USA

With peacemaking a main objective, President Bush embarks Friday on an extended trip to Europe and the Middle East. After stops in Poland and Russia, he'll attend the Group of Eight summit in France - whose government, along with Moscow's, strongly opposed the war in Iraq and is wary of the US-led rebuilding effort. Bush is due to leave the weekend gathering a day early for talks with Arab leaders in Egypt June 3, and meetings the following day in Jordan with that nation's King Abdullah and with the Palestinian and Israeli prime ministers, aimed at shoring up the fragile road map to peace.

Allied military commanders in Iraq are revising their security plans amid violence that has killed nine US soldiers in the past week, The New York Times reported. Changes reportedly include extending the deployment of the Third Infantry Division and sending experienced units to problem areas outside Baghdad. The detention of several Shiite Muslim clerics by US forces prompted an angry protest in the Iraqi capital Thursday by an estimated 500 supporters. In a positive sign, meanwhile, Iraq Airways, the national carrier, announced it was preparing to resume service suspended since March, although it wasn't immediately clear how soon that would happen.

Nudged by strong consumer spending, the US economy did slightly better in the first quarter than previously estimated, the Commerce Department reported. More complete data show the US gross domestic product - the widest measure of economic output - grew at a 1.9 percent annual rate between January and March, the department said, revising its previous estimate of a 1.6 percent growth rate. The figure is still below normal, economists said.

Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Rick Bragg resigned from The New York Times as the publication's internal problems deepened. Bragg disagreed with a two-week suspension over a story in which he relied heavily (and without attribution) on material gathered by an intern. In published interviews, Bragg characterized that as a common practice. The incident came as the newspaper and many others review their editorial policies following revelations that another Times reporter, Jayson Blair, fabricated and plagiarized stories.

Eighty-four contestants were competing in the finals of the National Spelling Bee in Washington, with the champion to receive $12,000 and a trophy. The 76th annual event drew a record number of entrants: 251 third- to eighth-graders from 48 states, the Caribbean, and Europe.

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