USA

Faced with mounting casualties, President Bush said he wants Iraqis to take more responsibility for governing their country, but that US-led forces are determined to prevail over terrorists. "We've got a good strategy to deal with these killers," Bush said. US administrator Paul Bremer returned to Iraq after two days of talks at the White House, with several proposals to speed the establishment of an Iraqi government.

Closing arguments began in the case of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad as the three-week trial in Virginia Beach, Va., neared an end. Jurors heard two hours of evidence in Muhammad's favor and 30 hours against him. Meanwhile, 20 miles east in Chesapeake, Va., opening arguments began in the trial of his alleged accomplice, Lee Malvo, charged with fatally shooting FBI analyst Linda Franklin in October 2002. If convicted, both could face the death penalty.

The Senate was working its way through a 30-hour marathon session to argue the merits and drawbacks of Democrats blocking four of Bush's judicial nominees. Republicans scheduled the "Justice for Judges" talkathon, which Democrats dubbed "Justice for the Jobless" as they criticized the president's economic policies and nominees in alternating 30-minute sessions. The marathon morphed into a legislative pillow-fight as senators struggled to stay awake through Wednesday night.

More than two-thirds of fourth-graders and eighth-graders don't know math as well as they should, but their scores are on the rise, according to newly released results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress test. Compared with their peers in 2000, all students made gains in math; black and Hispanic students also narrowed the performance gap with their white peers. Reading scores held steady, the report said.

Roman Catholic bishops condemned same-sex unions and pledged to persuade parishioners to obey the church's ban on artificial birth control as they concluded their national meeting in Washington Wednesday. The church leaders say they have an obligation to "give witness to the whole moral truth" and to reinforce Catholic teaching that homosexuality is a sin.

A nine-hour standoff in Dallas between police and a gunman holding seven children and a woman hostage ended Wednesday with the man dead and four officers wounded. Francisco Fuentes, who was scheduled to appear in court next week over a previous standoff with police two months ago, broke into an apartment at 2:45 a.m., fatally shot two men, and barricaded himself in a room with the hostages, who included his wife and two of his children.

Strong winds of up to 74 m.p.h. swept through the Midwest and Great Lakes Wednesday night, temporarily knocking out power to at least 600,000 customers. Scores of schools closed due to the severe storms. A power line fell across Interstate 94 near Detroit, creating a vast traffic jam. Flooding killed one person in West Virginia; seven people were injured at a Rubbermaid plant in Wooster, Ohio; and near-blizzard conditions were forecast in upstate New York.

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