Nation/world briefs 10/24/03

Friday, October 24, 2003

Senate ends restrictions on Cuba travel, tourism

WASHINGTON -- The Senate joined the House on Thursday in striking at the four-decade-old policy of making travel to Cuba a criminal act, putting Congress on a collision course with Bush administration efforts to step up enforcement of travel restrictions.

"The travel ban does nothing to hurt Fidel Castro," said Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D. "It only harms Americans."

He was co-sponsor of the measure, passed 60-34, that bars use of government money to enforce current travel restrictions.

Last month, the House approved identical language in its version of a $90 billion bill to fund Transportation and Treasury department programs in the budget year that started Oct. 1.

300 new homes in West Bank defy peace plan

JERUSALEM -- Israel disclosed plans Thursday to build nearly 300 homes in West Bank settlements, despite a freeze on construction required by a U.S.-backed peace plan. Palestinians condemned the project and urged the United States to intervene.

An associate of Yasser Arafat, meanwhile, said the Palestinian leader was unnerved by an army raid near his compound this week, and clenched a submachine gun as he declared he felt the "smell of paradise."

The construction of 273 apartments in West Bank settlements was disclosed Thursday by Israel's Housing Ministry, which published an ad in an Israeli newspaper inviting contractors to bid on them. The apartments are slated for Karnei Shomron, a settlement deep in the northern West Bank, and Givat Zeev, on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Schwarzenegger, Davis have first formal meeting

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- California Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger met Thursday with the man he'll be replacing and said in a joint news conference that they were working well together and had started "a great relationship."

The Republican actor said there were no hard feelings between himself and Democratic Gov. Gray Davis lingering from the state's historic recall election.

"He kept his promise," Schwarzenegger said. "Every day we are working with his office, and they have been really fantastic to work with. So, I think we can continue on having a great relationship here and a working relationship.

"We will need the governor's help in the future."

Schwarzenegger also was scheduled to meet Thursday with each of the statewide office holders -- including recall election opponent Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante.

Senate approves yearly pay increase for itself

WASHINGTON -- The Senate voted itself a pay raise for the fifth straight year, boosting the annual salary to about $158,000 in 2004.

The House also agreed last month to accept an increase in the annual cost-of-living allowance, which gives all members of Congress a boost of about 2.2 percent in their take-home pay starting in January.

Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., who every year stands up against pay increases, said that with the economy still weak and many Americans finding it hard to make ends meet, it was "the wrong time for Congress to give itself a pay hike."

"This automatic stealth pay raise system is just wrong," he added.

Feingold said that with an annual increase of about $3,400 slated for next year, an election year, members of Congress will have received a $21,000 raise in their pay over the past five years.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said it was a mistake to call it a pay raise, and that lawmakers were merely receiving a cost-of-living increase being given to other federal workers and military personnel.

"This increase is required by law," he said.

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