In the deadliest US air accident in nearly 14 months, a commuter plane with 21 people aboard crashed into a maintenance hanger yesterday, killing everyone aboard, authorities said. The Beech 1900 twin-engine turboprop crashed as it was taking off in clear, windy weather from Charlotte-Douglas International Airport in North Carolina. The 19 passengers and two crew members were on Air Midwest Flight 5481 heading to Greenville-Spartanburg. The cause of the crash wasn't clear, but the FBI said there was no indication of terrorism.

In a tactical switch, the Bush administration has opened the door to dialogue with North Korea, but said Pyongyang should not expect US incentives, such as new financial aid, to drop its nuclear programs. At press time, North Korea had not responded. The offer should not be seen as "a negotiation to give them any inducements, when previous inducements that were given to them were disobeyed," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Still, the unconditional offer is a softening of the administration's previous hard-line policy.

President Bush's bolder-than-expected $674 billion economic stimulus plan immediately set off a major debate in Washington over how best to improve the struggling US economy. Bush's plan would scrap the taxes investors pay on dividends and speed up income-tax reductions. Democrats denounced it as a windfall for the wealthy that would provide no immediate help to the economy and would swell the budget deficit. Most economists applauded Bush's provisions for middle-class tax relief, including an increase in the tax credit for children and acceleration of relief from the so-called marriage penalty. But they questioned the plan's heavy reliance on dividend-tax elimination and the small amount it earmarks to states.

President Bush renominated appellate-court nominees Charles Pickering of Mississippi and Priscilla Owen of Texas, both rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate last year. Some pundits had doubted that Pickering, who was accused of being racially insensitive by Democrats, would be renominated after Sen. Trent Lott's racially insensitive remarks last month. Senate Democrats pledged to do all they could to keep Pickering from getting a seat on the 5th US Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.

Blacks charged with killing whites are much more likely to face potential death sentences, a Maryland study on capital punishment found. Death-penalty opponents seized on the findings, saying lawmakers should extend the state's moratorium on execution while they debate the law and review the report. Gov. Parris Glendening had imposed the moratorium while the study was being completed, but Gov.-elect Robert Ehrlich has promised to lift it when he takes office next week.

A couple with more than 15,000 artifacts from slavery through the civil rights era chose Mobile, Ala., as the site of a museum for their collection. The museum could prove "a real mecca" for learning about Southern history, said history professor Howard Jones.

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