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News Briefs

Pakistan Bans Public Meetings After 40 Die In A Car Bombing

The authorities announced a nationwide ban on all political and religious meetings except Friday Prayers after a car bombing early Thursday in the central city of Multan killed 40 people and wounded at least 100.

The attack, on a religious gathering of Sunni Muslims, came six days after a suicide bombing in a Shiite mosque in Sialkot, in the east, which killed 31 people.

No one claimed responsibility for the explosion Thursday, but amid speculation that it might have been a response to the suicide bombing in Sialkot, Pakistani officials tried to play down the sectarian aspects, branding it an act of terrorism aimed at destabilizing the country.

Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said in a statement that he did not see the involvement of any religious group in the blast. “The terrorists have no religion, and we are facing the worst sort of terrorism,” he said.

Republicans Defend Embattled House Leader

While Republicans vigorously defended Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, in the wake of two ethics rebukes, members of both parties said on Thursday that DeLay, a tough-talking Texan who holds a tight rein over the House, could have difficulty retaining his leadership job if his party loses seats in next month’s elections.

Democrats and independent watchdog groups, reacting to the House ethics committee’s decision Wednesday night to admonish DeLay for the second time in less than a week, called on him Thursday to resign the majority leader job. But the real test for DeLay will come next month, when lawmakers return to Washington after the elections to choose their leaders for the next Congress.

The extraordinary back-to-back admonishments, coming little more than three weeks before Election Day, provoked intense partisan recriminations on Capitol Hill, where Democrats regard DeLay as the symbol of the Republicans’ bare-knuckles leadership style and Republicans believe Democrats are gunning for their leader.

Judge Scolds Government Over Anthrax

A federal judge who reviewed a classified update on the FBI investigation of anthrax-laced letters that killed five people in 2001 said on Thursday that he saw little chance of the case’s being solved in the next six months.

U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who is handling a lawsuit filed against the FBI and the Justice Department by a former Army bioweapons expert, Dr. Steven J. Hatfill, was given a secret report on Monday on the anthrax investigation. The report was written by Richard L. Lambert, the FBI official in charge of the bioterrorism case.

“Candidly, from my review of the classified information, it doesn’t seem to me that anything is going to happen in the near future that’s going to change the status quo,” the judge said.

Elizabeth J. Shapiro, a lawyer in the civil division of the Justice Department, did not dispute the judge’s conclusion but emphasized the difficulty of finding the person or people responsible for the attacks.