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Nation in brief

Inquiry clears Gen. Franks, wife

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 11, 2003


WASHINGTON -- The Pentagon's inspector general found that Gen. Tommy Franks mistakenly allowed his wife to sit in on classified briefings, but concluded no harm was done to national security and dismissed two other allegations, officials said Monday.

The investigation by the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office found that the chief of the U.S. Central Command "inadvertently allowed classified information, at a level for which Mrs. Franks was not cleared, to be discussed in her presence," said Lt. Col. Gary Keck, a Pentagon spokesman.

Allegations that a female officer was assigned to run personal errands for Cathy Franks and that a military bodyguard was assigned to protect her were declared "unsubstantiated."

Air Force leaders outline reply to academy crisis

WASHINGTON -- The top two leaders of the Air Force on Monday outlined for the first time steps they expect to take in response to a sexual misconduct crisis at the Air Force Academy -- among them, separating the dormitory rooms of male and female cadets.

Air Force Secretary James Roche and Gen. John Jumper, the Air Force's chief of staff, said they also intend to start providing victims of sexual assault with counselors who would track the handling of complaints. And they plan to grant greater authority to the school's officers and senior enlisted personnel to monitor relations between male and female cadets.

A growing number of allegations of sexual assault and administrative insensitivity at the academy has taken Air Force leaders by surprise. A special Air Force working group is due to recommend changes at the end of the month.

Senate says it will approve ban on type of abortion

WASHINGTON -- An eight-year struggle over legislation to ban what critics call partial birth abortions appeared to be nearing a climax Monday as the Senate took up the bill and its advocates claimed the votes to pass it, along with a president who will sign it.

"I think the odds are very good" that the measure will be passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Bush, said Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., who, with Bush and other Republican leaders, has made the measure a top priority.

Oil, gas industries get break from new permits

WASHINGTON -- Developers of oil and gas sites across the country will have at least two more years before they are required to get new stormwater permits intended to protect fish, wildlife and people.

A Clinton administration regulation went into effect on Monday, expanding the stormwater permitting program to construction sites that disturb 1 to 5 acres.

But the Environmental Protection Agency said it was postponing the requirements for oil and gas construction until March 2005 because it wants more time to evaluate the impacts on the industry.

Pull out your bug spray -- West Nile's here to stay

WASHINGTON -- West Nile virus may well complete its coast-to-coast spread this summer, infecting large numbers.

There's no good way to predict, as the deadly virus is from a family that's notoriously fickle. The one sure discovery is that where West Nile has been, it stays, said Dr. Lyle Petersen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But during last year's record-setting epidemic -- more than 4,000 people became ill and 274 died -- only a handful of states escaped human illness.

Mexico criticizes Calif. officers after deadly chase

SAN DIEGO -- California Highway Patrol officers did not know a stolen pickup truck was loaded with more than 20 suspected illegal immigrants when they decided to stop it with spike strips, the department said Monday.

Two people were killed and 20 injured Sunday when the driver swerved around a spike strip, slammed into the center divide and rolled the pickup onto its side, tossing passengers onto the pavement.

Consul General Rodulfo Figueroa of Mexico accused the officers of "gross negligence" for using spike strips in pursuits that have reached speeds of nearly 100 mph.

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