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Nation in brief

9/11 families beg panel for answers

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 1, 2003

NEW YORK -- Fighting back tears, relatives of people killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks challenged an independent commission Monday to find out why their loved ones died.

"We deserve answers to the long list of questions we have," said Mary Fetchet, who lost her 24-year-old son, Brad, in the World Trade Center attacks. "What were the failures? Who was accountable?"

The two-day public hearing, the commission's first, is designed to investigate the attacks that killed about 3,000 people.

Thomas Kean, chairman of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, said the commission's objective was to answer the American people's questions: "What if anything went wrong on that day? What can prevent terrorist attacks of this scale from happening again?"

The panel is assembling a staff of 50 to 60 people to help with its investigation and to write a report by May 2004.

'REVENGE' FOR ATTACKS: A man with a history of mental problems was charged Monday with killing four immigrants in New York since February, including three apparent victims of misplaced rage from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Larme Price told police that he shot three victims -- one Guyanese, one Indian and one Yemeni -- because he believed each was of Middle Eastern descent and that he wanted to exact revenge for the terrorist attacks.

House fails to pass smallpox vaccine bill

WASHINGTON -- A Republican-crafted bill compensating people injured or killed by the smallpox vaccine was defeated in the House Monday amid debate over the size of the payments, and the troubled vaccination program was temporarily suspended in at least nine states.

The plan was meant to encourage medical workers and emergency responders to get immunized.

State officials said they were suspending the program to give federal officials time to investigate the vaccine's role in three heart attack deaths.

The House defeated the bill 206-184. Florida representatives voted along party lines, Democrats in favor and Republicans against, with the exception of Republican Mark Foley.

Academy officer says he regrets handling of case

DENVER -- The outgoing Air Force Academy officer who oversees cadets, Brig. Gen. Sylvanus Taco Gilbert III, endorsed his own removal Monday and expressed regret for making statements that suggested a cadet had invited a sexual assault.

Meanwhile, senators demanded an independent investigation Monday into the handling of a string of sexual assault reports at the academy, saying the Air Force has refused to hold leaders at the academy accountable.

Under sharp questioning from outraged lawmakers, Air Force Secretary James G. Roche said that he would consider seeking an outside review to help the academy overcome the scandal.

Supreme Court rules in redistricting battle

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court ruled Monday that federal courts can step in and draw legislative boundaries in some instances when state processes fail.

The decision upholds a federal court's boundaries for Mississippi's congressional districts and is a victory for Republicans.

Justices were sharply divided in parts of the ruling, but unanimously agreed that federal judges were right to block a state court plan that favored Democrats, because the plan had not been precleared for racial bias by the Justice Department.

LAW ENFORCEMENT: The court debated two California law enforcement cases Monday, one to decide whether sex crimes from the distant past can be prosecuted now and the other to decide whether county sheriffs can carry out raids on Indian reservations.

AFFIRMATIVE ACTION: The court hears arguments in two cases Tuesday on whether the University of Michigan's undergraduate and law school should continue to use race as a factor in admissions.

U.S. report cites war allies for human rights abuses

WASHINGTON -- The State Department criticized Israeli and Palestinian authorities Monday for widespread abuses in their conflict, and denounced China for what it said was a long list of rights violations.

In its annual human rights report, covering almost 200 countries, the State Department said many supporters of the U.S.-led war effort in Iraq had subpar rights records in 2002.

Qatar and Kuwait, two of the countries most identified with the war against Iraq, were said to be generally respectful of the rights of citizens.

On Israel, the report said the country's overall human rights record in the occupied territories remained poor, and worsened in several areas as it continued to commit "numerous, serious human rights abuses."

The report also criticized the Palestinian Authority's rights record. It said many members of Palestinian security services and the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization participated with civilians and terrorist groups in violent attacks against Israeli settlers, other civilians and soldiers.

In Pakistan, a key ally in the war on terrorism, the report said the government's rights record remained poor.

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