Chief Justice Nominee

Completes Testimony

Supreme Court nominee John G. Roberts Jr. testified that he believes the Constitution protects the right to privacy, the legal underpinning of the nation's landmark abortion law, but he refused to say whether he would vote to uphold Roe v. Wade if he is confirmed as chief justice of the United States.

In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Roberts was criticized by Democratic senators, who accused him of hiding his views on end-of-life questions, privacy and other contentious issues such as gender equity, fair housing and the role of religion in public life. Roberts repeatedly declined to discuss his personal or judicial views on matters that he said could come before the court someday.

Roberts also repeatedly distanced himself from his conservative writings as a young legal adviser to President Ronald Reagan, including a memo in which he had disparaged privacy as "amorphous" and a "so-called right" not spelled out in the Constitution.

Roberts, 50, was nominated by President Bush to succeed the late Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist.

-- Amy Goldstein, Charles Babington

and Jo Becker

Bush's Approval Rating

Hits New Low, Poll Shows

President Bush's standing has hit record lows amid broad support for an independent investigation of the federal response to Hurricane Katrina.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll found that clear majorities of Americans disapprove of the way officials at all levels of government are handling the recovery from Katrina. A 54 percent majority disapproved of Bush's response to Katrina, while an even larger majority -- 57 percent -- said state and local officials should bear responsibility for the problems.

The bungled response to the hurricane has helped drag down Bush's job-approval rating, which stands at 42 percent -- the lowest of his presidency -- in the Post-ABC poll and down three points since the hurricane hit Aug. 29. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Bush's performance, a double-digit increase since January.

The president's overall approval rating among Republicans has declined from 91 percent in January to 78 percent in the latest poll.

Overall, half the country now characterizes Bush as a "strong leader" -- down 12 points since May of last year. And the proportion who say he can be "trusted in a crisis" likewise has fallen from 60 percent to 49 percent now.

The survey found that 76 percent of the public favors an investigation of federal storm response efforts by an independent commission. The proposal drew bipartisan support: 64 percent of all Republicans and 83 percent of Democrats favored creating the independent panel.

Republican leaders in Congress already have announced plans for a congressional inquiry into the federal storm response -- a probe that seven in 10 Americans fear will "get bogged down in partisan politics," according to the poll. Bush also has vowed to lead an investigation of the federal response.

-- Michael A. Fletcher

and Richard Morin

Japan's Ruling Party Makes

Huge Gains in Lower House

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's ruling party won a landslide victory in general elections as voters handed Japan's maverick leader a remarkable mandate to enact a new stage of reforms in the world's second-largest economy.

The larger-than-expected triumph capped a bold gambit by Koizumi, who had put his job on the line in search of fresh public backing for his economic agenda, particularly the privatization of the $3 trillion postal service, as well as his vision for a stronger Japan more closely aligned with the United States.

His Liberal Democratic Party won its largest majority in the 480-seat lower house of parliament since 1986, winning 296 seats, a gain of 84.

While seen as a boon for Japan's halting reform effort and a personal triumph for Koizumi, 63, the prime minister's new mandate is likely to continue a period of heightened tension in East Asia, particularly in Japan's relationship with China. During Koizumi's four-year tenure, the region's two great powers have sparred over rights to drill for natural gas in the East China Sea and engaged in a heated debate over Japan's perceived lack of contrition for past war crimes.

-- Anthony Faiola

Delta and Northwest File

Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

Delta Air Lines and Northwest, the nation's third- and fourth-largest carriers, filed for bankruptcy protection as skyrocketing fuel costs accelerated the carriers' financial decline.

With the filings, an unprecedented four of the nation's seven largest carriers will be operating under bankruptcy protection, marking a low point for an industry that many analysts said had shown signs of turning a corner this year -- were it not for the run-up in jet fuel prices.

Analysts expect Independence Air's parent, Dulles-based Flyi Inc., to soon join the pack of bankrupt carriers. Two carriers in bankruptcy protection, UAL Corp.'s United and US Airways Group Inc., have indicated plans to merge in the coming months. AMR Corp.'s American Airlines, Continental Airlines Inc. and Southwest Airlines Inc., the other three major carriers, posted profits last quarter.

Despite the wave of bankruptcy filings, airline travelers should see little change. Frequent-flier miles are expected to be preserved because airlines cannot afford to anger their most loyal customers. Fares are likely to remain low because of intense competition from low-fare carriers. Federal officials have stepped up airline inspections, and safety does not appear to have been compromised by the industry's problems.

-- Sara Kehaulani Goo

Israeli Troops End

Gaza Strip Presence

With thousands of homes demolished but two dozen synagogues still standing, the last Israeli soldiers in the Gaza Strip moved out Sunday, marking the official end of Israel's nearly four-decade presence and the start of the Palestinians' most ambitious attempt at self rule.

Thousands of Palestinians rushed into the former Jewish settlements on Monday in a mood of elation, vengeance and opportunism, turning them into venues of celebration and intensive scavenging for items of potential value and souvenirs of Israel's departure.

The Palestinians' first forays in the former Israeli-controlled areas did not meet official Palestinian hopes that what the Israelis left behind might form the foundation of a better economy, easing the way for effective self-government in the poor coastal strip.

Some of the synagogues were damaged or destroyed by Palestinians, and the Palestinian Authority later bulldozed some.

Israel began its occupation of territory in the Gaza Strip during the 1967 Middle East war. But beginning in August, it took less than a month to evacuate 8,500 settlers, razed communities of whitewashed homes and the military installations that guarded them. Although abandoning the territory, Israel will maintain control over its border with Gaza, and Palestinian officials say that means the occupation has not ended. But settlement streets were taken over by various armed militias, all claiming a share of credit for the unilateral Israeli departure from land Israelis have occupied for 38 years.

Egyptian troops, meanwhile, have deployed along Gaza's southern border.

-- Scott Wilson