Mattel to remove ha…

Mattel to remove hair-eating Cabbage Patch doll from store shelves
WASHINGTON (AP) — Mattel Inc. will pay consumers $40 for each Cabbage Patch Kids Snacktime Kids doll returned to the company in response to about 100 reports of children getting their hair and fingers caught in the dolls’ mouths, officials said Monday.
Mattel also announced it was withdrawing all the dolls from store shelves throughout the United States.
The doll has battery-powered, mechanical jaws that move when it is fed the plastic carrots and french fries that come with it. But in some cases the doll clamped onto the fingers and hair of children and wouldn’t let go.
Testing done by Mattel and the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has failed to turn up any indication of a safety hazard associated with the dolls, the company said.
“Nonetheless, we remain deeply concerned with the satisfaction of all our consumers and in maintaining their longstanding confidence in the safety and value of our toys,” said Jill Barad, Mattel’s chief operating officer.
About 500,000 of the dolls have been sold to the public since they were introduced in the fall of 1996, Mattel said.
The $40 refund includes estimated shipping and handling costs, the company said. In order to get the refund, owners must send the dolls to Mattel’s distribution center in Chino, Calif., along with their names and addresses.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission said it was pleased with Mattel’s voluntary withdrawal.
“We recognize that these incidents can be upsetting to children and adults, and we are pleased with the actions being taken by Mattel,” said commission Chairwoman Ann Brown.
Parents aren’t required to send the dolls back, but they can if they choose, Mattel spokesman Sean Fitzgerald said.
“It’s a matter of personal choice,” he said. The company already has given out a minimal number of refunds, he said. “We have been honoring requests. At this point we are just making it official. We encourage those people who are for whatever reason unhappy with their dolls,” Fitzgerald said.
“This doll passed all federal, state and every other safety test, but nevertheless, because of the incidents that have been reported, we felt it was the right thing to do,” he said.

Western storms threaten water supply and crops
MERIDIAN, Calif. (AP) — Crews desperately shored up failing levees Monday to stem flooding that has already swamped parts of the Central Valley, California’s rich farming region. Good weather elsewhere allowed thousands of people to return home.
In the Northwest, rivers continued to recede, but authorities worried about mudslides, particularly in Seattle, where 100 slides in the past week have blocked roads and destroyed homes.
At least 28 deaths have been blamed on a series of storms that since Dec. 26 have hit the West.
In the Central Valley, farmers feared the floodwaters would damage the winter wheat and other newly planted grains. The flooding has also damaged orchards and vineyards in the region, a major supplier to the nation of winter fruits and vegetables.
Even without further damage, the flood of 1997 will probably be the most destructive in California history, Gov. Pete Wilson said. Preliminary damage estimates from nine of the 42 flooded counties already have hit $775 million. In Nevada, Gov. Bob Miller said flood damage there could reach $500 million.
A new worry arose as high water in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta threatened to contaminate southern California’s water supply. The fear is that islands in the delta will wash away, allowing salt water to push upstream.
That puts water-management officials in a bind — they could partially empty upstream reservoirs to push out the salt water, but that would reduce the amount of water available to the Los Angeles area.
In Oregon, Ashland’s 18,000 residents remained without water as crews worked to get the water treatment plant back on line. Schools and Southern Oregon State College were closed for lack of water, and portable toilets were stationed throughout town. The water treatment plant and an access road were damaged in last week’s flooding.
Peru negotiator: No more direct talks with hostage takers
LIMA, Peru (AP) — Peru’s government is suspending direct talks with leftist rebels holding 74 hostages at the Japanese ambassador’s residence, a pro-government newspaper reported Monday.
Domingo Palermo, the government’s chief negotiator in the three-week hostage crisis, was quoted Monday in Lima’s El Comercio as saying he would not meet again with the rebels without a clear sign they wanted dialogue.
He didn’t say what would constitute a clear sign. The remarks appeared to mark a return to the hard-line position Peru took at the start of the hostage crisis, when President Alberto Fujimori said officials would not negotiate with rebels until they released all their hostages.
A high government official who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the newspaper report. We’re going to leave them in there until they get bored,” he told The Associated Press.
The government has negotiated directly with the rebels only one time since the Tupac Amaru stormed the Japanese ambassador’s mansion on Dec. 17 and seized hundreds of hostages at a gala cocktail reception.
The rebels released 20 hostages after Palermo’s only face-to-face talks with them, a three-hour meeting inside the residence on Dec. 28. The government has since refused the rebels’ demands for more direct talks.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Juan Luis Cipriani is expected to remain the main intermediary between the rebels and the government. He last entered the compound Sunday to perform a Mass for the captives.
The government’s reluctance to negotiate directly with the Tupac Amaru has revived fears among some that military intervention will be used to end the standoff.
Javier Diez Canseco, an opposition congressman released after five days as a hostage, said the stalemate was becoming extremely dangerous because it strengthened the position of military factions in the government that favor the use of force.
The rebels’ main demand is that the government free about 300 jailed comrades, which Fujimori says he will not do. The rebels say they are concerned about the harsh treatment given political prisoners in Peru.
Peru would have to get Japan’s approval to intervene militarily because the rebels are on embassy grounds — technically Japanese soil. Japan has strongly opposed any military action to resolve the crisis.