English News Archive

News between December 31st and December 26th, 1998, reversely ordered by date (i.e.: the newest can be found on top). For other News look into our News Archive.


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December 31, 1998:

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December 29, 1998:

December 28, 1998:

December 27, 1998:

December 26, 1998:


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Tuesday December 29 12:19 AM ET Genetics Advances Could Be Mixed Blessing

Genetics Advances Could Be Mixed Blessing

By Marie McInerney

ADELAIDE, Australia (Reuters) - It promises to deliver a new golden age of health, but gene technology could prove a bitter pill to swallow for some individuals and groups around the world.

Life insurance companies in this brave new world could refuse cover to someone diagnosed as likely to contract a debilitating disease, no matter when it may strike. A crippling disease like Huntington's -- a disorder of the central nervous system -- may not strike for many years, or at all.

Employers could demand job applicants undergo gene testing to try to cut down sick leave and early retirement costs.

Ethnic and religious groups with a propensity to particular gene disorders could feel stigmatized or just become research fodder for medical gains to be enjoyed elsewhere, skeptics suggest.

And that is even before the obvious questions about abortion and human embryo research are raised, and before any decisive results from research into genes or mutations responsible for certain behavioral traits, or even intelligence.

``We do not allow discrimination on the basis of color, religion, gender....Why on earth would you want a society in which you actively discriminated on the basis of their genes?'' Australian molecular geneticist David Turner told Reuters.

``TIDE OF FEAR AND DOUBT''

Speakers at an international conference into the ethical implications of genetic research in Australia recently raised concerns that new waves of financial and social discrimination could target people identified as facing serious diseases.

Representative Nita Lowey, a New York Democrat, said many of the benefits offered by genetic testing could be ``washed away on a tide of fear and doubt'' if people believed tests could cost them their jobs or insurance cover.

Citing a 1997 survey in which most respondents said they would not take genetic tests for diseases if insurance companies or employers were granted access to the results, Lowey warned of the risks of failure to address genetic discrimination.

``Instead of the Human Genome Project opening a new era of understanding and treatment, it will create a world in which ignorance is preferable to knowledge and in which medicine is sacrificed to the job market,'' she told GeneCom 98 delegates.

MAPPING THE HUMAN GENOME

The Human Genome Project, a A$3 billion (US$1.9 billion) global program to map and sequence all human genes, has been hailed as spurring a new golden age in medicine which could wipe out major diseases.

Scientists say there are now up to about 4,000 generally rare diseases, such as Huntington's disease, cystic fibrosis, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, with so-called genetic markers that can identify people who are at risk of contracting them.

They are working on tests that will show predisposition to more common ailments, such as some cancers and heart diseases, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer's disease and schizophrenia.

Turner said advance knowledge of predisposition to a disease may enable people to adopt lifestyles that could reduce the risk of, or delay the onset of, a disorder.

But he said finding a gene associated with a disorder was a long way from fully understanding the underlying pathology and even further from knowing how to control the disorder.

``So, for a long time, knowledge of a future disorder will be a sentence without remission,'' he said.

In the meantime, the conference was told societies needed to begin to grapple with some of the implications of gene testing, amid warnings that a little bit of knowledge can be a very dangerous thing.

COMMERCIAL AND SOCIAL RISKS

Life insurance poses early problems -- the question is whether the industry should gain access to gene tests to ensure people predisposed to fatal illnesses do not abuse the system.

``If somebody knows he has a gene that is going to do some damage later in life, I think the temptation would be very strong to rush out and get an insurance policy, a large one,'' British scientist Sir John Maddox told the conference.

But there could be a major advantage for insurers: gene tests may not necessarily cut disease levels, but could identify which people will suffer what.

``It comes down...to the issue ultimately between the profitability of the insurance companies on the one hand and the public good of not discriminating against people on issues over which they have no control themselves,'' Turner said.

Also at risk on other levels, the conference was told, are certain ethnic and religious groups, among them the gypsies of Europe, the Amish of Pennsylvania, and the Ashkenazi Jews.

Many researchers are concentrating their efforts on such groups which, because of isolation or other reasons, have a high propensity for some genetic disorders.

Australian geneticist Luba Kalaydjieva said there was no shortage of research grants into gypsies, who count among the most restricted genetic isolates in the world, chiefly due to discrimination and their own enduring social mores.

``But getting funding for actually helping these communities is another matter,'' she said.

U.S academic Nanette Elster said there was concern among Ashkenazi Jews who had been diagnosed as particularly prone to a gene-based breast cancer and Tay-Sachs, a painful neurodegenerative disease which was fatal for young children.

``There is a real fear with genetics about eugenics and Ashkenazi Jews are particularly sensitive to that given the experience of the Holocaust,'' she told Reuters.

``If we get into the whole area of behavioral genetics, what is going to happen if a particular racial or ethnic group is identified as having a particular gene predisposing to what we would consider a negative social trait or negative behavior?'' she asked.


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Tuesday December 29 12:28 PM ET Rabbi Rules on the Word `God'

Rabbi Rules on the Word `God'

BNEI BRAK, Israel (AP) - A leading Orthodox rabbi has ruled that the word ``God'' may be erased from a computer screen or disk, because the pixels do not constitute real letters.

Rabbi Moshe Shaul Klein published his ruling this week in a computer magazine aimed at Orthodox Jews, ``Mahsheva Tova.''

Klein was responding to a question from a reader who was anxious about whether the ban on erasing the variations on the word ``God'' applied to computers.

The rabbi, prominent in ultra-Orthodox circles in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak, ruled that the letters may be erased.

``The letters on a computer screen are an assemblage of pixels, dots of light, what have you,'' the rabbi's assistant, Yossef Hayad explained to The Associated Press on Tuesday.

``Even when you save it to disk, it's not like you're throwing anything more than a sequence of ones and zeroes,'' Hayad said.

According to Jewish law, printed matter with the word - ``elohim'' in Hebrew, and its manifestations in any other language - must be stored, or ritually buried.

The existence of the magazine - a pun that means both ``Good Computer'' and ``Worthy Thinking'' - reflects the growing incursion of modern implements into the world of the ultra-Orthodox.


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Thursday December 31 12:07 AM ET Reform Jews Win Landmark Court Ruling In Israel

Reform Jews Win Landmark Court Ruling In Israel

By Danny Gur-arieh

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Liberal Jewish groups won a landmark victory in Israel Wednesday when a judge ordered authorities to recognize conversions performed by their rabbis as legal.

Members of the Orthodox establishment, which has an iron grip on Israel's religious institutions, decried the ruling and vowed to pass legislation quickly that will guarantee their sole right to perform conversions.

The court ruled in favor of 23 petitioners who were converted to Judaism by Reform and Conservative rabbis instead of the Orthodox clergy, who adhere more strictly to religious traditions.

The decision was another milestone in a long-running dispute between the Orthodox establishment and liberal Jewish groups.

``The decision restores honor for dozens of Reform converts and their families whose Judaism was illegally denied for years by the Interior Ministry,'' said Uri Regev, who heads the Reform movement in Israel and acted as attorney for the families.

The petitioners were mostly immigrants who converted to Judaism in Israel under the umbrella of Reform and Conservative movements.

The new law would apply only to conversions conducted in Israel. Immigrants converted abroad by Reform and Conservative rabbis have usually been registered as Jews in Israel.

While nearly 90 percent of affiliated Jews in the United States -- home to the world's largest Jewish community -- belong to these two movements, Israel's Orthodox clergy refuses to recognize their rabbis.

Legislator Hanan Porat of the National Religious Party said the decision was a ``judicial hijacking'' and promised conversion legislation would come before lawmakers as early as next week.

Authorities were expected to ask judges to freeze implementation of the decision until the Supreme Court reviewed it in February.

Years of wrangling between liberal and Orthodox rabbis appeared to be headed for resolution last January when a government-appointed committee suggested compromises to head off court petitions and legislation efforts.

But Orthodox rabbis rejected the formula because it would have given Reform and Conservative rabbis standing in conversion committees and other religious institutions.

According to unwritten understandings in effect since Israel was established in 1948, Orthodox rabbis have absolute powers over personal status issues such as weddings and funerals.

These so-called ``status quo agreements'' have not held up in court, a favorite battleground for liberal groups seeking to challenge Orthodox hegemony.


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Saturday December 26 11:48 AM ET

German Holocaust Memorial Debated

By PAUL GEITNER Associated Press Writer

BERLIN (AP) - Stepping into Germany's debate over whether to build a national Holocaust memorial, famed Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal said he believes a stone monument is not the right way to remember the killing of 6 million Jews.

``The Holocaust has too many faces for a memorial,'' he said in an interview to be published Sunday in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

For the past decade, Germany has been debating building a Holocaust memorial on a giant plot of government-donated land in the heart of Berlin. Construction was supposed to begin next year, when the federal government starts its move from Bonn back to its historic capital.

Former Chancellor Helmut Kohl backed the project, but his successor, Gerhard Schroeder, has been skeptical and wants to let parliament decide next year how to proceed.

This month, Schroeder's culture chief, Michael Naumann, proposed scrapping plans for a massive monument in favor of a Holocaust museum, research center and memorial garden.

Schroeder has praised Naumann's idea as more educational, but some German Jews have criticized it as not powerful enough and as an excuse not to have a memorial.

The chairman of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, Ignatz Bubis, noted that Germany already has museums in former Nazi concentration camps and a documentation center at the site of the former SS and Gestapo headquarters in Berlin.

``You can either build the memorial or don't build it, but one shouldn't hide behind a museum,'' he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, a Munich-based newspaper, in a weekend interview.

But one of Germany's best-known writers, Stefan Heym, spoke out against a memorial in an interview in the new Der Spiegel newsmagazine.

Referring to the leading design - a cemetery-like field of about 2,500 stone pillars designed by New York architect Peter Eisenman - Heym said building it would ``create a giant installation for dogs, who'll poop there.''

Heym, a Jew who fled the Nazis in 1933 and joined the U.S. Army, suggested instead building a school ``where history can be taught.''

Wiesenthal, a Nazi death camp survivor who leads the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, Austria, did not make a specific proposal.

``In any case nothing out of stone,'' he said. ``Jewish memorials were never out of stone or wood or iron. They were out of paper. Our memorials are books, for example. Not for nothing are we called the people of books.''


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WIESENTHAL DOES NOT SUPPORT A STONE HOLOCAUST MEMORIAL

From Tribune News Services
December 27, 1998

BERLIN, GERMANY -- Stepping into Germany's debate over whether to build a national Holocaust memorial, famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal said he believes a stone monument is not the right way to remember the killing of 6 million Jews.

"The Holocaust has too many faces for a memorial," he said in an interview to be published Sunday in the Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

For the last decade, Germany has been debating building a Holocaust memorial on a giant plot of government-donated land in the heart of Berlin.

This month, Germany's culture chief, Michael Naumann, proposed scrapping plans for a monument in favor of a Holocaust museum, research center and memorial garden.

Wiesenthal, a Nazi death camp survivor who leads the Jewish Documentation Center in Vienna, did not make a specific proposal. "In any case, nothing out of stone," he said. "Jewish memorials were never out of stone or wood or iron. They were out of paper. Our memorials are books . . . not for nothing are we called the people of books."


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Polish Jews regain synagogue site in Baltic port
03:01 p.m Dec 28, 1998 Eastern

WARSAW, Dec 28 (Reuters) - The Jewish congregation in the Polish Baltic port of Gdansk on Monday regained the site of a synagogue destroyed by the Nazi Germans, PAP news agency said.

Jakub Szadaj, chairman of the 200-strong congregation, said a miniature of the Great Synagogue built in the 1880s and destroyed in World War Two would be built on the 2,000-square- metre site.

The property was returned under a 1997 agreement between the government and Poland's Jewish congregations, allowing them to strive for the restoration of synagogues, ritual bath-houses and other religion-related properties.

The agreement does not encompass former Jewish secular institutions, houses or businesses.

Konstanty Gebert, a leader of Poland's Jewish community, told Reuters the restoration process was ``progressing slowly but in general favourably, although not without snags.''

As an example of the problems encountered, he said Jews in Gdansk had been granted rights to the only synagogue to survive the Second World War, but it now houses the city's only music school which has yet to find suitable new premises.

It is next to impossible to recover old Jewish graveyards that have been built on since the war, Gebert added.

There are estimated to be between 5,000 and 20,000 Jews in Poland now, compared with a Jewish community of some 3.5 million before World War Two.

About three million were killed by the Germans in such concentration camps as Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek.


Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.


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Wednesday December 30 4:44 AM ET

Nazi-Hunter Simon Wiesenthal Turns 90

By Karin Taylor

VIENNA, Austria (Reuters) - Holocaust survivor Simon Wiesenthal, who tirelessly tracked down Nazi war criminals for more than five decades, will celebrate his 90th birthday on Dec. 31 at his Vienna home.

It will be a family event for one of Austria's more famous citizens. Wiesenthal plans to spend the day with his wife, Cyla, whom he married in 1936, and daughter Pauline, who lives in Israel with her children.

But at 90, Wiesenthal is not expected to announce his retirement. The man who brought 1,100 Nazi runaways to trial visits his cluttered office in the Vienna-based Jewish Documentation Center almost every day.

``I still have to get used to the idea of being 90. I never would have thought I would get so old, especially not in the concentration camps,'' Wiesenthal said in an interview this month.

Wiesenthal went through the terrors of 12 Nazi concentration camps before being liberated from the Austrian Mauthausen camp, west of Vienna, by U.S. soldiers in 1945.

Some 89 members of his family perished in the Holocaust but he was reunited with Cyla, who managed to escape from a camp at Lvov, Poland, in 1941.

In a crusade aimed at ensuring the world did not forget the horrors of the Third Reich, Wiesenthal sought to prosecute those responsible for the atrocities. Among them was Adolf Eichmann, the man entrusted by Adolf Hitler with carrying out the Nazi genocide program against the Jews.

Wiesenthal maintained that the motivation for his mission was not anger but justice. ``I am someone who seeks justice, not revenge,'' Wiesenthal said.

He founded the Jewish Documentation Center in his post-war home Austria in 1947 and opened the Vienna office in 1961. From there he built up an information network which he used to uncover and pin evidence on Nazi war criminals.

He said he shared the sorrow of the thousands of Holocaust victims who contacted him during his career.

``I carry a lot of suffering inside me, a lot of personal suffering but above all the suffering of thousands of others... That has cost me much strength. But it has also given me much strength,'' Wiesenthal said.

Wiesenthal was born on Dec. 31, 1908, into a comfortable Jewish family in Buczacz, Galicia, then an outpost of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but now part of Ukraine. The trained architect was arrested and interned by the Nazis in 1941.

Wiesenthal became an Austrian citizen in 1953. In recent years he became the conscience of his adopted home, condemning the rise of right-wing extremism and neo-Nazism.

Wiesenthal is not ready to forget. In a December conference he initiated in Vienna on the sources of hate in society, his opening speech voiced a warning to future generations.

``Hate is the evil alternative to tolerance,'' he said.


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Wednesday December 30, 4:30 pm Eastern Time

Frenchman suing France over Holocaust deportation

By Julie Remy

TORONTO, Dec 30 (Reuters) - A French Jew whose parents were deported to Auschwitz death camp and killed during the Second World War is suing the French government and the national railway company SNCF for their suffering and property losses.

Jean-Jacques Fraenkel, 67 and now living in Victoria, British Columbia, first lodged a complaint against the French government in February. He is now extending his lawsuit in a French court to other institutions, including the SNCF, lawyer Mireille Thomas told Reuters on Wednesday.

Fraenkel, who acknowledges that many SNCF employees worked with the Resistance, said the railway and the French nation should not be hailed as heroes since the SNCF did nothing to prevent the deportation of tens of thousands of Jews in its trains.

``It has to be officially recognized that the SNCF was one of the tools used by the Nazis to exterminate 80,000 French Jews,'' Fraenkel told Reuters in a telephone interview on Tuesday.

The SNCF declined to comment on the case but acknowledged that it is the first time that it has been sued for a ``crime against humanity.''

Along with international recognition of the French government's complicity in the Holocaust, Fraenkel also wants a posthumous tribute to his family.

His father, Roger, was a well-known dental surgeon who won the prestigious Legion of Honor medal. But he was fired from his job, arrested and deported in the first train that took Paris's wealthy Jewish ``jet set'' community to Auschwitz in Poland in 1941, shortly after the Nazis overran France.

Fraenkel's mother, who worked for the Resistance, was also sent to Auschwitz in 1943. Jean-Jacques and his younger sister, Josette, who were young children, had to change their identities and hide to survive.

Fraenkel, who has also had Canadian citizenship since 1996, hopes that the French court will authorize the search of various French governmental institutions, including ministries, to track his family's possessions.

After several years of research, Fraenkel ran up against a brick wall when French authorities denied him access to their archives. ``The only remaining solution was to sue the government itself,'' he explains.

Fraenkel, who was 10 at the time his parents were deported, remembers that on the walls of the family apartment, near the famous Arc de Triomphe in Paris, hung a Breughel and a Cezanne painting, which vanished after his parents' arrests.

Although Fraenkel's story is just a ``banal case'' of what happened to thousands of French Jews, the lawsuit may help highlight the losses suffered by so many families, lawyer Thomas said.

``One big hope raised by this trial is that it could lead to the constitution of a board dedicated to the individual request of all the victims' families,'' she said.


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Lithuanian govt okays deposit compensation scheme
11:20 a.m. Dec 30, 1998 Eastern

VILNIUS, Dec 30 (Reuters) - The Lithuanian government on Wednesday decided to start a second round of compensation for depositors who lost savings in the chaos surrounding the breakup of the former Soviet Union's banking system from April 15.

A spokeswoman for the finance ministry told Reuters the second round of compensations would go to depositors aged over 70, the disabled and large families in a programme expected to cost 796 million litas ($200 million).

The exact timing of payments has yet to be set but compensation for some groups is expected to be prolonged by a few months to avoid large sums of cash being funelled into the economy, the spokeswoman said.

Lithuania allocated over 400 million litas earlier this year in the first tranch of compensations.

The first group included the disabled, those over 85, former political prisoners, deportees, Jewish ghetto prisoners of the World War Two Nazi occupation and victims of a 1991 Soviet military crackdown at the Lithuanian parliament.

The second round would continue with incentives for depositors who decided to keep the funds they receive in their accounts. Around half of Lithuanians eligible for the first round of compensation opted to withdraw their savings.

The government pays three percentage points above the average deposit rate for those who do not withdraw their money for at least six months and adds 1.5 percentage points to time deposits of three months or longer.

Some analysts have warned that a flood of compensation funds into the economy would boost inflationary pressures and lead to a further widening of the current account deficit, which was over 13 percent of GDP in the first half of the year.

The central bank has called on the government to limit compensation to no more than 500 million litas per year until it launched a retail government treasury bill market to absorb excess cash in the economy.

The government's plan to allocate two-thirds of funds raised through the privatisation of state-owned property was one of the main platforms of the rulling Homeland Union Party when it won the election in 1996 and is expected to cost 3.4 billion litas.

($-4.0 litas)

((Andrius Vilkancas, Vilnius newsroom +370 2 22 35 17,fax; 22 35 14, reuters+reuters.lt)).


Copyright 1998 Reuters Limited.

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