USA

President Bush on Thursday signed a 25-year extension to the historic Voting Rights Act, which opened polls to millions of blacks in 1965 by outlawing racist voting practices. Bush also authorized a bill Thursday establishing a national Internet database designed to let law enforcement and communities know where convicted sex offenders live and work. Both are part of a series of high-profile ceremonies Bush is holding to sign popular bills into law in this election year.

The Chicago City Council dismissed warnings from Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and approved an ordinance that makes the city the biggest in the nation to require companies with more than $1 billion in annual sales and stores of at least 90,000 square feet to pay a minimum wage of $10 an hour by mid-2010, plus $3 an hour in benefits. Mayor Richard Daley said the proposal would drive away jobs and needed development from poor neighborhoods.

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority head Matthew Amorello, under fire since collapsing ceiling panels killed a motorist in a Boston Big Dig highway tunnel, agreed to resign Thursday after weeks of pressure from the governor. He will step down Aug. 15.

Japan partially reopened its market to US beef imports Thursday after a six-month ban. The long-time No. 1 foreign market for American beef, importing $1.4 billion worth in 2003, has continually opened and closed its borders to US beef since a case of mad cow disease was confirmed in Washington State in December of that year.

Sales of new homes fell 3 percent in June, the largest drop in four months, while the number of unsold homes climbed to a record high, providing further evidence that the once-booming house sector is slowing.

The company behind "Kazaa," software that allowed millions of users to download music and movies over the Internet, agreed to pay more the $115 million to the entertainment industry to settle global piracy lawsuits. Sharman Networks Ltd. has reportedly already paid nearly all the money to the entertainment industry, and promised to "use all reasonable means" to discourage future online piracy.

Hoping to better secure southern California against attacks, federal and local law enforcement agencies have banded together to create a first of its kind command center to improve intelligence sharing on terrorist threats.

Farmers in Newport, Vt., said they'd rather face $1,000 fines or destroy their animals than register with the state Agriculture Agency. Vermont wants to track farms that have livestock and assemble a list to be used if there is a disease outbreak. Farmers told the agency in hearings on the plan that they see it as excess government control.

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