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Nation & world in brief

Astronauts prepare for air lock installation SPACE CENTER, Houston — Astronauts powered up two robot arms early Saturday in preparation for the installation of a new $164 million doorway to space at the international space station.

Both arms went through the paces of adding a new air lock and four high-pressure gas tanks to the 240-mile-high outpost with no problems.

Space shuttle Atlantis delivered the passageway late Friday as the two craft linked up high above South America, ending a chase of nearly two days.

A new 58-foot robot arm added to space station Alpha in April will install the 13,000-pound air lock and gas tanks on the outpost. A smaller arm attached to space shuttle Atlantis will act as a taxi for two astronauts during three spacewalks.

The U.S.-built air lock, a pressurized chamber, will allow station astronauts to conduct spacewalks in U.S.-made spacesuits without aid of a shuttle.

The first of the spacewalks, a seven-hour outing to attach the air lock and wire it up, was slated to take place late Saturday and early Sunday. The tanks will be added during the other two spacewalks.President touts drug discount plan WASHINGTON — President Bush promoted his prescription drug proposal Saturday with a vow that the government’s commitment to provide health care for senior citizens “will always stand.”

In his weekly radio address, Bush echoed the sentiments he expressed all week: Congress should shelve its political differences and take the steps necessary to bring Medicare up to date — while allowing him to roll out, by January, a “straightforward, nonbureaucratic program” to help elderly Americans get their prescribed medicines at a discount.

“All of us, young and old, have a stake in the outcome of this discussion,” the president said. “Medicare has represented a basic binding commitment to our seniors. That commitment will always stand. And as medicine advances and the needs of our seniors change, Medicare must advance and improve as well.”

Bush said his prescription plan is only a first step toward broader reform that would expand Medicare coverage, improve services, bolster Medicare financing and give seniors more control over the type of care they receive.2nd D.C. septuplet taken off ventilatorWASHINGTON — A second baby among the nation’s latest septuplets was taken off a ventilator Saturday, with medical teams continuing to keep them all under a close watch in the neonatal intensive care unit.

The two still had the help of tubing and equipment that applies controlled air pressure to their airways to prevent against sleep apnea, or the loss of breathing during sleep.

The other five remained on ventilators to help them breathe, hospital officials said Saturday.

Georgetown University Hospital in Washington have received $4,500 in donations from across the nation on behalf of the babies since their birth was announced Friday, along with other gifts such as car seats, baby clothes, toys and diapers.

The mother of the seven babies — each weighing just a couple of pounds — has asked hospital officials to keep her name a secret. She was reported in good condition Saturday.Skunks are good pets, Alabama woman saysHAZEL GREEN, Ala. — Beckie Mills is a making a stink for skunks.

The north Alabama woman is at the forefront of a campaign to reform wildlife laws to make it easier for people to keep skunks as pets.

In Alabama and a few other states, she said, skunk ownership is restricted and domesticated skunks are lumped into the same category as wild animals.

“Skunks get a bad rap,” Mills said.

Mills was this year’s winner of an award by Skunks as Pets Inc., which promotes domestication of the animals.

Mills said that while skunks may have the reputation of being smelly, aggressive creatures prone to disease, they’re actually loving pets.

“They are very curious, into everything,” she said as her de-scented pet skunks, Frankincense and Myrrh, prowled around her living room.


Austrian trains collide head-onVIENNA, Austria — Two passenger trains collided head-on at a railway station west of Vienna on Saturday, injuring 20 people, four of them seriously, railroad officials and a Red Cross spokesman said.

One train was pulling out of Purkersdorf railroad station, six miles west of Vienna, when it crashed with another train that was entering the station.

At first, medical sources said that one of the train drivers overlooked a stop signal, causing the accident. But a spokesman for the Austrian railroad system, who declined to be named, would say only that an overlooked signal was a “conceivable variant.”

Both trains were moving at between 13 and 19 miles an hour when they collided, the spokesman said. Several passengers were injured because they were standing to leave the train, while those injured on the other train were looking for seats at the time of the collision.Basque separatists blamed for violenceMADRID, Spain — Gunmen shot and killed an off-duty policeman, hours after a bomb killed a politician in separate attacks in northern Spain on Saturday, blamed on the armed Basque separatist group ETA.

The police officer, identified as Mikel Uribe, was shot twice in the head while inside his car on his way to have dinner with friends in the town of Leaburu Saturday evening. He was pronounced dead at the Aranzazu hospital in San Sebastian, a hospital spokesman said.

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Uribe, 44, was the head of Basque police’s investigation unit in San Sebastian.

Saturday morning, a bomb exploded and killed a local politician, Jose Javier Mugica, in Leiza, a farming town of about 20 miles northwest of Pamplona, the capital of Navarra province, where the San Fermin festival was concluding after a final run of the bulls.

There was no word from ETA.Arafat, Powell discuss Mideast peace issuesJERUSALEM — Yasser Arafat met with a U.S. envoy and spoke to Secretary of State Colin Powell on Saturday, a day before the Palestinian leader was to confer with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in efforts to end nine months of fighting with Israel.

The discussions came with a month-old U.S.-brokered cease-fire deeply marred by continuing bloodshed and thousands of Palestinians calling for revenge against Israel at funerals for two Islamic militants killed in separate incidents on Friday.

Jewish settlers and Palestinians clashed in the divided West Bank city of Hebron after Palestinian gunmen and Israeli soldiers exchanged gunfire, witnesses said. A 7-year-old Palestinian girl was wounded by gunfire, hospital officials said.

In a 15-minute telephone call, Powell and Arafat discussed developments in the region and international efforts to end the violence, Arafat adviser Nabil Aburdeneh said.

Meeting with U.S. State Department official David Satterfield, Arafat urged the United States to set a timeline for the implementation of a peace plan recommended by an international committee led by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat said.Hillary visits activists jailed in Puerto RicoSAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton urged the White House to “think through” plans to resume military exercises next month on Vieques, citing unfinished health studies.

“Those health studies are still not completed, but bombing is going to begin again on Aug. 1,” Clinton said Saturday after arriving in Puerto Rico. “I would certainly urge the administration and the Navy to think through that decision.”

Clinton, who supports an immediate end to the bombing, spoke after meeting with protesters jailed for trespassing on Navy lands during military exercises, including lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and New York labor leader Dennis Rivera.

A team from the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is assisting local authorities in evaluating any health effects of the bombing on Vieques island’s 9,100 residents.

President Bush plans a Navy withdrawal from Vieques in 2003. But that has not appeased many Puerto Ricans, who claim the bombing has harmed islanders’ health, a charge the Navy denies.

The former first lady’s one-day visit to Puerto Rico comes as the Navy has notified the local government it will begin a new round of exercises on Vieques Aug. 1.

Copyright © 2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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