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New rules proposed for airlines

The Transportation Department signaled Wednesday that it planned to be more aggressive in forcing airlines to address common traveler frustrations, proposing a wide range of consumer protections. They come on top of earlier rules limiting how much time passengers can sit on planes on the tarmac.

The proposed rules would, among other things, raise compensation for passengers denied boarding on oversold flights, allow customers to get a full refund within 24 hours of buying an airline ticket and require reimbursement of baggage fees and expenses when luggage is not delivered on time.

They would also require the airlines to more speedily notify travelers about flight delays and cancellations and ban airlines and ticket agents from advertising prices that are not the full fare — specifically requiring clearer disclosure in advertisements for “one-way” fares that can only be acquired as part of a round-trip ticket.

Taken together, the proposals, which are expected to take effect in the fall, are the Obama administration’s answer to rising frustrations about airline delays, proliferating fees, shady advertising practices and the general lack of responsiveness by carriers to customer complaints.

The tarmac rules, which took effect in late April, require airlines to give passengers stuck on the tarmac the option to get off the plane after three hours, with exceptions for safety and security reasons. Carriers were also required to develop plans to deal with lengthy tarmac delays and provide passengers with snacks, water and working bathrooms.

U.N. report highly critical of American drone attacks

WASHINGTON — A senior U.N. official said Wednesday that the growing use of armed drones by the United States to kill terrorism suspects was undermining global constraints on the use of military force. He warned that the American example would lead to a chaotic world as the new weapons technology inevitably spread.

In a 29-page report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the official, Philip Alston, the U.N. special representative on extrajudicial executions, called on the United States to exercise greater restraint in its use of drones in places like Pakistan and Yemen, outside the war zones in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The report — the most extensive effort by the United Nations to grapple with the legal implications of armed drones — also proposed a summit meeting of “key military powers” to clarify legal limits on such killings.

In an interview, Alston said the United States appeared to think that it was “facing a unique threat from transnational terrorist networks” that justified its effort to put forward legal assertions to make the rules “as flexible as possible.”

But that example, he said, could quickly lead to a situation in which dozens of countries carry out “competing drone attacks” outside their borders against people “labeled as terrorists by one group or another.”

Obama says he’ll push for clean energy bill

PITTSBURGH — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that it was time for the United States “to aggressively accelerate” its transition from oil to alternative sources of energy and vowed to push for quick action on climate change legislation despite almost unanimous opposition from Republicans and continued skepticism from some Democrats.

Seeking to harness the deepening anger over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to the advantage of his legislative agenda, Obama promised to find the lagging votes in the Senate to get the climate change and energy bill passed this year. Last year, the House passed a version of the bill, which tries to address global warming by putting a price on greenhouse gas pollution and provides incentives for alternative clean energy sources.

“If we refuse to take into account the full cost of our fossil fuel addiction — if we don’t factor in the environmental costs and national security costs and true economic costs — we will have missed our best chance to seize a clean energy future,” Obama said. “The votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months.”

Obama’s remarks were made to a group of about 300 local business owners and economic officials at Carnegie Mellon University. He used them to reiterate his call to roll back Bush administration tax breaks for oil companies and to make a broader case for his administration’s accomplishments heading into an election season.

South Korea’s governing party surprised by election setback

SEOUL, South Korea — President Lee Myung-bak’s governing party suffered a surprising setback in local elections that had been widely viewed as a referendum on Lee’s handling of the sinking of a South Korean warship, according to election results released on Thursday.

Candidates of Lee’s Grand National Party had hoped that outrage in South Korea over the sinking of the Cheonan, which led to the death of 46 South Korean sailors, would help them ride a conservative wave to a sweeping victory. Lee’s government has formally accused North Korea of attacking the ship with a torpedo from a submarine.

On Wednesday, the president’s party won only 6 of 16 crucial races to elect mayors and governors in big cities and provinces. Its main rival, the opposition Democratic Party, won seven races. The remaining three races were won by independents and a candidate from a small opposition party.

Choe Sang-Hun, The New York Times