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Nation in brief: Jurors being questioned as Blagojevich trial begins

CHICAGO – Like a candidate still running for office, a jovial Rod Blagojevich waded into the crowd waiting outside his corruption trial making upbeat statements, hugging and shaking hands with supporters.

He’s not on a ballot anymore, though, and the only voters that matter are the 12 people who will be chosen from the potential jurors who the judge began questioning Thursday as the trial kicked off. They will decide if the former Illinois governor tried to sell President Barack Obama’s former Senate seat and leverage his power into a moneymaking enterprise.

“I feel great,” said Blagojevich, as he worked the crowd.

Some 18 months after FBI agents arrested him at his home at dawn, Blagojevich arrived at federal court, stepping into a gantlet of about 30 waiting cameras and reporters outside the courthouse. Of no more than 10 bystanders, three or four were vocal supporters.

U.S. District Judge James B. Zagel questioned some 29 potential jurors before he adjourned for the day.

Obama drops planned trip to Indonesia, Australia

WASHINGTON – Grappling with the worst oil spill in the nation’s history, President Barack Obama has scrapped a trip to Indonesia and Australia for the second time this year.

The president informed the leaders of both countries of the news in phone calls Thursday night, offering his “deep regret” and pledging to reschedule soon, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement. Obama was to depart on a weeklong trip to both countries on June 13.

Obama had planned this trip in March – first shortening it to be in Washington and lobby for health care legislation and then scrapping it altogether to stay for the final crucial days of debate on that top domestic priority.

‘Golden Girls’ actress Rue McClanahan, 76, dies

Rue McClanahan, an actress best known for her Emmy-winning role as the sassy, man-crazy Southern belle Blanche Devereaux on the hit TV series “The Golden Girls,” has died. She was 76.

McClanahan died early Thursday at New York-Presbyterian Hospital of a brain hemorrhage, according to her manager, Barbara Lawrence.

Last year McClanahan had heart-bypass surgery and in 1997 was treated for breast cancer.

When “The Golden Girls” debuted on NBC in 1985, Los Angeles Times critic Howard Rosenberg praised the sitcom about four single retirees living together in Miami as a TV rarity. His only complaint was that McClanahan, then 51, looked too young for someone in her “golden” years.

McClanahan was born Feb. 21, 1934, in Healdton, Okla.


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