News In Brief

The national unemployment rate jumped to 4.5 percent in April, as companies shed the largest number of jobs in a decade, the Labor Department reported. Its report reinforced worries that rising layoffs might cause consumers to cut back sharply on spending and tip the US into recession. Last month, 223,000 people lost their jobs, the most since February 1991.

US Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. (D) of Ohio was indicted on federal charges of selling local political favors, compelling his office staff to work on his farm, and filing a false tax return. Traficant, faces 10 counts, which also include racketeering and conspiracy to commit bribery. He won reelection last November to his ninth two-year term. He announced plans to represent himself at trial and said he expected to be indicted. If convicted, he could face 63 years in prison and $2.2 million in fines.

The US failed to win a seat on the UN Human Rights Committee for the first time since it helped to found the organization in 1947. Whether through ineffective lobbying or because of unpopular global policies, the US lost out to three members of the European Union - Austria, France, and Sweden. Sudan and Libya, whose governments are accused of human-rights abuses, won seats in regional councils.

Florida lawmakers approved a sweeping election overhaul that will banish the hanging chads and "butterfly" ballots that six months ago plunged the presidential vote-count into chaos. The $32 million reform package, approved 120 to 0 by the House and 38 to 2 by the Senate, establishes uniform guidelines for recounts in close elections and replaces mechanical lever voting, punch cards, and hand-counted paper ballots with optical scan systems for the 2002 elections. Gov. Jeb Bush (R) is expected to sign the measure this week.

Hollywood screenwriters and producers agreed to a tentative three-year contract, easing concerns of summer strikes that could have devastated the entertainment industry. The deal must be ratified next month by the Writers Guild of America's 11,500 members, but approval is expected. The $41 million pay raise over three years for guild members amounts to slightly less than half their initial demands, but gains in creative rights helped make up the difference, writers said.

The Bush administration will allow a Clinton-era ban on road-building in many of the federally owned forest lands to take effect, but will propose changes to it in June, Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said. The ban ropes off 58.5 million acres, one-third of federal forest land, from developers. In making changes, Bush will seek to ensure more local input on individual forest decisions.

The first space tourist, California millionaire Dennis Tito, returned safely to Earth after spending a week aboard the International Space Station. He reportedly paid $20 million to ride on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the station.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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