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Briefs (right)

Heads of Iraq Group Seek
Support of Congress


The co-chairmen of the Iraq Study Group called on Congress on Thursday to endorse the group’s bipartisan call for a sharp change in course in the Iraq war, as they worked to step up pressure on President Bush to move quickly to adopt the recommendations the panel released on Wednesday.

“If the Congress could come together behind supporting, let’s say, utopianly, all of the recommendations in this report, that would do a lot toward moving things downtown,” said former Secretary of State James A. Baker III.

The group’s co-chairman, former Rep. Lee H. Hamilton, a Democrat from Indiana, also urged members of the Senate Armed Service Committee to begin to exercise “very vigorous oversight of the war effort. ”

“I think Congress has been extremely timid in its exercise of its constitutional responsibilities on the question of war-making and conducting war,” Hamilton said.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., said he expected his panel to take up the study group’s proposals, but not until it had heard the results of reviews being conducted for Bush by the Pentagon and the National Security Council.

Anti-Abortion Bill Stalls;
Session Nears End

By Carl Hulse

The House on Wednesday rejected an anti-abortion measure offered by Republicans as congressional leaders struggled to bring the 109th Congress to a close.

On a 250-162 vote, backers of the measure fell short of the two-thirds majority necessary to pass the bill, which would require medical personnel to inform women that a fetus could experience pain and to offer anesthesia for the fetus. The supermajority vote was required under special rules used to consider the bill.

Democrats accused Republicans, who will no longer be in the majority next year, of trying to score political points. The measure had no chance of becoming law in the last few days of this session.

“We are wasting time today on a bill that is laden with rhetoric but very little science,” said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif. But Republicans said the measure was intended to allow women to make informed choices when considering abortions. They disputed scientific research suggesting that a fetus did not experience pain. “This legislation is very, very badly needed,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga., an obstetrician.

Proponents of the measure said they do not expect the new Democratic majority, whose leadership strongly supports abortion rights, to bring up such measures, and that they will press the leadership to allow a second vote under regular rules. But Republican officials said they had no plans to revisit the issue.

Ebola Threatens Gorillas With
Extinction, Say Researchers

By Denise Grady

The Ebola virus has killed from 3,500 to 5,500 gorillas in one region of the Congo Republic since 2002, and its continued spread, along with hunting, could wipe out the species, researchers reported Thursday.

“A lot of animals are dying,” said Dr. Peter D. Walsh, an ecologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Primatology in Leipzig, Germany, and an author of a report published in the journal Science. “There’s a massive decline.”

Several Ebola vaccines have been developed that work in animals in the lab, including monkeys, and Walsh is eager to test them on gorillas in the wild, by injecting the animals with darts or putting an oral vaccine in food. By tracking the spread of the virus and vaccinating animals in its path, it might be possible to stop outbreaks, he said.

Other researchers say that although vaccination might be feasible, it is not known whether the vaccine could be made into a heat-stable version or an oral form. In addition, there would be miles of red tape to cut through, involving various conservation groups, donors and governments.

Dr. Stuart Nichol, chief of molecular biology in the special pathogens branch of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said: “It’s really going to be a nightmare to try to press forward with some kind of vaccine approach. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel good to sit back and do nothing. But in reality it’s going to be exceedingly difficult to do anything.”

Two Fatal Blazes Renew Focus on
Fraternities’ Lack of Sprinklers

By Libby Sander

With fatal fraternity house fires in Nebraska and Missouri last month fresh on their minds, fire officials in a handful of college communities have intensified their push for city ordinances requiring fraternity and sorority houses to install sprinkler systems.

“It comes down to the law of averages,” said Rex Mundt, fire chief of Urbana, Ill., home of the University of Illinois’ main campus, where municipal officials are considering a mandatory sprinkler ordinance similar to one adopted in 2004 in adjacent Champaign. “Sooner or later, if we don’t get something done, we’ll be caught with something terrible.”

Though off-campus housing in general poses special fire-safety challenges, fraternity houses, notorious among fire officials for raucous parties and erratic housekeeping, are most worrisome, officials say.

From 1973 to 2003, 49 fatal fires in dormitories and fraternity and sorority houses killed a total of 77 students, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Of those fires, more than half occurred in fraternity houses, accounting for 44 fatalities, while only one was in a sorority house.