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News Briefs

Congress May Close Billion-Dollar Loan Loophole

By Greg Winter

The New York Times

The secretary of education called on senior members of Congress on Thursday to close a loophole that has allowed student loan companies to collect more than a billion dollars in excess federal subsidies, saying he lacked the authority to stop the escalating payments anytime soon.

With days remaining before a possible recess, Democrats and Republicans introduced legislation in the House and Senate on Thursday to cut off the subsidies on all new loans, proposing to use the money in ways that directly benefit students instead.

Democrats proposed ending the subsidies permanently and rolling the savings into federal grants for low-income college students.

The Republican plan would end the subsidies for a year, while Congress wrestles with the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, using the savings to expand loan forgiveness for math, science and special education teachers who commit to working in impoverished schools.

Some members of Congress continued to call upon the Bush administration to end the subsidies immediately, a power that the Government Accountability Office has said the Education Department clearly has. But in a letter to Republican leaders, Rod Paige, the education secretary, rebutted that contention, saying that congressional action offered “the most direct and expeditious” path to closing the loophole.

Thai Foreign Minister Eager To Succeed Kofi Annan

By Warren Hoge

The New York Times UNITED NATIONS

Thailand’s foreign minister, Surakiart Sathirathai, a Harvard-educated lawyer with a background in politics, finance and international economics, has emerged as an early favorite to succeed Kofi Annan SM ’72 as secretary-general when his term ends in 2006.

Surakiart, 46, became the front-runner after the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as Asean, endorsed his candidacy on Wednesday in a meeting on the fringes of the opening of this year’s General Assembly session.

“It’s only a beginning with a long road ahead, but it is a very important beginning,” Surakiart said in an interview on Thursday before addressing a luncheon meeting at the Asia Society.

He said his candidacy had received “positive” responses from other powers in the region, including China, India, Japan and Pakistan, and that he would welcome the job as a way to “encourage a higher level of tolerance and moderation and to cultivate a culture of peace.”

Richard C. Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said he thought Asia’s rallying behind Surakiart made him the odds-on choice.

31 Die in Gaza in Deadliest Day For Two Years

By Greg Myre

The New York Times NISANIT, Gaza Strip

At least 28 Palestinians and three Israelis were killed on Thursday when Israeli troops pushed into a densely packed refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip and battled militants darting among the narrow alleys. It was the deadliest day in more than two years.

The Israelis fired from tanks and armored personnel carriers while they moved deep into the Jabaliya refugee camp, where more than 100,000 Palestinians live, just north of Gaza City. Masked Palestinians fired automatic rifles and anti-tank missiles and planted explosives along the sandy streets.

The Israelis rolled into northern Gaza on Tuesday night after the latest surge in Palestinian rocket fire. The heavy fighting on Thursday, combined with warnings from Israeli officials, pointed to the possibility of a large-scale military offensive in Gaza directed at the Palestinian factions responsible for almost daily attacks.

Throughout four years of fighting, the Israeli military has been reluctant to enter the congested cities and refugee camps in Gaza, where it is difficult for its armored vehicles to operate. Even limited Israeli ground incursions in the strip have resulted in large numbers of casualties among Palestinians and Israeli soldiers.

But Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he is determined to proceed with his plan to withdraw Israeli soldiers and settlers from Gaza unilaterally, and the persistent fighting is complicating his efforts.

Rebel Violence Threatens Kurds’ Gains In Turkey

By Susan Sachs

The New York Times DIYARBAKIR, Turkey

The kidnappers came at dusk, just as the day shift at the Tigre marble quarry was ending. Pulling aside the two most senior men, they herded the rest of the dust-caked workers into a small dining hall at gunpoint.

The armed men wore bulky camouflage jackets, according to several people there. They spoke flawless Kurdish and were chillingly polite.

“We have some business to take care of,” one of them said. “Your two friends will be coming with us as our guests.”

Before slipping away with their hostages toward the desolate gray mountains to the east, they conveyed a last message:

“Maybe you consider us terrorists,” one kidnapper was said to have told the workers. “But we are your brothers.”

The abduction of the two foremen on Aug. 29 was the third such incident in six weeks at the remote marble quarries in the flatlands 20 miles north of Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, and few people harbored any doubts as to who was responsible.

“We know it was the PKK,” said Raif Turk, the quarry owner, using the Kurdish-language initials of the Kurdistan Workers Party, a rebel group. “These are people who call themselves guerrillas. But they just wanted money from us.”