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World Briefs II

Opponents to Needle Exchange Fear Ban Might Be Lifted

Los Angeles Times

Fearing that the ban on federal funds for needle exchange programs might be lifted, opponents Wednesday warned Congress and the Clinton administration that a majority of the public is against reversing the current policy.

Needle exchange programs are "a dopey idea," said Gary L. Bauer, president of the Family Research Council, a conservative interest organization, as he held up a handful of syringes. "Congress and the Clinton administration would make a radical mistake to flirt with the idea of needle exchange programs as sound and effective policy."

But supporters of such programs held their own news conference in Washington Wednesday, saying that removing HIV-contaminated syringes from circulation and replacing them with sterile ones had proven the most effective form of AIDS prevention among drug users. "Here is a life saver - this is what will save lives," said Mohamad N. Akhter, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, as he also held up a syringe.

Federal funding of programs providing drug users a clean needle when they turn in a used one has been banned by Congress since 1988. But Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, who has the power to lift the ban, recently said that needle exchange programs slow the spread of HIV - which some saw as an indication she may reverse the existing policy.

Twenty Charged With Smuggling And Enslaving Deaf Mexicans

Los Angeles Times

Twenty defendants were indicted Wednesday for allegedly smuggling 60 deaf and speech-impaired Mexicans into the United States and making them virtual slaves, at times beating, electrically shocking or otherwise coercing them to sell trinkets to the public.

In carrying out a four-year conspiracy of involuntary servitude, outlined by a federal grand jury in Brooklyn that issued the indictments, some participants stand accused of beating a victim who begged for a day off because of sickness, electro-shocking one for low sales, and handcuffing an attempted escapee to a bed for more than a week while he attached key chains to trinkets.

"Every case of slavery is terrible, but this one is especially appalling because of the double exploitation," Isabelle Katz Pinzler, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, told a news conference. "The victims were targeted both because of their alien status and because of their disability."

"An enterprise that existed for the sole purpose of exploiting the labor of hearing-disabled aliens has been substantially dismantled, and its ringleaders apprehended and held to face serious criminal charges," Zachary W. Carter, U.S. attorney in Brooklyn, said.

Congressman Paints Grim Picture Of Persecution in Tibet

Los Angeles Times

An outspoken congressional critic of China slipped into Tibet on a tourist visa earlier this month, ditched his government minders and spent four days talking to people and gauging conditions in the inaccessible Himalayan region, the lawmaker said Wednesday.

At a news conference, Rep. Frank R. Wolf, R-Va., sketched a grim picture of religious and political persecution, harsh prison conditions and an apparent campaign to flood the region with immigrants from other parts of China to make ethnic Tibetans a minority in their own homeland.

"I want the world to know what is going on in Tibet," said Wolf, the first member of Congress to visit it without being accompanied by Chinese monitors since Tibetan autonomy ended in 1959. "When people know, they will demand that China change its policy of boot-heel subjugation and end what one monk termed cultural genocide.' "

In substance, Wolf's charges are not new. Although the Chinese embassy in Washington issued a blanket denial of Wolf's charges, this year's State Department human rights report alludes to many of the same conditions. And exiled Tibetans have told their story at the United Nations, to Congressional committees and elsewhere. But Wolf added first-hand detail that he obtained in a way that was unorthodox, risky and illegal under Chinese law.

Edgar to Step Down After Term

he Washington Post

Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, R, announced Wednesday that he will leave public office at the end of his term in January 1999, setting up what is likely to be a wild scramble to succeed him and a spirited Republican primary for the right to challenge Sen. Carol Moseley-Braun, D-Ill., in the 1998 general election.

With his wife, Brenda, and their two children nearby, Edgar made the announcement at a crowded news conference in the Executive Mansion in Springfield.

"It has been a very, very difficult decision," he said. "However, after 30 years in state government, I have concluded it is time for Brenda and me to begin a new chapter in our life."

Edgar, 51, would have been favored to win reelection to a third term and was considered the GOP's strongest potential challenger to Moseley-Braun, a race that many state and national Republican leaders had urged him to make. His decision to leave politics opened opportunities for other Republicans in both of those contests. But Edgar also announced his support for two of those Republicans whose decisions on whether to run for the Senate or the governor's office hinged in part on what he decided about his own future.

Saying he was confident he could have won reelection but had always planned to serve only two terms, Edgar said, "I always thought, I want to go out on top. Some people in politics, I think, stay too long. Sometimes if you don't go out on top, they throw you out. I didn't think I was going to get thrown out."