USA

Saying it's "an issue of vital importance to senior citizens," President Bush urged House and Senate negotiators to work quickly to resolve differences over a Medicare prescription-drug benefit Saturday in his weekly radio address. Lawmakers approved separate measures early Friday but face an uphill task in crafting a version acceptable to both Republicans and Democrats, who contend that the GOP-backed plan will jeopardize Medicare by forcing it to compete against private health plans. Bush is expected to continue rallying for passage Monday in Miami, while attending fund-raising events for his reelection campaign.

Courting votes in the Hispanic community, six Democratic presidential rivals took turns criticizing - at times in Spanish - Bush's performance on immigration, tax cuts, and the economy Saturday at a convention in Phoenix of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials. "We need jobs and opportunity again, and that will only come with a new president," asserted Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont. Hispanics comprise the largest US minority group and were a key constituency for Bush in the 2000 election.

An estimated 735,000 people rushed to register as a new national "do not call" program aimed at telemarketers opened Friday. The tally might have gone even higher, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said, but it's Internet sign-up site was slowed by "extraordinary" traffic. The registry, designed to block 80 percent of sales calls, is slated to go into effect Oct. 1. The telemarketing industry is suing the FTC, contending that the program violates free-speech rights. (Story, page 1.)

A porch packed with as many as 50 partygoers collapsed and fell three stories in Chicago, killing 12 people and injuring 35 others early Sunday. "It was simply a case of too many people in a small space," said Fire Commissioner James Joyce. The accident occurred in the city's upscale North Side neighborhood near De Paul University, and most of the victims reportedly were in their early 20s.

Strom Thurmond (R), who died Thursday in his home town of Edgefield, S.C., was the longest-serving senator in US history. He left office five months ago after 48 continuous years. After decades as a firm segregationist, he later reversed course and, in 1971, became the first member of Congress from a Southern state to hire a black aide. (Story, page 2; editorial, page 8.)

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