USA

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved over-the- counter sales of Barr Pharmaceuticals' morning-after pill, Plan B, capping a contentious three-year effort to ease access to emergency contraceptives. Girls 17 and younger still need a doctor's note to buy the pills. After Thursday's announcement, Democratic Sens. Patty Murray of Washington and Hillary Clinton of New York said they have dropped their objections to President Bush's pick to head the FDA, acting commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach.

Sales of new homes dropped by 4.3 percent last month, the largest amount since February, the Commerce Department reported Thursday. Analysts expect home sales to drop by some 10 percent this year.

The Bush administration says it will not make any Medicare reimbursements to hospitals, doctors, and scores of other providers during the last nine days of the current budget year, from Sept. 22-30. Congress ordered the hold to move $5.2 billion in Medicare expenses from this year's budget to next year's. For most hospitals, the hold will serve more as a frustration than a financial strain, experts say.

Rite Aid Corp., the nation's third largest drugstore chain, said Thursday it will purchase the US Eckerd and Brooks operations from Canadian firm Jean Coutu Group Inc. for about $2.55 billion. The deal, which includes 1,858 stores in 18 states, will make Rite Aid the largest drugstore chain operator on the East Coast.

Fannie Mae, the government-sponsored mortgage lending giant, said Thursday it has been informed by federal prosecutors it will not face criminal charges after a two-year investigation into accounting irregularities.

Few students in Gary, Ind., showed up for the first day of school Wednesday as hundreds of striking teachers walked picket lines carrying signs. Negotiators for the 16,000-student Gary school district and the teachers' union resumed talks Wednesday night. Picketers, such as Thomas Newsome and Riley Jones, who have not had a contract since 2004, are holding out for a pay increase and stronger insurance package.

The US spaceship that NASA hopes will carry astronauts back to the moon will be called Orion, the agency confirmed Wednesday. Named after the easily identifiable constellation, Orion is scheduled to take its first manned flight to the Moon no later than 2020.

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