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News Briefs

Civil Rights Groups to Use Voting Monitors in Some Areas


Concerned about more election debacles on Tuesday, national civil rights groups are sending armies of monitors and lawyers to Florida and other key states to watch for irregularities that could once again disenfranchise voters.

Some have set up national command centers, where lawyers and voting rights experts will staff phones to answer questions about voters’ rights at the polls. And some are already on the ground in states from Florida to Missouri urging people to vote and informing them of their rights.

But Florida, which recently came under fire again for its September primary election disaster, remains the focal point.

“Florida will forever be the poster child for how not to conduct an election,” said Melanie Campbell, executive director of the National Coalition on Black Civil Participation, one of several groups setting up a hotline and sending in monitors. “In Florida for sure, people are still very upset. ... We’re doing everything we can so people are motivated to vote and to get their vote counted.”

Grand Jury Indicts Fastow In Enron Case


A federal grand jury in Houston on Thursday indicted Andrew Fastow, the former chief financial officer at Enron Corp., on dozens of fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy charges, the latest move in the active government probe into wrongdoing at the bankrupt energy trader.

The charges against Fastow, who allegedly masterminded a complex web of partnerships that disguised Enron’s financial woes and funneled millions of dollars into his own pockets, were filed four weeks after he surrendered to the FBI and was released on $5 million bond. He is the highest ranking Enron official to face criminal charges.

The 78-count indictment closely tracks allegations that prosecutors leveled against Fastow in a sworn statement by an FBI agent at that time. The court papers also include a new claim: that Fastow attempted to block investigators by persuading his top aide, Michael Kopper, to tamper with laptop and desktop computers in the late summer of 2001. That was shortly after Enron executive Sherron Watkins raised questions about Enron’s accounting practices, but before the company’s financial woes became public.

The obstruction count is significant because it challenges Fastow’s claim, as cited by his lawyer, John Keker, that he “never believed he was committing any crime.”

Earthquake in Italy Jolts School, Kills Six Children


An earthquake knocked down the roof of a school in central Italy Thursday, killing at least six children and trapping dozens of others during a party to celebrate Halloween.

Two women were also killed in their homes in San Giuliano di Puglia, a medieval village of 1,195, about 50 miles northeast of Naples. The 5.4 magnitude quake struck at 11:33 a.m. The epicenter was reported to be in the nearby city of Campobasso.

About 50 people were initially trapped when part of the roof over the nursery and elementary school collapsed, authorities said. Rescuers said after nightfall that they could talk with two groups of buried children, who had ducked under benches for protection.

Some of them were later rescued, including six dust-covered children pulled out from under floodlights and quickly sent to hospitals.

Onlookers applauded and called out “Giovanni! Giovanni!” when one little boy was brought out on a stretcher.

“As soon as he came out he called me ‘Papi’ like he always does,” Giovanni’s father told state television, which didn’t further identify the man. “I immediately saw he was in good condition. He told me there are many other children still alive, a little shocked but still alive, so the hope is still there that they can save more. I thank God for this gift he has given me.”

Zap Offers Ford $10 Million for Electric Vehicle Division


Zap, a small Bay Area manufacturer of electric bicycles and scooters that only recently emerged from bankruptcy reorganization, said Thursday it has offered Ford Motor Co. $10 million in cash, stock and warrants for its San Diego-based Think electric vehicle division.

Ford paid $23 million for Think three years ago and has invested more than $100 million in the company, but pulled the plug on the unit earlier this summer, citing poor demand.

Think, originally part of Norway’s Pivco Industries, makes electric bicycles, golf-cart style neighborhood vehicles and the plastic-bodied two-seat Think City, which is certified as a highway-legal passenger car capable of a top speed of 60 mph and a maximum range, at much-reduced speeds, of 60 miles between charges.

While Ford and General Motors Corp. have abandoned the battery-powered electric car market, DaimlerChrysler continues to operate a subsidiary, GEM, that sells battery-powered neighborhood electric vehicles that are legal on city streets posted for speeds of 35 miles per hour or less.

Zap has never been in the car business, but Chairman Gary Starr said Thursday that the 8-year-old company’s “sole business is electric vehicles, and we can focus on them while they were just a sideline for the major auto companies.” Zap’s stock closed at $1.50 a share Thursday in over-the-counter trading, up 5 cents for the day.