Ruling challenges 'don't ask' policy

SEATTLE - The military cannot automatically discharge people because they are gay, a federal appeals panel ruled yesterday in the case of a decorated flight nurse who sued the Air Force over her dismissal.

The three judges from the San Francisco-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit did not strike down the "don't ask, don't tell" policy. But they reinstated Maj. Margaret Witt's lawsuit, saying the Air Force must prove that her dismissal furthered the military's goals of troop readiness and unit cohesion.

"Don't ask, don't tell" bars the military from asking about the sexual orientation of service members but requires discharge of those who acknowledge being gay or engaging in homosexual activity.

Yesterday's ruling led opponents of the policy to declare its days numbered.

- AP

Child-rescue unit gets more funds

WASHINGTON - Congress has renewed and approved a bigger budget for a joint private-public program that has helped rescue more than 100,000 missing children since it was created in 1984.

The action was followed yesterday by a Justice Department ceremony to honor police departments and citizens who have worked to stop predators and bring missing children home. Four former victims of child abduction, including Elizabeth Smart of Utah, released a government guide they helped write offering advice for kidnap victims.

The Senate gave voice approval late Tuesday to a measure authorizing up to $40 million a year for five years for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The bill passed the House in December and now goes to President Bush.

- AP

11-year-old knows his geography

WASHINGTON - Quick: Cochabamba is the third-largest conurbation in what country?

Your answer might be, "Huh?" But Akshay Rajagopal, 11, answered "Bolivia" to clinch the 20th annual National Geographic Bee yesterday. A conurbation is a large, densely populated urban area.

Akshay's correct answer capped a two-day event at the National Geographic Society in which he got every question right. A sixth-grader in Lincoln, Neb., he won a $25,000 scholarship. He answered questions that included the westernmost Asian national capital (Ankara, Turkey), the country where Makossa is a popular type of music (Cameroon), and the location of Tillya Tepe (Afghanistan).

"I think I was just lucky," he said.

- AP

Elsewhere:

Former President Jimmy Carter

yesterday praised Hamilton Jordan, his White House chief of staff who died Tuesday, as a master political strategist who helped make a "peanut farmer from the South" president.

State transit officials'

concerns that fixing or replacing Minneapolis's I-35W bridge would be a "budget buster" may have led to bad maintenance decisions before its deadly collapse Aug. 1, a report released yesterday concluded. The report also criticized the Minnesota Department of Transportation for mishandled bridge inspections.