Lawmakers reject Arafat proposal


The Palestinian parliament yesterday rebuffed Yasser Arafat’s attempt to dilute the authority of a future prime minister, keeping reforms sought by Washington alive for now. In the Gaza Strip, 10 Palestinians, including a 4-year-old girl, were killed in two Israeli raids.

The confrontation between the increasingly assertive lawmakers and Arafat, 73, is being closely watched by international Mideast mediators. President Bush said last week that a prime minister with real powers must be installed before a U.S.-backed three-year “road map” toward Palestinian statehood can be unveiled.

Parliament rejected Arafat’s demand that he retain a say in appointing Cabinet ministers and he summoned rebellious legislators afterward in hopes of changing their minds before a final vote today. Arafat’s Fatah party has a majority in the 88-member parliament.

Attempts to restart Middle East diplomacy could be derailed if Washington determines that the new prime minister does not have sufficient authority and is dependent on Arafat. Last week, parliament approved a bill defining the powers of the prime minister. It gave the premier the authority to form a Cabinet and supervise the work of the ministers, while Arafat was given continued control over peace talks with Israel and command of the security forces.

FBI keeps an eye on Iraqis living in U.S.


The FBI is closely watching dozens of Iraqis and others living in the United States in a wide-ranging security plan meant to deter any reprisals for a U.S. invasion. Officials are considering raising the nation’s terror risk alert level from yellow to orange.

Some of those under FBI watch have been identified through ongoing interviews of up to 50,000 Iraqis. Others are suspected of having links to al-Qaida and other terror groups, possibly including the Hamas and Hezbollah organizations blamed for suicide bombings in Israel.

The interviews with Iraqis are “designed to obtain any information that could be of use to the United States during a possible conflict,” Jeffrey Lampinski, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia field office, said yesterday.

The surveillance is part of a broader plan by the federal government, along with state and local law enforcement officials, to raise the nation’s level of counterterrorism vigilance as the prospects for war increased. Many thousands of law enforcers are involved.

Blood banks begin new germ-testing


Ask about blood safety and most people think AIDS or other viruses that today are incredibly rare in transfusions. Bacterial contamination of blood poses a much bigger risk – sickening and killing dozens of people a year – yet germ-tainted transfusions get little attention.

Now blood banks are starting to adopt new anti-germ technology as transfusion specialists urge the government to tackle the problem.

“Although the public is worried about HIV or West Nile virus, we may have to occasionally stand up and say in public or to a newspaper reporter, ‘That’s not what we should be worrying about,'” blood-safety specialist Dr. James AuBuchon of Dartmouth Medical School told a recent meeting of the government’s top blood advisers. “Share with the public what the real risks are.”

Topping that list: germs. They sneak into donated blood mostly from skin.

Hormone pills found to have placebo effect


Long-term use of hormone replacement therapy, already shown to be bad for older women’s physical health, is found to be no panacea for their memory or mental outlook either.

In a challenge to popular belief, a large new study finds that estrogen and progestin pills fail to make older women feel better by improving their memory, sleep and sex lives.

The new results suggest this is nothing more than a placebo effect. The researchers conclude the pills are still an effective treatment for short-term relief from hot flashes and night sweats, but nothing else.

“The average woman will not experience an improvement in her quality of life by taking this pill,” said Jennifer Hays of Baylor College of Medicine, a psychologist who directed the analysis.

Tribes exempt from campaign finance laws


In their rivalry with other gaming interests, Indian tribes now have an advantage in political giving – they’re exempt from the overall donor limits in the nation’s new campaign law that took effect this election cycle.

The tribes, which last election spread around $7 million in federal donations, do not have to abide by the overall individual donor limit of $95,000 in contributions to candidates, political action committees and parties. And unlike companies, the tribes can give donations directly from their treasuries.

While unlimited-size donations known as soft money are now outlawed for everyone, including the tribes, the campaign finance rules’ special treatment of Indian nations has some competitors crying foul.

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