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News Briefs, part 2

Deadly Anthrax Outbreak Traced To Covert Soviet Military Facility

Los Angeles Times

An unusual anthrax epidemic that killed 68 people in the former Soviet Union began when the deadly spores escaped from a covert military microbiology facility, Russian and American researchers have concluded.

Their work, based on two years of interviews with survivors of the 1979 outbreak in Sverdlovsk and unique access to Russian public health records, raises the possibility that one of the most controversial chapters in Cold War history arose from experiments that violated an international accord forbidding biological weapons.

The Sverdlovsk epidemic is the largest documented anthrax outbreak of its kind. Thousands may have been infected by rare air-borne anthrax disease spores, which can cause high fever, convulsions, lung lesions and, in severe cases, rapid death.

In an international debate over the incident, U.S. officials at the time charged that the outbreak resulted from an accident at a military plant that was mass-producing the anthrax bacterium. Soviet and Russian officials argued for 10 years that the townspeople had been infected by eating diseased meat or by natural causes.

In research made public Friday in Science, Russian and U.S. scientists confirmed that the infection was spread by the wind, pinpointed the day the anthrax spores escaped and traced the outbreak back to its source: a military microbiology facility known simply as Compound 19, which U.S. scientists suspect is still in operation.

New Bosnia Policy Has Major Risks

Los Angeles Times

The Clinton administration has complied with Congress' order to draft options for arming and training Bosnian government forces, but it warns that carrying out the proposal would be risky, costly and almost certain to jeopardize ties with major U.S. allies.

The scenarios, outlined in classified briefings with leading lawmakers this week, call for the United States to lift the current arms embargo unilaterally, to arm and train Bosnian government soldiers and to help evacuate allied troops now on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But officials have warned that the operation would require a substantial U.S. air campaign to protect Bosnian forces during training and the deployment of thousands of American ground troops, with a risk of widening the ground war to many more civilians. The cost could run as high as $4 billion, administration officials said.

They also have cautioned that any unilateral lifting of the arms embargo would so anger major U.S. allies - such as the British, French and Dutch, who together have 19,000 ground troops in Bosnia - that U.S. planes might not be allowed to use NATO bases.

The administration consistently has opposed any unilateral lifting of the arms embargo or outside training of Bosnian troops. But that position has been popular among lawmakers, many of whom are frustrated with the war and want to strengthen Bosnia's government forces, which are largely Muslim.

However, officials concede that President Clinton may be hard-pressed to avert such a move after Republicans take control of Congress in January. GOP lawmakers have been among the most vigorous proponents of lifting the embargo unilaterally.

Irish Prime Minister Resigns

Los Angeles Times

In a dramatic move, Irish Prime Minister Albert Reynolds resigned in Dublin on Thursday after a fractious five days during which his coalition government fell apart.

Facing a no-confidence vote in Parliament, Reynolds also said he will step down as head of the leading Fianna Fail party.

Deputy Prime Minister Dick Spring had led his Labor Party out of Ireland's governing coalition Wednesday in a dispute over a judicial appointment.

Reynolds said he would recommend to President Mary Robinson that Parliament not be dissolved, because that would mean new national elections. Ireland will be left rudderless while the major parties now explore ways to form a coalition that could win a parliamentary majority.

Reynolds' move came just a few weeks before all-party talks were expected to begin in quest of a solution to the dispute over British rule in Northern Ireland, where a cease-fire recently ended 25 years of sectarian violence.

Gerry Adams, head of the political arm of the province's outlawed Irish Republican Army, appeared in London Thursday for the first time since the British government last month lifted a ban on his presence, and he complimented Reynolds for playing a leading role in the peace process. But he maintained that the move toward peace in the troubled province is "bigger than Mr. Reynolds."

Sony Overpaid for Columbia

The Washington Post

Sony Corp., which stunned Hollywood in 1989 by buying Columbia Pictures, stunned Wall Street Thursday by all but conceding that it paid far too much for the movie and television studio. Sony thus become the latest Japanese company to see an expensive American investment shrivel.

Dogged by a series of box office flops, such as "City Slickers II" and "Last Action Hero," the giant Japanese electronics company said it would rewrite its books to value Columbia and its sister studio Tri-Star pictures at $3.1 billion. It had been valuing them at $5.8 billion.

The "write-down" contributed to a $3.2 billion loss that Sony reported for the first six months of the year.

Sony's movie business fiasco is only the latest debacle for the Japanese, whose overheated economic growth in the 1980s propelled a huge wave of investments in American land, factories and securities. Many of those investments have gone bad.

On Wednesday, for example, the company that owns New York's Rockefeller Center disclosed that it doesn't have enough cash to meet the payments on its $1.3 billion mortgage, raising doubts about its ability to survive. The majority owner of the company is Mitsubishi Estate Co., a large Japanese investment concern.