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News Briefs

Plea-Bargain Strategy Quickens Pace at War Crimes Tribunal


The U.N. tribunal for the 1990s war crimes in the Balkans is suddenly rushing through its backlog of cases, adopting a controversial American strategy to promote plea bargains with much-reduced sentences in exchange for cooperation and guilty pleas.

The abrupt shift after seven years of methodical, if plodding, trials came in response to intense pressure from the U.N. Security Council and particularly the Bush administration, which pays almost a quarter of the tribunal’s current $120 million annual budget and has little sympathy for such international courts. The council has demanded that the court end all investigations next year and complete its trials by 2008.

“It’s been a very strange six months,” said one court official. “The whole attitude has changed, with procedures speeding up, a lot of guilty pleas and trials halted as a result.”

Since May, eight defendants, a record number, have accepted deals with the prosecution and pleaded guilty to various crimes related to the wars that broke up Yugoslavia.

Despite Lacking Latest Virus, Flu Vaccine Is Thought to Work


The influenza vaccine now being given was not developed to protect against a strain of the virus that has surfaced in this country this fall, but the government is optimistic that it will stave off outbreaks, a top federal health official said Monday.

But animal studies suggest that the strains of virus included in the vaccine are close enough to the new one that the vaccine will still protect, said Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, she warned, the United States could face a severe epidemic this year, given that the flu season began unusually early and has hit Texas and Colorado particularly hard.

“It’s a little too early to say whether or not this portends the worst flu season we have had in a long time,” Gerberding said in a telephone news conference. Her agency is responsible for tracking and controlling infectious diseases.

She said she was “sounding the alarm” to urge more people to get flu shots to “nip this problem in the bud.” The center does not know how many people have received flu shots this season. “People have the impression we are doing better this year than last year, but we do not have the data to back that up,” she said.

France Acts Against Anti-Semitism


Reflecting concern that disaffected Muslim youths are behind anti-Semitic acts in France, President Jacques Chirac on Monday called an emergency high-level meeting to approve measures to stop attacks on Jewish sites.

The meeting, which was attended by Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, approved a package that included tougher policing and prosecution, but also sweeping urban renewal investments to clean up neighborhoods thought to breed Islamic extremism.

“Anti-Semitism is contrary to all the values of France,” Chirac told reporters. Noting that Jews had lived in French lands for centuries, he added: “Our Jewish compatriots are at home in France, as is each and every one of our compatriots.”

Chirac was moved to speak out by the latest attack on a Jewish site in France. Early on Saturday, a Jewish school north of Paris was destroyed in an arson fire. Raffarin told reporters after the meeting that the government would earmark the equivalent of almost $8 billion for urban renewal in tough areas with heavy Muslim populations.