USA

Student-led graduation messages, which opponents call official school prayer in thin disguise, may continue at Jackson- ville, Fla., high schools, the Supreme Court decided. The justices chose not to review a lower court's ruling that found the policy constitutionally sound. A group of students and parents sued to block the policy in Duval County, which allowed the senior class to choose "chaplains" to give inspirational addresses at graduation. The school district calls the addresses "messages," and notes that they may be entirely secular.

The Supreme Court also agreed to decide whether former Secretary of State Warren Christopher and other Clinton administration figures may be sued for misleading an American woman about the fate of her Guatemalan rebel husband. The court accepted an appeal from Christopher, ex-National Security Adviser Anthony Lake, and other officials who stand accused of deliberately concealing information about leftist guerrilla Efrain Bamaca-Velas-quez, who disappeared in Guatemala in 1992.

A man charged with killing two police officers in the Capitol in 1998 lost his case before the high court when justices refused to consider the constitutionality of forcing mentally ill defendants to take drugs just to make them trial-ready. The court could have used Russell Weston's case to restrict when defendants facing criminal charges can be drugged against their will. Their refusal to intervene puts the government back on track to try Weston for the shootings.

Microsoft unveiled changes to its offer to settle private anti-trust lawsuits by donating reduced-price software, computers, and training to schools. The changes are designed to answer criticism that the donations will extend the company's market dominance. In Baltimore, Microsoft attorney Tom Burt urged US District Judge J. Frederick Motz to accept the settlement, which comes before the court today, saying schools would benefit from the plan.

Buffeted by foreign competition, two leading US steelmakers have entered merger talks as part of efforts to achieve greater consolidation in the domestic steel industry. Pittsburgh-based US Steel acknowledged that it has entered talks with NKK corporation of Japan, the owner of Indiana-based National Steel, regarding the possible acquisition of its American counterpart. In a joint statement, the companies said a deal was not yet in the offing.

Gasoline prices are at their lowest level in two years, falling more than 40 cents a gallon since Sept. 11, according to the respected Lundberg Survey of 8,000 gas stations nationwide. The data, released Sunday, show the average retail price for a gallon, including all grades and taxes, was about $1.15, down more than 8 cents per gallon in the past three weeks.

Three teenagers died in suburban Philadelphia after being struck by an Amtrak Acela Express train. Authorities said the youths were part of a group trespassing in an industrial area where access to the tracks had been blocked by a fence. An investigation into the accident was under way.

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