U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge spoke yesterday at a news conference at the Hilton Hawaiian Village as Gov. Linda Lingle looked on. Ridge said his agency will consider Hawaii's unique geographical and economic position as homeland security operations are regionalized.

Airport security
changes unsure

The state also wants the U.S.
government to ease some
visa rules

U.S. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said yesterday that no decision has been made on the request by Hawaii government officials to streamline security operations at island airports and ease some visa restrictions imposed on foreign visitors.

"We have made some progress in reducing delays at the airport, and also (expect) some changes down the road in visa policy and processing in a positive way to affect the flow of traveling tourists to this state," Ridge said.

Ridge -- who is on his way to Asia for a nine-day visit with stopovers in Singapore; Jakarta, Indonesia; Bangkok; and Seoul -- talked with reporters after a brief meeting with Gov. Linda Lingle in Waikiki.

"Our challenge is to secure our borders but do it in a way that retains our historic openness and diversity," Ridge told reporters. "We need to build bridges to one another, barriers and barricades to the terrorists. We need to facilitate the flow of legitimate goods and people to make sure illegitimate goods and those who do us harm would be left out."

Ridge said Lingle has continued to emphasize Hawaii's unique geographical and economic position in the Pacific and that these concerns will be factored as his agency begins to regionalize its operations.

He also said Hawaii is ahead of many other states in preparing against potential terrorist activities and will get $28 million for homeland security. Ridge said the state deserves "an A for planning and A for execution."

Ridge also said Hawaii's desire to become a destination city for visitors from China is also being considered.

Lingle explained that China allows its citizens to visit only areas it has designated as "destination sites," such as Australia.

She said she is "cautiously optimistic" that negotiations with the Chinese government will be successful, and is hopeful that the destination-city status could be in place by the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Ridge said he will be meeting in Singapore with 20 ambassadors from various Asian countries.

"One of the reasons from their perspective (is that) there are challenges associated with the post-9/11 adjustments we made to granting visas, and they are beginning to feel the impact," he said.

In a lighter moment during the news conference, a reporter wanted to ask Lingle a question and began by saying, "Governor," to which Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania, immediately answered, "Yes."

That brought a chuckle from Lingle and Ridge. He quickly apologized, saying: "Sorry about that. I still think that it is the best job in America."


Maui man denied bail
in airport blaze

U.S. Magistrate Barry Kurren ordered Paul Blatchley, of Maui, held without bail while awaiting trial for allegedly driving his roommate's sport utility vehicle into the Kahului Airport terminal on Sunday and setting it afire.

Federal prosecutors had asked that Blatchley be detained, contending that his alleged actions were a crime of violence and that he presents a danger to the community.

Federal public defender Shanlyn Souza said they hope to seek a reconsideration of his detention after Blatchley can be interviewed by the court's pretrial services officer.

"We believe we can put forth a plan to satisfy the concerns of the pretrial services officer," Park said.

Blatchley, 52, was charged in U.S. District Court on Tuesday with committing violence at an international airport.

According to witnesses, Blatchley drove into the terminal honking his horn to get people out of his way. When he stopped, witnesses saw him ignite a lighter and saw the back seat catch fire before he exited the car.

No one was injured, but the incident closed the airport for more than nine hours, stranding thousands of passengers.

A preliminary hearing has been set for March 16, but an investigation into the incident is ongoing and Blatchley could face additional or amended charges.


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