Condi talks no breakthrough,

Syria's President Assad says

DAMASCUS - Syrian President Bashar Assad said yesterday that last week's talks between his foreign minister and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were not a "breakthrough," instead accusing the Bush administration of making Damascus a scapegoat for the failures in Iraq.

Thursday's talks on Iraq's deteriorating security situation between Rice and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem were billed as a diplomatic turning point for the Bush administration, which has long refused to talk to Damascus.

But Assad would not go so far to say the talks were the end to poor ties between the two countries, saying it is difficult to make progress on Iraq's security when there are "bad political relations."

"It's too early to say it's a breakthrough. . . . We are still waiting to see how they [the U.S.] want to start," Assad said on NBC's "Today" show.

The Rice-Moallem talks - held on the sidelines of an international conference on Iraq's future at Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik - were the first Cabinet-level talks in years between the countries.

Alcoholic beer-taster

has a case, judge rules

SAO PAULO - A Brazilian court has ordered a brewer to pay $49,000 to an alcoholic beer-taster who said he drank more than 3 pints of beer a day.

The unidentified employee claimed the company didn't provide the health measures needed to keep him from developing alcoholism, a labor court in the Rio Grande do Sul state said.

The employee said in his lawsuit that for more than a decade, he drank 16 to 25 small glasses of beer during his eight-hour shifts at the company

He also said he received a bottle of beer after each shift.

An initial ruling had favored Ambev, or Companhia de Bebidas das Americas, which can still appeal the decision. The local brewing company alleged the employee already was an alcoholic before becoming a beer-taster.

Judge Jose Felipe Ledur said on Friday that the company still was negligent because an alcoholic should never have been made a beer taster.

Ledur also said the employee's alcohol dependency had worsened in recent years and that even on vacation, the employee felt like drinking the same amount of beer he drank at work.

Working from the inside,

vandals trap themselves

OSLO - Two young Norwegian vandals overlooked a crucial detail when they started smashing up a train-station elevator: They were inside it.

And the elevator at the Lillestroem Train Station, north of Oslo, sealed its doors and held the two for the police.

"Vandalism is always sad, but a lot of people do see the humor in this," Ellen Svendsvoll, of the National Rail Administration, said yesterday. "They got what was coming to them."

The two vandals, identified only as men in their early 20s, went into the elevator late on April 21, waited for the doors to close, and started to kick them, she said.

They kicked so hard that the doors jammed, and the elevator stopped, sending an alarm to security guards, who called police and firefighters.

The two now face criminal charges, as well as a $16,000 claim from the railroad for the cost of repairs.

It's likely to be an open-and-shut case. Besides the elevator closing up on the two, a security camera recorded the attack. *

-Associated Press