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News Briefs

Iraq Election Returns Show Low Turnout in Sunni Heartland

The first election returns from the Sunni majority heartland north of Baghdad showed Monday that a low Sunni turnout in Saddam Hussein’s home province has given a lead in the voting there to a Shiite political alliance led by the southern clerics who were among Saddam’s most bitter enemies.

The vote count for the province, which is still incomplete, confirmed that a Sunni boycott of the elections on Jan. 30 kept most Sunnis from the polls, allowing relatively small populations of Shiites and Kurds to dominate. Based on the results so far, it seems certain that Sunnis, who account for about 20 percent of Iraq’s 28 million people, will have scant representation in the transitional national assembly.

The Sunni rejection of the political process was underscored by two suicide bombings on Iraqi police targets on Monday that killed at least 27 people in Mosul and Baquba, Sunni insurgent strongholds, and wounded at least 23, police officials in each city said.

In Baquba, 15 people, some of them lining up to apply to become policemen, were killed when two men in a car loaded with explosives tried to ram into the provincial police headquarters but detonated against a concrete barrier.

Fight on Amendment Crucial To Bill Overhauling Lawsuits

The Senate began debate on Monday on a measure that would sharply limit the role of the states in class actions, the first in a series of proposals endorsed by President Bush to overhaul the nation’s civil liability system.

The legislation gives federal courts the authority to hear class actions in which the money at issue exceeds $5 million, and a single member of the class is from a different state than the defendant. With passage of the legislation in the Senate all but assured, the major issue for lawmakers is the extent to which the sweep of the measure will be limited through amendments to be offered this week by Democrats.

Of the six amendments that were being floated on Monday, the most contentious would permit federal judges to select a state law to apply in large multistate class actions. Under current law, federal judges routinely reject cases where several differing state laws apply.

A Closer Look at Saturn’s Hot Spot

More than shimmering rings and a smoggy moon the size of a planet set Saturn apart in the solar system. It also has an unusual hot spot at the tip of its south pole.

Astronomers using the Keck Observatory in Hawaii reported last week that new infrared images showed the warmest temperatures on Saturn existed in the southern polar region, particularly at a compact hot spot at the pole. They said the warm polar vortex, a large-scale weather system like an atmospheric whirlpool, was unlike anything ever observed in the sun’s family of planets.

Polar vortices are found on Earth, Jupiter, Mars and Venus, but they are colder than their surroundings. On Earth, the Arctic polar vortex is located over eastern North America in Canada and carries cold air to the northern Plains.

A polar vortex over Antarctica traps air and is responsible for a gaping hole there in the Earth’s protective ozone layer in the upper atmosphere.