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News Briefs

Highway Spending To Create Jobs

THE NEW YORK TIMES

The administration’s spending plan for transportation is $58.7 billion for the next fiscal year, up $4.4 billion from its request for the current year. Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta said it was an employment bill, with each $1 billion spent on highways generating 47,500 jobs. Minetta also said the request would enhance safety, although the administration has shied from a federal law on failing to use seat belts, which Mineta identified as the single largest transportation problem.

The bill provides $14 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration. That includes a $393 million reduction in the budget for facilities and equipment. The agency said it would defer several programs, including one to improve the accuracy of the Global Positioning System so it can be used to land planes in low visibility and another to let controllers and pilots communicate via e-mail instead of voice, which was supposed to improve the capacity of the air traffic system. Mineta said last week that the FAA should triple the capacity of the nation’s air traffic system in the next few years, and he said on Monday that that should still happen, despite the cuts.

The administrator of the aviation agency, Marion C. Blakey, also said her agency was studying whether to change the rule that requires air traffic controllers to retire at 56. Many controllers now on the job were hired in 1981 as replacements for strikers, and they are now approaching that age.

The budget request for Amtrak is for $900 million. For the current year, the administration had also requested $900 million, but Congress approved $1.2 billion.

Chirac’s Ally Guilty Of Corruption

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- PARIS

President Jacques Chirac passionately defended on Monday his former prime minister and longtime political partner, Alain Juppe, convicted last Friday in a corruption scandal dating from the days when the two served together in the City Hall of Paris.

Ignoring the potential political damage to him and his ruling party and immune from prosecution himself, Chirac paid tribute to his political protege, telling reporters during a visit to Marseille that his feelings for him were of “friendship, esteem and respect.”

He added, “He is a politician of exceptional quality, of competence, of humanism, of honesty. And France needs men of this quality.”

Chirac’s embrace of the man he once called “the best one among us” followed a shower of praise from others in his Cabinet, from Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin to Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.

But the powerful Magistrates’ Union, whose members include judges and prosecutors, on Monday criticized Chirac’s decision to take sides.

Stronger Warning Urged For Anti-Depressants Given To Teens

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- BETHESDA, MD.

A scientific advisory panel urged the Food and Drug Administration on Monday to issue stronger warnings now to doctors about the possible risks to children of a newer generation of anti-depressant drugs, rather than waiting until the agency’s review of the drugs is completed.

“Our sense is that we would like in the interim for the FDA to go ahead and issue stronger warning indications to clinicians” about the chance that the anti-depressants might be linked to suicidal thinking and behavior, hostility or other forms of violent behavior, said Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, a scientist at the National Institute of Mental Health and the chairman of the FDA advisory committee.

Rudorfer said that such a warning should not discourage doctors from using the anti-depressants but would alert them to warning signs that a drug might be having harmful effects. The recommendation came at the end of an emotional daylong public hearing on the issue. Most of the anti-depressants belong to the class known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

Dr. Thomas Laughren, the team leader for the FDA’s division of neuropharmacological drug products, said the agency took the committee’s recommendation “very seriously” and that it would probably issue such a warning “sooner rather later.”

Bomb Explodes Outside Russian Journalist’s Apartment

THE NEW YORK TIMES -- MOSCOW

A small bomb exploded on Monday outside the apartment of a journalist who has created a political sensation with a behind-the-scenes account of the Kremlin during President Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.

The journalist, Yelena Tregubova, was not injured, but she said in an interview that she feared the bombing was an attempt on her life. The bomb exploded only moments before she left her apartment for a taxi that was waiting downstairs, she said.

The force of the blast, estimated at roughly one to two pounds of explosives, destroyed a door opposite hers and broke windows and fixtures in the hallway of her apartment building, situated in the heart of Moscow. A police official said the explosion was being investigated as an act of hooliganism and refused to comment further.

It was not clear whether the bombing was related to Tregubova’s book, “Tales of a Kremlin Digger,” which recounts, in gossipy detail, her four years as a member of the Kremlin’s exclusive news media pool, first as a reporter for Izvestia and then for the business newspaper Kommersant.

Tregubova declined to speculate who could have put a bomb outside her apartment, but she obliquely linked it to the presidential elections on March 14. She also said she believed her telephone was tapped and recounted a recent mysterious call in which a suspicious caller wanted to deliver to her apartment a package that she was not expecting.