USA

Alleged Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui was due to enter his plea – guilty or not guilty – before a federal court Thursday. In Alexandria, Va., District Judge Leonie Brinkema gave him a week to reconsider, after he tried to plead guilty July 18. Four of six conspiracy charges against the French national are capital offenses. If Moussaoui does plead guilty, a jury would convene to consider whether he should be sentenced to death.

Despite a "disconnect" with Wall Street, the economy is fundamentally sound, Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill said in a speech to the National Association of Manufacturers in Washington. O'Neill said he smiled at Wednesday's almost 500-point jump in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which followed days of steep market declines, and predicted economic growth would reach up to 3.5 percent by the end of the year.

In new economic data, the Employment Cost Index, a gauge of worker pay and benefits, rose 1.0 percent in the second quarter, the Labor Department reported. That was slightly higher than analysts expected. But the Commerce Department said factory orders for durable goods – items meant to last three years or more – fell 3.8 percent in June. Many analysts had anticipated an increase.

Rescue efforts were under way for nine coal miners trapped in a flooded shaft, about 55 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. Workers reported hearing tapping Thursday morning at the Quecreek Mine. The miners were digging 300 feet underground when they apparently hit an abandoned and unmarked mine filled with water.

"Go ahead and expel me," US Rep. James Traficant (D) of Ohio told House lawmakers, who did just that late Wednesday. By a 420-to-1 vote, they ejected the nine-term congressman, who has been convicted of bribery, racketeering, and tax evasion. The lone vote in Traficant's favor was by controversial Rep. Gary Condit (D) of California.

Fire crews were trying to contain a 55,000-acre blaze in California's Giant Seqouia National Monument that was burning within two miles of the Trail of 100 Giants. The trees are among the tallest and oldest on Earth. A female camper faces felony charges for setting what authorities said appeared to be a cooking fire that got out of control. Above, a Forest Service leader directs the crew's efforts.

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