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News Briefs

Guidelines Will Help U.N. Decide When Intervention Is Necessary


A Canadian-led commission on Thursday launched an effort to help the U.N. decide whether to step in when a country faces a crisis within its borders, even if its intervention is unwanted.

The independent commission will produce guidelines for U.N. action to stop tragedies in the making, while heeding the objections of countries such as Russia and China, which believe internal conflicts are not international affairs.

But the task of defining the line between human rights and sovereign rights has become contentious.

“The debate has become extremely polarized,” said Gareth Evans, the former foreign minister of Australia and one of the chairmen of the panel. Their aim is to find common ground between interference and indifference.

“What on earth do we do if we find ourselves facing another Rwanda, another Srebrenica?” Evans asked Thursday. “Is it possible to craft some new approach to make it possible for the Security Council to reach some kind of consensus?”

U.N. secretary-general Kofi Annan is haunted by a series of humanitarian disasters that the United Nations had neither the force nor will to prevent: Opposition from the United States and doubts about the severity of ethnic fighting delayed the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers to Rwanda, where more than 800,000 people were massacred in 1994. In 1995, outnumbered and unarmed peacekeepers failed to stop the killing of Muslims when Serbs overran a U.N. “safe area” in Srebrenica, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

In the hopes that he would never again have to say “never again,” Annan declared last year that the world’s duty to stop genocide should override the legal notion of sovereignty.

Stem Cell Research Debate Heats Up


His back hunched and arms twitching from Parkinson’s disease, actor Michael J. Fox urged a Senate subcommittee Thursday to remove the last barrier to federal funding for research that he said could turn human stem cells into cures for a variety of afflictions.

“It’s time to act on what we have learned,” said Fox, who was diagnosed nine years ago at age 31. “Further delay could come at a high price.”

A funding bill before Congress was endorsed also by actress Mary Tyler Moore, who said stem cells might someday cure the diabetes that she has battled for 30 years and nearly robbed her of sight.

But three other witnesses -- a quadriplegic and two diabetics -- said the use of stem cells derived from human embryos and fetuses is immoral because it exploits one life to benefit another.

Stem cells are the precursors of every specialized cell in the human body, including those that make up bone, blood, nerves and organs. In the past two years, scientists have begun research aimed at using stem cells to replace cells destroyed by various diseases.

Last month, the National Institutes of Health lifted a prohibition against federal funding for research into stem cells derived from human embryos. New regulations will likely result in a flood of grant applications from scientists who have been limited to scarce, private sources.

Clinton Gives Patients’ Bill Of Rights Final Push in Congress


President Clinton declared Thursday that passage of the patients bill of rights is his top priority for the final days of the 106th Congress, initiating an intense lobbying drive to get the handful of votes still needed to save the bill.

“It’s time to listen to the doctors, the nurses, the patients,” he said, standing in front of a phalanx of white-clad physicians on the White House lawn and an ambulance that will be used in rallies in a dozen states.

Clinton is striving to bring new enthusiasm to the campaign for the bill, which is being fought by insurance companies, health maintenance organizations, and corporations strongly opposed to a provision that would allow injured patients to sue their health plans.

A pitched lobbying campaign targeting senators who are up for re-election is under way on Capitol Hill and in their home states, with business groups pressuring lawmakers to oppose the legislation and doctors arguing that they should get behind the bill.

“Now, there is no question that this has been debated forever,” the president said, referring to the measure approved by the House last October. “We do not need any more time for debate.”

British Fuel Price Protests End


Just as suddenly as it began, the national protest against high gasoline prices came to an end in Britain Thursday. But the scattered groups of demonstrators who very nearly shut down the world’s fourth-largest economy said they will be back on their picket lines in November if fuel taxes aren’t cut by then.

Demonstrating the political acuity that marked their six-day protest, groups of farmers and truckers who had blocked virtually all gasoline deliveries in England, Scotland and Wales decided this morning to let the tanker trucks roll again rather than risk a backlash from the British public.

But as this country’s fuel crisis ended -- for the time being, at least -- major new demonstrations about high gasoline prices were breaking out on the continent. Truckers and farmers in Belgium blocked roads leading into Brussels and Antwerp, essentially strangling daily commerce. Smaller protests were staged in parts of Spain and Germany.

The Belgian protesters were reported to be debating Thursday night whether to continue their blockades for another day. Big protests are scheduled for Friday in Spain and Germany.