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News Briefs II

Families of Victims in Pan Am Bombing File Suit Against Libya

The Washington Post

Relatives of the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland, have begun taking advantage of a change in federal law that allows them to sue Libya for its alleged role in the December, 1988 terrorist attack that killed 270 people, including 189 Americans.

In Washington, lawyers for M. Victoria Cummock of Coral Gables, Fla., whose husband, John, was killed in the attack, filed a class action lawsuit last Friday against Libya, the two alleged bombers, Libyan Arab Airlines and the Libyan External Security Organization. Last week, lawyers for relatives of 91 of the bombing's victims filed a civil case in Brooklyn's federal court.

The lawsuits were filed after President Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism Bill, which contained provisions that allow victims of terrorist acts abroad to sue foreign countries in American courts. In the class action suit filed in Washington, Cummock's lawyers are asking for $1 billion in punitive damages for the attack.

Previously, the federal Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act doomed such lawsuits. But even with the major change, the victims' relatives face a tough fight. The Anti-Terrorism Bill allows the attorney general to avoid turning over information about the bombing while U.S. authorities are pursuing a criminal case against two Libyan intelligence agents who have been charged in the case but who remain in Libya.The Justice Department could argue that airing evidence in the civil cases could jeopardize the criminal case if it ever came to trial. If the attorney general takes that stand, the civil cases could come to a virtual standstill.

Japan, U.S. to Form Research Partnership to Study Earthquakes

Los Angeles Times

Japanese and American science officials have agreed on a new earthquake research partnership between the two countries, significantly expanding two 20-year-old science pacts.

One of the earliest projects of the Earthquake Disaster Mitigation Partnership will be a Japanese-financed but jointly designed shake table in Japan that will be the world's largest to date.

Costing at least $600 million and able to shake a prototype five-story building, the 75-by-25-foot shake table will be finished shortly after the year 2000, a White House science official said.

The largest shake table in the United States is only about 20 feet square and is capable of testing only small models, which can behave differently in an earthquake than actual structures.

Stephen Mahin, a structural engineering professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who is a leading quake-motion expert, said Monday that after the Japanese build the shake table, the United States will spend millions of dollars to build some of the structures to be tested.

The partnership was developed at a two-day conference at Stanford University in March and approved at a Washington, D.C., meeting Thursday of the Japanese minister for science and technology, Hidenao Nakagawa, White House science adviser John H. Gibbons and other administration officials.