Congress sends Bush $800 billion debt boost
Congress sent President Bush an $800 billion boost in the federal borrowing limit on Thursday, spotlighting how the budget has lurched out of control in recent years and how hard it will be to afford future initiatives.
The House approved the measure by a near party-line 208-204 vote as White House and bipartisan congressional bargainers moved to the verge of agreement on a year-end spending package expected to total $388 billion. Negotiators said just a handful of issues remained unresolved, and a package might be ready for votes by late today.
With the government facing imminent default because it has depleted its authority to borrow money, the debt limit bill would pump up the federal borrowing cap to $8.18 trillion.
Kerry to give campaign money to Democrats
Under friendly fire, Sen. John Kerry likely will donate a substantial portion of his excess presidential campaign cash to help elect Democratic candidates in 2005 and 2006, advisers said Thursday.
Party leaders, including some of Kerry's top campaign aides, said this week they were surprised and angry to learn that he had more than $15 million in accounts from the Democratic primaries. They demanded to know why the money wasn't spent to help Kerry defeat President Bush or to aid congressional candidates.
There were no easy answers to those questions, officials close to Kerry acknowledged Thursday, but they sought to assure Democrats in a series of telephone calls that the four-term Massachusetts senator was sharing his political wealth.
Five arrested in alleged bank, immigration fraud
Terrorism task force agents arrested five Seattle-area residents Thursday on immigration fraud charges in connection with fake documents that allegedly helped people from the west African nation of Gambia enter the country illegally.
Three other men were charged with defrauding banks of thousands of dollars, and five were accused of weapons offenses.
"This is one investigation that grew into three," said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office.
The scheme involved providing Gambians with fraudulent passports and other immigration documents indicating they were from Sierra Leone, authorities said. Prosecutors said it was easier to gain asylum in the United States as a resident of Sierra Leone, because the country has been racked by war.
Convicted 1963 church bomber dies in prison
Bobby Frank Cherry, convicted of killing four black girls in a racially motivated bombing of a Birmingham church in 1963, died Thursday in prison. He was 74.
Cherry died about 3:30 p.m. in the hospital unit at Kilby Correctional Facility in Montgomery, a Department of Corrections spokesman said. He had been ill for some time.
Cherry was convicted in May 2002 in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, a gathering place for civil rights demonstrators in Birmingham, and was sentenced to life in prison.
Cherry was among three former Ku Klux Klan members convicted in the bombing.
Gunman shoots three, then kills self at mall
A gunman fatally shot two people and wounded a third Thursday night inside a Radio Shack store at a St. Petersburg strip mall, then shot himself to death, police said.
A store employee and a customer died during surgery at Bayfront Medical Center, police said. The other victim, an employee, remained in surgery late Thursday.
Another customer and an employee managed to escape uninjured from the store at the Gateway Shopping Center, police spokesman Bill Proffitt said.
Police did not identify the gunman, but police spokesman George Kajtsa said the man "had some mental issues, according to his family."
Afghan opium output surging, U.N. finds
Heroin production is booming in Afghanistan, undermining democracy and putting money in the coffers of terrorists, according to a U.N. report Thursday that called on U.S. and NATO-led forces get more involved in fighting drug traffickers.
"Fighting narcotics is equivalent to fighting terrorism," said Antonio Maria Costa, executive director of the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. "It would be an historical error to abandon Afghanistan to opium, right after we reclaimed it from the Taliban and al-Qaida."
This year's cultivation was up by nearly two-thirds, the U.N. agency found. Bad weather and disease kept production from setting a record, although Afghanistan still accounted for 87 percent of the world supply, up from 76 percent in 2003.
Israeli army mistakenly kills Egyptian officers
Israeli troops mistook three Egyptian police officers for Palestinian militants and shot them dead Thursday along Gaza's border with Egypt, increasing tensions between the neighbors.
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to express his "deepest apologies" for the incident and promised a quick investigation. But Egypt did not appear satisfied, issuing a rare statement lambasting Israel.
"Egypt condemns and strongly protests this regrettable incident," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in a statement. "We demand that the Israeli authorities conduct an immediate, thorough and comprehensive investigation into the circumstances that led to this incident, and present an explanation."
Britain bans fox hunting over strong protest
Britain outlawed fox hunting in England and Wales on Thursday as elected legislators won a dramatic standoff with the House of Lords to ban a popular country sport that is despised by many urbanites. Some hunting supporters vowed to defy the ban.
The years-long debate over outlawing a sport opponents see as simply cruel has been highly charged and deeply divisive. Scotland has previously outlawed hunting.
The chamber invoked the rarely used 1949 Parliament Act to force the ban into law despite the opposition of the unelected House of Lords. After the Lords rejected one last compromise, to postpone the effective date until 2006, Speaker of the Commons Michael Martin announced the bill had been passed.
Chileans take advantage of first divorce law
A 48-year-old woman became the first person in Chilean history to file for divorce Thursday, ushering in a new era for this heavily Roman Catholic country that had been the last in South America with no divorce law.
The justice minister called the new law a historic step, but Maria Victoria Torres said it was far more personal: "a window that opens to look at a new life with dignity, without fear."
As the Santiago Court of Appeals opened its doors Thursday, Torres, who said her husband abused her, was first in line. Others filed for divorce at courts around the country, although the avalanche of petitions many predicted did not occur.
Synagogue aide shot to death in Antwerp
An Orthodox Jew died Thursday after being shot in the head outside his home in one of Western Europe's most visible Jewish communities, the target of several recent attacks.
Investigators said it was too early to tell whether the killing was the first deadly strike in the upsurge of anti-Semitic violence in Antwerp, Belgium's second-largest city and a major seaport.
The victim was identified by rescue services as Moshe Naeh, 24, a Briton working as a secretary to a local rabbi.
Police said he was shot as he unloaded his car about 2 a.m. He slumped onto the road and was found by passers-by who initially thought he was a traffic victim.