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News Briefs

Portugal Lights Its Own Beacon of Freedom


Oleg Bartkiv gave up his job as a doctor’s assistant in Ukraine to come here for a job paving roads. It hasn’t been easy, but he feels that he’s on the way to a better life.

“I want to see the whole world, not just Ukraine,” the 24-year-old said. “I want to see the United States and Canada most of all. It’s my dream.”

Bartkiv may well make that dream come true: He’s one of about 90,000 people who have already benefited from a new Portuguese immigration law that enables workers who entered the country illegally or on tourist visas to legalize their status.

As long as he keeps on working, he can extend his stay indefinitely and eventually obtain permanent residence or Portuguese citizenship. That in turn would open doors to work elsewhere on the continent and travel freely in the world because of European Union rules on free movement of labor and the generally high wages and minimal visa hassles that Western Europeans enjoy.

The law, which took effect in January, is the European Union’s most liberal in terms of granting legal status to workers who are in the country without proper documents. Its enactment marks Portugal’s transformation from a poor country that for decades was a major exporter of labor to what has become one of Europe’s faster-growing economies, with a strong demand for immigrant labor.

Census data released last month showed that in the past decade, immigrants exceeded emigrants by 361,100. That accounted for 80 percent of the growth that brought Portugal’s population to 10.3 million.

Glut of Used Vehicles Depresses Prices


Used car dealer David Cooper figured on an easy sale after rolling a fire engine red, low mileage 1997 Mustang convertible onto his lot in Los Angeles. Yet even after slashing the price three times, from $13,900 to $10,900, he found no takers.

So last week he finally gave up and shipped the Mustang off to a car auction, the equivalent of sending an old nag to the glue factory. “The thing would not move,” he lamented.

As Cooper now knows only too well, the values of used cars and light trucks have stumbled lately. A slowing economy and the incentives that auto manufacturers are lavishing on new-car buyers have depressed prices in the used-vehicle market. Industry analysts say the downward pressure on prices is especially intense among used cars and trucks that are three years old or newer, thanks to millions of available late-model vehicles now coming off leases.

For consumers buying cars or trucks, the trend has yielded bargains. But for other sectors of the economy it is costly. Major auto lenders, as well as some sellers -- including consumers who are counting on good trade-in prices -- are being hurt by falling used car values.

Bank of America this month emerged as one of the latest casualties, announcing that it would exit the auto leasing business after taking write-downs of $683 million. Like a number of financial institutions, it crafted lease deals in the late 1990s based on estimated car resale values that proved far too optimistic.

Climbing Jackpot Brings Out Dreamers


The dreamers are back, lining up outside liquor stores and mini-marts, hoping to pick the numbers that would let them pay off debts, give comfort to strangers, lounge in exotic countries.

They came Friday from across the area and from all points of the socioeconomic compass to play Powerball for at least a part of the $280 million jackpot that would give their fantasies form. Players in the District of Columbia joined those in 21 states across the country, from Oregon to Louisiana to New Hampshire. About 200 million Powerball tickets have been sold since Thursday -- almost one for every person in the country.

The sales and prize amount are the second biggest in Powerball history. About 210 million tickets were sold in the summer of 1998, when the jackpot was $296 million, a record amount that went to a group of 13 factory workers and their families in the Midwest. The biggest lottery jackpot in the United States was a $363 million prize in the multistate The Big Game won by two families, also from the Midwest, in May 2000.

For the millions who will not be as lucky, the chance to let their fantasies soar until the drawing one minute before 11 Saturday night justified the money they shelled out and their hour-long wait.

Norway Celebrates Prince’s Unorthodox Marriage


Crown Prince Haakon of Norway married a former wild child and single mother Saturday, elevating Scandinavia’s notoriously liberal lifestyle to the royal palace.

In nationally televised nuptials at Oslo Cathedral that seemed to undermine every mother’s warning about the costs of a bad reputation, Haakon and Mette-Marit Tjessem Hoiby held their countrymen spellbound as they exchanged rings and vows, the groom radiant and the bride in tears.

“You have not chosen the easiest path, but love has triumphed,” Oslo Bishop Gunnar Staalseth told the couple as 300 guests and millions of TV viewers listened. That brought a glistening to the eyes of the bride, which moments later were gushing as the bishop praised her devotion as a single mother and her courage in “starting a new chapter by turning over a new page.”