Obama signs law for tribes, farmers

WASHINGTON - American Indians and black farmers will be paid $4.6 billion to address claims of government mistreatment over many decades under landmark legislation that President Obama signed Wednesday.

The legislation "closes a long and unfortunate chapter in our history," Obama said. "It's finally time to make things right."

Obama promised during his campaign to work toward resolving disputes over the government's past discrimination against minorities. This measure settles a pair of long-standing class-action lawsuits. It also settles four long-standing disputes over Native American water rights in Arizona, New Mexico, and Montana.

Even with Obama's signature, the settlement must still go through a gauntlet of court hearings, a media campaign to notify beneficiaries, waiting periods for comments, and appeals. The first check is not expected to reach tribal plaintiffs until August. - AP

Senate puts off 'don't ask' vote

WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats put off Wednesday a vote on legislation that would repeal the military's ban on openly gay troops so that more time could be spent to try to strike a deal with Republicans.

A test vote on lifting the "don't ask, don't tell" policy had been scheduled for late Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said earlier in the day that he had a plan to win the support of Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and other GOP senators who back repealing the law but have objected to the debate on procedural grounds.

But the vote appeared headed for failure after Collins refused to sign on. Spokesmen for Reid and Collins said the senators were still discussing the matter. - AP

Ex-con blamed in publicist's slaying

LOS ANGELES - After three weeks of frenzied speculation about hired killers, gang initiations and Russian mobsters, Beverly Hills police said Wednesday that the slaying of veteran movie publicist Ronni Chasen probably was a botched robbery by a small-time ex-convict who had grown desperate for money.

Harold Martin Smith, 43, an unemployed laborer with a rap sheet stretching back to the early 1990s, committed suicide last week as detectives tried to question him about Chasen's murder. "We believe that Mr. Smith acted alone. We don't believe it was a professional hit," Police Chief Dave Snowden said.

Snowden said preliminary ballistics tests showed that the handgun Smith used to shoot himself in the head was the same weapon that killed Chasen, 64, on Nov. 16 as she drove her Mercedes-Benz sedan along Sunset Boulevard after a film premiere. A tip to the Fox program America's Most Wanted led police to Smith. - Los Angeles Times

Elsewhere:

The House passed a resolution expressing support for jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo and calling on China's government to release him and stop censoring media reports about his Nobel Peace Prize award. The vote on the resolution, sponsored by Rep. Chris Smith (R., N.J.), was 402-1, with only Rep. Ron Paul (R., Texas) voting against it.