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News Briefs II

Virginia Flip-Flops On Tobacco Regulations

The Washington Post

Gov. George Allen said Thursday that Virginia will help enforce new federal tobacco regulations after all, reversing a position taken by Attorney General James S. Gilmore III that became an overnight political embarrassment.

"The attorney general does not decide whether or not we're going to enforce these regulations," the governor said of his fellow Republican during a radio interview Thursday morning. "The fact of the matter is, we will enforce these regulations in the Commonwealth of Virginia."

Gilmore, who is running for governor, spent the day backtracking from his spokesman's comments on Wednesday that Virginia would not enforce new regulations, which take effect Friday. The regulations - which require tobacco buyers younger than 27 to produce photo identification - are part of a federal crackdown on teenage smoking that eventually will include new advertising and event sponsorship restrictions on the tobacco industry.

Gilmore spokesman Mark Miner said Wednesday that the attorney general - a strong states' rights advocate who has fought what he sees as federal intrusion into the state's education and environmental policies - would not help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration enforce the new policies.

INS Punishes 12 Officials In Scheme

The Washington Post

One senior immigration official has been fired and 11 others were demoted or suspended for their part in an elaborate scheme to hoodwink a congressional task force examining illegal immigration, the Justice Department said.

The punishments, handed down last week, came 20 months after senior field managers in the Immigration and Naturalization Service released dozens of illegal aliens from a Miami detention facility to make conditions look better to visiting members of Congress.

The scheme backfired when outraged INS employees complained about it afterward.

After a lengthy investigation and disciplinary process, one INS official was dismissed, five were demoted and six were suspended without pay for periods ranging from two to 15 days, said Carole Florman, a Justice Department spokeswoman.

Reacting to the sanctions, the leader of the congressional delegation, Rep. Elton Gallegly, R-Calif., said those involved deserved harsher punishment. "These officials broke the law and endangered the general public," he said. Yet they received "nothing more than a slap on the wrist."

U.S. to Impose Royalties, Stricter Rules On Mining Industry

The Washington Post

The Clinton administration, abandoning hopes that Congress will reform the 125-year-old law that governs hard-rock mining on federal lands, has decided to use its administrative powers to impose royalties and stricter environmental regulations on the mining industry.

Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt is moving on several fronts to toughen environmental rules for mining companies, starting with an announcement expected Friday of a controversial bonding requirement that will force all miners to guarantee an environmental clean-up of their mines if they go out of business.

Babbitt also has ordered a departmental task force to draw up environmental standards for mines that would force companies to use the "best-available technologies" in digging new mines and cleaning up old ones. The change could force mining companies to pay for costly protection and restoration of mined federal lands.

In a separate process, the administration inserted into his 1998 budget proposal a plan to phase out a tax break for miners and to collect a 5 percent royalty from mining income, a move Babbitt said he hoped would end the "outlandish giveaway" of mineral-rich lands to private companies. Among the major "resource" industries that use federal land - coal, oil, natural gas, logging - only mining companies pay no royalties to the government for the minerals they recover.

Biker Gang Wars Terrorize Scandinavians

The Washington Post

Armed biker gangs are locked in a loud and bloody war spreading across Scandinavia, disturbing the peace and upsetting the tolerance that has allowed them to flourish in the first place.

Like the mythic cowboys of the old American West, two violence-prone Nordic motorcycle clubs have taken to saying, "This town ain't big enough for the both of us." They settle their scores in blood, and leave the rest of the townsfolk terrorized and angry.

No wonder. The bikers' weapons of choice are not six-shooters. They are automatic weapons and rocket-propelled antitank grenades.

On Feb. 18, one of the shoulder-fired grenades, designed to penetrate tanks and incinerate their occupants, was fired into a small-town Danish jail. The explosive charge did not detonate, and no one was hurt. The next day the same thing happened at a biker residence in another Danish town.

After nearly a year of such incidents - which have killed eight people across Scandinavia, four of them in Denmark, and wounded scores more - Danes are persuaded that something intolerably rotten is going on.

The most ominous recent biker violence has happened in Copenhagen and other Danish towns and cities, but the warfare also has touched Sweden, Norway, and Finland. Indigenous clubs of Hell's Angels and Bandidos, organized as overseas chapters of motorcycle gangs in the United States, fight for honor, revenge, and territory in the drug trade.