USA

Unveiling a policy that would benefit Mexicans seeking work in the US, President Bush Wednesday is scheduled to meet with immigration activists to propose legal changes that would match willing US employers with foreign workers, administration officials said. Latino voters could prove key in the 2004 election in states such as California and Florida. While welcoming "serious" proposals, those that are "more posture than substance will be dismissed as election-year antics," said the National Immigration Forum, an advocacy group.

In his latest high-profile endorsement, perceived Democratic presidential front- runner Howard Dean won the backing of former US Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey, who ran for the party's nomination in 2000. At a rally in Manchester, N.H., Bradley called Dean's campaign "one of the best things to happen to American democracy in decades." Meanwhile, rival candidate Wesley Clark unveiled a tax-reform plan Monday that's designed to help families with children, and Sen. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts proposed measures to stem the flow of US jobs overseas.

Ninety percent of Roman Catholic dioceses in the US are fully complying with a mandatory policy to prevent the sexual abuse of children by priests, a review found. The study was commissioned by bishops, with ex-senior FBI agent Kathleen McChesney overseeing the investigation. The archdioceses of New York; Anchorage, Alaska; and Omaha, Neb., were among those ruled not in compliance. Victim advocacy groups criticized the findings, however, noting that bishops recommended whom auditors should interview and were not required to turn over the personnel files of priests.

Matching the upturn in the US economy, new-car and -truck sales rose toward the end of last year, but not by enough to keep them from their lowest total since 1998. Moreover, the automaker with the best 2003 record was Japan's Toyota, which passed Ford and Chevrolet for the first time as the top-selling vehicle brand in the US. For the year, Ford reported a 4.6 percent drop in sales, Chrysler 3.5 percent, and General Motors 2.4 percent - all despite offering consumers record incentive programs. In all, Americans bought 16.7 million new cars and trucks in 2003, although industry analysts said the Big Three US automakers have enough new models in the pipeline to raise hopes for improved sales in 2004.

Hundreds of potential jurors for the trial of style maven Martha Stewart filled out questionnaires at the federal courthouse in New York. Stewart and her former stockbroker are accused of making false and misleading statements regarding her sale of stock in biotech firm ImClone the day before its value plunged.

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