USA

Former Enron chief executive Jeffrey Skilling denied lying "to Congress or anyone else" by claiming he was unaware of the energy trader's dire financial straights or the complex partnerships used to hide them. In an appearance before the Senate Commerce Committee, Skilling (above), said he had "nothing to hide" and told the panel he relied on company accountants. Enron vice president Sherron Watkins, who also appeared at the hearing, laid the collapse at the feet of another former CEO, Kenneth Lay, saying he failed "to recognize or accept that the company had manipulated its financial statements."

A Mideast peace proposal put forward by Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Abdullah was welcomed by President Bush. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Bush telephoned Abdullah, the Saudi Foreign Minister, to express interest in the plan. It would offer recognition, trade, and security to Israel in return for handing over control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and part of Jerusalem to the Palestinians.

Despite months of questioning, none of the 500 detainees from the war in Afghanistan are "likely candidates" for military tribunals, the Defense Department said. So far, FBI, CIA, and other interrogators have focused on gathering intelligence from the captives, spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said, adding that guidelines for the tribunals are still being worked out. (Related editorial, page 8.)

A Pentagon report, meanwhile, estimated that spending on the Afghan conflict and domestic security could reach $30 billion this fiscal year. That's $12.6 billion less than Bush and Congress allotted. The president is expected to ask for additional Pentagon funding next month, but the amount hasn't been decided yet.

Market watchers will be listening closely for hints on US monetary policy when Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Green- span testifies before the House Financial Services Committee today. The central bank cut key interest rates 11 times last year in an effort to revive the economy, which has lately shown signs of slow recovery.

The neighbor of a missing 7-year-old girl was to be arraigned for her murder, after the San Diego County district attorney concluded Danielle van Dam is dead. Prosecutors said they'd file charges that allow them to seek the death penalty against David Westerfield, who was arrested Friday in the Feb. 1 disappearance.

Teenage drinkers account for one-quarter of all alcohol consumed in the US, according to a report by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at New York's Columbia University. Parents often unwittingly encourage teen drinking, researchers said, by viewing it as a "rite of passage" for young adults.

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