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Dec. 22, 2005 at 4:47 PM
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NYC transit workers returning to work

NEW YORK, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- The New York transit workers union voted overwhelming to end a three-day strike Thursday and return to work while contract negotiations continue.

City officials said local buses and subways should resume operations within hours, following the vote of the executive board of the Transit Workers Union.

A judge is fining the union $1 million for each day of the walkout and union leaders had been threatened with jail for defying a state law banning strikes by public workers.

Local 100 president Roger Toussaint said members are returning to work "right way." The Voice of America said Mayor Michael Bloomberg will lift the high-occupancy requirements for vehicles on Manhattan at midnight.

Bus and subway service was expected to return to normal by the Friday morning rush hour, Newsday said.

More than 30,000 transit workers walked off the job Tuesday, stranding some 7 million people who rely on the system each weekday.

Union members are seeking pay raises, improved health plans and a stronger pension fund, which union leaders claim faces a $1 billion shortfall.

Israel raids West Bank 'caravan'

BIL'IN, West Bank, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- The Israel Defense Forces evacuated some 50 activists who barricaded themselves inside a West Bank trailer "outpost" near the security barrier Thursday.

The activists' trailer had been set up near the village of Bil'in, the Jerusalem Post said.

According to police, a group of illegally built houses, containing 750 apartments was located at the site and were scheduled for demolition. Palestinians and Israelis, belonging to a left-wing group called Anarchists Against the Fence brought in the trailer in an attempt to prevent the demolition.

Activists told Haaretz the IDF force numbered some 150 troops, breaking into the caravan with sledge hammers and chains. The trailer was later lifted in the air by a crane to prevent people from returning.

Several were detained for questioning. The activists inside the trailer included 30 Palestinians and 20 Israelis, authorities said.

Crashed seaplane's voice recorder useless

MIAMI, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- The cockpit voice recorder recovered from a crashed Chalk's Ocean Airways seaplane in the Atlantic off Miami was not working, and is useless to investigators.

"Unfortunately, the recording was unreadable," said Mark Rosenker, acting chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board.

The 58-year-old Grumman G-73T Mallard craft caught fire and crashed Monday afternoon into 35 feet of water, killing all 20 aboard. It did not have a flight data recorder.

The NTSB team has interviewed 22 witnesses and four airline employees, and has studied two still photographs and two amateur videotapes.

Wednesday, investigators said the plane's right wing -- which broke from the plane and burst into flames as it crashed into the ocean -- had a "serious fatigue crack," The Miami Herald reported.

Chalk's, which flies from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Miami to the Bahamas, canceled all flights Wednesday to allow its four other planes to be inspected, said general manager Roger Nair.

Annan's 2005 summary: 'Really difficult'

UNITED NATIONS, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan summarized the year 2005 as "a really difficult one" in his annual year-end meeting with reporters.

From the U.N. standpoint, Annan said the most pressing matter now is that of ending acrimonious debate on the body's budget, which expires at the end of the month.

He lamented there had been little progress in around-the-clock negotiations "in an atmosphere of threats and intimidation," and said it did little to advance reforms planned for next year.

"I think the atmosphere is a bit tense. Tempers are high, and there's quite a bit of mistrust," he said.

He said while he hopes to focus his last year in office on fighting poverty and disease, U.N. reform, and peace and security, he expects the agenda will be dominated by issues such as the Middle East, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.

Toward the end of the hour-long conference, Annan criticized what he called unfair media coverage of his role, and that of his son, Kojo, in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal.

Secret spy court seeks NSA program answers

WASHINGTON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Judges on a court overseeing U.S. government intelligence matters set a meeting with Bush administration officials on spying on people in the United States.

Last week The New York Times reported the National Security Agency, acting on orders from President George Bush, was monitoring telephone calls and e-mail communication in the United States. Bush has said the program is constitutional since one end of the watched conversation was in a foreign country.

But judges on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, led by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, say they plan to ask Justice Department and National Security Agency personnel about the legality of the program, The Washington Post reported Thursday. The newspaper said Kollar-Kotelly sent e-mail to her FISA court colleagues about a meeting, probably next month in Washington, about the program.

The Post earlier reported one of the 10 FISA judges had resigned because of the NSA program.

Some legislators have asked why the administration didn't use the FISA court for the NSA program, since it was set up in the 1970s to deal with intelligence questions and issue warrants -- sometimes after the fact -- for some surveillance.

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