ELSEWHERE Wednesday, October 30, 2002 — Page 9 News from the nation, world Briefs By The Associated Press Federal case may take precedence GREENBELT, Md. — New federal weapons and extortion charges against sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad added to the questions over which jurisdiction will be the first to prosecute him and his alleged partner in the attacks. Muhammad, 41, and John Lee Malvo, 17, are already charged with murder in Maryland and Virginia in die attacks that left 10 people dead and three others critically wounded. They are also charged with an Alabama slaying last month and are suspected in a February killing in Washington state. The federal case could take precedence, though Attorney General John Ashcroft said negotiations over where the two men will first stand trial are continuing. Montgomery County State's Attorney Douglas F. Gansler, who filed six murder charges against the two on Friday, said die ultimate decision rests with the federal government. Israeli party ready to bolt coalition JERUSALEM — Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a frantic last- minute effort to save liis crumbling coalition today ahead of a key vote as. .the Labor Party vowed to quit his government unless cuts were made in planned spending to Jewish set- dements. Debate before today's vote on the budget, originally set to begin in the morning, was delayed for several hours as negotiations intensified. Coalition chairman Zeev Boim of Sharon's Likud party said the delay raised hope the dispute could be resolved. At least 59 die in Vietnam fire HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam —A massive blaze tore through a large building in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, killing at least 59 people. State-controlled newspapers said today the death toll could exceed 100. Rescuers searched frantically following Tuesday's blaze for dozens of people believed still trapped today inside the six- story building, where a wedding reception with more than 500 guests had been taking place. An American insurance company with offices there was also conducting a training seminar for about 100 employees when the fire erupted. Six staff members of the American International Assurance Co. were still missing, a company official said. Elections consortium still not prepared NEWYORK—With less than a week to go, Voter News Service said Tuesday it is still working to make its exit poll system ready for use on election night to help its members project winners and analyze voting patterns. VNS, a consortium consisting of ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox and The Associated Press, counts actual votes and also conducts exit polling in certain precincts. That information is used by its members to project winners in individual races. Ted Savaglio, VNS executive director, said the system for counting the actual vote in each state is in good shape for Nov. 5. "We're confident the vote count will be good," he said. The AP is conducdng an independent vote count that will be available to all VNS members should the VNS system falter. Major victory for paint industry PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In a major victory for the paint industry, Rhode Island's closely watched lawsuit against lead paint makers ended in a mistrial, casting doubt on the future of similar suits being considered in a half-dozen states. The state was trying to hold eight former paint manufacturers liable for lead poisoning in 35,000 Rhode Island children since 1993. Superior Court Judge Michael Silverstein declared a mistrial Tuesday after jurors assured him their 4-to-2 deadlock in favor of the defense would remain unbroken. Census: Poorest counties along Mexican border South and Midwest highest in poverty The South and Midwest have the highest concentration of children living in poverty, according to Census Bureau estimates released Tuesday. By GENARO C.ARMAS Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON —The Census Bureau says counties along the U.S.- Mexican border and isolated areas across the South and Midwest were among the poorest in the nation in the late 1990s. The bureau reported Tuesday that more than half the children in two counties lived in poverty in 1999: Starr County, Texas, near the Mexican border, and East Carroll Parish in northeastern Louisiana. Texas had six of die 10 counties with die nation's highest overall poverty rates, while Soudi Dakota had two. The other two counties were in Louisiana and Mississippi. Figures released Tuesday are separate from poverty estimates from the 2000 census already announced this year. Though three years old, bureau officials say die latest figures offer a more comprehensive look at poverty at the county level. "We do lag behind die country, but during the decade there was greater improvement in Texas," said Dayna Computer access best in U.S. ByGREGTOPPO AP Education Writer WASHINGTON — U.S. students have better access to computers than students in virtually all other industrialized countries, a new report says. And girls in the United States say they're comfortable with technology more often than girls in other countries do, according to the report. But it also suggests that the nation is divided into high and low achievers in a way several other nations are not. Issued Tuesday by the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the annual report says each school computer is shared, on average, by five students in the United States; in other OECD countries, the average is 13 students per computer. Among 16 OECD countries with comparable data, U.S. 15-year-old girls are the most comfortable with computers — 88 percent say they're comfortable or very comfortable, compared with 70 percent, on average, in other countries. The report also says the United States is in the top tier on a list of 32 countries for its percentage of 15- year-olds with "top-level literacy skills" — students who are among the best in the world at understanding complex texts, evaluating information and drawing on specialized knowledge. But the report warns that enough students are doing poorly in the United States that diey bring the nation's level down considerably. About 12 percent of U.S. 15-year- olds are -"top-level," 2 percentage points more than the international average, the study said. Only six other countries have a higher percentage of top students: Australia, Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. If the number of low-performing 15-year-olds is added, though, the United States begins to look average. Finet, senior research associate for Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas' capital. "To say that it's a completely dire situation is not very accurate." Nationally, 17 percent of children 17 and younger lived in poverty in 1999, down from 19 percent in 1998 and 23 percent in 1993, the earliest year with which data can be compared. Still, Finet said the government's estimates of poverty were outdated and inaccurate. Many families went from being in poverty to "working • poor" status, she said. The poverty threshold differs by household, depending mainly on the size of the family. For instance, in 1999 the poverty line for a family of four widi two children was an income of $16,895 a year. In Starr County, Texas, on the Rio Grande River across from Mexico, 50.5 percent of children 17 and younger, or 10,128 children, lived in poverty in 1999. Nearly one-fourth of the county's residents are not U.S. citizens. East Carroll Parish, La., had the next highest share of children in poverty at 50.1 percent. However, bureauicfficials said statistical error rates cq^lH^arlK^^unty's ranking. Some ifnpfpyerrj^nts appeared,.jri;> the SoudiiSiad rural^Appalachia dur^ ing the 199bs. For instance, Owsfey County, Ky. had the highest child poverty rate in 1993 at 65 percent; by 1999, it had fallen to 44.7 percent, the eighth highest rate in the nation. Part of the improvement can be traced to the region diversifying an economy that had long been based on manufacturing and mining, said Duane DeBruyne, spokesman for the federal Appalachian Regional Commission. "We are making progress, but not fully there yet," he said. Left uncertain by the 1999 figures is how the economic slide that began the next year will affect county poverty estimates. Last month, the latest national estimate of poverty showed rates increasing between 2000 and 2001 after nearly a decade of decline. Tuesday's report also found that the Denver suburb of Douglas Coun- Percentage of children living in poverty 0 10 20 30 SOURCE: U.S. Census Bureau ty, Colo., had the highest median household income in the country at $87,335. Buffalo County, S.D., home to the Crow Creek Indian Reservation, had the lowest at $15,531. Because of changes in the way estimates were calculated, 1999 income figures were not comparable to those of previous years. The estimates are based in part on Bob'Newhart attended a ceremony with his family Tuesday at the Kennedy Center to receive the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. (AP photo) Comedian Newhart receives Twain recognition for humor By SIOBHAN MCDONOUGH Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON — Bob Newhart found himself "a long way from being an accountant" Tuesday night as he accepted the Kennedy Center's Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Ncwbart — an ordinary-looking everyman who lias always regarded the lunacy around him with unflappable calm — was regaled by fellow comedians Tim Conway, Richard Belzer, Steven Wright and The Smothers Brothers, among others. The Kennedy Center gala will be broadcast Nov. 13 on PBS. David Hyde Pierce, who plays Niles Crane on the sitcom "Frasier," referred to Newhart's deadpan style when he said, "No one has done less for comedy." Newhart, 73, who worked as an accountant in Chicago in between a hitch in the Army and his comedy career, had no regrets about choosing show business. "It's not easy being an accountant today," he said. "It's taken a lot of heat off the lawyers." Newhart is perhaps best known in his role'/as. Bob Hartley, a Chicago psychologist whose friends and colleagues were as neurotic as his patients, in "The Bob Newhart Show." The comedy,; costarring Suzanne Pleshette as Bob's wife, Emily, aired on CBS from 1972-78 and has been in perpetual syndication since. In 1982 he returned to CBS with "Newhart," in which he played a Vermont innkeeper bedeviled by wacky locals. "Newhart" ran through 1990. Newhart began his career in comedy while working as an advertising copywriter ; He and a friend at the ad agency, Ed Gallagher, made long, antic phone calls to each other, which they recorded as audition tapes for a syndicated radio show. When Gallagher dropped out, Newhart continued, developing his trademark one-man, two-way telephone conversations. In 1959, he signed with Warner Bros. Records. "The Button-Down Mind of Bob Newhart" became the first comedy album to go to No. 1 on the charts, and Newhart sold out nightclubs all over America. Seven more albums followed. hi his routines, Newhart typically played a normal guy coping with extraordinary circumstances; his most famous bit featured an inexperienced security guard working at the Empire State Building the night King Kong climbed it. Newhart made his film debut in the 1962 World War II drama "Hell Is for Heroes." His other movies include "Catch- 22" (1970), "Cold Turkey" (1971), "First Family" (1980) and "In & Out" (1997). AP a survey that asks more detailed questions about economic status than the 2000 census, and also incorporates tax records and other government data that the census did not account for. (On the Net: Census Bureau estimates can be downloaded at: wwiu.censiis.gov/hhes/wwiv/saipe/es- iiinatetoc.html) Star may be wealth of clues By RICK CALLAHAN Associated Press Writer Astronomers have discovered an ancient star near the center of our galaxy that may shed light on the universe's composition shordy after it was blasted into existence by the Big Bang. This cosmic relic is more than 12 billion years old — about a billion years younger than the universe itself. It also has an extremely low metal content, some l/200,000th of that found in our Sun. That is 20 times less metal than the previous lowest- metal star, found in 1977. The star's age and composition place it among the second wave of stars that formed alter the universes violent creation, its discoverers said. Researchers had predicted this type of ultra-low metal star 25 years ago, but an example eluded them until now. Michael S. Besscll, an astronomers at Australia's Mount Siromlo Observatory, said the newly discovered star arose from the debris of a first-generation star, so it contains only a very' small amount of heavy elements. "This really traces things back to the very early stages of the universe because stars are records of that time. This is an indicator of those times," said Bessell, thu star's co-discoverer. The star is described in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature. Dubbed HEO107-5240, it is located 36,000 light years from Earth near the center of the Milky Way and is about four-fifths the si/e of our Sun. It is located in the constellation Pisces but is too dim to be seen with the naked eye. Scientists believe that after the Big Bang, the universe was composed only of hydrogen, helium and a trace of lithium — the lightest elements — and that the other naturally occurring elements were forged inside "stars, which are essentially gigantic nuclear furnaces. Couple thought Chechen raid was musical's surprise ending During funerals at Vagankovo cemetery today, members of the "Nord-Ost" musical crew held a portrait of crew member Kristina Kurbatova, who died last week when Chechen rebels raided a Moscow theater. (AF photo) By IRINATITOVA Associated Press Writer MOSCOW — When friends gave Raisa and Nikolai Lebedev tickets to some of the best seats in the house at Moscow's hit musical "Nord-Ost," diey told the couple to watch out for the big surprise at (he end. So when armed Chechens rushed into the building and announced everyone inside was a hostage, Nikolai couldn't believe it was for real. "My friend promised we would have a very big surprise at the end of the show," Nikolai said. "I was so struck that I even called my friend and asked him if that was the surprise he talked about." He and his wife, in Moscow on a business trip from the northwestern city of Pskov, never got to see the .show's hit finale — an authentic World War II bomber plane that lands on the stage. Instead, they and nearly 800 others were held captive in a 58-hour standoff that ended Saturday with 118 hostages dead after Russian troops stormed the theater. On Tuesday, Raisa left Moscow hospital No. 13 for a tearful reunion with her husband, who was discharged from another hospital the previous day. They were among more than 650 hostages who survived. During the standoff, the rebels set up explosives around the theater; the biggest of these — a cylinder said by news agencies to hold 110 pounds of TNT — was set up right at Nikalat and Raisa's seats in the center of the audience, considered among the house's best. Nearly 20 suicide attackers, Chechen women wrapped in explosives, also sal among the hostages. The hostages with heart and blood pressure problems suffered the most during the long, tense hours, Nikolai said. A teenage girl sitting in front of the couple was becoming hysterical, so Raisa, a former English teacher, tried to calm her by braiding her hair and playing word games along with some other children. Raisa said she actually felt sorry for her captors and was moved when they gave juice and chocolate to children. But she never stopped (hinking about the "very high possibility that they would blow all of us up in the end." > Now reunited, the couple said they agreed with the Russian authorities' decision to storm the theater and unleash paralyzing gas.
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