NAJAF, Iraq

U.S. troops reach outskirts of Najaf

A 2,500-strong U.S. force, backed by tanks and artillery, pushed
to the outskirts of the Shiite holy city of Najaf on yesterday for
a showdown with a radical cleric.

The standoff in the south came as a U.S. military helicopter
went down near Fallujah in the west. Three soldiers were wounded
and a Marine helping secure the site was killed by mortars, the
military said.

The string of kidnappings that has coincided with violence
around Fallujah and in the south this month continued. A French
journalist was reported abducted, and four Italians working as
private guards were missing and feared kidnapped.

An Associated Press tally shows that 22 were being held hostage,
while 35 others had been taken hostage and released.

Dan Senor, the spokesman for the U.S.-led administration, said
yesterday that about 40 foreign hostages from 12 countries were
being held by Iraqi insurgents, and that the FBI is investigating
the abductions. Among those held are three Japanese and truck
driver Thomas Hamill of Macon, Miss., whose captors had threatened
to kill them.

 

PROVIDENCE, R.I.

Visa cap could limit seasonal work force

Jody Dyer is worried that she won’t be able to rent all
the rooms in her inn this summer because there won’t be
enough workers to clean them.

The Inn at Mystic, in Mystic, Conn., is short 16 seasonal
employees due to a ceiling on a visa program that allows foreign
nationals with various skills to work in the United States for nine
months.

“We’ll be open but we won’t be to full
capacity,” Dyer said.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services cut off
applications for this temporary visa program, the H-2B visa, on
March 9 when the agency knew it would meet its annual limit of
66,000 foreign workers. With demand for workers surging, it was the
first time the agency turned away applicants before the end of a
fiscal year.

Now businesses from hotels in Rhode Island to the fishing
industry in Alaska are short-handed and struggling to fill
temporary jobs that local workers don’t want.

Pennie Beach, co-owner of the Basin Harbor Club in Vergennes,
Vt., said she’s missing “a crucial core” of her
65 housekeepers and food service workers.

 

BUDAPEST, Hungary

Hungarian police foil museum bombing

Hungarian police arrested a man of Palestinian descent yesterday
and suggested he was planning to bomb the country’s new
Holocaust museum during a visit by Israeli President Moshe
Katsav.

Two Syrians were detained for questioning. Israeli officials and
diplomats said earlier that three Arab suspects were arrested in
the Hungarian capital of Budapest on suspicion of planning to kill
Katsav. Senior law enforcement officials denied a link between
Katsav’s visit and the planned attack.

“There is no connection whatsoever between
yesterday’s official visit by the Israeli president and the
police action taken this morning,” National Police
Commissioner Laszlo Salgo said.

A senior Interior Ministry official, Tibor Pal, also said
Katsav’s presence in the Hungarian capital “has nothing
to do with the police action taken today.”

 

WASHINGTON

Poll: Balanced budget preferred to tax cuts

By almost a 2 to1 margin, Americans prefer balancing the
nation’s budget to cutting taxes, according to an Associated
Press poll, even though many believe their overall tax burden has
risen despite tax cuts over the past three years.

About six in 10, 61 percent, chose balancing the budget while 36
percent chose tax cuts when they were asked which was more
important, according to a poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos Public
Affairs.

As the nation’s tax deadline of April 15 approaches,
people’s lukewarm feeling about tax cuts may be influenced by
a belief that recent cuts have not helped them financially or
personally.

 

ATLANTA

CDC will stockpile flu shots for children

Caught off-guard last year by a flu vaccine shortage, the
government will begin stockpiling flu shots for the first time ever
and target them toward children.

“We were caught with our pants down,” Lance
Rodewald, head of immunization services with the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, said yesterday. “The pressure
on CDC to find vaccine was enormous.”

The government plans to spend $80 million over the next two
years to pay for the 4 million-dose stockpile, which will be set
aside for children up to 18 years old, said the CDC’s Stephen
Cochi.

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