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Dow Tumbles Almost 350 Amid Investors’ Mounting Concerns

Investors drove stocks sharply lower on Thursday as signs of the economy’s worsening health and a continued choking of credit unnerved investors ahead of a crucial vote in Washington on a financial rescue plan.

While banks had been the focus for much of the week, their problems spread to insurance companies. But the worst declines on came among industrial companies in manufacturing, chemical production and mining industries that are usually impacted by problems in the economy. The declines suggested that the problems of the tight credit market, once mostly contained to Wall Street, were now spreading across the broader economy, a sentiment supported by weak reports on manufacturing activity that were released this week.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped at the opening bell and never looked back. A burst of selling in the last hour sent the index to a 348.22 loss at the close; it finished the day down 3.2 percent at 10,482.85. The broader Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index fared worse, dropping more than 4 percent, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 4.5 percent.

Judge Berates Prosecutors in Trial of Alaska Senator

The federal corruption trial of Sen. Ted Stevens, the longtime Alaska Republican, teetered briefly on the verge of a mistrial Thursday after the discovery that Justice Department prosecutors had withheld information they were supposed to turn over to defense lawyers.

But at the end of the day, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan decided not to dismiss the charges or declare a mistrial, as had been urged by Stevens’ lawyers. The judge, though, severely admonished the department and its public integrity section which is handling the prosecution.

“How does the court have confidence that the public integrity section has public integrity?” he asked at the conclusion of an extraordinary hearing he called after dismissing the jurors for the day. He ordered the government to turn over almost all its files to the defense, saying he no longer believed in the ability of prosecutors to make full disclosure on their own, as is customary in trials.

The surprise development came after prosecutors late Wednesday night sent to the defense team a copy of an FBI report of an agent’s interview with Bill Allen, an Alaska oil services executive who is the prosecution’s chief witness and has been on the stand this week. In addition to the judicial scolding of the government, the revelation produced a heated confrontation between the chief defense lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, and the chief prosecutor, Brenda Morris, outside the presence of the jury.

Remains Found at Fossett Crash Site

A day after discovering the wreckage of the plane flown by the millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett when he disappeared 13 months ago, investigators said Thursday they have found small amounts of human remains at the crash site, a rugged and lonely mountainside in the Sierra Nevada of east-central California.

Mark V. Rosenker, the acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, confirmed the finding of remains saying that while they were “very little,” he believed a genetic confirmation of Fossett’s identity could be made.

“I believe the coroner will be able to do some work,” Rosenker said.

Fossett’s aircraft was discovered Wednesday in a remote area of Inyo National Forest.