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News Briefs

Palestinian Dies in Gun Battle At Church of the Nativity

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK

The blood and fire of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict invaded hallowed ground Monday.

Six days after the standoff at the Church of the Nativity began, predawn gunplay at the besieged church left a Palestinian policeman dead and two Israeli soldiers wounded. A fire caused by the skirmish damaged a Catholic parish building in the religious compound, which is believed to mark the birthplace of Jesus.

And the psychological and public relations war here escalated, making the outlook increasingly ominous for almost 80 priests, monks and nuns inside who are either unwilling hostages, benevolent hosts or some uncomfortable combination of the two.

About the only thing Israelis and Palestinians agreed on Monday was that the violence resulted in the standoff’s first death within the compound itself.

But the Israeli military said Palestinian snipers shot two Israeli border policemen deployed on a rooftop outside the compound, provoking an exchange of gunshots and grenades that caused the fire. In contrast, Palestinian leaders and some priests inside said Israelis attempted a sneak attack over a rooftop, set off the blaze and left bullet holes inside the fourth-century Church of the Nativity.

Traficant Case Goes to Jurors

LOS ANGELES TIMES -- CLEVELAND

In the final minutes of his closing argument Monday, Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., D-Ohio, waved a roll of toilet paper in the air for the jury to see.

“I’ll leave this here for you because this is all they have,” said Traficant, who despite not having a law degree represented himself in his trial on federal corruption charges. During the proceedings, Traficant had berated U.S. District Judge Lesley Wells for siding with the prosecution and charged that she was making a mockery of the Constitution.

The 10-count indictment of the nine-term congressman includes allegations that he made on-the-clock congressional staffers shovel horse manure on his farm, helped a convicted felon get federal contracts, filed false tax returns and forced one staffer to kick back half of his $2,500 monthly salary as a condition of employment.

Throughout the 10-week trial and into his final remarks, Traficant, 60, attempted to argue what he called a “vendetta defense,” his contention that the government had been out to get him for 20 years. He was warned repeatedly by Wells that he could not introduce his theory in court.

Andersen to Lay Off 7,000

LOS ANGELES TIMES

Staggering from the damage done by its role in the collapse of Enron Corp. and a subsequent criminal indictment, accounting firm Andersen announced Monday that it will fire 7,000 workers, or 27 percent of its staff.

Andersen, the nation’s fifth-largest accounting firm, said the staff reduction will conserve cash as it struggles to become a smaller, audit-focused firm.

A criminal indictment last month on an obstruction-of-justice charge from the alleged destruction of Enron documents

has crippled Andersen. The firm is fighting the indictment and the case is set for trial May 6.

In the meantime, Andersen has lost more than 140 of the large public company clients that make up the bread and butter of its business.

The accounting firm served as both a consultant and auditor for Enron and has been linked to Enron’s strategy of hiding billions of dollars of debt and hundreds of millions of dollars in losses in a series of secretive partnerships.