USA

A ceremony to begin construction on the Freedom Tower, the centerpiece of plans to replace the former World Trade Center, was held amid Independence Day celebrations in New York. Hundreds of people, among them family members of victims killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, gathered as a 20-ton cornerstone was positioned for the 1,776-foot skyscraper, which will be the world's tallest when completed in 2009.

Democratic presidential hopeful John Kerry avoided talk about a running mate during a three-day Midwestern tour in which he campaigned with Gov. Tom Vilsack in Iowa. Vilsack is one of several Democrats thought to be a potential vice presidential candidate. Others are US Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, US Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri, and North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. Kerry is expected to announce his running mate before the Democratic convention opens July 26.

Members of kidnapped Marine Cpl. Wassef Ali Hassoun's family awaited word Monday in Utah about his status following conflicting weekend accounts. On Saturday the Lebanese Foreign Ministry reported that an Iraqi militant group claimed to have beheaded Hassoun, who is of Lebanese descent. But the next day the group said it never issued such a statement, leaving it unclear whether Hassoun, who has been absent since June 20, was killed by another group or was still alive.

In Philadelphia, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was honored July 4 for his leadership in the pursuit of freedom. Mayor John Street (D) presented the city's Liberty Medal to Karzai, who plans to use the $100,000 award that accompanies it to support Afghan orphans.

Gov. Ed Rendell (R) of Pennsylvania was expected to sign a bill legalizing slot-machine gambling across the state. The 61,000 machines, more than those in any other state except Nevada, would be placed mostly at racetracks. The plan is for revenues from them to reduce property taxes.

Roger Federer of Switzerland defended his Wimbledon tennis title Sunday, defeating American Andy Roddick 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 6-4, while Russian teenager Maria Sharapova upset Serena Williams of the US 6-1, 6-4 for her first major crown. In golf, Meg Mallon shot the best finishing round in the 59-year history of the Women's Open, a six-under-par 65 in South Hadley, Mass. Mallon also won in 1991.

A wildfire that has spread over 300,000 acres 30 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, dissipated Sunday as cool, humid weather moved in. But in Arizona, fires burned less than a mile from one of the world's most powerful optical instruments at the Mount Graham Observatory. A fire-management official called the site "defendable."

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