News In Brief

The House voted 240 to 186 to lift restrictions on travel to Cuba by US citizens, a move that sponsors said is a first step toward ending the communist-led nation's economic isolation. US citizens can only travel to Cuba now by obtaining a license from the Treasury Department, which typically limits access to journalists, government officials, and humanitarian missions. Supporters say restrictions and other economic embargoes haven't effected change in Cuba's political system.

House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) said he intends to bring the patients' bill of rights to the floor for a vote next week, but vowed he would not present a bill that President Bush doesn't support. His comments came as the White House warmed to the idea of expanded rights to sue health plans in state courts. Democrats support a measure that makes it easier for patients to sue their HMOs for denial of care, while the GOP plan permits suits in state courts only if an HMO refuses to abide by an independent panel's ruling. Hastert said both sides are trying to strike a compromise.

The Senate voted 96 to 2 to extend by five years a law allowing sanctions against foreign businesses that invest in Iran and Libya, whose governments are seen as being involved in terrorism. The House was expected to follow suit, renewing the Iran and Libya Sanctions Act and strengthening sanctions against Libya. The measure allows penalties against foreign firms that invest more than $20 million annually in Iran's or Libya's energy sectors. US companies are banned from doing business in the two countries by executive order.

A forest fire near the resort town of Jackson Hole, Wyo., forced 400 residents to evacuate as it closed to within a half mile of their mountain homes. About 1,000 firefighters were battling the blaze that's burned 2,500 acres since it began in a camping area Sunday.

Americans' wages and benefits grew by a smaller-than-expected 0.9 percent from April through June - the weakest since last year - suggesting the slowing economy is causing employers to limit salaries, the Labor Department reported. Separately, it reported new claims for state unemployment insurance last week fell to a four-month low, evidence that the surge of recent layoffs may be easing a bit.

Recent NASA images from Mars showed a significant amount of water may be stored near the surface of the Red Planet. Pictures from the Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, which began mapping the planet in 1999, show regions far from the polar ice caps of smoothly undulating hills that are likely mounds of dust frozen solid by ice. Scientist said the evidence shows Mars' crust can be a substantial reservoir for water.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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