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After a trip to Oregon to view the smoldering Squires fire, President Bush was to propose changes to environmental laws Thursday to help prevent the types of wildfires that have raged across the West this summer. The changes would speed the approval process for timber companies that want to thin national forests and would limit environmental-impact reviews. Environmental groups accused Bush of using the fires as an excuse to benefit the timber industry. Above, firefighters monitor a controlled burn near an 11,200-acre blaze northeast of Keystone, S.D.

The president later was to attend a Republican fund-raiser in Oregon, with similar events in California and New Mexico today and tomorrow. Overall, the events are expected to take in at least $5 million for GOP candidates.

While asserting that a regime change in Iraq is in the world's interest, "How we achieve that is a matter of consultation and deliberation," Bush said Wednesday after meeting with senior defense officials on military budget plans at his ranch in Texas. "I'm a patient man," the president added. His comments came as German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder repeated his opposition to possible US military action to oust Saddam Hussein.

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A neighbor was convicted in the kidnap and murder of Danielle van Dam by a jury in San Diego. David Westerfield faces life in prison or possibly the death sentence in the penalty phase of the trial, set to begin Aug. 28. Van Dam's remains were found along a rural road almost a month after she disappeared from her bedroom Feb. 1, in the first in a series of high-profile abductions this year.

New claims for unemployment benefits fell by 2,000 to 389,000 last week, the Labor Department reported. The less volatile four-week moving average rose by 5,750 to 388,000. The figures are closely monitored by economists for signs of how the recovery is faring.

The US is exempting 178 more foreign steel products from controversial tariffs imposed five months ago, the Trade Representative's office said. The list of products such as cold finished bar, wire, and welded pipe is the longest since the Bush administration began making exclusions in June under pressure from trade partners and steel-consuming US manufacturers. The World Trade Organization is considering whether the tariffs are legal, while the European Union and Japan have threatened to retaliate against US imports.

Floridians were marking the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Andrew, the costliest natural disaster in US history. The Aug. 24, 1992, storm killed 35 people and inflicted $30 billion in property damage. After a review of data, a National Hurricane Center panel Wednesday upgraded Andrew's intensity to a "Category 5" event. There are only two others on record, in 1935 and 1969.

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