News In Brief

The US asked 51 Russian diplomats to leave the country in retaliation for the planting of a suspected spy at the FBI - a move expected to draw a "tit-for-tat" response from Moscow, officials said. The action is the largest such expulsion since the cold war and further clouds dealings between the two countries. Officials said six Russians were expelled immediately because they were likely "intelligence handlers" implicated in the case of accused spy Robert Hanssen. The other 45 were told to leave by this summer.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined by more than 100 points in early trading yesterday, bringing it more than 20 percent from the closing high of 11,723 reached in January 2000. In Wall Street terms, that signals an official bear market. Meanwhile, the four-week moving average of jobless claims rose to the highest level in five years to 377,000 in the week ending March 17, the Labor Department reported.

President Bush said he opposes bipartisan legislation in Congress that would allow patients to sue their HMOs for up to $5 million in punitive damages, insisting that legislation have reasonable caps on awards. He said the bill, which also proposes unlimited "pain and suffering" damages, would "drive up insurance premiums" and encourage frivolous litigation. His conditions for a patients' bill of rights include that everyone must be covered in all-private health plans, and a requirement that insurers pay for "reasonable" emergency-room treatments, doctor visits, and for participation "in potentially lifesaving clinical trials."

Chinese Vice Premier and top foreign policy official Qian Qichen (above, l.) was to meet with Bush to discuss the highly sensitive issue of US weapons sales to Taiwan. Beijing specifically opposes Taiwan's request for guided missile-equipped Aegis class destroyers. Earlier, Qian told Secretary of State Powell he believes disagreements between their two governments can be overcome.

Federal agents seized a Greensboro, Vt., farmer's flock of 234 sheep, believing they might be infected with a version of so-called "mad-cow" disease. It was the first such action taken against livestock in the US and was aimed at protecting the food supply from any risk of the disease. The sheep are being taken to Iowa, where they will be tested and destroyed. The Agriculture Department plans to seize a second flock of 140 Vermont sheep in a few weeks.

California may have been overcharged by $5.5 billion for wholesale power over the past 10 months, the Los Angeles Times reported. The operator of the state's power grid said transactions by wholesale suppliers showed some had manipulated the market for huge profits. PG&E Corp. and Edison International are not allowed to pass higher costs to consumers. State and utility executives urged Congress to set a temporary cap on electricity prices to avoid a summertime meltdown.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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