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WAR ON TERROR: ANTHRAX TERROR: BERTIE IN BUG SCARE; Powder sent to Taoiseach's office Hoaxers face five years in jail, says Byrne.


BERTIE Ahern's office became the latest victim of the worldwide anthrax scare yesterday.

The Taoiseach's office in Government buildings was evacuated and army units moved in after a package was found to contain a suspect white powder.

The area was later given the all-clear. Bertie was not in his office at the time - he was in Ghent, Belgium, for the European Union summit.

A government spokeswoman said: "We had plans in hand for this kind of thing."

Gardai yesterday launched a crackdown on the anthrax hoaxers who have brought chaos to the country.

Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne warned the pranksters they face up to five years in jail if caught.

Three men have been arrested and four others are being questioned on suspicion of sending bogus anthrax material through the post.

A Garda spokeswoman said: "The Commissioner has issued a stark warning - hoaxers will go to jail if convicted.

"He is sending a strong message that this will not be tolerated and those who think its a joke could find themselves in jail for years."

One man was arrested in connection with an anthrax scare in Kilkenny on Thursday and a file is now being prepared for the DPP.

It is suspected he sent white powder through the post to his boss.

Four people, including a woman, could also face charges over the incident.

Last night two men, both aged 20, were arrested in Arklow, Co Wicklow, after white powder was discovered in a business premises in the town.

By lunchtime yesterday Gardai had received over 30 hoax calls from all over the country.

Gardai and emergency services sealed off a street in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, causing severe disruption.

A traffic warden raised the alarm after white powder was spotted on a parking-disc vending machine in Austin Friar Street.

The area surrounding the VTOS Outreach Centre in Arklow was sealed off after a suspicious envelope was posted to the centre.

A Dublin woman caused panic when she reported feeling a burning sensation on her skin after applying makeup.

She bought the cosmetic in London and imagined it had turned to powder by the time she used it.

The area around the woman's house was sealed off.

Gardai estimate this, and similar precautions, are costing more than pounds 5,000 a time.

A Garda source added: "Not only is this costing a fortune it is wasting time and resources.

"The emergency services have better things to be doing than rushing around to discover a bag of talc or flour.

"We can't take chances just in case it's the real thing but for people to stage hoaxes is a serious crime and will be punished as such."

However, Gardai have reminded the public to be on their guard and to contact them if they receive or discover suspect material.

So far 19 samples have been sent to the UK weapons labs at Porton Down, where tests will be carried out.

In the US a woman employee of the New York Post tested positive for skin anthrax - America's seventh victim of the bug, it was revealed last night.

The unnamed woman, a secretary for a page editor, noticed a blister on one finger on September 22. She scratched it and it became infected.

Her doctor gave her antibiotics but several days later when she took off the bandage she noticed a black sore.

She went to a hospital and was given more antibiotics and went back to work. But when employees at NBC News, ABC News and CBS News in the city fell ill with skin anthrax she asked to be tested.

It came back positive for cutaneous anthrax. But she is already back at work and expected to make a full recovery.

It is not known how the woman was infected. Police and a team from the Centre for Disease Control were last night carrying out extra tests in the Post's offices.

Post publisher Ken Chandler said: "We are taking every precaution and working closely with authorities to identify the source of the infection and prevent any further risk."

Anthrax has been diagnosed in the seven-month-old son of an ABC producer; Erin O'Connor, 38, assistant to NBC broadcaster Tom Brokaw; Briton Claire Fletcher, an assistant to CBS TV news anchor Dan Rather; and a postal worker in New Jersey.

In Florida British-born Bob Stevens died and David Wright, a colleague at tabloid magazine publisher American Media is ill.
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Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 20, 2001
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