Kennedy's presence missed

WASHINGTON - Sen. Edward Kennedy's diagnosis of a malignant brain tumor left Congress this week without its best dealmaker as well as its boldest liberal, a politician known for his staunch left-wing positions and for his willingness to work with right-wing lawmakers to get legislation passed.

The Senate opened its debate on paying for another year of the Iraq war without the Massachusetts Democrat's customary roar of outrage. Just as evident was his absence when President Bush yesterday signed a law Kennedy forged with Republicans to protect people from losing their jobs or health insurance because their genes say they're prone to future illness.

His willingness to buck his own party and cut deals means that Kennedy has left his stamp on a raft of health care, civil rights, welfare, housing, education, foreign affairs and other issues.

"He has crossed the aisle and sponsored so many legislative enactments," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

And in Boston, immigrants lining up at the John F. Kennedy Federal Building, tourists strolling on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway and ordinary folks who received handwritten thank-you notes from the senator or a surprise distinguished visitor at a family wake pondered a future without Ted Kennedy.

"Forty-six years is a long time to be a senator. That's got to count for something when it comes to delivering for the state," said Ron Mills, who runs the shoeshine stand next to 122 Bowdoin St., the Beacon Hill address John F. Kennedy claimed when he served in the House and Senate and was elected president in 1960.

Lots of talk in Mideast

WASHINGTON - The Bush administration sought yesterday to put a positive spin on a deal between Lebanon's feuding factions, saying it is key to short-term stability even though it gives the militant Hezbollah movement more power.

"We view this agreement as a positive step towards resolving the current crisis," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement released before she called embattled Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora to express U.S. support for his government. "We call upon all Lebanese leaders to implement this agreement in its entirety."

At the same time, administration officials were cool to an announcement by Israel and Syria that they have resumed indirect peace talks and made clear the U.S. remains focused on the Israeli-Palestinian track that Rice said is "more mature" and more likely at the moment to produce results.

The longtime adversaries each have something to gain from the dialogue. Israel wants to reduce Syrian support for anti-Israel militants in Gaza and Lebanon, while Syria is eager to improve ties with the U.S. and end its international isolation.

Katrina levee leaking

NEW ORLEANS - Despite more than $22 million in repairs, a levee that broke with catastrophic effect during Hurricane Katrina is leaking again because of the mushy ground on which New Orleans was built, raising questions about the reliability of the city's flood defenses.

Outside engineering experts who have studied the project told the Associated Press that the type of seepage spotted at the 17th Street Canal in the Lakeview neighborhood afflicts other New Orleans levees, too, and could cause some of them to collapse during a storm.

The Army Corps of Engineers has spent about $4 billion so far of the $14 billion set aside by Congress to repair and upgrade the metropolitan area's hundreds of miles of levees by 2011. Some outside experts said the leak could mean that billions more will be needed and that some of the work already completed may need to be redone.

The Corps of Engineers disputed the experts' dire assessment. The agency said it is taking the risk of seepage into account and rebuilding the levees with an adequate margin of safety.

Boys, 7 and 9, killed girl, 2

BUENOS AIRES - Two brothers, age 7 and 9, told psychiatrists they slowly, coldly tortured a 2-year-old girl to death - a revelation that has Argentines debating whether to do away with a law prohibiting the prosecution of minors for terrible crimes.

Judge Marta Pascual said the children confessed to killing little neighbor Milagros Belizan in a shantytown south of the capital. "They understood her pain but it did not move them," said Pascual, a youth judge for Buenos Aires' Lomas de Zomara district, after meeting with psychiatrists who examined the boys. "In some form it gave them pleasure."

Belizan disappeared from her home in the Almirante Brown neighborhood on Sunday. Her family found her body in a vacant lot 10 blocks away.

She had been stripped naked, beaten and strangled with telephone cord that was left around her neck. The discovery prompted neighbors to attack an adult suspected of the crime - until the two boys confessed.

Argentine law prohibits the prosecution of anyone under 18 years old. Instead, such juveniles are generally held in youth homes until they reach 18, when they are released without further punishment. The killing has many Argentines calling for stiffer punishments - including prosecuting them once they come of age.

Pervert dad, 73, facing prison

BUENOS AIRES - A 73-year-old Argentine man who fathered two children through a young daughter he kept as his sexual prisoner now faces 16 years in prison himself.

Prosecuting Attorney Sergio Antin said the case of Eleuterio Soria had "similarities" to that of Josef Fritzl, the Austrian man arrested last month for locking his daughter in a basement for 24 years. The news made headlines around the world.

"If we're talking about sexual subjugation, and we take into account that the victim did not leave the house, yes, there are similarities" to the Fritzl case, government prosecutor Sergio Antin said after Soria was sentenced on Tuesday.

Soria's trial revealed that he began abusing his daughter in 1992, when she was 12. The following year she became pregnant by her father, prompting her mother to leave their home in La Matanza, a working-class Buenos Aires district.

The family's five other siblings eventually left as well, abandoning the daughter to Soria.

Arrest in IRA killing

DUBLIN, Ireland - An Irish Republican Army veteran was charged last night in connection with the execution of an undercover British soldier 31 years ago - one of Northern Ireland's most bitterly debated killings.

Kevin Crilly, 57, was arrested Tuesday in a pre-dawn raid on his border home, where he had been living under an alias.

Northern Ireland police said Crilly was charged with the abduction and false imprisonment of Capt. Robert Nairac, a British intelligence officer who posed as a Belfast IRA member.

Nairac, 29, was overpowered by an IRA gang as he sought to gather information on the outlawed group in its border power base of South Armagh. He traveled alone and, as part of his cover, sang IRA songs in English and Gaelic in local pubs. *

- Associated Press