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WAR ON TERROR: PANIC OVER GERMS: STOCKS & SCARES; ANTHRAX UK: 20 Cityand post workers tested..police say: Stay calm.

Byline: JEFF EDWARDS, PATRICK MULCHRONE and STEPHEN WHITE

FEAR swept through the Stock Exchange yesterday after a suspect parcel was tested for anthrax spores.

It was the most serious alert in a series of scares nationwide that left 20 feared victims of the disease. Fourteen were given the all clear. Six are still awaiting the results of tests.

Amid mounting fears of a strike by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda organisation Scotland Yard insisted there was no "specific threat" of bio-terror.

But a spokeswoman said: "If people are suspicious of anything they have received in the mail or by hand they should contact us. We are asking everyone to be vigilant."

MPs, peers and workers at the Palace of Westminster were given urgent security advice and told to open all mail with care.

The Home Office said everything was being done to protect high profile targets and essential services.

Yesterday's alerts mirrored similar incidents worldwide.

In LONDON police, fire "chemical incident" teams and specially equipped paramedics raced to the Exchange after a suspicious package holding white powder was received.

Twelve Exchange staff and two policemen were decontaminated with water and taken to hospital as a precaution. They were later discharged.

Investigators wearing biological warfare protective suits took the parcel away in a sealed bag. Last night it was declared harmless.

Although the Exchange, which houses 8,000 people, carried on trading, scores of nearby businesses were evacuated as police sealed off the area.

It was the biggest security alert since an IRA bomb in 1996.

One trader said: "The story spread like wildfire that an anthrax package was sent to the building.There was no panic, but people were frightened."

A second suspect package was sent to Smith Square, in WESTMINSTER, where Local Government Minister Nick Raynsford was meeting town hall leaders. It was also harmless.

In LIVERPOOL fine white powder spilled out of a parcel believed to have been posted in the US and addressed to Toxteth.

Six workers who came into contact with the dust were decontaminated, put under observation and given antibiotics. All were allowed home.

Merseyside director of public health Dr John Reid said: "We have taken all necessary steps to ensure these people receive thorough health advice as a precautionary measure."

More than 200 workers were held in isolation in a car park for five hours as the building was evacuated.

Postman Mark Rock, 27, told how a colleague's high jinks at the city's Copperas Hill office led to the alert.

He said: "The bloke who was sorting the parcel noticed powder leaking from it and started waving it in the air saying it was anthrax.

"But as he was waving it, the powder came out. With everybody so jittery at the moment he supervisor was called. He decided to evacuate."

In FIFE, Scotland, police said a number of parcels claiming to contain anthrax were sent to addresses including St Andrew's University where Prince William is a student.

Another package was sent the Fife Constabulary headquarters in Glenrothes. But police said: "There is every likelihood these are hoaxes."

Safety guidelines were issued by security experts from the serjeant-at-arms office in the Palace of Westminster yesterday.

They said suspicious packages should be placed in a sealed container and ventilation and air conditioning systems switched off.

One source told The Mirror: "Everyone is trying to be calm. But this memo just underlines that an anthrax attack is a possibility. It's chilling."

The Public Health Laboratory Service said yesterday that precautionary testing on three people in the UK who visited offices in America hit by anthrax had proved negative. A company specialising in biohazard protection products stopped sending out mailshot samples after its packages containing powder caused a scare at schools.

Cheshire-based Kinder Marketing was told of concern after sending sample packets of BIOMAN 999 to schools in North East England.

In GERMANY tests on powder found in a letter sent to Chancellor Schroeder's building proved negative.

Public buildings in PARIS and the headquarters of the French Space Agency and Arianespace were evacuated after receiving suspicious envelopes. Police in SWEDEN sent four letters for checks. One was posted from Dubai.

Three workers at the US consulate in RIO were given antibiotics after handling a letter holding powder. A package containing an unidentified white powder was found at the US embassy in LITHUANIA.

In the CZECH Republic suspect mail was sent to Premier Milos Zeman. Two workers were taken to hospital for tests after handling suspect post.

In ISRAEL a newspaper received a letter containing white powder along with a note saying "regards from Afghanistan". It was a practical joke from another tabloid.

In BRATISLAVA, Slovakia, thousands of envelopes caused a scare until police found it was a marketing campaign for sanitary towels.

White powder sprinkled close to the parliament building in CYPRUS was found to be a flour trail.

The Sunday Times newspaper was slammed by police after trying to buy anthrax over the internet as part of an investigation.

A spokesman said it was a "legitimate journalistic operation".

CAPTION(S):

PRECAUTION: Fireman is hosed down at Stock Exchange; SCARE: Postal workers in germproof suits are; led to a decontamination usit in Liverpool yesterday after suspect package was found at their sorting office
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 17, 2001
Words:874
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