Nation briefs 3/22/04

Monday, March 22, 2004

Republicans in good spot to retain House control

WASHINGTON -- Buoyed by the prospect of strong gains in Texas, a financial advantage and a relative shortage of competitive seats, Republicans are strongly positioned to hold control of the House in 2004, according to strategists in both parties. At the same time, Democrats point to their recent capture of a Kentucky seat, as well as national polls showing voter pessimism about the future as evidence of steadily improving prospects. More than seven months before the election, as few as three dozen of the 435 House seats appear competitive, based on candidate recruitment, fund raising and historical voting trends.

Suzuki Verona gets lower rating in crash tests

WASHINGTON -- The 2004 Suzuki Verona was the only vehicle among six midsize cars to get less than the top rating in high-speed crash tests conducted by the insurance industry. The Acura TL and TSX, the Nissan Maxima, the Chevrolet Malibu and the Mitsubishi Galant all received good ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The Verona scored acceptable. All of the vehicles tested were new or redesigned for 2004. The institute, which is funded by insurers, released the results Sunday. In the tests, the driver's side of a vehicle is crashed into a barrier at 40 mph. The barrier is designed to simulate a vehicle of similar weight. A good rating means a driver wearing a seat belt would likely avoid injuries.

Wal-Mart tops Fortune 500 list for third year

NEW YORK -- Wal-Mart Stores Inc. topped the Fortune 500 list for a third straight year in 2003 as the improving economy boosted many major companies to record revenues. With sales of almost $259 billion, the late Sam Walton's global chain of general stores easily kept its No. 1 rank among the nation's largest publicly traded companies. Fortune's annual ranking, to be published in the magazine's April 5 edition, is based on the companies' sales figures as reported in financial statements for 2003. Jittery geopolitics kept the price of oil high, helping Exxon Mobil Corp. to post $213 billion in revenue. The 17 percent jump leapfrogged the oil company past General Motors Corp. into the No. 2 spot.

Some foreign students refuse new fee at UMass

BOSTON -- About 200 international students at the University of Massachusetts have refused to pay a new student fee, a protest that could result in dismissal from the school and loss of their student visas. The $65-per-semester fee for foreign students was designed to compensate for cuts to the budget of the university's international programs office. It appeared for the first time on spring-semester bills due this month. Part of the fee will also help pay for a new federal student tracking program called the Student and Exchange Visitor Information Systems, or SEVIS, which Congress created to prevent terrorists from entering the country on student visas. International students nationwide are required to register through the system before receiving visas.

-- From wire reports

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