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web posted April 24, 2000

Apologetic McCain calls for removal of Confederate battle flag from S.C. Statehouse

Former GOP presidential candidate John McCain called for the removal of the Confederate battle flag from atop the South Carolina Statehouse on April 19, acknowledging that his refusal to take such a stance during his primary battle for the Palmetto State was a "sacrifice of principle for personal ambition."

"I believe the flag should be removed from your Capitol, and I am encouraged that fair-minded people on both sides of the issue are working hard to define an honorable compromise," McCain said in his speech on conservative reform to the South Carolina Policy Council.

Although the Democrat-controlled South Carolina Senate voted the week before to move the battle flag from atop the statehouse to a nearby Confederate soldier monument, McCain did not specifically endorse the measure. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) opposes the endeavor, arguing it moves the flag to a more visible spot on Statehouse grounds.

Both McCain and the now presumptive GOP presidential nominee George W. Bush were dogged by the flag dispute as they campaigned across the Palmetto State in advance of the February 19 primary. At the time, both men sidestepped the controversy, saying it was a state issue and should be determined by South Carolina voters.

When asked by a reporter how he felt about the Confederate flag during a January 12 campaign event, McCain replied: "Personally, I see the flag as symbol of heritage."

The Arizona senator expressed regret for that stance, telling the audience of Republicans: "I feared that if I answered honestly, I could not win the South Carolina primary. So I chose to compromise my principles."

"I promised to tell the truth always about my intentions and beliefs. I fell short of that standard in South Carolina," McCain said. "While my response was factually accurate, it did not answer how I personally felt about the flag."

"My ancestors fought for the Confederacy ... but I don't believe their service, however distinguished, needs to be commemorated in a way that offends, deeply hurts, people whose ancestors were once denied their freedom by my ancestors," McCain said.

Opponents of the flag say it is a symbol of slavery, while defenders contend it symbolizes Southern heritage and honors those who fought for the Confederacy during the American Civil War. On Wednesday, McCain braced for criticism from both sides of the debate.

"I do not intend for this apology to help me evade criticism for my failure. I will be criticized by all sides for my late act of contrition. I accept all of it, I deserve it," he said.

The Arizona senator -- who lost to Bush in South Carolina but won seven Republican primaries before bowing out of the GOP race in early March -- is scheduled to meet with his former opponent next month in Pittsburgh to discuss reform issues.

McCain said that his comments on the flag dispute were not aimed at persuading Bush to change his position. "This was a personal statement of mine that needed to be made, and I don't think it would or should affect anyone else's position," he said.

Black student arrested in anti-minority threats at Iowa dental school

A black dental student was charged April 20 in a string of racist e-mails and threats against minority classmates at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry. Authorities said she confessed.

Tarsha Michelle Claiborne, 23, of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is accused of using a computer inside the Dental Science Building to send e-mails warning of violence and a bomb over the past three weeks.

Claiborne was arrested shortly after midnight at her home and made her initial appearance in Johnson County District Court on Thursday morning.

The dental building reopened Thursday morning after being closed all day Wednesday following the bomb threat. No bomb was found.

The threatening e-mail was sent from a computer in the dental building's pathology laboratory, court records said.

Claiborne was seen on videotape leaving the area, and confessed to sending the e-mail, the papers said. The papers gave no motive.

She was charged with a felony count of threats in violation of individual rights, related to the bomb threat, and misdemeanor charges for three previous e-mail threats.

She also was charged with one count of criminal trespass-hate crime for an April 4 incident in which red noodles were left on another black student's doorstep with a note referring to a dead black man's brains.

On April 6, a lab coat caught fire at the Dental Science Building and e-mails were sent to students, asking, "Are you going to take us seriously now?" Last week, some 1,000 people gathered at a rally to condemn the threats.

The dental college has an enrollment of 381 students, of which 49 are minorities, or 12.8 percent, the school said. Thirteen of the 49 are black.

Prosecutors question Clinton, Gore

Federal prosecutors interviewed President Clinton on April 21 as part of a long-running investigation into alleged fund-raising abuses in the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

Vice President Al Gore also was interviewed by the Justice Department Campaign Finance Task Force last week, the White House said.

"The president and the vice president cooperated fully with the task force and voluntarily agreed to be interviewed this week," a statement from press secretary Joe Lockhart said.

Attorney General Janet Reno established the task force to investigate allegations that illegal foreign and corporate donations were made in the 1996 presidential campaign.

Federal prosecutors also are investigating whether the White House tried to obstruct investigators by failing to surrender e-mails related to 1996 campaign fund-raising allegations, including Gore's use of White House telephones and a Buddhist temple to solicit campaign contributions.

The White House refused further comment.

The Justice Department task force has talked with several Clinton-Gore donors, including organizers of the April 29, 1996, event at a Buddhist temple in Hacienda Heights, Calif.

Gore, interviewed April 18, attended that event but says he didn't know it was a fund-raising event.

On various occasions, Gore has said he thought it was community outreach, finance-related and keeping donors happy – "donor maintenance" in political terms.

Gore's role in the fund-raiser has continued to dog his presidential campaign this year.

Coast Guard defends collision

Coast Guard officials defended the crew of a 21-foot inflatable patrol boat that ran over a jet skier who was trying to disrupt a whale hunt by the Makah tribe.

Erin Abbott, 23, an anti-whaling protester from Seattle, was listed as stable at a Port Angeles hospital with a shoulder injury after the collision April 20.

``They ran over me,'' she said from the hospital. ``I wasn't expecting to get run over by a boat. I expected to try and protect a whale that's trying to migrate to its summer resting spot.''

Coast Guard Adm. Paul Blayney said on ABC's ``Good Morning America'' that the crew couldn't avoid hitting Abbott.

``We had a dynamic, dangerous situation,'' he said. ``Our people moved quickly, and unfortunately a boat can't stop on a dime. ... We regret that there were injuries, but it was moving fast. The protesters triggered that situation.''

The hunt was unsuccessful, but tribal members said they would not be deterred by protesters, who are required to stay 500 yards from the whalers and their carved wooden canoe.

``We hope she's OK, but it's unfortunate that she would violate the exclusionary zone'' around the canoe, said Makah Whaling Commission Chairman Keith Johnson. ``She'll have to accept the consequences of her actions.''

Television video showed Abbott swooping in on her watercraft as the canoe closed in on a gray whale. The Makah had just thrown a harpoon, which did not stick in the whale.

As the Makah attempted to maneuver for another shot, Abbott rushed by the canoe, spraying those aboard with her wake. As the watercraft turned, it was overtaken by the Coast Guard boat.

The two collided, and both the watercraft and Abbott appeared to go under the Coast Guard boat. Abbott surfaced a moment later about 20 feet from her watercraft.

``I can't believe she wasn't killed,'' said Julie Woodyer of World Whale Police. ``This aggressive behavior by the Coast Guard is unprecedented - this is our worst nightmare come true.''

Coast Guard officials said a second protester, Erin O'Connell, was arrested and a second personal watercraft was confiscated. Protesters said they would resort to using larger boats to interfere with the hunt.

Tribal leaders say the seasonal hunt, a centuries-old tradition that resumed in the fall of 1998 after a 70-year hiatus, is vital to preserving the identity of the tribe at the tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. Anti-whaling activists fear it could open the door to a worldwide renewal of commercial whaling.

Canadian gun registry is millions over budget

The new federal firearms registry has cost taxpayers $327 million so far and is running up a yearly bill nearly 10 times higher than what the government forecast in 1995.

Despite the cost -- and with more than 1,000 police officers and bureaucrats working for the registry -- critics say it is unlikely the government will meet its Jan. 1, 2001, deadline for licensing all gun owners.

Even the Canadian Firearms Centre admits that as of February, only 142,324 new licences had been issued to gun owners across Canada since the registry started in December 1998. A further 270,000 valid licences remained from the previous gun-control regime.

The centre estimates there are 1.6 million gun owners to be licensed by the end of the year, with the backlog of applications already up to 45,000.

"What will it take for them to realize that this turkey cannot be made to fly?" asked Dave Tomlinson, Edmonton-based president of the National Firearms Association. "It's a complete waste of money because there is no way on earth to keep a registration system accurate."

The Canadian Firearms Centre this week released to the Citizen the cumulative cost of the system up to March 31. The figure confirmed the fears of Canadian Alliance MP Garry Breitkreuz, a staunch foe of the Firearms Act, that the cost of the national registry will exceed the forecast that former justice minister Allan Rock made in 1995.

Rock then estimated a five-year price tag of $185 million, including a one-time startup cost of $85 million.

The government spent $45 million before the registry began, Jean Valin, head of public affairs for the Firearms Centre, said yesterday.

"There was some relatively small amounts that were spent in the early years in preparations, consultations, design sessions, consultations with groups," he said.

By the end of March 1999, only four months into the registry, the federal government had spent another $82 million, according to figures released by Valin. The government spent a further $200 million on the registry in the past 12 months.

Rock's 1995 estimate, based on the cost of the previous gun-control system, put the average yearly cost of the new registry at about $20 million.

Valin said the cost of the system will decrease once all gun owners and their weapons are licensed and registered. "As you load up three million people and seven million guns, you're going to incur extra operating costs that won't be there after," he said.

Gun owners have until Jan. 1, 2003, to register all their firearms.

The number of gun owners and the total number of firearms in Canada is under dispute.

Based on international averages and past Canadian records, the National Firearms Association estimates 6.5 million gun owners and 20 million firearms. The government estimates three million gun owners and up to seven million firearms.

Tomlinson said the Justice Department continues to underestimate the number of firearms owners to make the federal registry appear successful once the registration deadlines pass.

Armed agents seize Elian from Miami home

Elian Gonzalez was reunited with his father at Andrews Air Force Base after being taken from the home of his Miami relatives on April 22 by armed federal agents in a pre-dawn raid.

The boy was flown to the air force base immediately after being taken into custody by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

"I believe that it was the right thing to do," Bill Clinton said of the raid, answering a reporter's question following a brief statement at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

Senior law enforcement sources say that Elian and his father will stay at the base for the next couple of days for quiet time together.

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, who authorized the seizure shortly before it occurred, said the boy would remain in the United States while a federal appeals court considers the case.

"In accordance with the Court of Appeals ruling we will take every step necessary to ensure that Elian does not leave the country while the Court of Appeals injunction is place," Reno said in a news conference that morning.

Reno said she gave the go-ahead for using force to retrieve the boy after failing to persuade Elian's great-uncle and caretaker, Lazaro Gonzalez, to voluntarily surrender the child to his father.

"Unfortunately the Miami relatives rejected our efforts leaving us no other option but the enforcement action," Reno said.

"I informed the parties that time had run out," she said after an all-night session of negotiations that ended with the boy's seizure by federal agents before dawn.

Officials said President Clinton was awakened and told when Elian had been removed from the home.

INS Commissioner Doris Meissner said of the reunion, "They need more space and they need more privacy."

Gregory Craig, a lawyer for Juan Miguel Gonzalez, said the boy's father was "relieved that Elian Gonzalez has been removed from the custody of his relatives in Miami."

"We understand that he is in good spirits," Craig said. He added that the boy's father would not try to take the child out of the United States during the court appeals on the boy's behalf.

Elian was being held in the closet by Donato Dalrymple, one of the fishermen who rescued him from the Atlantic Ocean on Thanksgiving Day, when agents arrived at the home around 5 a.m. Some of the agents wore jackets that said INS on the back; some wore jackets that said Border Patrol.

Officials said the agents knocked three times and when there was no response, they kicked in the door of the home.

Photos taken by an Associated Press photographer inside the home during the raid showed a helmeted agent wearing goggles holding a rifle and reaching for Elian. Agents took Elian out of Dalrymple's arms.

Reno defended the use of arms and said her office had received reports of weapons in the home.

"When law enforcement goes into a situation like that, it must be prepared for the unexpected," Reno said.

Reno said eight agents entered the home, including a Spanish-speaking female agent who had been given specific instructions on what to say to the boy.

According to Reno, the agent spoke to Elian in Spanish and told him that he might be frightened, but that it would soon be better. He was told he was being taken to his "papa," was not being taken to Cuba and was not being put on a boat.

Reno said the child was taken to Homestead Air Force Base and was examined by a doctor to make certain he had not been injured. He was given toys to play with on the plane trip.

Agents were in the house three minutes, according to Reno. News crews videotaped the female agent running from the home with Elian in her arms. They got into a white van and drove away.

"This has been a very emotional case for everyone involved," Reno said. "The most important thing is that Elian is safe and that no one was seriously hurt."

Video taken inside the home after Elian was removed showed his great-uncle Lazaro Gonzalez and Marisleysis Gonzalez, Lazaro's daughter, crying and being comforted by others inside the home.

"I thought this was a country of freedom," said Marisleysis Gonzalez. "Now they've really done the harm ... they have really psychologically (hurt Elian)."

"It was one of the most disgraceful moments for our system and our government that I can recall," said Kendall Coffey, attorney for Elian's Miami relatives. "It was an hour of shame...of betrayal of a child."

"Assassins," yelled some of the approximately 100 protesters, some of whom climbed over the barricades in an attempt to stop the agents.

"The world is watching!" yelled Delfin Gonzalez, the brother of Lazaro Gonzalez.

"They were animals," said Jess Garcia, a bystander. "They gassed women and children to take a defenseless child out of here. We were assaulted with no provocation."

Within an hour of the raid, the crowd in Little Havana quickly swelled. Some of the crowd held hands and prayed.

Scores arrested as Elian protests sweep Little Havana

More than 260 people were arrested during street protests that continued into the night in Miami after federal agents snatched Elian Gonzalez from the Little Havana home where he had been staying with relatives.

Angry clashes saw police wearing body armor and wielding batons as rioting demonstrators set fire to tires and garbage.

At least 400 riot-ready Miami Police were mobilized during the day and an equal number was scheduled for night-time duty. Miami authorities said that by late evening there had been 268 arrests.

By midnight the protests turned into a noisy but relatively peaceful parade as thousands of cars with flags and honking horns crawled through Cuban-American neighborhoods.

Sporadic violence began minutes after the pre-dawn raid on Lazaro Gonzalez's house and spread quickly as enraged demonstrators started hundreds of small fires and uprooted concrete benches.

As the night wore on and police closed streets and clamped down on protesters, the demonstrators poured out of Little Havana and into surrounding neighborhoods. Police mostly watched as the defiant late-night protests stayed calm.

Earlier, passions had run high as news of the armed raid on Elian's Miami home spread.

"This is like crucifying the Messiah all over again. This is a slap in the face to the Cuban-American community and the Christian community," said Ralph Anrrich, a social worker helping the family at the house, where more than 500 people had massed by midmorning.

Some protesters marched onto Route 836, a main highway, slowing traffic. Others threw rocks, one smashing the rear window of a police car. Still others stood around in small groups and talked quietly.

Within hours of the predawn raid police in riot gear faced off with the crowd. They blocked off 35 square blocks of the neighborhood around the house, even barring residents from their homes.

In the yard where Elian was often photographed playing on his swing, angry demonstrators passed out hastily printed pictures that were stamped "federal child abuse." The photo showed Elian confronted by an armed U.S. agent.

Miami riot police threw up a cordon around the home where armed U.S. agents seized Elian in the 5 a.m. raid. Police fanned out across the city as small bands of flag-waving protesters blocked roadways.

Hundreds of Cuban-Americans, supporters Lazaro Gonzalez's bid to keep the boy from being returned to communist-ruled Cuba, jammed the narrow street in front of the home, some weeping but most shouting with indignation and frustration that they had failed to keep the boy in Miami.

"You won the battle, not the war," one poster read.

The crowd pressed up against the fence in front of the home, waving Cuban flags and crucifixes. Demonstrators scrawled their names on a poster-sized letter to President Bill Clinton which said: "This is not fair, freedom at gunpoint."

"We've had no violence here. Let's keep it that way," Miami Police spokesman Bill Schwartz told reporters outside the house.

"The worst part, when the child came out he was saying 'Help me, help me,"' protester Joyced Aleman said.

A group of women belonging to the exile group Mothers Against Repression held hands and prayed in front of the house as Donato Dalrymple, one of the fishermen who rescued the boy, stood on a ladder shouting, "This war is not over, it's just begun."

"There's a bad smell in God's nose for what they've done today," Dalrymple said, urging the crowd to demonstrate peacefully.

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