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web posted June 24, 2002

Cherie Blair issues apology for Palestinian terror comments

Cherie Blair, wife of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, apologised June 18 for stating young Palestinians "feel they have got no hope but to blow themselves up" hours after a Middle East suicide attack. The comments have drawn condemnation, particularly from Israel which fears the Prime Minister's wife's statement might be interpreted as expressing empathy for terrorists.

Tony Blair had earlier spoken on her behalf, saying she had been trying to express sympathy for the victims of the attacks.

A spokeswoman for Mrs Blair said: "If any offence has been taken from the interpretation of her comments then Mrs Blair is obviously sorry.

"None was intended and it goes without saying that she condemns the atrocity today in the strongest possible terms along with all right-minded people. She did not and never would she ever condone suicide bombers or say they had no choice.

"She fully agrees....that 'the killing of innocent civilians is not acceptable irrespective of perpetrator or victim. Killings will not lead to a political solution.'"

But Israeli diplomats in London have expressed "regret" over Mrs Blair's comments.

They said in a statement: "The Israeli Embassy expresses its regret that any public statements which might be interpreted as expressing understanding for Palestinian terrorism should be made, particularly on a day on which 19 innocent Israeli lives were taken by a suicide bomber from Hamas.

"No political grievance or circumstance can justify the willful targeting of civilians for political gain, nor can those who glorify and encourage such atrocities, teaching and preaching hatred and violence, be absolved of their responsibility for this terrible phenomenon."

Turner accuses Israel of 'terror' tactics

Outspoken media mogul Ted Turner was quoted June 18 as saying Israel was engaged in "terrorism" against the Palestinians that could be compared to the suicide bomber attacks on Israelis.

Ted Turner"Right now, aren't the Israelis and the Palestinians both terrorizing each other?" the 63-year-old billionaire founder of 24-hour news network CNN said in an interview with the Guardian newspaper.

"The rich and the powerful, they don't need to resort to terrorism ... The Palestinians are fighting with human suicide bombers -- that's all they have.

"The Israelis...they've got one of the most powerful military machines in the world. The Palestinians have nothing. So who are the terrorists? I would make the case that both sides are involved in terrorism."

Israel was condemned by the U.N. General Assembly last month for a West Bank offensive launched in March after a spate of suicide bombings. Palestinians have accused the Israeli army of using excessive force and violating human rights law in the six-week operation that ended early last month.

Israel has defended the offensive, which it says was aimed at flushing out at militants and halting Palestinian attacks on innocent Israeli civilians.

There has been a renewed wave of Palestinian suicide bombings since the beginning of the month, and Islamic militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have indicated they do not intend to abandon their suicide operations.

At least 1,401 Palestinians and 511 Israelis have been killed since the Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation began in September 2000 after peace talks stalled.

Israeli government spokesman Daniel Seaman lashed out at Turner's comments as "stupid."

"My only advice to Ted Turner is if people assume you are stupid, it is just best to keep your mouth shut rather than open your mouth and confirm everyone in that view," Seaman was quoted as saying by the Guardian.

Turner, now vice chairman of AOL Time Warner Inc, which owns CNN, also acknowledged in the Guardian interview he had used an "unfortunate choice of words" when he said in a speech earlier this year that the hijackers who flew planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11 were "brave."

Turner said he tended to overuse the word as owner of the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

"I chose accidentally to say that they (the hijackers) were brave ... I use that word so often, it just pops out," he said.

Cubans back socialism, Castro says

Nearly 99 percent of Cuba's registered voters signed a petition declaring the island nation's socialist system "untouchable," Fidel Castro's government said June 18.

Pedro Ross Leal, head of the Confederation of Cuban Workers, told an evening government television program that preliminary results showed about 8.1 million of Cuba's 8.2 million registered voters signing the document.

Cuba's population is about 11 million.

Cuba's mass organizations, which are tied to the government and ruling Communist Party, began collecting signatures Saturday morning and stopped Tuesday at noon.

The document expressed support for a constitutional amendment declaring Cuba's economic, political and social system "untouchable" - meaning it cannot be changed.

Signatures were gathered at more than 120,000 neighborhood sites nationwide, mostly by the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, local vigilance groups organized block by block.

Opposition leaders said the effort was in response to their own signature drive, known as the Varela Project.

Activists last month submitted more than 11,000 signatures to the National Assembly seeking a referendum asking voters whether they favor civil liberties such as freedom of speech and assembly, the right to own a business, electoral reform and amnesty for political prisoners.

But Castro said the government effort responded to a President Bush speech on May 20. Bush said he would not ease American trade or travel restrictions against the island unless Cuba embraces democratic reforms, including competitive elections.

School says game of tag is out

A Santa Monica elementary school has banned the game of tag, once synonymous with youth and innocence, because they say it creates self-esteem issues among weaker and slower children.

"We had some children who were not playing 'it' appropriately. How do you differentiate between those that are playing correctly and those that aren't?" asked Franklin Elementary School Principal Pat Samarge.

In the school's weekly newsletter, Samarge told parents that without adult supervision, the game would be banned. The principal said children playing tag suffered both physical and emotional injuries.

"Little kids were coming in and saying 'I don't like it.' [The] children weren't feeling good about it," Samarge said.

Dr. Judy Young, executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, disagreed with Samarge, saying that games like tag "are organized to have a winner and a loser," which is simply a part of life.

"Self-esteem should not be imbedded in whether you win or lose a game," Young said.

Tamara Silver, a parent of a fifth-grader at Franklin Elementary School, said the school sent her two letters informing her of the new rules. The second letter cited safety concerns, not issues of self-image, to justify the tag ban.

"I want my child to know that he can have some freedom," Silver said. "I want my child to know he can play. I want my child to know that he can fall down and skin his knee."

Speedy Gonzales eludes PC patrol

He foiled Sylvester the Cat. Now the cunning Mexican mouse known as Speedy Gonzales apparently has outwitted the forces of political correctness.

The Atlanta-based Cartoon Network is returning Speedy Gonzales to its programming later this month after an outcry from fans.The Cartoon Network yanked Speedy from the air in the late 1990s. Some fans say owner Ted Turner ordered the move because he believed the cartoons, which included the likes of Speedy's lazy cousin, Slowpoke Rodriguez, perpetuated an offensive Mexican stereotype.

Cartoon Network spokeswoman Laurie Goldberg said in March that the Speedy cartoons simply weren't that popular compared to other selections in an archive of some 8,500 cartoons. That has changed, she said June 20.

"We never had a demand for it before. Now there's this vocal group that wants it back. If it does well, it will stay, and if it doesn't, it won't. After all, we are a business."

In recent months, thousands of fans — many of them Hispanic — created a brouhaha by lobbying hard to get the fastest mouse in all of Mexico back on the network. Radio personality Rush Limbaugh decried Speedy's demise as political correctness gone too far. The League of United Latin American Citizens, the nation's oldest Hispanic-American rights organization, called Speedy a "cultural icon" who displayed plenty of admirable pluck.

One die-hard fan, Matthew Hunter, started an online petition in April to get Speedy back on the air and gathered more than 2,500 signatures.

"It's been silly not to have Speedy on the air because people watch him in Latin America, and they love him," said Virginia Cueto, associate editor of HispanicOnline.com, an English-language Web site based in Florida. "It will be good to have him back."

Thousands of Hispanics and others have logged onto HispanicOnline's message board to voice their support for Speedy's return. Said one fan: "Speedy is more of a positive symbol. He always brings down that loco Daffy Duck to the point that the latter finally started respecting Speedy. People like Speedy."

Speedy starred in more than 47 Looney Tunes shorts and won an Academy Award in 1955. The Cartoon Network, owned by AOL Time Warner Inc., has exclusive rights to show the cartoons in the United States. It took control of the Warner Bros. collection of animated movies in 1999. The Cartoon Network's Web site says Speedy cartoons will air throughout late June and July.

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