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News Briefs

Irish Public Prepares for Second Vote on EU Enlargement


Ireland’s political establishment is waging a high-powered campaign to persuade voters to approve hundreds of pages of international legalese, otherwise known as the Treaty of Nice, that would open the European Union to a vast expansion into Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean.

The yes camp for Saturday’s vote, which includes Ireland’s largest political parties, says the EU’s planned expansion -- to 400 million people in 25 nations by 2004 -- is now up to voters in tiny Ireland, population 4 million. Ireland is the only one of the 15 EU nations whose laws didn’t allow simply putting the Treaty of Nice to a parliamentary vote. Because its passage here means amending the constitution, the vote must be put to the people.

This is the second time Irish voters have been asked to vote on the treaty, known simply as Nice. They defeated it in June 2001, a result that no one in official Dublin had expected. Polls just days before had predicted victory. That defeat was “a wake-up call,” Eamon O Cuiv, minister for rural, community and family affairs, said during a debate late last month.

Opponents say the measure would threaten Irish neutrality, promote militarism and reduce the influence of Ireland and other small EU member states. Moreover, they say, its defeat won’t halt EU expansion.

Autism Sweeping California, Study Says


An explosion in autism cases in California over the past 15 years is not the result of changes in diagnostic criteria or an improvement in diagnosis, but represents a real epidemic that is sweeping the state, according to a major new study sent to the state legislature on Thursday.

The number of people with autism being served by the California Department of Developmental Services surged by 273 percent from 1987 to 1998 -- and is growing by about nine cases per day. That increase cannot be explained away by better data, immigration to the state or any other simple rationale, the report said.

Experts believe the epidemic is affecting the rest of the country -- and most industrialized nations -- as well, but California is a bellwether because it is the only state for which good data are presently available.

“Autism is on the rise in the state and we still do not know why,” said Dr. Robert S. Byrd of the University of California, Davis’ MIND Institute, the primary author of the report. “The results of this study are, without a doubt, sobering. They increase the urgency of trying to find an answer about what causes autism.”

Experts said the report should quell the controversy over whether the epidemic is real.

Indonesia Names Muslim Cleric A Suspect in Church Bombings


Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, accused by neighboring countries of heading a regional terrorist group, was named by Indonesian police Thursday as a suspect in a series of church bombings and ordered to appear for questioning.

The move appears to be the first step in a crackdown on suspected terrorists in Indonesia following a weekend car bombing on the resort island of Bali, which killed more than 180 people, mostly young foreigners.

President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has been under pressure from the United States for months to take action against alleged terrorists, said Thursday she will issue an emergency decree enabling police to hold terror suspects without trial.

The order could trigger the immediate arrest of Islamic militants, including Bashir, who have been linked to terrorist activities by authorities in other countries but are living freely in Indonesia.

Megawati is expected to sign the decree Friday, and Bashir has been ordered to report to police on Saturday. He denies any role in terrorist acts.

“To combat terrorism, the government needs a legal base,” the president told reporters. “So the government is going to issue a (decree) soon.”

Microsoft Sees Sales, Profits Grow


Microsoft Corp. profit more than doubled in the fiscal first quarter as the biggest software firm forced large customers to accept unpopular and more costly multiyear licensing deals or risk paying even more for the future products.

The Redmond, Wash., maker of Windows computer operating systems, Office productivity software and programs to run servers, e-mail and databases said earnings rose to $2.73 billion, or 50 cents a share, from $1.28 billion, or 23 cents, a year earlier. Sales jumped 26 percent to a record $7.75 billion.

Without a $291 million charge for impaired investments, the company would have reported 55 cents a share in the three months ended Sept. 30, well above the company’s earlier prediction of 42 or 43 cents.

“This truly was an exceptional quarter,” said Microsoft Chief Financial Officer John Connors. “We saw broader customer adoption of our licensing programs than we anticipated.”

Microsoft’s stock rose 36 cents to $50.77 in regular Nasdaq trading, then shot up to $53.14 in after-hours trading after the earnings report. The stock has held more of its value than other technology shares as Microsoft leverages its Windows monopoly in new areas.

Analysts said Microsoft was benefiting from unparalleled clout, execution and comparatively inexpensive offering as it gets a bigger share of companies’ declining technology spending.

“In about the worst information technology environment in memory, Microsoft has just powered right through -- and they’re only getting stronger,” said Bank of America Securities analyst Robert Austrian.