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NOTEWORTHY

Red Cross in need of money, blood

The American Red Cross disaster fund is running a deficit and its blood supply is dangerously low, President Marsha Johnson Evans said Wednesday in a plea for donations. The Red Cross' financial picture has been deteriorating for months because of a drop in contributions and a spate of disasters in 2003 _ wildfires and mudslides in California, the Northeast power blackout, Hurricane Isabel and about 500 tornadoes. The organization laid off workers last summer and has been shifting money from other operations into its empty Disaster Relief Fund, which Evans said should hold a $60-million reserve. Blood donations also are down, in part because of a bad flu season.

THE UNUSUAL

You do the crime, they do the time

The Danish government asked for an investigation Wednesday after a news report that some people convicted of minor offenses are paying others to serve their time in prison. The Ekstra Bladet daily newspaper reported about 100 people have been standing in for others, at a cost of about $166 per day. How do the stand-ins get away with it? When they arrive in prison, they use the convict's National Civil Register card, which carries no photo or fingerprints, as their sole identification. The prison board said it was aware of six such cases in the past seven years.

UPDATE:

French scarf ban

Despite protests at home and abroad, the French government took its first formal step toward banning the Muslim head scarf from public schools, adopting the measure in a Cabinet session Wednesday. President Jacques Chirac defended the legislation that would outlaw conspicuous religious symbols from public schools, which some believe is discriminatory. He said France must uphold its secular foundations.

Mexican bodies

A man who lived in the Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, house where 11 bodies were discovered told police he helped kill and bury victims in his back yard at the behest of drug smugglers _ and he thinks there are more dead to be found, a prosecutor said Wednesday. Police were tearing up the back yard at the house rented by Alejandro Garcia, who was arrested Tuesday, Deputy Attorney General Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos said. He said officials also plan to search six more homes in Ciudad Juarez.

Seal hunt

Escalating a sporadic, 35-year-old protest campaign, opponents of Canada's seal hunt are advocating a travel boycott, pushing their cause in the U.S. Senate, even recruiting Paris Hilton, who wore an antihunt sweatshirt at this month's Sundance Film Festival. Canadian officials say the tactics will fail and the hunt will continue. The new protest initiative began after Canada last year announced a quota of 975,000 seals that could be killed off Labrador and Newfoundland through 2005.

Up next:FAST FACT

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