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NOTEWORTHY

Gay marriage at top

of pope's list

Pope John Paul II put lobbying against gay marriage at the top of the Vatican's agenda for 2005 and also urged politicians in prosperous nations Monday to do more for the millions of hungry people around the globe. In a speech to the diplomats accredited to the Vatican, the ailing pontiff, 84, laid out the Roman Catholic Church's priorities for the new year, making clear he intended to use his energies to tackle what he called "challenges of life" issues: abortion, cloning, gay marriage, assisted procreation and embryonic stem cell use.

Group sues to stop Canadian imports

A cattlemen's group sued the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday to stop it from allowing live cattle and expanded beef imports from Canada, which confirmed a new case of mad cow disease this month. The group R-CALF United Stockgrowers of America says the USDA's plan would pose a risk to consumers and U.S. producers.

THE UNUSUAL

Italians adjust

to antismoking law

Office workers took their cigarette breaks on the street Monday after a strict law banning smoking in bars, restaurants, offices and other public spaces came into force in Italy. The law, which bans smoking in indoor spaces unless they have a separate area with continuous floor-to-ceiling walls and a ventilation system, is one of the toughest in Europe.

UPDATE

Ukraine election

Ukraine's Election Commission declared Western-leaning reformer Viktor Yushchenko the winner of the presidential vote late Monday, putting the nation on the verge of resolving its protracted election. The commission's statement must be accepted by the Supreme Court and published in two official newspapers before Yushchenko can be inaugurated, leaving supporters of Kremlin-favored Viktor Yanukovych a slender window for filing legal complaints against the results.

Paid journalist

The White House said Monday that the case of the Education Department paying syndicated columnist and TV personality Armstrong Williams $240,000 to plug its policies was an isolated incident, not a practice widely used by the Bush administration. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the arrangement "ought to be looked into," but did not say who should do so.

Tennessee Medicaid

Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen announced Monday that he will drop 323,000 adults from the state's expanded Medicaid program to save $1.6-billion a year, but will preserve health coverage for children. The program offers coverage to the working poor who make too much money to qualify for regular Medicaid.

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