World briefs 02/13/03

Thursday, February 13, 2003

Body of welfare minister found after plane crash

BOGOTA, Colombia -- Searchers on Wednesday found the bodies of Colombia's social welfare minister, three other passengers and the pilot of a small plane that crashed last week, the president's office said.

The plane's wreckage was located Tuesday near the town of Cajamarca, five days after it disappeared with Cabinet Minister Juan Luis Londono, three advisers and the pilot aboard. Cajamarca is 85 miles west of Bogota, the capital.

"I lost a companion and the country lost its best social leader," said Noemi Sanin, Colombian ambassador to Spain and former presidential candidate.

Londono was the policy director for Sanin's failed presidential bid in 2002. After President Alvaro Uribe won the election, he tapped Londono to run the health and labor ministries, combined last week into the social welfare ministry.

Fire at French factory destroys 1,400 clarinets

PARIS -- A fire destroyed a French factory on Wednesday that makes some of the world's finest clarinets, causing no injuries but at least $1.8 million in damages, the company's director said.

The dawn blaze at the Leblanc factory in La Couture Boussey, in the Normandy region, incinerated 1,400 clarinets, along with the entire stock of spare keys, said Annelies Pocovi.

"I am completely crushed, we are all trying to comfort each other," said Pocovi, director of Leblanc France. She said the cause of the fire was not known.

The French factory, which has 37 employees, was founded in 1750 under the name Ets. D. Noblet, before being taken over by Leblanc Corp., based in Kenosha, Wis.

Agents raid suspected Islamic extremists

BERLIN -- German authorities staged raids in several cities Wednesday searching for evidence against Islamic extremists suspected of planning terrorist attacks, federal prosecutors said.

A total of 160 federal agents began searches before dawn at 11 locations in or near Munich, Wiesbaden, Mannheim, Ludwigshafen and Worms, the Federal Prosecutor's Office said in a statement.

Agents detained four suspects for questioning and seized documents, computers and video and audio tapes, prosecutors said.

No charges were filed immediately, and prosecutors said they did not know what targets the group was plotting to attack. There was no evidence of any links to the Sept. 11 plot against the United States, prosecutors said in a statement.

A spokeswoman for federal prosecutors, Frauke-Katrin Scheuten, refused to give details about the suspects.

Ebola suspected in deaths of 48 in S. Africa

BRAZZAVILLE, Republic of Congo -- An Ebola outbreak is suspected in the deaths of 48 people in central Republic of Congo where many others are sick, a senior health official said Wednesday.

Medical experts in the Cuvette West region are taking blood tests amid "strong" suspicions that the disease is Ebola, said Joseph Mboussa, a top official at Congo's health ministry.

The lab results will be known in the coming days, he said. The Geneva-based World Health Organization has said it is taking part in the investigation.

Ebola is one of the world's deadliest viral diseases, causing rapid death through massive blood loss in up to 90 percent of those infected. The disease spreads through bodily fluids. Primates, a source of food for many central Africans, can also carry the infection.

Authorities have closed schools, churches and government offices in the affected region.

Ebola usually claims its victims rapidly, meaning the disease burns out before it can spread great distances.

WHO says more than 1,000 people have died of Ebola since the virus was first identified in 1976 in western Sudan and in a nearby region of Congo.

-- From wire reports

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