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Serious reported crime dropped a surprising 10 percent during the first half of 1999, preliminary FBI statistics showed. Single-digit declines have been the norm in the 1990s, but experts cited a number of factors in explaining this year's larger drop, among them the booming US economy. Murders were down 13 percent, burglaries 14 percent, and auto thefts 12 percent, the FBI report said.

More than 8,000 demonstrators protested perceived human-rights abuses by graduates of the Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga. The school is known for training officers of Latin American armies to fight leftist insurgency movements. The annual protest, spearheaded by the group School of the Americas Watch and its founder, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, commemorates the 1989 killings in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper, and her daughter. Most of the protesters were bused off the base, but 65 of the most disruptive were fingerprinted, photographed, and banned from the post for three years.

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US companies wanting to hire skilled workers next year will be hard-pressed to find them, a new survey found. Chicago-based Manpower Inc., an employment staffing group, determined that 24 percent of 16,000 companies, representing a broad range of industries, will be looking to expand their payrolls in the first quarter of next year. But because of lower birth rates in the 1970s and 1980s, shortages of skilled workers could extend through 2006, a Manpower spokesman said.

Texas Gov. George W. Bush, the front-runner for the 2000 Republican presidential nomination did not participate in a debate among his rivals Sunday at Arizona State University. Arizona Sen. John McCain, the crowd favorite, avoided criticizing Bush, who is slated to participate in next month's forum in New Hampshire, site of the nation's first presidential primary Feb. 1. Last month, Bush also passed up a televised forum of GOP candidates at Durham, N.H.

FBI agents have been sent to Egypt to join a "noncriminal" investigation of the Oct. 31 crash of EgyptAir Flight 990, according to a US diplomat. All 217 people on board died off the coast of Masschusetts's Nantucket Island. The FBI is assisting with the concurrence of Egyptian authorities, the source said.

Approval of drug use by teens is leveling off, and in some cases dropping, according to the 12th annual survey of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. In a typical finding, 40 percent of teens questioned said that "really cool" youths did not use drugs, an increase of 5 percent over 1998 figures.

Police will crack down on drivers who don't buckle up children during the Thanksgiving travel period, the busiest of the year. Drivers will be stopped and ticketed, representatives of more than 6,000 law enforcements said Monday

The Labor Department announced ergnonomic regulations for the workplace aimed at reducing so-called repetitive-motion and musculoskeletal injuries. The proposed rules would affect more than 27 million workers, from computer users to baggage handlers.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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