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"Don't ask, don't tell' policy challenged

Two civil rights groups Monday filed the first legal challenge to the Pentagon's new policy and regulations governing homosexuals in the military.

The American Civil Liberties Union and the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York on behalf of two service members on active duty and four in the reserves, who are all homosexual.

Under the Clinton administration's so-called "don't ask, don't tell, don't pursue" policy, gay men and lesbians are allowed to serve in the armed forces so long as they keep their sexual orientation private.

The military service branches last week announced specific regulations putting the policy into effect. The lawsuit contends these restrictions infringe on the rights of homosexual service members.

Federal Judge Eugene Nickerson is scheduled to hear arguments March 18 in Brooklyn on whether the Pentagon should be ordered to suspend enforcement of its new policy, at least in the case of the six service members in the suit.

Last of Mohegans a nation

HARTFORD, Conn. _ The United States has declared the Mohegan Indians a sovereign nation, recognizing a tribe whose ancestors fought alongside the first English settlers and whose late chief Uncas was immortalized in James Fenimore Cooper's The Last of the Mohicans.

The decision, after 18 years of bureaucratic maneuvering, clears the way for construction of Connecticut's second major gambling resort.

The Mohegan lands are about 40 miles southeast of Hartford and by some estimates cover about 2,400 acres. One of the most successful U.S. gaming facilities is about 15 miles away: the Foxwoods casino owned and operated by the Mashatuncket Pequot Indians.

Some of the 987 members of the tribe said they have been offered enough financial backing to begin casino construction very soon on their lands.

Maine politics free-for-all

After Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, announced on Friday he would not seek re-election, state Republican chairman Kevin Keogh said, "Everything in Maine politics changes."

On Monday, Rep. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said she would run for Mitchell's seat. Today, Maine's other House member, Democrat Thomas Andrews plans to announce his candidacy for the Senate.

What's more, Snowe's husband, Republican Gov. John McKernan Jr., is completing his second term and cannot run again. Almost 20 candidates have announced runs for governor, but some now are likely to shift to the House races.

N.J. governor cuts taxes

TRENTON, N.J. _ Gov. Christie Whitman signed New Jersey's first income tax cut Monday, a 5 percent across-the-board reduction retroactive to Jan. 1. "This tax cut is a down payment on my promise to cut income taxes by 30 percent for most New Jerseyans," Whitman said during a ceremony in the Assembly chambers.

The reductions will be funded this year by taking $150-million from a budget surplus account and reducing allocations for Medicaid, state employee health benefits and other items by $135-million.

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