N. Korea Reopens a Reactor,
Fires Missile Into Sea of Japan
North Korea fired a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan, according to officials in South Korea, delivering a blunt reminder of the growing nuclear crisis to U.S. and regional leaders gathered in Seoul for the inauguration of a new president.
The anti-ship missile traveled about 30 miles and fell harmlessly into the sea Monday evening, the officials said. By their account, it did not appear to have been a multistage missile capable of traveling long distances.
In his inaugural address Tuesday morning, President Roh Moo Hyun did not mention the launch. He called North Korea's nuclear ambitions a "grave threat," but said the issue "should be resolved peacefully through dialogue."
In another event apparently timed to coincide with the inauguration of the new president, North Korea restarted a nuclear reactor it had mothballed as part of a 1994 pact with the United States aimed at halting its nuclear weapons program, U.S. officials said.
-- Doug Struck
Court Says Racketeering Law
Can't Be Used in Protest Cases
The Supreme Court ruled that a network of antiabortion protesters that shut down abortion clinics nationwide through sit-ins and human blockades during the 1980s and '90s could not be punished under the same federal laws used to fight organized crime.
In deciding that these groups cannot be treated like gangsters under the law, the court was not opening the door to a resumption of their campaign against clinics, which is barred under a separate federal law passed in 1994.
But the ruling could help advocates of other causes by making it more difficult for the targets of sit-ins, aggressive pickets and other forms of civil disobedience to reach for the heavy hammer of federal law, legal analysts said.
By a vote of 8 to 1, the justices ruled that abortion rights supporters could not use the federal Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to sue the Pro-Life Action Network, and Operation Rescue.
-- Charles Lane
High Court Backs Tex. Inmate's
Bid for Hearing on Bias Claim
The Supreme Court ruled that an African American on death row in Texas should get another chance to have his sentence overturned because of alleged racial bias at his 1986 murder trial -- a decision that sent a firm reminder to state and lower federal courts that they must guard against constitutional violations in the criminal justice system.
By a vote of 8 to 1, with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the court ruled that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit should have granted Thomas Joe Miller-El a hearing on his claim that Dallas County prosecutors violated his constitutional right to a discrimination-free trial by summarily excluding 10 out of 11 blacks who were eligible to serve on the jury in his case.
"In this case, the statistical evidence alone raises some debate as to whether the prosecution acted with a race-based reason when striking prospective jurors," Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote in the opinion of the court.
Capital punishment foes and advocates of changes in the criminal justice system had argued that Miller-El's case was an egregious example of why many Americans, especially minorities, distrust state criminal justice systems. -- Charles Lane
Small Doses of Blood Thinner
Cut Risk of Clots' Recurrence
Small doses of an old-fashioned blood thinner can safely and sharply cut the risk that people who have survived life-threatening blood clots will suffer a recurrence, a major new study concluded.
Steady low levels of the drug warfarin can reduce by 64 percent the risk of new clots, which hit an estimated 750,000 Americans each year, the study found.
The results were so striking that the National Institutes of Health stopped the federally funded study prematurely because officials decided it would be unethical to continue giving half the participants a useless placebo. Because the findings could immediately save lives, the New England Journal of Medicine released the results of the study even though they were not scheduled to be published until April.
Clots form for several reasons. Some people are genetically predisposed to them. Others get them when they sit still for too long, such as during long airplane trips. The clots can be painful, and life-threatening if they get into the lung.
About 25 percent of people who have had a clot will develop another one. People who get a clot are typically given a blood thinner for three to six months to minimize the chances of recurrence. But long-term use of blood thinners has been considered dangerous because it can increase the risk for potentially life-threatening bleeding.
-- Rob Stein
U.S. Clears Biotech Firm
To Sell Gene-Altered Corn
Monsanto Co. won government approval to sell genetically altered corn designed to combat the most significant pest in the nation's largest crop, setting up a major test of whether the plant biotechnology industry can deliver on its long-standing promise to reduce the use of chemical pesticides.
The corn is genetically engineered to resist corn rootworm disease. That problem, which plagues farmers nationwide, is the biggest single reason they apply toxic pesticides to their fields. Monsanto estimates that the corn could eventually be grown on 12 million acres, or 15 percent of the nation's cornfields.
In granting permission, the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that some environmental questions remain but declared that on balance the corn appears to offer more benefits than risks.
Like most corn grown in North America, the new crop is likely to be used overwhelmingly as animal feed, so people would eat it only indirectly -- as poultry, beef or other meat. But a small amount might be turned into products such as corn syrup, a sweetener.
-- Justin Gillis
Firm to Seek AIDS Vaccine
Approval Despite Test Results
The maker of the first AIDS vaccine to be widely tested in humans said it would continue working for market approval of its product despite disappointing results from its large international clinical experiment.
In a population that included people from many racial and ethnic backgrounds, AIDSVAX was ineffective in preventing infection by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). There were hints, however, that it might be effective in black patients -- a scientifically puzzling and socially provocative finding that several experts characterized as dubious but that officials of the vaccine's maker, VaxGen, described as promising.
It was unclear, however, on what grounds the vaccine might be approved in the foreseeable future. It offered no discernible protection to Caucasians or Hispanics, and the surprise findings that the vaccine was nearly 80 percent effective among black patients -- and nearly 70 percent effective among black, Asian and mixed-race patients combined -- were based on a subset of the total study population that was far smaller than customary for gaining approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
The study used about 5,400 high-risk volunteers in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and the Netherlands.
-- David Brown and Rick Weiss