USA

Seeking to boost congressional support for a possible war with Iraq a day after his address to the UN, Secretary of State Powell was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Congress has granted President Bush authority to decide when, and if, to launch an attack, but a number of Democrats complain that his administration still hasn't proven its contention that Iraq is an imminent threat.

Announcing the arrest of two people for theft of debris from the shuttle Columbia, authorities in Texas said other souvenir hunters have until 5 p.m. Friday to turn in wreckage or face prosecution. Recovery teams have collected more than 12,000 items, but so far haven't found high-priority pieces of the left wing and thermal tiles. Damage by foam insulation has largely been ruled out as the cause of Saturday's breakup, shuttle program manager Ron Dittemore said. Among other theories, he said, are damage by orbiting space debris and premature firing of explosives that are part of the shuttle landing gear.

The productivity of US workers fell at annual rate of 0.2 percent over the last three months of 2002, the Labor Department reported. The drop in productivity - output per work hour - was the biggest since the first quarter of 2001, as the economy slid into recession. The New York Times reported, meanwhile, that the US is experiencing the worst hiring slump in two decades, with more than 2 million jobs lost since the latest recession.

A suspected act of sabotage cut long-distance telephone service to 400,000 people in Puerto Rico. Phone company Telefonica said fiber-optic cables in a San Juan suburb had been severed, and offered a $25,000 reward for information. The disruption occurred as one of its unions is preparing to strike amid stalled negotiations on a new contract. The Independent Union of Telephone Employees denied any links to the incident.

For the first time in 150 years, Hispanic births made up more than half of California's total, a new study has concluded. The UCLA Center for the Study of Latino Health and Culture reviewed birth certificates from July to September, 2001, and found 50.2 percent of children born in the state were Hispanic. Last month, the Census Bureau reported Hispanics have overtaken blacks as the nation's largest minority group.

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