USA

Two US pilots are missing after their Apache Longbow helicopter went down in Iraq, the US military confirmed Monday, as Iraq's government claimed to have shot down two of the aircraft south of Baghdad. A day earlier, US-led forces took their heaviest casualties to date in the conflict, with at least nine American soldiers killed and a dozen more missing from two ambushes - in one case by Iraqi militiamen pretending to surrender. Meanwhile, in an incident that prompted US outrage, Iraqi TV aired images of what it said were dead US servicemen and five live prisoners, one of them female. Separately, two British pilots died when their aircraft was hit by a US missile in a "friendly-fire" incident.

As reports of US casualties circulated, rallies in support of troops drew crowds in dozens of cities and towns Sunday, and new opinion polls indicated public support for President Bush and the war remains high. An ABC News/Washington Post survey found 72 percent of respondents backing the conflict, even as those anticipating significant casualties rose 17 points to 54 percent. An NBC poll put Bush's approval rating at 67 percent.

Citing "credible evidence" that Russian firms are selling Iraq antitank missiles, night-vision goggles, and other sensitive equipment in violation of UN sanctions, the Bush administration demanded an immediate end to such assistance. "These actions are disturbing, and we have made our concerns clear to the Russian government," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said. Russia's Foreign Minister insisted his government has investigated the alleged sales and found "no fact supporting the Americans' anxiety."

The Supreme Court rejected a challenge by civil liberties groups to widened surveillance authority given to federal agencies for counterterrorism purposes. The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups had expressed concerns of possible abuses of a type that "seriously threatened our democracy in the past." But the administration argued that monitoring, and a special "spy court" that oversees the use domestic espionage tactics, are necessary and the High Court declined to intervene.

At the Academy Awards ceremonies, "Chicago" was declared best picture and won five Oscars in all, the most of any film. The trophies were presented in a scaled-back pageant in Los Angeles Sunday night. Adrien Brody took best actor honors for Holocaust drama "The Pianist." Filmmaker Michael Moore, whose antigun feature "Bowling for Columbine" was named best documentary, was booed in an acceptance speech in which he criticized the war in Iraq. Peter O'Toole, a seven-time best-actor nominee, took home a special lifetime achievement award.

Authorities in Eaton, Colo. were looking into a gas pipeline fire that set two homes ablaze and sent flames hundreds of feet into the air Sunday. No injuries were reported. A sport utility vehicle was seen leaving the scene just before the explosion, a spokeswoman for the sheriff's office said.

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