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News briefs, part 1

Freedom Appears Imminent for Cancer-Ridden Honecker

Los Angeles Times

BONN, Germany

Freedom appeared imminent Wednesday for Erich Honecker after Berlin's highest court ruled that it violated the "human dignity" of the former East German Communist leader to try him for manslaughter when he is dying of liver cancer.

Although the 80-year-old Honecker remained in a prison hospital overnight, preparations were under way for his departure to Chile, where he is expected to be reunited with his exiled family and live out his remaining days in a Santiago clinic.

Defense attorney Wolfgang Ziegler said Honecker was too ill and "depressed" over his failing health to celebrate his legal victory after a two-year battle to avoid trial. The chief architect of the Berlin Wall "can no longer display normal reactions," Ziegler told reporters after charges were dropped on humanitarian grounds.

The state prosecutor's office immediately challenged the decision, but the complaint was unlikely to prevent Honecker from leaving.

The sensational trial was aborted after Berlin's Constitutional Court ruled Tuesday that Honecker "in all likelihood would not survive" the process, expected to drag on for at least a year. The criminal court where Honecker went on trial Nov. 12 quickly agreed to drop the charges.

A second criminal court in Berlin is expected to follow suit early Wednesday and lift its own warrant against Honecker on embezzlement charges, clearing the way for him to leave the country.

Honecker had been charged in the deaths of 13 East Germans, shot while trying to flee across what was once the world's deadliest frontier. Human rights organizations estimate that at least 200 East Germans were killed along the frontier that split the two Germanys for most of the Cold War. Countless others who never made it that far were imprisoned, if they were even suspected of plotting an escape.

Prosecutors argued that the Stalinist leader who ruled East Germany with an iron fist for 18 years must be held responsible for "shoot-to-kill" orders he allegedly issued to his border guards. The number of counts against him had been reduced from 75 to expedite the trial.

Doctors have said that an inoperable liver tumor will likely kill Honecker in three to six months, but the frail patient has outlived such grave predictions several times in the past and was pronounced fit enough to withstand the long flight to South America.

Ruling on a motion by the defense team, the Constitutional Court said there was "no justifiable reason for the continuation of such a trial" in the face of convincing medical testimony that Honecker would not live long enough for a verdict.

Send Your Congressman E-mail

Newsday

By April, all members of the House, their staffs, their committees and even standing subcommittees will be able to connect to the Internet, a worldwide network of computer networks and more than 6 million users. Assuming you have their e-mail address -- and just how you would have such a thing is still unclear -- subscribers to information services such as CompuServe and GEnie, as well as commercial e-mail services like MCImail and ATTmail, would be able to send electronic messages to their elected representatives. So far, there are no plans to put the Senate on line.

"We want people who have a need to use electronic mail to use it," said Jack Belcher, who is overseeing the project at the House Information Services, a congressional computer networking department. He added that "access to the public" was the main reason the system is being offered, though how that will occur is still being hashed out.

Don't expect a directory of congressional e-mail addresses soon.

For starters, "it's up to the individual member to decide if he even wants Internet access," Belcher said. If so, the member may opt to set up a "public" mailbox, where unsolicited correspondence could be mailed. Or the member of Congress could make a personal mailbox address publicly known. Some of the more technophobic members of the House could even opt to have all e-mail messages be printed out upon receipt, Belcher said.

Only a handful of representatives and 2,000 of 12,000 staff members currently have Internet access.

Weather

SNOW ! ! !

By MichaeL Morgan
Staff Meteorologist

A cyclone developing along the mid-Atlantic coast today will slowly move northeast and intensify over the next 24 hours. As it moves north, surface winds will advect colder air into the region changing any mixed snow, ice pellets, and rain to all snow. The snow will also become heavier later tonight. As the storm moves away from the area Thursday morning, the heaviest snowfall will be over. Light snow and flurries will linger in coastal sections into the afternoon. At least 6 inches are likely in the local area by early Thursday. A weak disturbance may spread a bit more snow in the area on Friday before conditions really clear for the weekend.

Today: Wet snow, sleet, and or rain changing to all snow. Winds east-northeast 10--15 mph. High 34F (1C).

Tonight: Snow--becoming heavy at times with blowing and drifting snow. Winds increasing northeast 15--25 mph. Low 28F (-2C).

Tomorrow: Heavy snow early, then cloudy with occasional light snow. Blowing and drifting continuing. High 34F (1C). Low 25F (-4C). Winds north-northeast 15--25 mph (24--40 kph).

Friday: Mostly cloudy with a period of light snow possible. High 32--36F (0--2C). Low 25--28F (-4 to -2 C).