USA

In an opening round of spirited election-year rhetoric, President Bush strongly defended his $1.35 trillion, 10-year tax cut in California Saturday, challenging Democrats "when they say raising taxes will help the country recover." Senate majority leader Tom Daschle immediately fired back, saying in Washington, "No amount of hot rhetoric will get the economy back on track." Analysts say the high-decibel exchange signals a re-emergence of domestic issues as control of both houses of Congress hangs in the balance at the polls in November. (Story, page 1.)

US military aircraft scrambled to intercept a small private airplane flown by a 15-year-old student pilot, but could not prevent it from crashing into a Tampa, Fla., skyscraper late Saturday. The pilot, Charles Bishop, was killed but there were no other casualties. Terrorism was quickly ruled out, but investigators are baffled by the youngster's motive and how he could fly - without authorization - through restricted airspace over MacDill Air Force Base. That's where US Central Command, which is directing the war in Afghanistan, is located. Above, the tail section of the Cessna is seen hanging from the Bank of America tower.

State Farm Insurance Co. has agreed to a $100 million settlement that involves paying as many as 700,000 Georgia Motorists for the lost value of damaged cars. The settlement ends a class-action lawsuit filed two years ago in which Georgia policyholders contended their vehicles were worth less after a wreck, no matter how well they were repaired. State Farm, based in Bloomington, Ill., had claimed that properly repaired cars did not diminish in value.

California lawmakers today kick off a special legislative session aimed at plugging an estimated $12 billion budget hole. The session, which begins before Gov. Gray Davis unveils his 2002-2003 spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1, could also present lawmakers with some hard political choices, such as cutting vital programs and services or hiking taxes. California's financial woes come after a year in which it weathered an energy crisis, a dot-com nosedive, and the steepest one-year drop in revenues since World War II.

Fantasy spectacle "Lord of the Rings" led winners at the debut of the American Film Institute (AFI) awards, scooping three prizes at a ceremony marred by a phalanx of absent winners. The celluloid version of the dark Middle Earth of J.R.R. Tolkien won the AFI movie-of the-year-title, as well as kudos for production designer and digital artist of the year. Denzel Washington won best actor for his role in "Training Day," while Sissy Spacek was named best actress for her role in the drama "In the Bedroom."

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