Today's Story Line:

Seven years of patience with Saddam Hussein ended on Wednesday with the American missile strikes. Now the world may be entering an era in which tyrants with dangerous weapons will be struck before they can strike.

The US is also shifting the way it contains Serbia's strongman.

On a lighter note, read about Russia's remote wilderness wonderland.

- Clayton Jones

World Editor


* TALES FROM GROUND ZERO: Hunkered down in Baghdad, Mideast bureau chief Scott Peterson confirms it's extremely difficult - and probably foolhardy - to leave the press center in the rear of the Information Ministry without one the government's "minders," combination watchdogs and translators. Minders practice a considerable amount of spin control: Scott was taking a photo of a funeral procession whose coverage was clearly encouraged. But he was firmly interrupted for aiming his lens at two Iraqi soldiers who had lost their composure. There are also telling glimpses of goings-on that appear not to be part of the official agenda. Around 11:30 Thursday morning, Peterson was checking out a crater in a Baghdad side street caused by a missile he'd heard land around 3 a.m. Bored-looking workers were already dumping several truckloads of fill beside it. "Not even in Seattle do public-works jobs get done with that kind of speed," said Scott, using his hometown for reference.


* SPARE THAT (CHRISTMAS) TREE: Officials in the region around Russia's Far Eastern port city of Vladivostok are reducing this year's Christmas tree harvest by 40 percent (from 100,000 last year) because hard times have shrunk the market for them, according to the Vladivostok News, even at less than 50 cents per yard. Officials also are having to combat "spruce poachers" who, if caught by the Cossacks paid to guard many plantations, face a fine of up to almost $10 per yard. Despite the fall in demand, cutting spruces is profitable for all 31 forestry farms in the Primorye region, the paper reports.

* WOMEN'S LIB BY OTHER MEANS: Economic downturns are no fun for Saudi Arabian hard-liners either. Al Quds al-Arabi newspaper in London reports that a fall in oil prices might mean women will at last be able to drive in the conservative kingdom. Falling standards of living mean that many middle-class families have had to dispense with the services of a chauffeur, and men are reluctant to take time off work to drive their children to school or their wives to the shops.

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