USA

State mediators said Thursday that the leaders of New York's striking transit workers had agreed to direct their members to return to work while both union and city authorities resume negotiations on a contract. Some 34,000 bus and subway workers walked off the job Tuesday after contract talks broke down over pay, healthcare, and pensions. City officials said it could take 12 to 24 hours for full service to resume on the subway and bus system that normally carries 7 million passengers a day. State law prohibits public-sector employees from striking, and a court is fining the union $1 million a day for the duration of the strike. For their part, the strikers face the loss of two days' pay for each day they remain idle.

In hopes of eventually crafting a consensus bill, the Republican- led Senate voted Wednesday to extend key provisions of the USA Patriot Act, which were to expire at the end of the year, for six months. The action still must be approved by the House.

The investigation of a fatal seaplane crash off Miami Beach earlier this week has turned up a major clue: "fatigue cracks" in the connection between the fuselage and the right wing, which broke away shortly after takeoff, the National Transportation Safety Board announced.

The University of California, operator of the federal government's Los Alamos (N.M.) National Laboratory since it was created in 1943, will continue for at least seven more years, the Energy Department announced Wednesday. The contract was put out to bid for the first time after a string of security lapses.

Two more rings have been discovered around the planet Uranus - the first since a Voyager 2 flyby nearly two decades ago, scientists said of a finding made at the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence Institute in Mountain View, Calif. The rings bring the total number to 13.

A federal jury in Seattle decided Wednesday that the Boeing Co. did not racially discriminate against 4,200 salaried minority employees.

The US population grew 0.9 percent in 2005 to about 296.4 million people, according to estimates released Thursday by the Census Bureau. For the 19th straight year, Nevada's growth topped that of any other state. The other fastest growing states: Arizona, Idaho, Florida, and Utah.

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