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News Briefs I

NASA Weighs Science, Politics In Deciding on Glenn's Shuttle Seat

The Washington Post

Astronauts in space and elderly people on the ground have a lot in common: Both suffer from dizzy spells, weakened bones and muscle, lowered immunity, disturbed sleep and blood flow problems.

So why not send an old, bold astronaut into orbit as a guinea pig for medical research? At 76, Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, has volunteered for the job and, by all accounts, has pressed his campaign to fly aboard a space shuttle with the same unrelenting determination he showed years ago as a fighter pilot and hero of the "Right Stuff."

NASA Administrator Daniel S. Goldin has been pondering the decision for months and, sources say, likes the idea but will not give the go ahead without a solid rationale. Spokeswoman Peggy Wilhide said there is no deadline for a decision. Officials and scientists at the space agency have declined to discuss the decision-making process, but some privately express the fear that sending Glenn would be derided as a stunt.

If Glenn is to be assigned to a life sciences research flight scheduled for October, the decision should be made within the next month or two, NASA officials said.

U.S. astronauts as old as 61 and 59 have flown in recent years.

Cuba Lets Catholic Leader Address Nation on State-Run Media

Los Angeles Times
HAVANA

For the first time in almost four decades of Communist rule, the Cuban government Tuesday let the leader of Cuba's Roman Catholic Church address the nation live on state-run radio and television.

The free, late-night air time for Havana's archbishop, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, was the latest dramatic concession Cuban dictator Fidel Castro has granted the church in advance of Pope John Paul's five-day visit here next week.

A top Cuban official called it a "positive" example of new cooperation between church and state in a nation where all religions were discouraged for decades.

But Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National Assembly, stressed that his government is "not at all concerned" the anti-Communist pope's visit here will inspire dissent, opposition or any of the political changes that followed papal trips through Communist Eastern Europe in the 1980s.

"We are not stupid. We are not crazy," Alarcon told reporters before Ortega's late-night address Tuesday. "We are receiving a friend who happens to be the head of a state that has had good relations with Cuba always."

Alarcon conceded the papal visit will have "political and social meaning," but he asserted that it will be confined to developing "cordial and friendly ties" between the Cuban government and the Vatican and between the Cuban church and society.

He neither confirmed nor denied a recent Spanish newspaper report that Vatican officials allegedly had discovered an electronic bug in a house the pope might have visited here.

Ortega's Tuesday night speech, Alarcon added, should be viewed as a sign the government is committed to normalizing relations with Cuba's Catholic Church after an era in which priests and nuns were expelled, public worship was forbidden and church schools were closed.

Man Takes Hostage at Tokyo Exchange, Demands Trading Halt


The Washington Post
Tokyo

A right-wing extremist armed with a handgun held a Finance Ministry official hostage at the Tokyo Stock Exchange for more than five hours Tuesday before surrendering peacefully.

Tetsuo Itagaki, 41, had demanded a meeting with Japanese Finance Minister Hiroshi Mitsuzuka and that trading on the exchange be halted. Both demands were denied; activity on the trading floor, located in another part of the building, continued uninterrupted while 400 police officers in bulletproof vests filled the building and the streets outside.

Itagaki is reportedly a member of one of Japan's many right-wing organizations, who profess fiercely nationalistic and xenophobic views and are often violent. Police said Itagaki was arrested in 1985 after throwing a firebomb at a government office to protest the construction of a housing complex for U.S. military personnel stationed in Japan.

Police said Itagaki was upset at the Japanese government's response to the financial crisis sweeping Asia. He told police that Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto's "Big Bang" proposals to open Japan's financial markets would result in the United States taking over Japan's financial system.