USA

Hundreds of citizens of Macon, Miss., gathered Sunday night to celebrate the escape of Thomas Hamill, the civilian contractor who was kidnapped by Iraqi insurgents April 9 during an attack on his supply convoy. Kellie Hamill was to leave Monday to visit her husband in Germany, where he was taken to a military hospital for a checkup. Other than a gunshot wound to one arm Hamill was in good health, said Army Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt.

The White House announced it still supports Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's strategy for withdrawing troops and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and would consult with his government on "how to move forward." The plan was overwhelmingly rejected by Sharon's Likud movement, although analysts said the impact was lessened by a low turnout.

After a day of grass-roots campaigning in Michigan, President Bush is scheduled to move on to Ohio Tuesday. An eight-bus convoy will take him from the Toledo suburb of Maumee to Cincinnati, where - in his 2000 campaign - he finished a five-state tour. The trip ushers in an intense new phase in his struggle against Democratic challenger John Kerry. Meanwhile, Kerry prepared to launch a beefed-up, $25 million ad campaign this week in 17 battleground states, with new, lengthier 60-second spots focusing on his public service record and positions on major issues.

A heat wave brought record temperatures Sunday to Southern California, where firefighters responded to several brush fires and emergency workers assisted people overcome by the heat at a Cinco de Mayo celebration in Los Angeles. The downtown temperature there reached 97 degrees F. The heat, along with low rainfall, a beetle infestation, and memories of last fall's massive wildfires, have led to an official declaration of fire season weeks early.

Reports of hate crimes and harassment of Muslims increased significantly last year in the US, according to statistics compiled by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The organization, which presented its findings at a news conference Monday in Washington, said it received 1,019 claims of attacks or discrimination against Muslims in 2003, compared to 602 in 2002. The advocacy group cautioned that the jump partly reflected the opening of more regional offices.

Although their three-year basic agreement expired Sunday, Hollywood screenwriters decided to adjourn negotiations with the studios on a new contract until Wednesday. The main issues involve the payment of residuals on DVD sales, the studios' contribution to healthcare funds, and jurisdiction over such areas as the booming "reality" TV genre.

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