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New York drops charges against 17 firefighters

Authorities are dropping charges against all but one of the 18 firefighters arrested after a raucous protest at the World Trade Center site, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Saturday.

The firefighters were arrested after five police officers were injured during a Nov. 2 rally, in which firefighters protested their numbers being reduced at the site.

The one case that will not be dropped, Giuliani said, involved a firefighter accused of hitting a police officer. The other cases mostly involved criminal trespassing and harassment, he said.

Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau said the charges would be dismissed and would not show up on the firefighters' records.

Pope gets fallen chaplain's helmet

VATICAN CITY _ New York City firefighters presented Pope John Paul II with the white helmet of their chaplain who was killed at the World Trade Center, and the pontiff prayed Saturday for the families of the 343 firefighters who died in the rescue effort.

The Rev. Mychal Judge, a Franciscan priest who was the department chaplain, died while giving last rites to a firefighter fatally wounded by a falling body. When the priest removed his fire helmet to pray, he was struck in the head by debris and killed.

Atta discussed Radio Free Europe hit

WASHINGTON _ Suspected terrorist Mohammed Atta contacted an Iraqi agent with plans to blow up the Radio Free Europe building in Prague just before the terrorist attacks in the United States, Czech Prime Minister Milos Zeman told CNN.

Zeman said Friday that Atta had met twice with the Iraqi agent, a diplomat, in the days before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

The diplomat, Ahmad Khalil Ibrahim Samir Ani, was expelled from the country two weeks after the meeting.

"At first, Atta contacted some Iraq agent not to prepare the terroristic attack on" the trade center, "but to prepare terroristic attack on just the building of Radio Free Europe," Zeman said.

Verizon charges on despite outages

NEW YORK _ Residents and business owners without telephone service in lower Manhattan since the Sept. 11 attacks are still receiving monthly bills, according to a published report.

Verizon, normally required to offer rebates for service outages exceeding 24 hours, successfully lobbied the New York State Public Service Commission for a suspension of such regulations, the New York Times reported Saturday. Verizon said any customer who complained would be given a rebate. Although he said 90 percent of the lines are back in service, Verizon spokesman John Bonomo said he didn't know how many customers were affected.

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