"Instant background checks are essential to keeping guns out of the wrong hands, while still protecting the privacy of our citizens. But as we learned in the tragedy at Virginia Tech, the checks must be accurate and complete to be effective." Attorney General Michael Mukasey

WHAT IT MEANS

In his first policy speech since taking over as attorney general, Mukasey said Thursday that a federal list of mentally ill people barred from buying guns has doubled in size to about 393,957 since the Virginia Tech shootings. Mukasey said it's the result of stepped up reporting by states and encouraged more states to add information to the database. He made his comments before the National Association of Attorneys General.

People are included in the federal database only after courts or other authorities have found them to have mental health problems. Currently, only 32 states submit names to the mental health database. Minnesota and 17 other states do not.

In April, Virginia Tech student Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people and himself in the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. He bought two guns despite a court order to get outpatient treatment for being a danger to himself. Had his court order been submitted to the federal database, Cho likely would have been unable to buy the guns.

"Right now, I think the dust is settling down and everything is under control. ... This is a milestone in the transition of Pakistan to the complete essence of democracy." President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan

WHAT IT MEANS

Musharraf, newly sworn in to a five-year term as Pakistan's civilian president Thursday, promised to lift the state of emergency by Dec. 16 and restore Pakistan's constitution ahead of parliamentary elections.

If he does, it could be an important step in Pakistan's recent tumultuous politics.

But it remains unclear whether Musharraf will release all of the political opponents that remain in detention and what his response will be if protesters take to the streets after the emergency is lifted.

"Anyone who is talking of any boycotts should hear this out: Come hell or high water, elections will be held on January 8. Nobody derails it," he said, returning to his usually forceful persona after blinking back tears Wednesday when he resigned as commander of Pakistan's military.

Washington and London quickly welcomed the announcement.

"I think you have to give President Musharraf some credit here," said White House press secretary Dana Perino, "because while he made the decision to establish the emergency order -- which we believed was a mistake, and we counseled against -- he did take the step" to lift it.

"The events of Manhattan were retaliation against the American-Israeli alliance's aggression against our people in Palestine and Lebanon, and I am the only one responsible for it. The Afghan people and government knew nothing about it. America knows that." Osama bin Laden

WHAT IT MEANS

The message from the Al-Qaida chief, which called on Europeans to stop helping the United States in the war in Afghanistan, appeared to be another attempt by Bin Laden to influence public opinion in the West. The comments were made on an audiotape broadcast Thursday on Al-Jazeera television.

Bin Laden said it was unjust for the United States to have invaded Afghanistan for sheltering him after the 9/11 attacks, saying he was the "only one responsible" for the deadly assaults on New York and Washington.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack dismissed the new tape as typical of Bin Laden's tactics. "I think our NATO allies understand quite clearly what is at stake in Afghanistan as well as elsewhere around the world in fighting the war on terror," he told reporters.

This has been the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, with more than 6,100 people killed, including more than 800 civilians, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Afghan and Western officials.

Bin Laden issued four public statements earlier this year -- on Sept. 7, Sept. 11, Sept. 20 and Oct. 22. The Sept. 7 video was his first in three years and was issued to mark the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.

NEWS SERVICES