USA

With hurricane Frances, a stillstrengthening Category 4 storm, bearing down on Florida and expected to make landfall as early as Friday, state officials Wednesday ordered almost half a million people to evacuate areas in its potential path. Most threatened, meteorologists said, is a 280-mile coastal stretch between the keys and the Daytona Beach area. With Frances approaching less than three weeks after hurricane Charley hit, Florida could be in for the most powerful 1-2 weather punch to wallop a state in at least a century.

As the Republican Party Convention drew to a close in New York, President Bush was preparing to cap the four-day event with a nomination acceptance speech that aides said would be equal parts national security policy and domestic policy - laying out his plans for the economy, healthcare, and education. Upon arriving in New York, he made an appearance at a Queens community center with firefighters that was heavy with symbolism from Sept. 11, 2001. In his own acceptance speech Wednesday night, Vice President Cheney went on the attack against John Kerry, Bush's Democratic challenger, while portraying the president as a decisive leader who "will never seek a permission slip to defend the American people." Above, a convention delegate displays her support for Bush.

With jury selection under way in Eagle, Colo., the accuser of Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Kobe Bryant chose not to testify, and the state dropped its rape case Wednesday. In a written apology, made as a condition of the 19-year-old resort employee's withholding her testimony, Bryant said: "Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did." Bryant and his attorneys still must contend with her federal lawsuit seeking unspecified damages.The plaintiff dropped the criminal case after a series of gaffes in the legal proceedings that led to the public disclosure of her name and other personal details.

Independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader was granted a spot on the November ballot in Washington state Wednesday. But his efforts were dealt setbacks in Michigan, Oregon, and Texas, where a judge upheld a signature deadline. So far, Nader's name is officially on the ballots of 15 states as well as in Washington, D.C. It could appear on at least five others through the endorsement of the Reform Party. But Democrats have filed challenges to his petitions to get onto the ballot in a number of other states.

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