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Briefs (left)

Former White House
Budget Official Arrested

By Philip Shenon and Anne E. Kornblut

A senior White House budget official who resigned abruptly last week was arrested Monday on charges of lying to investigators and obstructing a federal inquiry involving Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist who has been under scrutiny by the Justice Department for more than a year.

The arrest of the official, David H. Safavian, head of procurement policy at the Office of Management and Budget, was the first to result from the wide-ranging corruption investigation of Abramoff, once among the most powerful and best-paid lobbyists in Washington and a close friend of Tom DeLay, the House majority leader.

According to court papers, Safavian, 38, is accused of lying about assistance that he provided to Abramoff in his earlier work at the General Services Administration, where he was chief of staff from 2002 to 2004, and about an expensive golf trip he took with the lobbyist to Scotland in August 2002.

German Election Is Inconclusive;
No Clear Winner

By Richard Bernstein and Judy Dempsey

The stalemate in German politics deepened Monday, the day after an inconclusive national election result, as key party leaders rejected some of the coalition solutions that might otherwise lead to the formation of a new government and the selection of a chancellor.

Most important, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party, Franz Muentefering, confirmed that Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder would refuse to enter into any coalition with the main opposition party that did not choose Schroeder himself as chancellor.

This, for the moment at least, seemed to rule out a “grand coalition” between Schroeder’s Social Democrats and the Christian Democratic Union, the party of Schroeder’s main rival as chancellor, Angela Merkel. That option had been deemed the most likely outcome in the event that no party won a majority.

In that scenario, Merkel, as leader of the party with the biggest bloc of seats in parliament, would then become chancellor, while Schroeder would step down. But both Schroeder and Muentefering have ruled that out.

Quebec Labor Board Rejects
Wal-Mart Claim on Store Closing

By Ian Austen

Quebec’s labor relations board has rejected Wal-Mart Canada’s claim that it closed a unionized store in that province for economic reasons, saying instead that there was evidence the store might reopen.

In a decision released late last week, the board said that it did not find the April closing of the store in Jonquiere to be “real, genuine and definitive” under the province’s law. The decision makes it possible that the company could be fined and that compensation could be ordered for about 190 former employees.

The Canadian arm of Wal-Mart Stores, based in Mississauga, Ontario, has vigorously denied suggestions that the store’s closing, an unusual act for the company, was related to the successful drive to organize its employees by the United Food and Commercial Workers-Canada. Rather, it said, the outlet was unprofitable.

The labor board’s decision did not look at the store’s financial results, however. The board said it heard evidence that Wal-Mart had made no real effort to find another tenant to assume its 20-year lease on the store and that the building had neither been sold nor demolished. That, the board said, indicated that the closing was not permanent, making the dismissal of its workers illegal under Quebec law.