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News Briefs

Rumors Abound, Confirmable Facts Are Scant in North Korea

The Washington Post

The diplomat at Pakistan's Embassy in North Korea was a bit testy over the phone, because a lot of calls have come in - including one at 2 a.m. the previous night - concerning speculation that a power struggle is under way against North Korea's new leader, Kim Jong Il.

"If I knew anything, I wouldn't tell you, but the truth is, I don't. We are as ignorant as anybody sitting outside," said the Pakistani diplomat, who asked that his name not be used. "All I can tell you is, everything here is very calm, very cool, very controlled. I don't think there's any truth to all these reports."

So it goes in the great hunt to divine what is happening in North Korea, the world's most reclusive and mysterious nation, where unsettling rumors abound and confirmable facts are scant.

The speculation about Kim's grip on power has intensified this week amid a spate of reports suggesting that adversaries might be trying to block him from succeeding his late father, Kim Il Sung, who died last month after ruling North Korea for more than four decades. The reports assume extra urgency because Pyongyang's unpredictable regime stands accused of trying to build a nuclear arsenal.

But much of the evidence of a conspiracy against the younger Kim either has proved false or, upon examination, looks rather flimsy. Indeed, veteran North Korea watchers say that while it would be foolish to rule out the possibility of a battle quietly raging for control in Pyongyang, the recent developments simply underscore the lack of reliable information about the inner workings of the totalitarian state built by the Kims.

Court Rules AT&T Can Buy McCaw

The Washington Post

U.S. District Judge Harold H. Greene Thursday removed the last major roadblock to AT&T Corp.'s acquisition of the country's largest cellular phone company.

The $12.6 billion buyout of McCaw Cellular Communications Inc. still must be approved by the Federal Communications Commission. But Greene's action and a decision by the Justice Department last month removed the most threatening obstacles to the long-distance telephone giant's attempt to build a nationwide communications grid.

Greene had ruled in April that the proposed purchase would violate a 1982 court order that broke up the Bell telephone system. But Thursday he granted a partial waiver from the order, allowing the deal to proceed.

The decree barred AT&T from the local calling business of the Bell telephone companies and prohibited it from owning assets in those companies. That posed a problem for the acquisition because McCaw's cellular telephone properties in Houston and Los Angeles are owned jointly by the cellular firm and the local telephone companies.

Scientists Studying Chimp DNA Believe There May Be New Species


Like chambermaids cleaning up after departed guests, scientists have climbed trees and scoured branches in Africa seeking chimpanzee hair, hoping to figure out who's who among all the world's chimps.

In the first large study of genetic variation among wild chimpanzees, researchers from the University of California, San Diego, used tiny bits of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, from hair as a guide to chimpanzee relationships, mating preferences and social structure.

The biggest surprise was that chimps from West Africa are genetically distinct from chimps in Central and East Africa, so much so that they may even be a separate species. There are chimps, pygmy chimps and now, maybe, West African chimps.

The discovery should spur a deeper look at chimpanzees - at behavioral and physical differences, for example - that could indicate a truly separate species.