Nation & World digest 2/11

Monday, February 11, 2002

Suspect's aunt pleads for reporter's release

KARACHI, Pakistan -- An aunt of the main suspect in Daniel Pearl's kidnapping spoke with her nephew by telephone and pleaded with him to free the Wall Street Journal reporter, Pakistan's interior minister said Sunday.

Ahmad Omar Saeed Sheikh and his aunt talked by cellphone last Tuesday, and she told him she was in police custody and urged him to turn himself in, Interior Minister Moinuddin Haider said. Police believe Saeed, a British-born Islamic militant, masterminded Pearl's Jan. 23 kidnapping.

"She said: 'We have been rounded up by the police and I think your game is out and we didn't know you were indulging in this. You better hand over yourself,' and after that his telephone went dead," Haider told reporters in Karachi, where Pearl disappeared more than two weeks ago.

Woman dies after attending convention

CHERRY HILL, N.J. -- A mysterious illness killed one woman attending a weekend convention and sent seven others to hospitals, but health officials said Sunday they didn't think anyone else who didn't already have symptoms would get sick.

The woman, who died early Sunday at Kennedy Memorial Hospitals-Cherry Hill, had a viral, flu-like illness for about two days before becoming seriously ill Saturday night, said Dr. David V. Condoluci, chief of infectious diseases for Kennedy Health System.

Joanne Hemstreet, 45, of Kingston, Mass., was attending a national sales convention at the Cherry Hill Hilton with about 500 other employees of Cendant Mortgage.

Reform plan for Amtrak misses legislators' mark

WASHINGTON -- With Amtrak's future at stake, Congress may be finding that its previous attempt to turn the passenger railroad around had unintended consequences.

A 1997 law gave Amtrak five years to end its reliance on operating subsidies from the government. Amtrak sought to meet that goal by devoting its limited funds to expensive projects that seemed to promise profit, such as its high-speed Northeast train, according to Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead.

That meant fewer dollars went to basic maintenance in the busy Northeast Corridor. And Amtrak borrowed money to buy new cars and locomotives, piling up debt.

Amtrak President George Warrington this month made a dramatic plea for more federal money and called self-sufficiency "impractical, inappropriate and destructive" given Amtrak's backlog of needed improvements and its determination not to shut down unprofitable trains.

Heinz unveils funky fries -- chocolate anyone?

PITTSBURGH -- Kids went wild for green ketchup and slurped up purple. Just as grown-ups are getting comfortable with those unexpected hues, Heinz has more surprises on the way.

Chocolate fries with your burger?

Beginning in May, H.J. Heinz Co. will ship a new line of Ore-Ida frozen potato products called "Funky Fries" featuring five new shapes, colors and flavors, all intended to give kids even more say over their parents' grocery store lists.

The new products include french fries flavored with sour cream and chives, cinnamon-and-sugar "Cinna-Stiks," and "Crunchy Rings" -- basically Tater Tots with a hole in the middle.

Then there's "Kool Blue," a sky blue, seasoned french fry, and brown, chocolatey "Cocoa Crispers," designed "for kids with a sweet tooth."

-- From wire reports

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