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February 20, 2005

The World

Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister and billionaire construction magnate, was killed by a powerful car bomb as his motorcade wended through a posh seaside neighborhood that he helped erect over the ruins of civil war. At least nine people died along with Hariri, and more than 135 were wounded. Hariri resigned as prime minister last year amid a mounting political battle over Syria's longtime occupation of Lebanon, and his assassination raised fears of a dangerous escalation in tension over the 16,000 Syrian soldiers and intelligence agents who maintain a chokehold on Lebanese politics.

President Bush asked Congress for $81.9 billion to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns this year and to finance other U.S. efforts overseas, including aid to help countries rebuild from December's tsunami. If Congress approves his supplemental budget, as is likely, the proposal would push the total spent in efforts against terrorism beyond $300 billion.

In China, an explosion deep in a coal shaft killed 203 miners and left 12 more missing, the government said, in its worst reported mining disaster since communist rule began in 1949. The cause of the gas explosion, which went off 794 feet below the surface, was under investigation, state media said.

The Nation

Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan gave a qualified boost to President Bush's proposal for private Social Security retirement accounts but cautioned that implementing the plan could push interest rates higher. The accounts would do nothing to shore up Social Security, Greenspan told the Senate Banking Committee, as he urged lawmakers to fix the program, though that would require "many difficult choices."

The Bush administration announced creation of an FDA oversight board to monitor drugs once they are on the market and inform the public about emerging health risks. The Food and Drug Administration has been criticized for being slow to respond to safety concerns about drugs it has approved, and public trust in the agency has been shaken. Critics said the addition of a new oversight board was inadequate.

Verizon Communications Inc. said it would buy MCI Inc. for $6.7 billion, mating the nation's largest local telephone company and No. 2 long-distance provider in a deal demonstrating the depth of change in what was once a staid, regulated industry. Some consumer advocates said the deal could lead to higher prices and fewer competitive options for basic phone services.

The Region

Maurice Blackwell, the former priest of St. Edward Roman Catholic Church in West Baltimore, was convicted of molesting Dontee Stokes, a parish choirboy, who years later shot him.

State officials were warned by the company that began replacing the deck on the westbound Bay Bridge in 2002 that the bonding agent required under the project's specifications could fail - a prediction that came true.

Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos' family pulled out of a deal to buy the Rosecroft Raceway - a surprise move that track officials saw as a vote of no-confidence in the prospects for legislation allowing slot machine gambling at racetracks. The deal's last-minute collapse is a blow to the Prince George's County harness racing track, which has seen two other attempted purchases fall through in the past two years. It also represents a retreat by Angelos, one of the state's most influential figures, from the role he had been expected to play as a heavy lobbying presence in the push for legalized slots.

The Baltimore Sun vowed to continue fighting an order barring state employees from speaking with two of the newspaper's journalists, despite a decision from a federal judge dismissing the lawsuit the paper had brought against Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. In an eight-page opinion, U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr. said that The Sun was seeking special access beyond what is granted to the general public, and that the governor was within the law to deny that special access. Editor Timothy A. Franklin said The Sun was only seeking the same access to government officials that any ordinary citizen would receive.


"As I stand before you today, it is my sad duty to announce that it no longer is practical to conduct even an abbreviated season. Accordingly, I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-2005."

Gary Bettman,commissioner, announcing cancellation of the National Hockey League's season

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