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News Briefs

U.S. Denounces Iraq For Violating Rights of Shiite Muslims

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

The U.S. State Department denounced the Iraqi government Friday for continued human rights violations in its efforts to drive Shiite Muslims from their ancestral home in the country's southeastern marshlands.

``We have verified extensive draining and burning of the marshes, the burning of villages, and ongoing artillery attacks on civilian centers," the department said in a statement. ``The Iraqi government's tactics are designed to eradicate a culture which has been present in the marshes for thousands of years, and eliminate a fragile ecosystem in the region."

The statement came amid new reports of atrocities from recent visitors to the region, which is part of a protected zone patrolled by U.S., French and British fighters.

Yousif Al-Khoei, the grandson of the late Shiite spiritual leader Ayatollah Al-Khoei, spent last Friday, Saturday and Sunday observing the border region just west of the Iranian town of Susangerd.

In an interview from London on Thursday, Al-Khoei described an encampment of 5,000 Shiite refugees who had fled across the border into Iran. Frightened, hungry and weary from the 130-degree heat, many of the fugitives had been injured by the intermittent artillery attacks of the Iraqi army, Al-Khoei said, and most were women and children.

Retroactive Estate Tax Challenged

The Washington Post

WASHINGTON

The National Taxpayers Union, an anti-tax advocacy group, Friday filed a lawsuit seeking to invalidate the retroactive increase in estate and gift taxes that was included in the Clinton administration's recently adopted budget bill.

But the group did not challenge the administration's much-larger retroactive increase in income taxes on the affluent, which many Republican lawmakers have argued was unconstitutional. Instead, it sided with the administration's argument that past court decisions support the retroactive income-tax hike.

``We think it's an unconscionable act ... but the courts have upheld it," said Mark Levin, director of Legal Policy for the Landmark Legal Foundation, which helped prepare the lawsuit.

``Every citizen should be concerned about the precedent created by these cynical tax schemes. If the government succeeds in imposing these unconstitutional retroactive tax increases, one wonders what serious limits will remain on Washington's taxing authority."

Critics have lampooned the provision affecting estates as President Clinton's retroactive tax on the dead, because some recently deceased individuals with large estates had no warning that the money and property they left behind would be subject to the higher levy.

`Hero' Producer Target of Probe Linking Studio to Fleiss

Los Angeles Times

HOLLYWOOD

Steve Roth, a producer of ``Last Action Hero," is a target of the ongoing Sony Pictures investigation into possible ties between its Columbia Pictures unit and Hollywood madam Heidi Fleiss, according to several sources.

Sony auditors are said to be poring over financial records from both ``Last Action Hero" and Steve Roth Productions. Sources said the company is trying to determine whether any studio funds were used to procure prostitutes or drugs.

In an interview Friday, Roth denied knowing Fleiss and said he has no knowledge of being part of an investigation by Sony.

Officials from Sony and Columbia declined comment when specifically asked if Roth is a target of the investigation. The companies have refused to officially confirm or deny whether they are examining possible links between Columbia and Fleiss.

But sources close to the studio said he was among a handful of people at the center of the internal probe, which began after persistent rumors linked Columbia executives and producers to Fleiss. ``He is one of several people tied to the probe," said one high level source.

The names of others under investigation were not divulged. However, those close to the probe said Roth has come under scrutiny at least partly because of his ties to ``Last Action Hero," a costly summer movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that bombed at the box office.

Police Probe Possible Extortion Plot as Jackson Resumes Tour

Los Angeles Times

Michael Jackson, fighting off allegations of sexual abuse and a case of what his doctor described as severe dehydration, returned to the concert stage Friday, performing a lively two-hour show before a capacity crowd in Bangkok, Thailand.

Jackson's appearance was greeted enthusiastically by more than 40,000 fans in Bangkok's National Stadium, temporarily quelling speculation that he was preparing to abort his world tour amid allegations that he sexually abused one or more young boys. Although rumors continued to circulate that Jackson was preparing to surrender to authorities, his lawyer vehemently denied those reports.

``There is no plan for him to surrender because there is no reason for him to surrender," said attorney Howard Weitzman in Los Angeles.

In Bangkok, Jackson did not address the international furor surrounding the sex abuse allegations.

Meanwhile, police and social workers in Los Angeles continued to press forward with their investigation on two fronts: opening an inquiry into allegations that Jackson was the victim of a $20 million extortion attempt and interviewing young people close to Jackson about whether he ever made sexual advances toward them.

Although investigators have the statement of a 13-year-old who says he was molested by Jackson over a period of months, sources say their investigation has been hampered by a shortage of physical or medical evidence directly linking Jackson to sexual molestation.