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News Briefs, part 1

Judge May Throw out Part Of Case Against Abdel-Rahman

Los Angeles Times

NEW YORK

A federal judge told prosecutors and defense lawyers Thursday he might throw out part of the criminal case against Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman and 14 others for allegedly conspiring to bomb the World Trade Center and other New York facilities and assassinate political leaders.

At a pretrial hearing, U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey said he did not see how allegations that the defendants participated in the 1990 murder of Rabbi Meier Kahane, founder of the radical Jewish Defense League, and in plans to kill Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak during a visit to the United Nations were relevant to a charge of seditious conspiracy against the U.S. government. That charge is the first count in a massive indictment returned last August.

Seditious conspiracy is an offense based on a little-used law that forbids plotting violence against the U.S. government or blocking law enforcement.

While dropping those charges would deprive prosecutors of an emotional and jury-appealing part of their case, charges related directly to the bomb plot will remain.

Flawed Hubble Space Telescope Will Be Reinspected

The Baltimore Sun

The sensitive and costly instruments needed to repair the flawed Hubble Space Telescope will be reinspected to ensure against any contamination, following a wind storm that blew dust into a cargo room at Cape Canaveral, NASA officials said Wednesday.

The instruments, including the $50 million Corrective Optics Space Telescope Axial Replacement, were boxed, enclosed in two sealed, custom-made, plastic-like bags and stored in a special, pressurized room on the launch pad, said Bruce Buckingham, a Cape spokesman. They were to be waiting to be loaded on the shuttle Endeavour, he said.

The outer bag was found this weekend covered with a "fine dusting" of a sand-like grit, he said. Agency officials do not suspect contamination, but, as a precaution, they are returning the instruments to a facility where the smoky-colored bags will be cleaned and the equipment will be removed and checked, the spokesman said.

Officials of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration do not believe the cleaning will delay the mission's target lift-off of Dec. 1, Buckingham said.

NASA officials also are trying to determine how the sandy grit got into the cargo room that held the Hubble equipment.

Aristide Warns of Potential New Haitian Refugee Flood

Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

In an oblique warning that failure to restore democracy in Haiti could touch off a new flood of refugees, exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide said Wednesday that many of his countrymen stayed home this year because they hoped for an end to the military government.

Although he did not specifically say Haitian boat people will again try to flee the impoverished island unless military and police leaders allow him to regain power, Aristide left little doubt that he believes hope for the eventual restoration of democracy is holding many of them back.

Under the terms of a peace agreement signed in July by Aristide and Lt. Gen. Raul Cedras, the army commander, Aristide was to have regained power last Saturday. But Cedras and his supporters refused to honor that agreement.

In an interview with with Radio France International, rebroadcast over the Port-au-Prince station Radio Metropole, Aristide said his side would discuss only the timing of a transfer of power to him from the military.

State Department spokesman Mike McCurry said other governments have begun to respond positively to Washington's call for a worldwide freeze on the bank accounts and other assets of Haitian military leaders and their wealthy civilian supporters.