USA

John Roberts Jr., President Bush's nominee for the next chief justice of the US is expected to be confirmed by a vote of the full Senate Thursday and to take his oath of office. Bush may then announce his choice to fill the court's other vacancy, that of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. The White House said he has a handful of candidates in mind.

House majority leader Tom DeLay (R) and two political associates were indicted Wednesday by a Texas grand jury on charges of criminal conspiracy, a development that could force him to relinqush his leadership post. The action follows earlier indictments for financing violations by a state political action committee founded by DeLay. The lawmaker denies committing any crimes and has called the prosecution's tactics politically motivated.

New Orleans Police Superintendent Eddie Compass, whose department came in for heavy criticism as conditions in the city turned chaotic after hurricane Katrina, quit his post Tuesday. Compass gave no reason for leaving and neither he nor Mayor Ray Nagin (D), who appointed him three years ago, would say whether his resignation came because of political pressure. Nagin appointed an interim chief. In other hurricane-related developments:

• The New Orleans Police Department said about 250 officers who deserted in Katrina's aftermath could face disciplinary action.

• Government auditors pledged close review of no-bid contracts and the spending of federal employees as they carry out relief efforts.

• Bush raised the possibility of placing the Pentagon in charge of search-and-rescue efforts for natural disasters.

• An industry trade group buttressed Energy Department forecasts that disruptions to natural gas production could hike prices nationally by almost 50 percent this winter.

The Change to Win Coalition, a new labor federation made up of unions that broke with the AFL-CIO over the summer, convened its founding convention in St. Louis Tuesday. Seeking to revitalize the movement, the organization said it would work to unionize Wal-Mart stores, among other goals. The coalition represents 5.4 million workers.

The economy has been sending mixed signals, according to new data released Wednesday:

• Consumer confidence dipped more in the last month (from 105.5 to 86.6) than during any other one-month fall-off in the last 15 years, the Conference Board reported.

• New orders for durable goods rose 3.3 percent in August, but new-home sales fell 9.9 percent, the Commerce Department said.

• The American Bankers Association said overdue credit card payments in the last quarter reached 4.81 percent, the highest since record-keeping began in 1973.

Farzad Naroii, an Iranian national detained as he tried to enter the US at San Ysidro, Calif., was arrested Tuesday after admitting to being the "FedEx Bandit," the suspect in dozens of southern California bank robberies.

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