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World Briefs II

AIDS Failures' May Be Successes

Los Angeles Times

Many apparent "failures" in the treatment of HIV-positive individuals with new drug regimens may actually be unrecognized successes, according to Swiss researchers.

Combinations of three or more drugs now used to treat such patients have been highly effective, but many cases are considered failures because the level of virus in their blood does not fall below the limits of detection.

But the Swiss team reports Friday in the medical journal Lancet that such patients actually derive major health benefits by continued treatment with the drug combinations. Not only do their levels of the AIDS virus remain steady over the long term, their levels of CD4 cells - an indicator of immune system health - increase.

"This observation challenges our understanding of the mechanisms of immune damage due to HIV, and opens the door towards new therapeutic approaches," said Michael P. Glauser, chairman of the Swiss Commission for Research on AIDS.

Some American researchers said they had observed such results themselves, but apparently no one had previously reported them in a publication.

"It's a hopeful message," said Dr. Robert T. Schooley of the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver. "It should make patients feel better to know that they are going to benefit from the therapy even if the virus is not completely suppressed."

China to Downsize Government

Los Angeles Times

In a bold move to reduce the size of government and wean the country from state meddling in business, China plans to eliminate 11 ministries and lay off government employees and civil servants, adding as many as 4 million bureaucrats to the swelling ranks of the unemployed here.

The unprecedented downsizing scheme, outlined in a speech by outgoing Premier Li Peng before the National People's Congress on Thursday, represents China's attempt to avoid the economic crises affecting other Asian countries by reducing the role of government in the private sector of its economy. At several points in his speech, Li bluntly informed government employees that, for the first time in the history of modern China, their jobs were no longer secure.

"The incompatibilities of government institutions to the development of a socialist market economy have become increasingly apparent," said Li, a Soviet-trained engineer who had been an earlier champion of the centralized economy. "Unwieldy organization and failure to separate the functions of government from those of enterprises have given rise to bureaucracy, promoted unhealthy practices and created a heavy financial burden."

Although the plan was announced by Li - who next week concludes his final term as premier, a position he had held since 1989 - it is clearly the brainchild of China's economic chief Zhu Rongji, who is expected to be announced as Li's replacement.

Israeli Court Assailed for Ruling

Los Angeles Times

Human rights activists and legal experts Thursday sharply criticized an Israeli Supreme Court decision permitting foreign nationals to be held as "bargaining chips" for use in securing the freedom of Israeli prisoners of war.

The court acknowledged that imprisoning Lebanese guerrillas, many of whom have not been tried or have served their sentences, is a "painful" violation of human rights. But such abuse is outweighed by Israel's security concerns and the desire to retrieve missing or captured Israeli soldiers, the court said in a ruling made public on Wednesday.

"The high court has legalized hostage-taking," Elizabeth Hodgkin, a senior analyst with Amnesty International, said in Tel Aviv. "This is a terrible decision. If an armed group takes hostages, it is universally condemned. And now it's OK for a state to behave like an armed group? It's OK for a state to hold hostages?"

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit filed by an Israeli lawyer representing 10 Lebanese who have been held for up to 11 years in Israeli-controlled prisons.

In the lawsuit, Rish petitioned for release of the 10 men, who were identified as members of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah or its allied organizations.

In a split 2-1 decision, the court denied the request, saying the release would "cause real harm to national security" and "fatally damage" efforts to free Israeli POWs.

Pentagon Official Urges Bypassing Congress inBase Closures

Los Angeles Times

Trying to force the issue of military base closures back into the public agenda, a top Pentagon official has proposed that the military act on its own to consolidate bases even if it means ignoring objections in Congress.

With lawmakers again balking at a new round of base consolidations, Acting Air Force Secretary Whitten Peters warned recently in a speech that if lawmakers aren't willing to take the political risks, the services can act on their own to shutter unneeded bases - a step he said would be "the equivalent of dropping a nuclear bomb" on affected communities because the closures could come without congressionally approved federal aid to soften the blow.

The consequences, he said, would be "truly ugly," including "runways left pockmarked, buildings which are run down, no economic redevelopment, and no significant environmental cleanup."

Yet Peters said the military desperately needs the savings that would come from closing unneeded bases, not only to replace aging weapons, but also to reduce the strain on units at a time of continuing cutbacks and frequent overseas deployments.

The chances that the Pentagon would ever take such a defiant step are at best remote, given the intense countermeasures the Congress could apply. It is not clear whether the Pentagon could, in fact, close bases this way, given the procedural hurdles involved.