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Schroeder office in anthrax scare

Californian investigation
Envelopes containing suspicious powder like this one being examined in California have been found across the world  

BERLIN, Germany -- A white powder has been found in the mailroom at German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's offices as fears of anthrax attacks grow worldwide.

Authorities were investigating whether the substance was dangerous, the German government said.

The mailroom at the federal chancellery in Berlin was sealed off after two postal workers discovered the powder, which had trickled out of an envelope, a government spokesman told the Associated Press.

The spokesman said there was no immediate indication whether there was a genuine threat. It was unclear whether Schroeder was in the building in central Berlin at the time.

Investigations into possible deliberate infections of anthrax had also spread from the United States on Monday to France, Israel and Australia.

FBI: Hijacker-anthrax link coincidental 

In France police evacuated 600 people from the offices of the French Space Agency, and others were hurriedly ushered from a financial institution, a school and a tax collection agency after powder arrived in the mail, the Associated Press reported.

An employee at Swiss healthcare group Novartis in Basel underwent preventive medical treatment after receiving a suspicious letter containing an unidentified powder.

The company said there was no reason at this stage to link the letter, received on October 9, with confirmed anthrax cases in the United States.

But it said it had taken "precautionary measures" while it analysed the contents of the letter.

Reuters reported that Israeli police sent six letters for anthrax tests on Monday as Israel became anxious about possible bio-terrorist attacks.

Police were called to examine more than a dozen letters received by Israelis in recent days that bore suspicious signs such as too much postage paid or an unknown sender, a police spokesman told the news agency.

Dozens of government workers in Australia took decontaminating showers on Monday after their office received a letter containing white powder, and a U.S. consulate was evacuated in a similar scare. Both turned out to be hoaxes.

On Sunday more than 200 people were evacuated from Canterbury Cathedral -- seat of the head of the Church of England, Archbishop George Carey -- when a man was seen to sprinkle white powder in a chapel.

A Kent Police spokeswoman told CNN the powder was sent for analysis and found to contain no harmful substances.

Amid concern across the world about possible anthrax attacks, Britain's chief medical officer said the UK was well prepared for any outbreak.

Professor Liam Donaldson said there were no indications that Britain would become a target.

"We have put in place plans to secure supplies and stores of the appropriate antibiotics -- but I stress we have no specific threat," Donaldson said.

He told the BBC that contingency plans were drawn up 18 months before the current U.S. anthrax outbreaks.

Officials in Washington say they do not know whether any of the U.S. cases are related to the September 11 attacks.

U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson told CNN's Late Edition: "There has not been conclusive evidence tying it into Osama bin Laden, al-Qaeda -- all we know is it is terrorism."

The UK government had secured the "necessary stores" of antibiotics and other equipment, Donaldson said, and pinpointed the need for detailed "scenario planning" over the coming months and years in collaboration with Washington.

'Heavy casualties'

British newspapers reported on Monday that Britain had amassed a "huge stockpile" of anti-anthrax drugs.

The Daily Telegraph said that more than 50 million doses of doxycycline, an antibiotic used to treat anthrax infection, had been set aside.

At the same time Britain's 30,000 doctors had been told to look out for anthrax symptoms including itchy insect-like bumps, fever and swollen lymph glands.

The Telegraph said the health service had laid contingency plans to cope with "heavy casualties" by buying vaccines and antidotes in secret.

It quoted a health official as saying: "If we said we had 'x' numbers of certain drugs that would create a whole series of other biological weapons that the terrorists could go for."

Donaldson told the BBC that the British government would be as open as possible about the realities of a biological attack but had to be careful not to aid any enemy.

"Terrorism is now a far more sophisticated business than it has been in the past and we don't want to give any information away that might help the terrorists," he said.

Of those exposed to anthrax in the United States, two have gone on to contract the disease, one in Florida and another in New York. The Florida man died 10 days ago.

Three people who worked in the U.S. buildings where anthrax was discovered are now in Britain undergoing tests that are being described by public health officials as "precautionary."


• U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention
• UK Chief Medical Officer
• UK Department of Health
• Novartis

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