USA

To ward against a potential bioterror threat, President Bush is to announce plans Friday to vaccinate a half-million medical and emergency workers, and 500,000 military personnel, against smallpox starting in January. The vaccine would be available to the public on a voluntary basis in 2004, although medical professionals have warned of possible serious side effects.

The Bush administration is investigating Iraq's possible sale of a chemical weapon to a militant group linked to Al Qaeda, the Washington Post reported. Government analysts received a "credible report" that in the past two months, a courier traveling through Turkey delivered a nerve agent to Asbat al-Ansar, a Lebanon-based group funded by Al Qaeda, the Post said. Iraq's chief liaison with UN weapons inspectors, Lt. Gen. Hossam Mohammed Amin, dismissed the report as "a ridiculous assumption from the American administration." Iraq maintains it has no weapons of mass destruction and denies any dealings with terrorists.

All five US soldiers on board were reported killed when their helicopter crashed in central Honduras. An Army spokesman said the Black Hawk helicopter, based at Soto Cano Air Force Base in Palmerola, was returning from a training mission when it went down Wednesday night.

Retail sales rose 0.4 percent last month, the biggest increase since August, the Commerce Department reported. The rise was in line with analysts' expectations and reinforced perceptions that the economy isn't likely to fall back into recession. Another Commerce Department report found the current account deficit, the broadest measure of trade activity, fell to $127 billion in the third quarter.

Saying the Boston Archdiocese is in "a state of spiritual and moral crisis," an influential Roman Catholic lay group, Voice of the Faithful, joined mounting calls for Cardinal Bernard Law to resign over his handling of the clergy sex-abuse scandal. Law was in Rome to meet with Pope John Paul II, who would have to approve any leadership change..

New York is bracing for a possible transit strike that could force 7 million commuters to find an alternative way to work Monday. The union representing bus and subway workers OK'd a walkout as negotiations with the Metropolitan Transit Authority stalled over wages. Their contract expires Sunday.

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