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ASSAILANTS ATTACK EXECUTIVE OF ANIMAL-RESEARCH FACILITY

Masked assailants wielding baseball bats attacked an executive at a research company targeted in recent months by animal-rights activists, police said Friday.

Brian Cass, 53, managing director of Huntingdon Life Sciences, was attacked Thursday night as he arrived at his home in St. Ives, 65 miles north of London. Cass was treated for a head wound, Cambridgeshire police said.

Two neighbors who tried to stop the attack were sprayed with tear gas, police said. All three attackers were masked, and one may have been a woman, police said.

"(Thursday night's) attack was callous and cowardly, and we are in no doubt it is connected to Mr. Cass's work at Huntingdon Life Sciences," Detective Inspector Robbie Robertson said.

Huntingdon Life Sciences is the largest contract research company in Britain, testing medicines, agricultural chemicals and industrial compounds. It reportedly uses 75,000 animals per year.

Opponents of animal testing have picketed the company constantly, and staff members have complained of harassment as they come and go.

Moscow court blocks bid to ban Jehovah's Witnesses

MOSCOW (AP) -- A Moscow court Friday threw out a prosecutor's effort to ban Jehovah's Witnesses in the capital, a decision hailed as a strong move for religious tolerance.

Applause and tears broke out among the crowd of about 50 people listening to the reading of the decision, which also called for the prosecutor's office to pay $650 to experts called in the case.

"We are crying tears of happiness," said a Jehovah's Witnesses member who did not give her name. "I lived through the period when we were banned. . . . I did not want to repeat it."

The Moscow city prosecutor's office had tried to outlaw the Moscow branch of the U.S.-based church by citing a provision in Russian law that allows courts to ban religious groups found guilty of inciting hatred or intolerant behavior.

The trial began in 1998 but was recessed after six months to let an expert panel examine the group's publications for evidence backing the prosecutor's claim that the group destroyed families, fostered hatred and threatened lives. But Friday, the city's Golovinsky district court threw out the case and ordered five experts paid for their two years of work examining the texts.

Book claims to disclose Putin household secrets

BERLIN (AP) -- Russian President Vladimir V. Putin's wife once called him a "vampire," and the former KGB agent believes Russia has no place to talk without being overheard, according to a book published this week by a self-described former confidante of Russia's first lady.

Irene Pietsch's book, "Fragile Friendships," traces her relationship with Lyudmila Putin from the time they first met in 1995 until their last contact three years later when Putin agreed to head the Federal Security Service, successor to the KGB.

"It was obvious that we had to break off contact" at that point, the Hamburg daily Die Welt quoted Pietsch, the wife of a Hamburg banker, as saying Friday. But, she said, Mrs. Putin has received a copy of the book, and "I'm told she took it positively."

The book offers a rare and not always flattering glimpse of life in the Putin household. According to excerpts published by the news magazine Der Spiegel, Putin spends too much time in the evenings with his friends -- gatherings for which Mrs. Putin is required to serve snacks and drinks, although Putin, himself, doesn't drink.

"Unfortunately, he's a vampire," she jokes.

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