USA

Consumer prices in July registered the biggest decline in 15 years, pushed down by a sharp drop in the costs of gasoline and other energy products. The 0.3 percent drop in the Labor Department's Consumer Price Index, a closely watched inflation gauge, followed a 0.2 percent increase in June. Meanwhile, the four-week moving average of state unemployment claims fell to 370,750, its lowest point since March. And housing construction rose 2.8 percent in July to a 1.67 million annual rate, the biggest surge in 17 months.

A Texas death-row inmate won a stay of execution, hours before he was scheduled to die by injection for murdering the father of a federal appeals-court judge in 1994 when he was a teenager. Napoleon Beazley won the stay from the Court of Criminal Appeals, pending further orders. Earlier in the week, the US Supreme Court denied a reprieve. Beazley still has an appeal before the justices seeking a broad review, including whether the Constitution bars executing people who were under 18 when they committed crimes.

The Air Force got the go-ahead to start limited production of the controversial F-22 jet fighter (above) from a key Pentagon panel. The stealthy plane, which costs $173 million each, will replace the aging F-15 Eagles and would be the most expensive aircraft ever built. The panel approved building fewer planes than the Air Force had sought - 295 instead of 339 - and also recommended that the Pentagon pump another $6 billion into the program to cover cost overruns. Critics say F-22s are too pricey and no longer needed in the post Cold War era.

Astronomers at the University of California discovered the first solar system where multiple planets travel around the same star in circular orbits. The finding in the Big Dipper constellation increases the likelihood that water and other conditions needed to support life may exist. Planets in other solar systems discovered so far orbit erratically, causing temperature shifts too extreme for life. Meanwhile, scientists observing quasars in Hawaii reported the speed of light - until now considered a constant - may have increased slightly over billions of years.

Scientists researching the effects of pollution from exhaust, coal burning, and other fossil fuels on human health in four cities projected that greenhouse gas-abatement technologies could save as many as 64,000 lives in the next 20 years. Researchers, whose findings appear in the journal Science, also said such technologies could prevent 65,000 cases of health problems in the cities studied: Sao Paulo, Brazil; Mexico City, Santiago, Chile, and New York.

Tropical storm Chantal threatened to grow into a hurricane as it moved toward the southeastern Caribbean islands, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said. They issued severe storm warnings for Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and other small islands.

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