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News Briefs

Japan And France Compete For Big Fusion Project

The New York Times -- ROKKASHO, Japan

If the Japanese have their way, this village in northern Japan, an area known for its apples and sea cucumbers, will become home to a project that could give birth to the energy of the future.

The project, ITER, for International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, would try to emulate the sun’s nuclear fusion to produce safe, clean and inexhaustible energy. The 30-year, $12 billion research center would be the second largest international scientific project after the International Space Station.

Officials from six countries participating in the project are to meet in March to try to decide between Rokkasho and Cadarache, in southern France, even as talks have become increasingly tinged with politics.

After officials failed to decide between the two in a meeting in Washington in December, Spencer Abraham, the Bush administration’s energy secretary, declared that the Japanese site was superior.

The statement angered the Europeans, leading the French prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, to threaten to withdraw from the project and go it alone if France was not selected. In the French news media, the dispute over the site is being viewed through the prism of the war in Iraq: American support for Japan’s candidacy in return for Tokyo’s backing in Iraq.

American and Japanese officials dismiss that view, but support for the two sites is split along the divisions over the war in Iraq: the United States, Japan and South Korea back Rokkasho; Russia, China and France, with the European Union, are for Cadarache.

Protest In Syria Draws Quick, And Firm, Response

The New York Times -- DAMASCUS, Syria

The security police quickly squelched an extremely rare public demonstration demanding political reform on Monday, the 41st anniversary of the Baath Party seizing power here.

Organizers and other reform advocates said the police presence in downtown Damascus, which far outnumbered the demonstrators, was a sign of just how jittery the government and security services remain after the fall of the Baath Party in neighboring Iraq.

Rights advocates and others seeking reform planned to draw attention to their petition demanding the lifting of emergency laws, which have been in place throughout Baath Party rule since 1963, by staging a sit-in at the gates of Parliament. The reform advocates say they have gathered 7,000 signatures to support their demands.

But when the band of 20 to 30 people unfurled a few paper banners reflecting their demands, dozens of plainclothes security officers pounced. They shredded the banners and ripped up the notebooks of some of the reporters covering the protest, igniting numerous scuffles.

The security police began rounding up the demonstrators and others at the scene, including this reporter, a photographer for The New York Times, a reporter for the BBC and a junior diplomat from the U.S. Embassy. The foreign reporters were driven to a police station, given several rounds of coffee and tea and then sent on their way with an apology after an hour.