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Briefs (right)

Police Beat Crowds
Backing Egypt’s Judges


THE NEW YORK TIMES CAIRO, EGYPT

President Hosni Mubarak’s government dispatched thousands of riot police officers into the center of the city on Thursday to silence demonstrators intent on showing support for judges demanding independence from the president.

The police clubbed men and women trying to demonstrate as well as half a dozen journalists.

“This is a farce in every meaning of the word,” said Salah Zidan, a lawyer involved in pressing for more freedoms. “There has never been anything like this: that someone should express his opinion is committing a crime.”

The police also blocked streets and subway stations, disrupting the lives of thousands of people who live and work in the area. Officers sealed off the Judges Club, a stately building that has become a kind of headquarters for people calling for more democracy.

“I am just trying to go to work,” said Fatma Shoeib, a lawyer who could not get to her office because of the police blockade. “But we are witnessing a farce. We are in a police state; this cannot be a state of law.”

Universal Music Settles
Big Payola Case

By Jeff Leeds
THE NEW YORK TIMES

The Universal Music Group, the world’s biggest music company, has agreed to pay $12 million to settle accusations that executives paid radio programmers to play songs, according to a settlement announced Thursday. It is the largest such settlement yet in an investigation by the New York attorney general that has shaken the music business.

The office of the attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, said in documents released Thursday that Universal, a unit of Vivendi, had used a broad array of illegal “pay-for-play” tactics to secure airplay for its music, including bribing programmers with laptop computers, tickets to sporting events and luxury hotel stays.

Spitzer’s office has been examining whether the four corporations that dominate the music industry have violated federal or New York state laws that prohibit payments of cash or anything of value to radio programmers for airplay unless the transaction is disclosed to listeners.

Last year, the authorities settled with Warner Music Group for $5 million and Sony BMG Music Entertainment for $10 million in similar arrangements. In March, Spitzer sued one of the nation’s biggest radio broadcasters, Entercom Communications, accusing it of trading airplay for money, after settlement discussions faltered.

In an interview, Spitzer said the “uniformity” of record executives’ conduct, reflected in e-mail messages and other documents uncovered in earlier settlements, “speaks to the understanding in the industry that radio play is the best way to motivate sales, and folks would do what needed to be done to get the airtime.”

Governor of Kentucky is Indicted

By Ian Urbina
THE NEW YORK TIMES

Gov. Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky, a Republican, was indicted Thursday on charges that he illegally rewarded political supporters with state jobs.

Fletcher, who is charged with three misdemeanors of criminal conspiracy, official misconduct and violating the prohibition against political discrimination, has denied any wrongdoing and has accused the state’s attorney general, Gregory D. Stumbo, a Democrat, of being politically motivated in his investigation.

The indictment is the culmination of a yearlong investigation that began after a whistleblower provided paperwork to the attorney general, who accused Fletcher of violating civil-service hiring laws by filling rank-and-file state jobs based on political leanings of applicants rather than their merit. The governor could face up to 12 months in prison and $500 in fines.

“This has been a politically motivated, media-driven investigation from the start,” Fletcher said in a statement. “Because of the politicization of this entire investigation, we are filing a motion at this time to disqualify Greg Stumbo and his entire office from further participation in this matter.”

Shiite Cleric Closes Mosques
To Honor Killing of Sunnis

By Sabrina Tavernise
THE NEW YORK TIMES BAGHDAD, IRAQ

In a move to try to ease sectarian violence, Iraq’s most senior Shiite cleric on Thursday ordered all Shiite mosques closed in a southern town after a Sunni Arab cleric and two bodyguards were shot dead there.

Thursday was also the deadliest day for the U.S. military in a month, with the deaths of seven service members and the announcement of an eighth death that occurred Tuesday.

The mosque closings, ordered by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, were for Zubayr, a town about 12 miles south of Basra, and were to remain in effect for Friday prayer services and Saturday. It was a gesture of condolence to Sunni Arabs after gunmen killed a Sunni cleric, Sheik Khaled al-Sadoun, and two of his guards as they left a mosque in the town just after evening prayers on Wednesday.

Al-Sistani, who commands a broad following among Shiites in Iraq and throughout the region, has repeatedly called for Shiites to refrain from revenge attacks after suicide bombings and other killings.

In Zubayr, al-Sistani was trying to command his followers to condemn a killing carried out against Sunnis, something that Sunni leaders are not always quick to do for Shiites.

“The order came from his eminence to close the Shiite mosques to deplore the aggression and the security chaos in the province,” said Sheik Mohammed Falak, al-Sistani’s representative. “Sistani demanded the Shiite and the Sunnis to be as far from dispute as possible.”

“The Basra community lives in pain and the security forces stand helpless in front of the assassinations that reach Sunnis and Shiite,” he said.