USA

Suggesting that the worst of the US economic downturn is over, the New York-based Conference Board reported that its index of leading economic indicators rose a better-than-expected 0.5 percent last month, following a 0.1 percent increase in October. The organization said six of the 10 indicators that make up the index, which measures where the overall US economy is headed in the next three to six months, rose in November. The closely watched economic barometer has now recovered to its August level.

After defeating a Republican measure on overhauling farm subsidy programs, Senate Democrats failed to muster the votes needed to pass their own legislation. Agriculture Committee chairman Tom Harkin (D) of Iowa accused the GOP of stalling and said the stalemate put at risk $73.5 billion set aside for farmers in a congressional budget agreement this year. Republicans denied the stalling charge.

Republican Joe Wilson overwhelmingly defeated his Democratic opponent in a special election to succeed the late Rep. Floyd Spence (R) in a South Carolina district. Wilson, who has served in the state Senate for 17 years and managed seven of Spence's reelection campaigns, won 73 percent of the votes in the conservative district.

A federal judge overturned the death sentence for ex-Black Panther Mumia Abu-Jamal (above), who has spent almost 20 years on death row for the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer. The ruling was criticized by both Abu-Jamal's supporters, who claim he was a victim of a corrupt judicial system and should be set free, and by opponents. The latter say he is an unrepentant cop-killer who deserves the death penalty. Prosecutors said they will appeal the decision.

The former mayor of York, Pa., and eight other white men must stand trial for the 1969 murder of a black woman during race riots in the city, a judge ruled. Rejecting defense arguments that too much time had passed for them to have a fair hearing, Bucks County Judge Edward Biester said information uncovered last year gives prosecutors a legitimate reason to reopen the case. The judge also declined to certify his decision to uphold the murder charges, which would have allowed defense attorneys to appeal his decision immediately.

Sept. 11 has been designated "Patriot Day" in honor of those killed in the terrorist strikes on the US. Legislation signed by President Bush calls for all federal agencies to fly the American flag at half-staff and for people to observe a moment of silence in honor of the more than 3,000 people who died.

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