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States must place persons with mental disabilities in homelike settings if they can fare just as well there as in state hospitals, the Supreme Court decided. On a 6-to-3 vote in a Georgia case, the court said the Americans with Disabilities Act requires community placement of the mentally disabled when appropriate.

The high court also limited the reach of a federal ban on discrimination against the disabled, ruling the law generally does not protect people with poor eyesight or other conditions that can be corrected. Protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act usually are restricted to people whose conditions are not readily corrected with medication or devices such as eyeglasses, the justices said in three rulings. And, in an unrelated case, the court made it slightly easier for victims of on-the-job discrimination to force employers to pay extra monetary damages as punishment.

The Senate was expected to approve paying nearly $1 billion of the US debt to the UN as part of a compromise with the White House on reducing future payments to the world organization. The bill calls for a reduction in the US share of the regular UN budget from 25 percent to 20 percent - and a drop in the US share of peacekeeping costs from 31 percent to 25 percent. It would allow payments of $819 million to the UN over three years and forgive $107 million the UN owes the US.

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Western Union has been authorized to handle wire transfers to Cuba, making it easier for people in the US to send money to the island as of July 8, the State Department said. The company previously had been permitted to handle cash transfers only for emergency expenses or emigration costs. Meanwhile, four US officials, none high-ranking, met in Havana with Cuban authorities to discuss possible telephone links to improve communications on suspected drug activity in the Caribbean. At present, communications are limited to telex links.

The nation's first statewide voucher program to help parents of students in failing schools offset the cost of private education was signed into law by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R). Students in schools rated "F" for two out of four years would be allowed to transfer to another public school or accept vouchers worth up to $4,000 to help offset private-school tuition. Critics, who've promised lawsuits, say allowing parents to transfer children into religious schools violates a constitutional prohibition against public funding of such institutions.

The return of 367 US aircraft that took part in the bombing of Yugoslavia - some to Europe, some to the US - was authorized by Defense Secretary William Cohen. A first group of 124 planes was to begin the exodus as early as yesterday.

A "Kasparov vs. the World" interactive chess tournament began in New York. Champion Garry Kasparov (in Bryant Park, making his first move with a 3-foot-high pawn linked to the Internet) is playing against five other experts and people voting via the Internet for the moves of their choice. The match can be followed on the www.msn.com Web site.

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