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News Briefs

Arson Investigators Say Cult Members Started Compound Fire

Los Angeles Times

HOUSTON

In a finding that lends credence to the FBI version of how the Branch Davidian compound was engulfed in flames, arson investigators Monday said they believed followers of cult leader David Koresh set the fires that swept through the flimsy buildings, killing as many as 86 men, women and children.

"The team believes this fire was intentionally set by persons inside the compound," said Paul Gray, a Houston arson investigator who is heading up the examination of the charred compound outside Waco, Texas, where those inside held off federal authorities for 51 days before the April 19 fire.

There have been two versions of how the fire started and spread. The FBI said that several snipers observed Branch Davidians starting the fires, while cult members who survived the blaze said the fire started when a federal vehicle knocked over a lantern.

In his preliminary findings, Gray said the fire started at two locations in the building at about the same time and that large amounts of flammable liquids added to the unnaturally rapid spread of the flames.

Gray said all the investigators were independent of any federal law enforcement agency. However, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Houston confirmed that Gray had in the past worked with that agency as part of a federal task force. And he also said that Gray's wife works for the ATF in Houston as a secretary.

Gay Activists Continue Protests

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

Ending nearly a week of protests for equality and acceptance, gay and lesbian activists were arrested Monday for blocking traffic on Capitol Hill, rallied at the Pentagon, and laid a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery.

Organizers of Sunday's march for gay rights also formally appealed to the White House Monday for a recount of the crowd estimate made by the U.S. Park Police, which they said was drastically low.

Calling the event a milestone in the history of the gay rights movement, organizers said the turnout for the march and a rally was about one million. Park Police said that about 300,000 gay men, lesbians and their supporters -- still a record number here on behalf of homosexual rights -- attended the Mall gathering.

Most of the gay men and lesbians who had come to Washington from across the country to affirm their lives began filing out of the city Monday. But hundreds of them stayed behind for another round of demonstrations aimed at increasing the federal government's commitment to fighting AIDS, lifting the ban on gays in the military and winning passage of legislation that would grant them greater civil rights protections.

Mideast Negotiators Face Tall Orders From Home

Newsday

KHAN YOUNIS, Israeli-Occupied Gaza Strip

As Israelis and Palestinians return to formal peace negotiations Tuesday in Washington, the pressure at home for a breakthrough has never been greater or more dangerous.

"If the Palestinian delegation doesn't get anything this round, they might as well not come back," said Abdelkarim Atiya, a Palestine Liberation Organization official here who represents the mainstream Fatah faction.

Palestinian negotiators left behind a bitter constituency, frustrated by their four-week forced confinement to the West Bank and economically barren Gaza Strip, by Israel's failure to take back all of the approximately 400 Palestinians it deported in mid-December, and by the lack of progress in the 16-month-old peace talks.

They also left behind one of their original members, Ghassan al-Khatib, a delegate from the Palestinian Communist Party who refused to participate. PLO chairman and Fatah chieftain Yasser Arafat was unable to persuade the Communists not to break ranks over whether to attend the latest round of talks.

Weather

Chilly Breezes

By Michael Morgan
Staff Meteorologist

A cyclone developing to the southeast of New England will make itfeel more like early to mid March rather than late April. The cyclone is part of a weather system that produced snow and ice pellets in central New York state yesterday. As the storm develops offshore, it will slow down.

North-northeasterly winds around the cyclone, coupled with some moisture off of the Atlantic will keep coastal areas at least partly cloudy and chilly. At worst, drizzle or light rain may develop. Another disturbance

approaching the area on Thursday will give our current weathermaker the "boot" and warmer southwest winds will set up.

Today: Morning rain and/or snow and ice pellets ending from northwest to southeast, then just cloudy, windy, and cool. Winds north -- northeast 15-25 mph (24-40 kph) and gusty. High near 48F (9C).

Tonight: Partly to mostly cloudy and unseasonably cool. Lows 34-38F (1-3C). Continued windy with winds north -- northwest 10-15 mph (16-24 kph).

Tomorrow: Coastal clouds and cool. High around 50F (10C). Low 40F (4C). Winds northwest 10-15 mph (16-24 kph).

Thursday: Partly sunny and milder. High 57-63F (14-17C). Low 23-28F (-5 to -2C).

Concern Grows Over Effects Of IRA Bombings in London

The Baltimore Sun

LONDON

As structural engineers sifted through the rubble of a bomb explosion that devastated the heart of London's financial district Saturday, concern was growing over the effect such attacks might have on London as a world financial center.

Nobody here wants to give in to the Irish Republican Army, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that the price of a bomb is far less than the cost of replacing the glass and steel of buildings eviscerated by strategically placed explosives.

Nor is there much confidence being expressed in the ability of the security forces to prevent future attacks. The head of the House of Commons home affairs select committee, Sir Ivan Lawrence, demanded "much more effective efforts to protect the City."

London's financial district is called the City, after the City of London Corporation, the local council for the square mile that constitutes the financial district.

David Mellor, a former Cabinet minister, appeared on television to say, "For the second time ... terrorists have ripped the heart out of the City of London, putting at risk lives, livelihoods and the position of the City of London as the world's premier financial center.

Panetta Very Gloomy About Clinton's Legislative Goals

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

As things stand now, Congress appears likely to reject President Clinton's Russia aid package and the North American Free Trade Agreement, and only by aggressively fighting can Clinton win his major goals of economic growth and health-care reform, Budget Director Leon Panetta said Monday.

In addition, Panetta said he believes the president's job-stimulating investment tax credit is in serious trouble and may be scaled back, but not necessarily abandoned, while his proposed energy tax faces "a very tough battle" and could wind up being defeated.

In an extraordinarily candid assessment of the three-month-old Clinton presidency, Panetta said his boss needs to focus on his major priorities and must do "a better of picking and choosing the battles he wants to go through" if he is to avoid more defeats like the one he suffered on his economic stimulus plan.

Last week, Senate Republicans forced the administration to abandon virtually all its stimulus package by mounting a filibuster that the majority Democrats could not overcome. As long as Congress fails to pass some kind of domestic jobs bill, Panetta said, legislation that would provide benefits to other nations stands little chance of approval.

For that reason, Panetta said, he holds out little hope for passage the president's request for nearly $3 billion in additional appropriations to help Russia in its rocky transition to a market economy. He said members of Congress will oppose the Russia aid package until something is done to address unemployment in their own districts.

The outlook appears even more bleak for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which would remove trade barriers between the United States, Mexico and Canada, Panetta said.