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Briefs (left)

Senate OKs $8 Billion to Stockpile
Bird Flu Drugs

By Carl Hulse

Trying to improve national readiness for a potential outbreak of the avian flu, the Senate on Thursday approved nearly $8 billion to stockpile vaccines and other drugs to combat the disease and to bolster local health agencies and hospitals.

“Alarm bells must be rung,” said Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. “The warning signs are there and we have to start preparing. The time for planning and thinking about it is past. We have to do something immediately.”

The money was approved by voice vote as part of a $145 billion spending measure that covers health, education and labor programs. The overall spending measure, which cleared the Senate, 94-3, will have to be reconciled with a similar bill passed by the House without the flu spending.

“The flu threat is dangerous and real, and we are determined to do everything we can in Congress to avoid another Katrina-like failure in the administration’s response,” said Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass.

Facing Sanctions, Syria Mulls Steps
To Rally the Home Front

By Michael Slackman

With the threat of economic sanctions looming over Syria, officials of the governing Baath Party announced on Thursday that they would formally reconsider a decision taken 43 years ago that stripped hundreds of thousands of Kurds of their citizenship, and would also discuss the prospect of allowing multiple political parties in future elections.

Officials here have for years been promising to resolve the citizenship issue with the Kurds, and to open up Syria’s one-party system. But the timing of the announcement on the official SANA News Service on Thursday — no matter how vague and noncommittal — may provide an indication of how officials are hoping to manage a political crisis incited by the investigation into the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

“They are trying to create a united front at home in the face of the pressures Syria is facing,” said Sami Moubayed, a political analyst and writer based here.

Dutch Investigating High Toll
In Fire That Killed Detainees

By Gregory Crouch and Marlise Simons

The Dutch authorities were trying Thursday to determine why the death toll was so high in a fire in a detention center for drug smuggling suspects and illegal immigrants at Schiphol Airport here that killed 11 people.

It took fire squads three hours to control the blaze, which began after midnight Wednesday, and televised images showed that at least part of the detention center had been gutted. Officials said nearly 200 prisoners were being held in the prefabricated complex at the time.

At least 14 people were treated for injuries, six of whom were members of the police or security forces.

A spokesman for the local fire department said the first fire trucks arrived at the site 10 minutes after the fire began. But the question remains why so many people died.

At a news conference in Haarlemmermeer, a town near the airport, officials said part of the reason might have been that there was no quick way to release the prisoners. They said the buildings, which were a temporary holding center rather than a normal prison, had no system for opening cells simultaneously.