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ST. PETERSBURG RESTORES PALACE AS PUTIN SHOWPLACE

Near the city where the 1917 Russian Revolution was born, the newest landmark is a once-derelict palace now transformed into a gleaming showcase for St. Petersburg's most famous living son, President Vladimir V. Putin.

The baroque Konstantin Palace will be bathed in the international limelight next week when Putin welcomes 50 heads of state to St. Petersburg's 300th birthday party.

The choice of Konstantin palace for a $300 million makeover is highly symbolic; it was the brainchild of one of Putin's idols, Peter the Great, the modernizing czar who founded St. Petersburg in May 1703 as Russia's window to the West.

Built between 1720 and 1750 on a hill overlooking the Gulf of Finland, the palace has huge crystal chandeliers, painstakingly carved friezes and gilded paintings climbing up the columned walls and across the arched ceilings.

After the revolution, which was spearheaded by the workers of St. Petersburg, palaces fell into disfavor, and in 1924 the city was renamed Leningrad after Vladimir Lenin, the founder of the Soviet Union.

In November 2001, St. Petersburg cultural leaders launched a project to renovate the palace for the use of Putin, who likes to bring important foreigners to his native city.

Man is youngest American
to ascend Mount Everest

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) -- Wind storms forced more than 100 climbers to retreat Wednesday from the south face of Mount Everest amid celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the first Everest conquest.

But 13 Chinese, South Korean and American mountaineers on the northern side reached the summit of the world's highest mountain. They included a man from Spokane, Wash., and his 20-year-old son, believed to be the youngest American to succeed.

With only a few days left in the climbing season, the thwarted mountaineers on the Nepalese side had hoped to reach the 29,035-foot-high summit after several days of better weather.

Increasingly strong winds and rain forced them to return to the highest camp, at 26,240 feet.

John Roskelley, 54, and his son Jess reported their success in a satellite telephone call home. "Being able to do it together was a dream for both of them," said Dan McConnell, a spokesman for the Roskelleys' trip who received the call.

Eight Chinese and three South Korean climbers also reached the summit, China's official Xinhua News Agency reported.

6 more sets of remains
found near Stonehenge

LONDON (AP) -- Archaeologists who last year unearthed the remains of a Bronze Age archer at Stonehenge said Wednesday they have found six more bodies near the mysterious ring of ancient monoliths.

The remains of four adults and two children were found about half a mile from that of the archer, dubbed "The King of Stonehenge" by Britain's tabloid press. Archaeologists said he came from Switzerland and might have been involved in building the monument.

Radiocarbon tests will be conducted to determine more precise dates for the burials, but the group is believed to have lived around 2300 B.C., during the building of Stonehenge at Amesbury, 75 miles southwest of London, said Wessex Archaeology, which excavated the site.

"This new find is really unusual. It is exceptionally rare to find the remains of so many people in one grave like this in southern England," said Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology.

"The grave is fascinating because we are seeing the moment when Britain was moving from the Stone Age into the Bronze Age, around 2300 B.C."

Wessex Archaeology said the bones might be those of people from different generations, since the grave seems to have been reopened to allow further burials.

As new SARS cases decline,
China reopens schools

BEIJING (AP) -- With the numbers of new SARS cases dropping, China's capital sent some students back to class today, as gridlock -- and an increasing sense of normalcy -- returned to Beijing's streets.

Beijing readmitted students preparing to take university entrance tests. Classes for younger students are to resume in batches.

China's Health Ministry announced two new deaths from severe acute respiratory syndrome, both in Beijing, and 12 cases of infection -- down sharply from the early this month when the nation was reporting 150 new cases a day.

Beijing closed its public schools April 24, sending home 1.7 million students amid antidisease measures that also shut down entertainment outlets and imposed restrictions on travel between provinces.

Beijing's karaoke parlors, cinemas and Internet cafes, all ordered closed by the authorities, remained shuttered Wednesday.

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