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Briefs (right)

Three Indian Scientists Protest Delay in Getting U.S. Visas

By Somini Sengupta

Just days before the arrival here of President Bush, complaints from three Indian scientists about visa applications for the United States have stirred a diplomatic tempest.

All three said they were rebuffed by officials at the U.S. Consulate in Chennai, which is also known as Madras. While visa delays are common, the scientists’ stories have prompted two unusual statements from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi expressing “regrets.”

The applications have not been rejected, the embassy said. It added that the scientists were required only to submit additional information as part of a standard post-Sept. 11 safeguard against people whose work could be connected to weapons research.

One scientist, Goverdhan Mehta, an organic chemist and the former director of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, is to lecture next month at the University of Florida at Gainesville, then address an international conference.

Mehta said he applied for a routine visa interview at the consulate on Feb. 9, only to be questioned about whether his research could be used for “chemical warfare.”

Speaking Thursday from his home in Bangalore, he said it could not. He said he remembered being told he was not being honest. “To tell a scientist of any standing he is deceptive about his research — there cannot be a bigger affront,” Mehta said. “I certainly felt very humiliated.”

Bush, On Campaign Trial, Raises Money for Midterm Races

By Raymond Hernandez

President Bush plunged into the 2006 midterm elections Thursday, headlining back-to-back fundraising events for Republican candidates in states where his party is vulnerable.

Bush’s sprint through Indiana and Ohio brought in at least $1.6 million, party officials said, underscoring his standing as a major fundraising draw, even as his job-approval rating suffers.

The Republican National Committee said that Bush was kicking off a year of fundraising for candidates in the 2006 elections and that the president’s schedule would accelerate over the next months.

Bush’s entry into the campaign season does entail some risks for his party: While Republican candidates are eager for his help raising money, some have been distancing themselves from him politically, mindful of his lackluster standing in the polls.

Bush’s first stop was in Mishawaka, Ind., just east of South Bend, where he appeared at a reception on behalf of Rep. Chris Chocola, who may face a tough re-election fight.

In speech of roughly 30 minutes in an auditorium at Bethel College, Bush returned to a theme that has been one of his greatest strengths — that he is protecting the nation from terrorist attacks.

In Surprise Stop in Lebanon, Rice Snubs Pro-Syrian President

By Joel Brinkley

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a surprise visit here Thursday, a stopover whose most notable feature was her decision to snub Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian president of Lebanon.

“I’ve already met him,” Rice explained with a shrug and a coy smile, referring back to her last visit here, six months ago.

Rice’s stated purpose for flying several thousand miles out of her way for a four-hour tour near the end of a Middle East visit was to show “support for the Lebanese people and the Lebanese government as they continue to recover their sovereignty,” as she put it on the flight here Thursday morning. Rice also frequently cites Lebanon as one of the administration’s successes in its call for greater democracy in the Middle East.

She met with every manner of political leader here — Christian, Muslim and Druze — in a country long riven by religious rivalry and warfare. But the new great divide, as the State Department sees it, is between the Lebanese politicians who supported Syria during its long occupation of Lebanon and those who did not.

The assassination early last year of Rafik Hariri, the popular anti-Syrian politician, sparked an uprising of resentment that helped force Syria to withdraw its troops from Lebanon. An election a few months later put Fouad Siniora, a protege of Hariri, into the prime minister’s office. But Lahoud lingers on, his term extended by a constitutional amendment Syria forced through the Lebanese Parliament.

Fossil Finding Spurs New Thinking On Evolutionary Order of Jurassic

By John Noble Wilford

In the conventional view, the earliest mammals were small, primitive shrewlike creatures that did not begin to explore the world’s varied environments until the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago.

But scientists are reporting on Friday that they have uncovered fossils of a swimming, fish-eating mammal that lived in China fully 164 million years ago, well before it was thought that some mammals could have spent much of their lives in water.

The extinct species appears to have been an amalgam of animals. It had a broad, scaly tail, flat like a beaver’s. Its sharp teeth seemed ideal for eating fish, like an otter’s. Its likely lifestyle — burrowing in tunnels on shore and dog-paddling in water — reminds scientists of the modern platypus.

Its skeleton suggests that it was about 20 inches long, from snout to the tip of its tail, about the length of a small house cat.

The surprising discovery, made in 2004 in the abundant fossil beds of Liaoning province, China, is being reported in the journal Science by an international team led by Qiang Ji of Nanjing University.

In the article, Ji and other researchers from the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences in Beijing and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh said the fossil skeleton showed that some mammals occupied more diverse ecological niches than had been suspected in the Jurassic Period, in the middle of the age dominated by dinosaurs.