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News Briefs

Fox Pays Bush Another Visit


President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox on Thursday stressed the need for continued cooperation on border security, but some immigration experts say they’re pessimistic that the two can make any headway while the U.S. administration’s attention is focused on terrorism.

Fox made the brief, hastily scheduled visit to the White House to demonstrate support for the Bush administration’s anti-terrorism campaign.

Coming three weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks, however, the visit underscored how much the climate has changed since Fox was here four weeks ago for a state visit that put the two nations’ differences over immigration into sharp focus.

Guest-worker programs, legalization of undocumented immigrants, amnesty for immigrants and open borders have been pushed down significantly on the Bush administration’s agenda, replaced by measures that include restricting terrorists’ access to the United States.

If any progress can be made on immigration issues now, said Cecilia Munoz, vice president for policy at the Latino advocacy group National Council of La Raza, it probably would deal with tightening restrictions on the visas that allow tourists and students to enter the United States.

Firestone Agrees to Replace 3.5 Million Truck Tires


Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. agreed Thursday to replace 3.5 million more tires, ending a 17-month high-profile government investigation that tarnished the reputation and hurt the bottom line of both Firestone and Ford Motor Co., whose popular Explorer sport utility vehicles were equipped with most of the recalled tires.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced the recall action, involving 15- and 16-inch Wilderness AT tires made before May 1998, almost 14 months after Firestone agreed to an initial recall of 6.5 million tires. Failures of Firestone tires have been linked to accidents, mostly on Explorers, that have caused 271 deaths and more than 700 injuries.

The long-running probe led to changes in auto safety laws after several contentious congressional hearings, where executives of the two companies blamed each other’s products for the accidents. It also cost Bridgestone Corp., Firestone’s Japanese parent, more than $1 billion, and Ford more than $3 billion because of its decision to replace 13 million Firestone tires last spring.

In addition, it precipitated the breakup of a nearly 100-year-old corporate marriage that dated back to the dawn of the auto industry.

Each company still faces a rash of personal injury lawsuits and a class-action suit.

Six Die in Greyhound Bus Crash After Attack on Driver


A passenger on a Greyhound bus sliced the driver’s throat and grabbed the steering wheel early Wednesday morning, crashing the bus and killing six people. Fearful of a terrorist attack, Greyhound halted its entire fleet for several hours, resuming business after the FBI concluded that the assault was the random act of a troubled man.

The attacker -- who died in the crash -- boarded the Orlando-bound bus the day before in Chicago, gave no hint of his intentions and acted alone about 4 a.m., said R. Joe Clark, chief of the FBI’s Knoxville field office. Clark said the incident was “not an act of terrorism” and bore no connection to the Sept. 11 assaults on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

But the response to the incident reflected the mood of a nation on edge.

State and federal investigators, on alert for a second wave of terrorist attacks, raced to the remote stretch of Interstate 24 in Tennessee when a local 911 operator received the call at 4:13 a.m. Greyhound President Craig Lentzch ordered all company buses off the roads for the first time in Greyhound’s history.

Lentzch said he acted from a sense of caution. “The world has changed in recent weeks,” he told reporters. After consulting the FBI and the company’s unions, he ordered the resumption of business by early afternoon. He said security was being increased; passengers in San Francisco, Dallas and Orlando were checked with hand-held metal detectors.

Scientists Say They’ve Decoded ‘Black Death’ Gene


Researchers have deciphered the genetic code for one of the most notorious killers in human history, and one that could again pose a widespread threat in the form of biological terrorism.

Yersinia pestis, the bacterial agent of medieval Europe’s Black Death, has revealed some surprising secrets to a team of British scientists who reported on the organism’s complete DNA sequence Thursday in the journal Nature. Researchers say the completed sequence could eventually serve as a yardstick for other naturally-evolving or bio-engineered forms of the plague and provide targets for improved drug design.

“It’s still an entirely natural threat to human health as well as the other potential angles,” said co-author Julian Parkhill, in an allusion to the threat of bioterrorism. But Parkhill, project manager at the Sanger Centre in Britain, said the genetic sequence contains “every drug target and every possible vaccine target so you can start to think about rational drug design,” he said. “There’s no question that it will help.”

Although incidence of the plague has declined dramatically since the early part of the 20th century, the World Health Organization reports several thousand cases every year.