A Cuban exile called "the most famous and cruel terrorist of the Western Hemisphere" by Fidel Castro has applied for asylum in the US, a government official said Monday. The Bush administration said it could not confirm the whereabouts of Luis Posada Carriles, who reportedly slipped into south Florida several weeks ago and is a suspect in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban passenger plane that killed 73 people. Carriles, a former senior officer of the Venezuelan intelligence service, has denied involvement in the bombing. Castro has repeatedly called for Posada's extradition to Venezuela, but a State Department spokesman said no extradition request from Venezuela for him has been received and that it has no interest in allowing anyone with a criminal background to enter the US.

A test to neutralize the deadly nerve agent VX was carried out successfully by Army contractors in Newport, Ind., last week, military officials said Monday. The results pave the way for the Newport Chemical Depot to begin processing 250,000 gallons of VX. The agent, scientists say, is so potent that a single droplet can be lethal. The hazardous liquid is stored in 1,600 hardened steel containers.

In a unanimous ruling, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Sierra Club and Judicial Watch, two private special interest groups that sued Vice President Cheney, failed to establish that the federal government had a legal duty to produce documents detailing his contacts with business executives and lobbyists.

Mayor James West (R) of Spokane, Wash., said Monday he will take a leave of absence "for a few weeks" after officials seized a city computer from his home to investigate whether he used it to illegally solicit sex on gay websites. West, a strong opponent of gay rights, said he had explored homosexual relationships online but had not broken the law.

The Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers, the NBA teams whose involvement in an ugly November brawl led to criminal charges and lengthy suspensions, met again Monday night in the same arena, but without incident. The Pacers were jeered loudly, however, as the Pistons won the first game of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, 96-81.

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