News In Brief

The US trade deficit hit its lowest point in 16 months in May, shrinking by 11.4 percent to $28.3 billion, the Commerce Department reported. The gap narrowed as Americans cut back on purchases of foreign-made goods amid a weaker economy. Imports of goods and services declined by 2.4 percent to $116.1 billion in May, while exports rose 0.9 percent to $87.7 billion, after falling two months in a row.

Another key gauge of future US economic activity inched higher for the third straight month in June, although it showed the overall economy remains fragile. The Conference Board said its Index of Leading Economic Indicators, rose 0.3 percent to 109.6 last month, higher than analysts had expected. Analysts predict some recovery in the manufacturing sector later this year.

Firefighters were battling a dangerous blaze in a downtown Baltimore tunnel caused when a train carrying toxic chemicals derailed Wednesday. The accident forced emergency workers to close major highways into the city, postpone an Orioles baseball game, and close the Inner Harbor. Highways were later reopened but many streets remain blocked as the train still leaked hazardous chemicals.

Napster said it was unsure whether it will resume its free online song-swapping service, even though a federal court gave it the OK to do so. The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals overturned another federal judge's ruling ordering the Redwood City, Calif., company to remain offline until it fully complies with an injunction to remove all copyrighted music. Napster, which was sued by the recording industry for copyright infringement, said it could not block all music files. It plans to launch a paid subscription service later this year.

House Republicans said they were confident that President Bush's plan allowing religious charities to compete for federal funds would pass by week's end. Their remarks came after GOP leadership abruptly pulled the bill when moderates complained it would preempt laws banning discrimination in hiring. Officials said the leadership and critics planned to address disagreements in House-Senate compromise talks.

Unexpectedly cool weather in the West has led to an abundance of electricity in California, prompting the state to sell surplus power for much less than it paid in its haste to fend off summer blackouts, reports said. In some cases, energy bought at an average of $138 per megawatt was being sold for as little as $1 per megawatt, although state officials said $25 was more accurate. They also cautioned that blackouts are still possible if temperatures rise.

In the year's first major vote on the issue of gun control, the House voted 268 to 161 to reject a Democratic plan that would have required the FBI to keep background-check records on buyers for at least the 90 days currently mandated. The vote was a victory for Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose proposal would shorten to one day the time the FBI keeps the records. Critics say that's not enough time to check for fraud, but Ashcroft has argued that a shorter period protects the privacy of legitimate gun buyers.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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