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News Briefs

Quebec Voters Expected to Elect Separatist Government

The Washington Post

Quebec voters Monday were expected to elect a separatist government pledged to leading the French-speaking province out of Canada.

Most of the last polls of the election campaign gave the separatist Parti Quebecois, out of power since 1985, a five- to 10-point edge over the incumbent party, the pro-unity Quebec Liberals. The polls indicated that separatist candidates would prevail in 80 or more of Quebec's 125 electoral districts - that is, in virtually all but the predominantly English ones.

If Quebec's nearly 5 million voters prove the pollsters accurate, Parti Quebecois chief Jacques Parizeau, a skilled economist and former provincial finance minister, would take power as premier of Quebec within two weeks.

Although he has campaigned on broad themes of change, good government and economic renewal, Parizeau, 64, has remained unequivocal about his intention to prepare Quebec for a referendum on sovereignty next year, and to begin negotiating with the federal government and writing a Quebec constitution.

The referendum would be Quebecers' first opportunity since 1980 to vote on a question that has bedeviled Canadian politics for more than a generation. In 1980, they turned down the Parti Quebecois' plan for "sovereignty-association" with Canada by a vote of 60 percent to 40 percent.

Cancer-Causing Gene Mutations Accumulate with Age

Los Angeles Times

A researcher has provided the first direct evidence that cancer-causing mutations of genes accumulate with age, thereby raising the risk of cancer.

It is an article of faith for many researchers that these mutations, caused by a breakdown of the body's normal repair mechanisms, are responsible for the high incidence of cancer among the elderly. But, until now, there has been little experimental support for the idea.

Using new genetic engineering technology, however, molecular pharmacologist Gino Cortopassi of the University of Southern California has studied the incidence of a specific mutation in a gene called BCL2, which plays a major role in the development of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the lymph nodes that strikes 45,000 Americans each year, killing about 21,000.

Cortopassi and his colleagues report Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the incidence of mutations is 40 times as high in spleen tissue from people over age 60 as it is in people under 20.

Significantly, the risk of developing lymphoma is also 40 times as high in people over age 60 as it is in people under 20.

In a separate study, Cortopassi has also found a two- to three-fold increase in the incidence of BCL2 mutations among smokers and a corresponding increase in the risk of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

Japan's Ruling Coalition Suffers Unexpectedly Severe Defeat

Los Angeles Times

Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama's ruling coalition suffered an unexpectedly severe defeat in the first Parliament-level test of its support Sunday as an opposition candidate won by a landslide in a by-election for a seat in the upper house.

Yuzuru Tsuzuki, 43, a former Labor Ministry section chief who was backed by six opposition parties, won 43 percent of the ballots cast for seven candidates in Aichi prefecture.

Ruling coalition candidate Jiro Mizuno, 48, a former U.N. staff member, polled a paltry 25 percent. A female radio disc jockey who condemned Tokyo politicians for transforming the contest into a national power struggle came in a close third with 22 percent.

"The result creates the image that the new coalition is a weak government," said Minoru Morita, a respected political commentator.

The defeat underscored the difficulty Murayama's Socialists and the Liberal Democratic Party had in lining up their diverse supporters behind a single candidate, Morita said. The two parties - rivals for four decades - joined with the splinter New Party Harbinger to take power June 29.

Murayama's Socialists face bleak prospects in local elections next April and an upper house election next July, Morita said. He predicted that the tripartite coalition would collapse after the July election.