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The government said today it will provide financial help to struggling cattle ranchers while trying to convince consumers that Japanese meat and dairy products are safe after Asia's first case of mad cow disease was confirmed last week.

Tokyo will provide subsidies and low-interest loans to ranchers and meat processors to compensate them for late deliveries and the possible slaughter of animals suspected of coming in contact with the disease, Agriculture Ministry officials said.

Japanese authorities announced Saturday that a Holstein dairy cow in central Japan was confirmed to have the brain-wasting illness.

It's not known how the cow contracted the disease, though investigators are focusing on animal feed as the likely cause. The cow was slaughtered in August.

In an effort to restore public confidence in Japanese meat and dairy products, the government is rushing to check all of the nation's 4.53 million cows for the sickness, which is believed to cause a deadly disease in humans who eat infected meat.

So far, 95 percent of the herd has been confirmed disease-free, with the remainder to be tested by the end of this month, officials said.

Man charged after fire
leaves thousands homeless

MANILA, Philippines (AP) -- Police arrested a man today on suspicion of starting a fire that razed a shantytown in Manila, leaving 7,840 people homeless.

Jose Quinanola was arrested at a karaoke bar close to the Happy Land property that burned Thursday, police said.

Sgt. Reden Alumno, an arson investigator, said Quinanola admitted he took methamphetamine before setting the blaze, which raged for four hours.

"He said he could not understand himself and that bad spirits made him to it," Alumno said.

Witnesses told arson investigators they saw Quinanola pour a liquid at his house shortly before the fire, and Quinanola said he set fire to a curtain inside.

Shortly after his arrest, angry residents tried to attack Quinanola but were stopped by police.

Police said a charge of "consummated arson," which carries the death penalty, would be filed against Quinanola.

Police said 20 people were treated for slight injuries and smoke inhalation. There were no reports of deaths or missing people.

13 officers, civilian hurt
as Belfast rioting continues

BELFAST, Northern Ireland (AP) -- Several hundred Protestants battled police for a second night Thursday, injuring 13 officers and one civilian.

Militants hurled more than 100 gasoline bombs, firecrackers, bricks and rocks at police on a rubble-strewn street, the scene of similar confrontations Wednesday, when 33 officers were injured.

Chief Constable Ronnie Flanagan, commander of the predominantly Protestant police force, said the violence was the worst he has seen in 20 or 30 years.

Flanagan said he was certain the violence was being directed by members of the outlawed Ulster Defense Association, which is supposed to be observing a cease-fire in support of Northern Ireland's 1998 peace accord.

During more than three hours of mayhem, militants hijacked and burned four vehicles. Police wearing helmets, flame-retardant suits and flak jackets responded by firing plastic bullets.

On both nights, police have said they were preventing Protestants from marching toward Catholic homes in the nearby Ardoyne district, the focal point of regular confrontations since June.

Islamic militants in Algeria
kill 22 in shooting spree

ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) -- Suspected Islamic militants killed 22 people -- including 12 celebrating a wedding -- in a shooting spree in a small town near the capital, security forces said.

The assailants carried out the attack Wednesday in Larbaa, about 18 miles south of Algiers, the officials said on condition of anonymity. Seven others were injured.

Four assailants in military uniforms stormed into a home where wedding festivities were under way, turned out the lights and sprayed the victims with automatic fire, several people in the region said.

The attackers had talked their way into the home by asking for water, the people said in telephone interviews. They also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Security forces said the assailants shot to death 10 other people in the area near the home.

The motive for the attack was not immediately clear.

Algeria has been racked by an Islamic insurgency that has left more than 100,000 people dead.

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