GOP prepares to control Congress

WASHINGTON

President Bush and his party savored sweeping midterm election victories yesterday and began sketching an agenda for a new, Republican-controlled Congress. Minority House Democrats jockeyed for position in the event Rep. Richard Gephardt steps down as party leader.

“I’m excited to be able to be on offense,” said Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the once and future Senate majority leader. He said GOP priorities will include a new Department of Homeland Security as well as targeted tax cuts to help the economy. He added that Bush’s judicial nominees could expect speedier review.

Bush made no public remarks during the day, and aides said he wanted to avoid giving the appearance of gloating.

“There’s a lot more to do and the president looks forward to working with Democrats and Republicans to do it,” said his spokesman, Ari Fleischer.

Republicans were assured of 51 seats in the new Senate, a gain of two. Democrats had 48, including one independent. One race remained in doubt, in Louisiana, where Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu will face Republican Suzanne Terrell in a December runoff.

In the House, Republicans had 227 seats – a gain of four – and led for one more. Democrats won 203, and led for three. There was one independent.

U.S. ties up loose ends on Iraq resolution

UNITED NATIONS

The United States pushed for a quick U.N. vote yesterday on a revised Iraq resolution which threatens Saddam Hussein with “serious consequences,” while trying to ease concerns about setting off a new war.

But after eight weeks of intensive wrangling in the Security Council, and some major concessions by the Bush administration, France and Russia are still not satisfied.

French President Jacques Chirac called Russia’s Vladimir Putin yesterday to discuss the new text and both agreed that “ambiguities” that could be used to trigger an attack on Iraq must be removed, Chirac’s spokeswoman said.

Nonetheless, both leaders saw “many improvements” in the new U.S. proposal, Colonna said.

U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said the United States intends to put the draft resolution to a vote tomorrow and “deserves consensus support.”

If the resolution is adopted tomorrow, Iraq would have seven days to accept the terms. U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix said an advance team would be in Baghdad within 10 days of its acceptance.

U.S. debates reaction to N. Korea’s plans

WASHINGTON

The United States is seeking a common understanding with allies on whether to bar U.S. oil shipments to North Korea in response to Pyongyang’s plans to develop a uranium bomb, the State Department said yesterday.

Secretary of State Colin Powell had been planning to raise the issue with Japanese and South Korean officials in Seoul on Sunday but canceled the trip so he could focus on an Iraq resolution being debated by the U.N. Security Council.

Powell is dispatching Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly to Japan, South Korea and China to discuss oil shipments and a variety of other issues. Since 1994, the United States has been sending 500,000 tons of heavy oil to North Korea annually as part of a 1994 agreement.

At issue now is a shipment that is due to arrive in North Korea later this month.

Forecast favorable for Sharon, Likud

JERUSALEM

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s Likud Party is favored to emerge as Israel’s strongest faction in an abbreviated election campaign, and Sharon holds a slim edge over his main rival for party leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, according to polls published yesterday.

Israel’s political turmoil has been the focus this week, but there’s been no letup in Mideast violence. A Palestinian laborer shot and killed two Israelis, including his employer, in the Gaza Strip settlement of Slav yesterday before being gunned down by a security guard. The militant group Hamas claimed responsibility.

Despite a long rivalry with Sharon, former Prime Minister Netanyahu agreed to serve as foreign minister in Sharon’s caretaker government. Parliament approved the appointment in a 61-31 vote yesterday.

Fire on train claims lives of 12, injures 9

NANCY, France

A fire on an overnight train in eastern France filled a sleeping car with deadly smoke yesterday, killing 12 people – including five Americans from the same family – and driving panicked passengers to smash windows to jump to safety.

The train, like others in Europe, had no smoke detectors even though cigarette smoking is allowed in designated cars.

Fatal rail accidents are rare in France, where trains are known for speed, safety and efficiency. Accidents, however, are not unknown in Europe. A high-speed train derailed in Germany in 1998, killing 101 people.

Yesterday’s blaze, which also injured nine people, was initially blamed on an electrical short-circuit. But the French rail authority SNCF said that was premature and the cause was under investigation.

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