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News Briefs

Space Specimens Saved From Wrecked Capsule

Scientists think useful samples of all the many types of solar particles collected by the Genesis space capsule survived its crash in the Utah desert almost four weeks ago, promising researchers years of study into the origins of the solar system.

Although many of the fragile particle collectors are banged or broken, some survived the Sept. 8 crash surprisingly well, said scientists doing the painstaking work of extracting them from the crash debris.

Dr. Eileen K. Stansbery, assistant director of astromaterials research at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in Houston, said many of the principal solar collectors aboard the craft survived almost intact and promised to yield useful results for researchers. The crash means that preserving, decontaminating, and processing the samples will be harder than first envisioned, but she said that that was a small price to pay for the science that will be recovered.

Wave Of Lawsuits Expected Against Merck After Vioxx Sales Halted

Last week’s decision by Merck to halt sales of Vioxx, its popular painkiller, could lead to an onslaught of lawsuits against the company.

Hundreds and perhaps thousands of new Vioxx lawsuits are likely to be filed, lawyers said, with many of them class actions that aim to represent large groups of Vioxx users who have taken the drug for extended periods. Indeed, radio advertisements seeking plaintiffs are being broadcast and some suits were filed almost immediately after Merck’s recall announcement on Thursday.

“Our lawsuit was in the works but the filing was accelerated by the recall,” said Don S. Strong, a lawyer who filed a suit against Merck on Thursday in U.S.District Court in Oklahoma City.

“The recall makes our burden of proof easier,” Strong said, “because it validates what our experts have been telling us for several months.” The lawsuit says that Strong’s client suffered ministrokes and a number of heart problems from taking Vioxx.

But some experienced product liability lawyers say a new wave of litigation may not necessarily be more distracting for Merck than the suits that are already working their way through the courts.

Cambodia Approves Tribunal For Khmer Rouge Leaders

After years of delays, the Cambodian Parliament ratified an agreement with the United Nations on Monday to create an international tribunal to try surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime for atrocities that took 1.7 million lives during the communists’ four-year rule in the late 1970s.

The ratification was the last major hurdle for holding a trial, although no timetable was set and a number of technical and political issues lie ahead, including the raising of an estimated $57 million from international donors.

None of the aging Khmer Rouge leaders has been brought into court to face justice for their actions between 1975 and 1979, when as many as one-fourth of the Cambodian population died from execution, starvation, overwork and disease.

The law still needs approvals by the Senate and head of state, both of which are considered formalities. The United Nations and Cambodia reached agreement in June 2003 after long and difficult negotiations. Ratification was delayed for a year as Cambodia struggled to form a government following an election.