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President Bush, ducking prospects for yet another highly charged confirmation battle, on Wednesday named low-key Republican insider William Barr to become the next U.S. attorney general.

The president announced his choice shortly after his press secretary called for ``healing' the wounds from the bruising Senate fight over confirming Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.In the 41-year-old Barr, the president found an attorney who has quietly worked as a trouble-shooter since the 1988 presidential campaign. Barr has been acting attorney general since Dick Thornburgh left the post to run for a Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

At the announcement, Bush called Barr ``a thorough professional, a defender of individual rights and a person absolutely committed to this fight against crime.'

Although the choice had been expected in recent weeks, earlier some of Bush's advisers had urged the selection of a high-powered political figure, such as George Deukmejian, a recent governor of California. However, with the re-election campaign only months away, the president decided on a less visible nominee almost guaranteed not to raise hackles in the Senate.

If there were doubts about whether Barr would be picked, he dispelled them in what has been widely praised as a solid performance at the Department of Justice in recent weeks.

Barr moved quickly to quiet the administrative upheaval left behind by Thornburgh's controversial tenure. But what probably nailed down his promotion was the daring pre-dawn rescue of nine hostages held by Cuban prisoners at Alabama's Talladega federal prison last August.

The acting chief of U.S. law enforcement took personal charge of the situation and issued the order to send in FBI swat teams, who surprised the prisoners and brought out all of the hostages. That made him, Bush said, a person who had ``been tested by fire.'

It was not the first crisis management for the conservative Barr. He played a key role during the 1988 Bush campaign by helping to deal with the furor over Bush's selection of Dan Quayle as his running-mate.


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