News In Brief

Preparations for a celebration honoring the 24 US crew members detained in China since April 1 were under way at Whidbey Island, Wash., their home base. The crew is expected to arrive there tomorrow via a chartered airliner after spending two days in Hawaii for a series of debriefings. The crew was detained on Hainan Island when their surveillance plane made an emergency landing after colliding with a Chinese fighter pilot over the South China Sea. The US plane, filled with high-tech eavesdropping equipment, remains on Chinese soil. The Bush administration was mounting a diplomatic effort to get it back and to mute efforts by some Republicans in Congress to punish Beijing on the economic front.

The number of Americans seeking first-time unemployment benefits last week reached its highest level in five years, the Labor Department reported. Some 392,000 workers applied for initial unemployment benefits, a rise of 9,000 from the previous week and the highest level since March 30, 1996. The four-week moving average also rose, to 380,500 claims, the highest since April 1996. Much of the increase is from layoffs in the automobile industry, a department spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, wholesale prices fell in March, led by a record drop in the price of natural gas for home heating and cooking. The producer price index, which measures inflation pressures before they reach store shelves, edged down 0.1 percent last month, the first decline in seven months, the Labor Department reported. With inflation posing little risk to the economy, analysts said the Federal Reserve would have plenty of room to lower interest rates again when it meets next month.

Cincinnati Mayor Charles Luken was considering whether to call in the National Guard to help quell violent protests that continued in the city over the police shooting of an unarmed black man. Vandals roamed the city for the third night Wednesday, breaking windows, looting stores, and throwing bricks. A police officer was hit by gunfire, but was protected by his bullet-proof vest. Police so far have arrested 76 people; at least 70 others were reported injured. As he fled, Timothy Thomas was shot by a white officer, trying to arrest him for misdemeanors and traffic violations.

Survivors and relatives of the Oklahoma City bombing victims may watch the scheduled May 16 execution of Timothy McVeigh on closed-circuit television, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced. Ashcroft said he made the decision after meeting in Oklahoma City with 100 survivors or relatives of victims of the April 19, 1995, Murrah Federal Building bombing that killed 168 people. The execution will be the first under federal law since 1963.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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