Canadian Beef Was

Allowed Amid Ban

The Agriculture Department allowed U.S. meatpackers to resume imports of ground and other "processed" beef from Canada last September, weeks after it reaffirmed its ban on importing those products because mad cow disease had been found in Canadian cattle.

In the next six months, 33 million pounds of Canadian processed beef were delivered to U.S. consumers under a series of undisclosed permits the USDA issued to the meatpackers -- permits that remained in effect until a federal judge intervened in April.

The imports -- which involved ground beef, cubed beef and some types of sausage -- were allowed despite the August 2003 announcement by Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman that she was extending an earlier ban on many types of Canadian beef.

Since the USDA briefly shut down all imports of Canadian beef in May 2003 after the mad cow discovery, the agency has been under great pressure from Canada and large American meatpackers with plants across the border to loosen the restrictions, which hurt profits in both countries.

-- Marc Kaufman

U.S. Rebukes Israel

For Gaza Incursion

About 40 Palestinians have been killed since Sunday, when the Israelis launched "Operation Rainbow," a large-scale incursion into the Gaza Strip town of Rafah that officials said was aimed at rooting out militants and weapons. Palestinian medical workers said about 100 have been wounded.

On Wednesday, an Israeli helicopter gunship and a tank fired rockets and artillery shells at Palestinian protesters, killing eight of them, including three children. Witnesses and survivors said soldiers gave no warning before opening fire.

In rare public criticism of Israel, the White House on Wednesday rebuked the government there for its deadly incursion into Gaza, saying it did not "serve the purposes of peace and security" and had "worsened the humanitarian situation."

The statement came one day after President Bush equated the United States' struggle against terrorism with Israel's in a speech before a pro-Israel lobbying group that was interrupted by applause 67 times, and four days after Secretary of State Colin L. Powell called on Israel to stop the destruction of Palestinian homes.

-- Glenn Frankel and Glenn Kessler

Gandhi Declines

India's Top Job

Sonia Gandhi, who led her party to an upset victory in parliamentary elections despite the handicap of a foreign birth certificate, stunned the nation by declining to accept the job of prime minister.

The Italian-born leader of India's Congress Party delivered her decision Tuesday to supporters who pleaded that she reconsider. Her announcement followed protests by Hindu nationalists, who said Gandhi's origin made her unfit to be prime minister in a country where memories of colonial rule are still fresh. Gandhi, 57, the inheritor of a three-generation political dynasty, had been widely expected to take office last week.

Manmohan Singh, a widely respected economist who served as finance minister from 1991 to 1996, was chosen Wednesday as India's next prime minister.

Gandhi will keep her seat in Parliament as well as her leadership role in the party, which will give her considerable influence over the new government, analysts said.

Associates said that Gandhi was rattled by the vehemence of the Hindu nationalists' opposition and influenced by her two grown children, Rahul and Priyanka, who feared that their mother's life would be in jeopardy if she assumed such a high-profile position.

-- John Lancaster

Bush Renominates

Greenspan to Fed

President Bush nominated Alan Greenspan to serve a fifth term as chairman of the Federal Reserve, providing financial markets with a source of stability at a time of economic transition.

Bush said more than a year ago that he intended to nominate Greenspan, 78, whose term as chairman will expire on June 20. And Greenspan had indicated he would happily accept. But the lack of movement on the matter since then had provoked some speculation among analysts that one of the two men might have had a change of heart.

The president put that to rest Tuesday, issuing a statement announcing his intention to renominate the chairman and adding: "Alan Greenspan has done a superb job . . . and I have great confidence in his economic stewardship."

Greenspan responded with a statement saying he was honored by the nomination and the opportunity "to continue my service" as central bank chief.

-- Nell Henderson

Courthouse Access

Of Disabled Upheld

The Supreme Court upheld the right of disabled people to sue state governments that fail to provide ramps, elevators or other forms of access to their courthouses -- a clear but limited victory for the disability rights movement that blunts a trend at the court in favor of states' rights.

By a vote of 5 to 4, the court ruled that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), adopted by Congress in 1990 and signed into law by President George H.W. Bush, provides a proper basis for a federal lawsuit in which paraplegics George Lane and Beverly Jones are seeking money damages from Tennessee for its alleged failure to accommodate them at various courthouses.

Lane said that, on one occasion, he had to crawl up the front stairs of the Polk County courthouse to face a hearing on misdemeanor charges.

Noting a historical "pattern of disability discrimination" in the administration of justice by the states, Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority that Title II of the ADA, which requires equal treatment for the disabled in public "services, programs and activities," was a valid use of Congress's power to define unconstitutional behavior by the states and to prevent violations by lifting the states' sovereign immunity to suits for damages.

-- Charles Lane

Vaccine-Autism

Link Not Found

The Institute of Medicine, a highly influential adviser of the government on scientific matters, said there is no credible evidence that either the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine or vaccines containing the preservative thimerosal cause autism.

The conclusion came in a report requested by two federal agencies to address the doubts raised by a small but vocal group of parents who question the safety of childhood vaccines.

A 14 -person panel of experts urged more research on autism but said further pursuit of possible links between vaccines and the devastating neurological disorder probably is not worth the money and effort.

-- David Brown

FAO Lauds Benefits

Of Biotechnology

Genetic engineering and other forms of agricultural biotechnology are benefiting poor farmers in a handful of countries and hold clear promise to alleviate global hunger and help millions of people achieve better lives, according to a new U.N. report.

But the report, by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, said that promise is still more theory than reality, largely because too little money is being spent to use the new techniques in ways likely to benefit subsistence farmers.

The FAO is the world's major body dealing with long-term food supply issues and is an influential voice in setting global food policy.

The report is the body's most detailed analysis to date of the controversy swirling around the use of genetic engineering in agriculture. And it puts that body, for the first time, squarely in the camp of those who believe genetic engineering can benefit the world's poorest people.

-- Justin Gillis