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Continuing a buildup for possible war with Iraq, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has ordered two more aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf - for a total of four - and the Army is sending in the 4th Infantry Division, its most technologically sophisticated combat force, defense officials said. Word of the deployments came a day after Rumsfeld said in a speech that a peaceful resolution on Iraq was still possible. He added, however, that the US would have plenty of help in the event of war, contradicting critics claims that the Bush administration may have to act unilaterally.

A Bush administration official is denying allegations of a possible ethical lapse. Assistant Commerce Secretary Nancy Victory reportedly failed to disclose on government forms that lobbyists for Cingular Wireless, SBC Telecommunications, and Motorola were among six hosts who paid for a reception in her honor on Oct. 14, 2001. Ten days later, she recommended that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lift limits on wireless spectrum ownership. Victory said she considers the lobbyists to be friends and that the party had no connection to her FCC recommendation.

Construction of new homes and apartments rose 5 percent in December to their highest level since 1986, the Commerce Department reported. Analysts credited the lowest mortgage rates since 1965 with spurring interest in home-building and buying.

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Three US citizens were among seven skiers killed in an avalanche in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said. An eighth was rescued after the accident near Durand Glacier in British Columbia's Selkirk mountain range. In all, 21 Canadian and US citizens were on the remote mountain in two groups, police said.

A very early poll has given US Rep. Richard Gephardt (D) of Missouri an edge over other 2004 Democratic presidential hopefuls. In a survey of 480 likely Democratic voters in Iowa by pollster Zogby International, Gephardt garnered 19 percent support. US Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut was a close second, at 17 percent and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts had 11 percent. But 60 percent said Bush is likely to win reelection.

Caricaturist Al Hirschfeld, who drew Broadway and Hollywood performers in a more than 75-year career, died Monday in New York. His images of stars from Charlie Chaplin to Barbra Streisand and Madonna appeared in The New York Times, on postage stamps, and in art museums.

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