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News Briefs

Bush Embraces Sharon Proposal On Gaza


President Bush Monday embraced Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s declared intention to unilaterally withdraw Israeli forces and settlers from the Gaza Strip, saying such a move should not be viewed as a hindrance to the US-backed road map to peace in the region.

In his most detailed comments on the issue to date, Bush said he didn’t want to prejudge the specifics of what the Israeli leader is offering. “But if he were to decide to withdraw” from Gaza, “it would be a positive development,” he said. He was speaking at a joint news conference with President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, who was visiting Bush at his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

Sharon, dogged by a corruption probe and trying to hold together a fractious center-right coalition, is scheduled to meet with Bush at the White House Wednesday.

Mubarak, whose nation borders the southwestern edge of the volatile Gaza Strip and who has sought to help mediate the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, also embraced the idea of a withdrawal, but added, “I would like the withdrawal to coincide with the road map, which is very important.”

The Egyptian president said a plan that fails to link a pullout with broader talks aimed at establishing a Palestinian state would be rejected.

Senators Say Mercury Rule ‘Undermines’ Pollution Control


A proposed federal rule to control mercury pollution by electric power plants is so biased in favor of industry that it threatens to undermine enforcement of the Clean Air Act, senators charged Monday.

Six Democrats and one Independent called for a investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency inspector general of the agency’s procedures in writing the rule.

They said that the proposed regulation contains verbatim language written by industry lawyers and false information inserted by the White House.

An EPA spokeswoman said the agency is collecting public feedback on the proposed rule and suggested there should be no response to the request for an investigation until year’s end.

EPA has estimated that each year 630,000 newborns in the United States, or nearly one in six, have dangerous levels of mercury in their blood.

The new rule would require owners of power plants that burn coal or oil to install the “maximum available control technology” for removing mercury gases from their smokestacks. The agency was under a court order to issue the rule.

However, power plant owners, led by the Southern Co. in Atlanta, have argued against strict mercury controls, saying reliable technology does not yet exist for removing the toxic metal from smoke. Environmentalists challenge this assertion.

An Apologetic Scalia Denies Responsibility For Tape Seizures


Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia mailed letters of apology on Friday to two Mississippi reporters who were required to erase audiotapes of a speech he gave at a high school there on Wednesday.

The reporters, for a wire service and a local newspaper, were asked to destroy the recordings by a deputy federal marshal at the end of a half-hour speech by Scalia at the Presbyterian Christian High School in Hattiesburg.

The deputy cited the justice’s standing policy prohibiting the recording of his remarks. The policy had not been announced at the high school.

The letters had not yet arrived on Monday, the two news organizations said, and the Supreme Court declined to release them.

Scalia referred to the apologies in a separate letter mailed on Friday to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, which had protested the marshal’s actions. The committee released the letter on Monday.

The justice said the organization’s concern was “well justified.”

“You are correct that the action was not taken at my direction,” he wrote. “I was as upset as you were.”

Antoinette Konz, a reporter for The Hattiesburg American, expressed appreciation for the apology. She said she found the experience of having her tape confiscated disturbing. It was returned to her only after she promised to erase the justice’s speech from it.

In the letter to the Reporters Committee, Scalia indicated that he would continue to ban the recording of his speeches by the broadcast press.

Space Station Crew Prepares To Leave For Six Month Stay


A fresh crew is about to depart for a six-month stay aboard the International Space Station, even as program officials consider extending their replacements’ tour to a full year.

A veteran space traveler, Col. Gennadi I. Padalka of the Russian air force, and a rookie NASA astronaut, Lt. Col. Edward Mike Fincke of the Air Force, are to blast off for the station late Sunday aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

They are to work on the station for six months. A third astronaut, Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands, will spend nine days there conducting experiments before returning to Earth with the current crew. Those two astronauts, Dr. C. Michael Foale, a NASA astrophysicist who is commander, and Aleksandr Y. Kaleri, a physicist with the Energia Space Corp. in Russia, boarded the station last Oct. 20.