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News Briefs

Clinton Explains Clemency Offer


President Clinton, facing mounting criticism for granting clemency to members of a Puerto Rican terrorist group, Thursday gave his fullest explanation yet for the decision, saying he was swayed by his lawyer’s recommendation, the lengthy sentences already served by the members, and the lobbying efforts of former president Jimmy Carter, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others.

Clinton told reporters at the White House that he did not discuss the clemency offer with his wife, whose Senate aspirations in New York helped stir the issue into a serious controversy. Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Saturday the offer should be withdrawn because the Puerto Ricans had not renounced violence. Republicans had accused the White House of offering clemency in hopes of boosting the first lady’s popularity among New York’s many Puerto Rican voters.

The clemency offer, made on Aug. 11, has mushroomed into a roiling debate, especially in New York. It is extremely unusual for the president to agree to a clemency request -- during his tenure Clinton has granted only three out of 3,000 requests. Though Hispanic groups and human rights activists said the 16 Puerto Rican nationalists had been punished enough, several administration law enforcement agencies opposed clemency, saying it would undermine the nation’s campaign against terrorism worldwide.

Thursday, the House voted 311 to 41 for a resolution criticizing the clemency offer, with 93 Democrats opposing the president. The Senate will vote on a similar resolution Monday.

Timorese Refugees Fleeing West


Thousands of refugees from the violence in East Timor have fled here to the western part of the island and come under the rule of the same pro-Indonesian militias that are rampaging through the territory that the refugees just departed.

At a refugee camp of an estimated 8,000 persons near Kupang, militiamen in their uniforms of long-sleeved black shirts patrolled the compound. They are preventing international organizations and journalists from entering -- making it difficult to determine how the refugees are faring or to obtain first-hand accounts of the violence in East Timor.

Some of the few descriptions that have emerged portray frightening scenes of brutality.

“As we were getting on the ferry yesterday in Dili (East Timor’s capital), four pro-independence persons tried to get on the boat,” said a refugee who asked to remain unidentified. “The militia men at the ferry stabbed each of them in the front, and then turned them around and stabbed them in the back, and dumped their bodies in the sea.”

Biotech Firm Notches Success With Mapping Fruitfly’s Genes


Celera Genomics Corp., the Rockville, Md. company that roiled the scientific world when it announced a high-stakes private venture to unravel the human genetic code, said Thursday that it had passed a critical milestone in a related endeavor to map the genes of the fruit fly.

The company said it had completed the physical process of reading, or “sequencing,” the fruit fly’s entire genetic code. Several months of work remain to assemble the resulting data and turn them into a scientific paper.

Celera has built by far the largest single gene-mapping laboratory in the world. Its announcement Thursday suggests how well that lab works: Using a few dozen employees working roughly from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the lab accomplished a series of steps that once would have taken many years and many thousands of scientists to pull off.