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News Briefs

Barak Explores Options to Improve Support Level in Israeli Parliament


Just sixteen months ago, newly elected Prime Minister Ehud Barak thrilled Israelis with his vision of achieving a quick end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Today, he is having a hard time even convincing them it would be a good idea to allow buses to run on the Sabbath.

Barak returned Monday from a weeklong trip to New York to a grim political situation. His efforts to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians have foundered on the question of sovereignty over Jerusalem. His minority government seems to have little hope of surviving long after Israel’s Knesset, or parliament, reconvenes in October. Leaders of his own Labor Party have attacked him publicly for what they say is his erratic political maneuvering.

He dispatched a Cabinet member Monday to discuss a possible coalition with Ariel Sharon, leader of the right-wing Likud Party -- the latest development in a political flirtation that Barak’s left-wing allies have bitterly criticized.

Even Leah Rabin, the widow of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, has publicly flayed Barak, her husband’s protege.

Her husband, she told an interviewer while Barak was still in New York, must be “spinning in his grave” over Barak’s willingness to make concessions to the Palestinians on Jerusalem.

British Demand Lower Fuel Prices


Taking a page from the book of French and Belgian protesters, British farmers went to the streets on Monday to demand their governments lower fuel prices, and their Irish and German counterparts are threatening to follow suit.

Blockades at British refineries caused shortages, and panic buying spread across the nation. But Prime Minister Tony Blair vowed not to cave in to pressure from protesters.

“We cannot and will not alter government policy on petrol through blockades and pickets -- that is not the way to make policy in Britain,” Blair insisted.

European gasoline and diesel prices have shot up as the price of crude oil has risen from about $24 to $32 a barrel since the start of the year. But while European governments are pressing the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to boost production and lower prices, European tractor, truck and taxi drivers are pushing their governments to lower taxes.

About 75 percent of the gasoline price in Britain is taxes, compared to 69 percent in France and 24 percent in the United States.

Ford CEO Nasser Reforms Image In Wake of Capitol Hill Testimony


Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Officer Jacques Nasser, who is known for his quick temper and sharp tongue, at first resisted an invitation to appear before congressional committees on the Firestone tire recall. But after a sharp reaction from Capitol Hill, he reversed himself -- and went to an expert for some coaching.

The goal for Nasser, image-maker Michael Deaver said late last week, was to appear “forceful without being rude,” and to convey a sense that the company was concerned about the problem and friendly and sympathetic to its customers.

Since the recall of 6.5 million Firestone tires was announced last month, Nasser has been the automaker’s public face, appearing virtually everywhere -- addressing viewers in television commercials, holding press conferences and testifying before Congress -- all while staying on message: “This is a tire problem, not a vehicle problem.”