HOUSTON —The U.S. Justice Department on Monday rejected Texas’ new voter-identification law, saying that it could disproportionately harm Latinos under the federal Voting Rights Act.

“Hispanics disproportionately lack either a driver’s license or a personal identification card,” Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, wrote in a letter to Keith Ingram, director of elections for the Texas Secretary of State.

Perez noted that state data showed nearly 800,000 people do not have driver’s licenses or personal identification cards issued by the state Department of Public Safety. More than 38 percent of those lacking the ID were Latino, he said.

Texas was among eight states that passed voter-ID laws last year. A judge blocked a similar law Monday in Wisconsin, and the Justice Department blocked another in South Carolina in December.

Rhode Islanders racking up lottery wins

CRANSTON, R.I. — Rhode Island’s lucky lottery streak continues, with a man from Smithfield claiming a $250,000 prize from Friday’s Mega Millions drawing.

State lottery officials say the man came forward with his family on Monday to claim the winnings. He says he will pay off some debt, give some money to his children and grandchildren and donate some to nonprofits.

The ticket for the $148 million drawing, which the man bought in Providence, matched five numbers but not the Mega Ball.

Last week, an 81-year-old Newport woman claimed the $336.4 million jackpot for the Feb. 11 Powerball drawing. That was the sixth largest lottery jackpot in U.S. history.

A Powerball ticket sold in Smithfield hit the jackpot a day later. The winner of the $60 million prize has yet to be announced.

Venus and Jupiter cuddling up in night sky

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — It’s not too late to catch the spectacular Venus and Jupiter show.

On Monday and Tuesday evenings, the planets will appear just 3 degrees apart in the western sky. The gap has been narrowing since last month.

The two planets are visible every night at twilight. Venus is brighter because of its relative closeness, compared with super-far-away Jupiter.

Even though the gap will widen, the planets will appear remarkably close all week and be easily visible the rest of this month. So says astronomer Tony Phillips, author of the spaceweather.com website. Grab a small telescope, and you can also catch Jupiter’s four largest moons.

Astronomers consider it the best evening tag-up of Venus and Jupiter in years. In July, early risers will be treated to a similar spectacle, in the eastern sky at daybreak.

Massacre in Syrian city of Homs leaves dozens dead

BEIRUT — Dozens of civilians were murdered in the strife-torn city of Homs, the Syrian government and opposition activists said Monday, as diplomats in New York and elsewhere struggled to forge terms for a possible cease-fire.

Each side in the Syrian conflict blamed the other for the latest carnage in Homs, which has suffered the highest number of casualties in the almost yearlong rebellion against President Bashar Assad.

Opposition advocates said security services on Sunday killed at least 53 people, all but six of them women and children. Many had their throats slit, the opposition said, and most were from the Homs neighborhood of Karm Zeitoun, where armed rebels have clashed with government security forces.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency in turn reported that “terrorist armed groups” in Homs had kidnapped and killed “scores of civilians,” mutilated their bodies and filmed the corpses.

The killers’ motivation, the state media said, was public relations: using the harrowing images in a worldwide campaign to blame Syrian security personnel for coldblooded massacre.

Syrian authorities have repeatedly accused the two major Arab-language satellite channels, Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, of fomenting rebellion in Syria at the behest of the networks’ backers in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, respectively. The two Gulf kingdoms have spearheaded the Arab world’s political campaign to isolate Assad and have publicly called for arming Syrian rebels.

GOP candidates use different tactics to appeal to voters in Deep South

BILOXI, Miss. — The top three Republicans running for president closed their Mississippi and Alabama campaigns on Monday with distinctly different appeals in the staunchly conservative Southern states whose verdicts in Tuesday’s primaries could alter the course of the party’s nominating season.

Across a swath of the Deep South — in Biloxi, Mobile, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Montgomery — the trio of White House hopefuls jockeyed for favor among the evangelical Christians who hold sway in the South, but also among a smaller group of more secular Republicans who could prove critical in what is shaping up as a tight race.

Mitt Romney added a dash of Southern flavor to his otherwise staid, and familiar, pitch on the economy, raving about Mississippi catfish at a morning stopover in Alabama on his way to Florida to raise campaign money.

“That’s a fine Alabama good mornin’,” Romney said with a twang to a few dozen supporters who braved a drenching downpour to sing “Happy Birthday” to him outside the Whistle Stop diner in Mobile, Ala., on the Gulf Coast.

The former Massachusetts governor described rivals Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum as a pair of Washington old-timers unsuited for the task of fixing a bloated government that could use the know-how of a successful businessman.

“If you think that just having the same people go to the same place, but just in different chairs, is going to make things different, why you can vote for them,” Romney told the crowd.

Santorum, who hopes that wins in the Deep South will establish him this week as Romney’s lone viable challenger for the nomination, sought to persuade conservatives that only he would uphold their values. At an energy conference in Biloxi, he also hammered Romney and Gingrich for supporting, years ago, steps against what he called the hoax of “man-made global warming.”