucus


Black lawmakers aired a list of grievances to President Bush yesterday, reiterating their deep opposition to John Ashcroft as attorney general and reminding Bush of the wounds inflicted by the Florida election deadlock.

Thirty-one members of the Congressional Black Caucus discussed more than 20 issues with the Republican president, including racial profiling, election reform, AIDS, Africa, education and civil rights. The meeting, which Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer described as “cordial,” lasted 90 minutes twice as long as scheduled. Bush pledged a high level of sensitivity on civil rights, and promised to make Africa a high priority, Fleischer and participants said.

Bush opened the meeting by telling his visitors, “I will remind you all that I understand the difference between the executive branch and the legislative branch. I only get to suggest, and you all pass the laws.”

The Republican president told the caucus that he saw the gathering as “the beginning of hopefully a lot of meetings.”

No single issue dominated the meeting, said Fleischer, who attended. But Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said the Ashcroft nomination took up “quite a bit of time.”

Quake confirmed to have killed 12,000


Rescue workers pulled out more survivors yesterday from the rubble of the 7.9-magnitude quake that hit the western state of Gujarat on Friday. Bulldozers began breaking down the walls of wrecked buildings, raising fears that people buried alive by a devastating earthquake could be killed by machines and explosives. The confirmed death count reached 12,000.

State officials said they believe 13,000 additional dead are buried in the rubble. Much of the relief effort now has turned to caring for the living, with volunteers setting up a huge Red Cross field hospital. At least 29,000 people were injured in the 7.9-magnitude quake that hit the western state of Gujarat on Friday.

Haren Pandya, the Gujarat home minister, said his toll of 25,000 dead was based on reports gathered from government agencies of bodies recovered, people reported missing and the estimated number still lying under debris.

Federal Reserve cuts interest rates


The Federal Reserve, pledging a “rapid and forceful” response to the economy”s dramatic slowdown, cut interest rates on yesterday by another half percentage point.

It was the second rate reduction this month and was viewed as a strong signal the central bank plans to move as aggressively as it can to fight the growing threat of a recession.

The widely expected rate cut drew a far more muted response on Wall Street than the Fed”s surprise announcement of its first half-point reduction on Jan. 3. That move had triggered the biggest one-day rally in Nasdaq”s history. The Fed said it was lowering its target for the federal funds rate, the interest that banks charge each other, to 5.5 percent. It had been at 6.5 percent at the beginning of this month, reflecting six rate increases from June 1999 to May 2000.

Boy suspended for chicken finger “gun”


An 8-year-old boy was suspended from school for three days after pointing a breaded chicken finger at a teacher and saying, “Pow, pow, pow.”

The incident apparently violated the Jonesboro School District”s zero-tolerance policy against weapons. The boy was suspended last week.

Kelli Kissinger, mother of first-grader Christopher, said she believed the punishment was too severe. “I think a chicken strip is something insignificant,” she said. “It”s just a piece of chicken. How could you play like it”s a gun?”

Principal Dan Sullivan said he was prevented by law from discussing Christopher”s suspension. Sullivan said the school has zero-tolerance rules because the public wants them.

In March 1998, four students and a teacher were killed and 10 others wounded when two youths opened fire on a schoolyard in Jonesboro.

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