USA

Angry reaction to the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals 2-to-1 ruling that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional was flowing from every corner of the nation. Within hours, the Senate voted 99-0 on a resolution calling for the decision to be overturned. House members joined on the Capitol steps to recite the pledge and were expected to adopt their own resolution as the Monitor went to press. Legal scholars predicted the decision would be overturned by the Supreme Court, if the full Ninth Circuit does not reverse itself. (Story, page 4.)

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Cleveland's school voucher program is constitutional. The ruling, seen as a victory for "school choice" supporters, continues the high court's recent pattern of mandating equal treatment for religious organizations or ideas, legal analysts said. (Story, page 1; editorial, page 10.)

President Bush ratcheted up the pressure on Palestinians to dump Yasser Arafat. At the Group of Eight conference in Alberta, Canada, he threatened to withhold future US aid if Palestinians fail to vote in new leaders in elections they've set for January. Aides explained that Bush was not referring to current humanitarian aid -- such as food or housing assistance-- but to potential assistance to developing Palestinian institutions. Bush said he'd use "diplomatic pressure" to convince the Palestinians to abandon terrorism, but said: "I'm never ruling out military. All options are available."

The Department of Transportation and Amtrak's board of directers agreed "in principle" to a plan that will help resolve the passenger rail service's short-term financial crisis and keep it running through the summer. Amtrak is currently $4 billion in debt and the Bush administration has said it wants to see reforms.

The cost of mailing a letter in the US is to rise to 37 cents Sunday, under an increase approved in February by the independent Postal Rate Commission. Officials say the hike is necessary for the cash-strapped Postal Service, which lost $1.6 billion last year, not counting the cost of dealing with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax scare.

For the first time, a Chinese national, 7-foot, 5-inch Yao Ming, was the No. 1 pick in the National Basketball Association player draft. Yao, who did not attend the selection process, was chosen by the Houston Rockets. He called the pick "a new start in my basketball life."

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