U.S. Criticizes Saudis

On Religious Freedom

The United States for the first time named Saudi Arabia as a country that severely violates religious freedom, potentially subjecting the close U.S. ally to sanctions.

"Freedom of religion does not exist" in Saudi Arabia, the State Department said in its annual report on international religious freedom. "Freedom of religion is not recognized or protected under the country's laws and basic religious freedoms are denied to all but those who adhere to the state-sanctioned version of Sunni Islam," the report said, adding that "non-Muslim worshippers risk arrest, imprisonment, lashing, deportation and sometimes torture."

The United States also identified seven other nations as "countries of particular concern": Burma, China, Iran, North Korea and Sudan, which were on the State Department's list of concern last year, and Eritrea and Vietnam, which were added this year. Iraq was dropped.

Admonishing Saudi Arabia was a switch for the administration, which had resisted calls from human rights groups and key lawmakers that the State Department cite the desert kingdom, a key oil supplier and partner in the war against terrorism, in its annual report.

The designation of Saudi Arabia was made as the Bush administration has come under sharp attack from Democrats, including presidential nominee John F. Kerry for its close relationship with Saudi rulers.

-- Glenn Kessler and Alan Cooperman

US Airways Again Seeks

Bankruptcy Protection

US Airways Group Inc. filed for bankruptcy protection for the second time in two years after failing to win additional wage and benefits cuts from its unions.

The move raised new questions about the survival of the airline even as US Airways chief executive Bruce R. Lakefield said the carrier was determined to emerge as a streamlined operation.

He said that there would be no disruption in service while the carrier is in Chapter 11 proceedings.

Industry experts said the bankruptcy filing raised the prospect that the Arlington-based carrier could be forced out of business, throwing into jeopardy the jobs of the carrier's 28,000 workers.

The airline's chairman, David G. Bronner, warned this summer that the airline could have a hard time emerging from bankruptcy proceedings because of difficulty attracting the needed financing. The airline does not have financing lined up, as it did when it slipped into the bankruptcy the first time in August 2002.

United Airlines, the nation's second largest carrier, has been restructuring in bankruptcy for nearly two years.

-- Keith L. Alexander

Panel Urges Against Using

Antidepressants for Children

Families and doctors should be cautioned that children taking antidepressant drugs may be at an increased risk for suicidal behavior and thinking, and the government should require a prominent "black box" warning label on the medications, an expert panel concluded.

If adopted, the recommendation by the panel advising the Food and Drug Administration would mark a significant shift in the government's regulatory stance toward the widely used drugs -- which include Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and Celexa -- for treating children with depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder or other conditions.

Several psychiatrists told the panel that the failure of many studies to show that the drugs worked does not mean they are ineffective. Many families testified that the medications helped their children.

The panel's recommendation comes as use of the medications has soared despite growing evidence of their risks. Many panel members blamed pharmaceutical industry marketing for prompting clinicians to prescribe the drugs.

Short of an outright ban, a "black box" warning is the most serious caution the FDA can require.

-- Shankar Vedantam

Martha Stewart Seeks to Begin

Her 5-Month Prison Sentence

Saying she wants to put her legal troubles behind her, Martha Stewart asked a federal judge to send her to prison to begin serving her five-month sentence immediately instead of waiting until a higher court rules on her appeal.

Standing on a podium in the Manhattan offices of the multimedia empire she founded, Stewart, 63, spoke of her decision as both a personal choice and a business decision designed to protect Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.

The company's magazines have suffered major advertising declines, and its main television show is on hiatus.

Stewart's lawyers delivered the request to U.S. District Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, who presided over Stewart's trial on charges of obstruction and lying and ruled in June that she could stay free on appeal.

-- Brooke A. Masters

Pakistani Leader Says He

May Not Honor Promise

Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, said he may renege on his pledge to step down as army chief of staff because "the vast majority" of the Pakistani people "want me in uniform" and fear he would be weakened without it.

Musharraf, 61, said conditions in the country have changed since he promised in a nationally televised address last Dec. 24 to leave the army as part of a deal with opposition lawmakers that would allow him to remain president through 2007.

"It's primarily the security of Pakistan, the internal conditions," he said in an interview. "There's too much happening around," he continued, citing terrorist threats and potentially divisive battles over the sharing of limited water resources.

A decision to stay on as army chief of staff could provoke a political backlash in Pakistan, where Musharraf has promised repeatedly to create "sustainable democracy" since the 1999 army coup that brought him to power. It could also prove awkward for the Bush administration, which has embraced Musharraf as a key ally in the war on terrorism while calling for greater democracy in the Muslim world. Pakistan has been ruled by military governments for much of its 57-year history.

-- John Lancaster

Elections in Hong Kong

Are a Blow to Democrats

Pro-democracy candidates gained seats in Hong Kong's legislature but failed to take control of the body despite winning a large majority of the popular vote in elections this past Sunday. The outcome represented a setback for the campaign to persuade Beijing to allow universal suffrage here.

The democrats won 18 of the 30 council seats filled by direct elections, but they won only seven of the other 30 seats filled by small constituencies of special interests, most of which favor candidates who support the Chinese government.

The results allowed advocates of greater democracy in this former British colony to expand their 22-member presence in the Legislative Council to 25 seats, but left them short of the majority needed to block government legislation.

Beijing angered the public with a decision in April that ruled out the use of direct elections to choose Hong Kong's next chief executive in 2007 and all of its legislators in 2008.

-- Philip P. Pan