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Amid strong hints from Washington that President Bush is about to declare Iraq in "material breach" of the latest UN resolution on disarmament, inspectors fanned out for at least nine searches in the same day, some of them of sites not previously visited. Inspections chief Hans Blix and Mohamad El Baradei of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency are to offer their first report to the Security Council today. A spokesman for the search teams would comment only that access so far has been granted to each site the inspectors have sought to visit.

More pressure on the Iraqi regime came from Britain, whose foreign secretary said Saddam Hussein's weapons declaration "will fool nobody." The government also said it has chartered a large merchant ship - and is seeking two more - to send heavy armored vehicles and materiel to the Persian Gulf for use in a possible war with Iraq. Meanwhile, Hungary's government OK'd a US request to use an air base near Budapest for training anti-Hussein exiles who'd serve in a transitional government if he is ousted.

Worries that controversial President Hugo Chávez might declare martial law grew in Venezuela as the opposition-led general strike reached its 17th day. Some foreign governments advised their citizens to avoid traveling in the tense Latin American nation, where strike leaders called on opponents of the government to block city streets and major highways Wednesday despite past violent clashes with the leftist leader's supporters. But the greater concern was the oil industry, which government troops have failed to restart, despite Chávez's orders. The strike is costing an estimated $50 million a day.

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By a 6-2 vote, the highest court in Germany blocked a controversial plan by Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's government to admit a controlled stream of thousands more skilled immigrants to fill high-tech jobs. The plan passed the upper house of the Bundestag in March, but opposition conservatives argued that, with unemployment at 10 percent, the nation can't support more immigration. Germany already has more than 7 million foreigners, mostly low-skilled "guest workers." A Schröder aide said the measure would be resubmitted to parliament next month.

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