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In the culmination of a year-long investigation, federal authorities charged 18 people with weapons-trafficking, including for an alleged plot to smuggle grenade launchers, shoulder-fired missiles, and other Russian military weapons into the US. The defendants, rounded up in New York, Miami, and Los Angeles, included Armenians and South Africans. An FBI informant who posed as an arms trafficker played a key role in tracking down the suspects.

Both sides in the gay-marriage debate were predicting a vigorous legal battle after a superior court judge in California ruled Monday that withholding licenses from homosexual men and lesbians constitutes discrimination that the state can no longer justify. The much-anticipated ruling grew out a same-sex marrying spree in San Francisco last year, when Mayor Gavin Newsom (D) directed city officials to issue licenses in defiance of state law. Enforcement of the ruling was stayed for 60 days to allow time for appeals.

Two pieces of mail handled by separate military facilities in the Washington area - one of them the Pentagon - triggered new anthrax alarms Monday. So far, investigators have said they found no signs of a concerted biological attack. Because the mail had been irradiated before arriving at both locations, the anthrax was believed to be inert, even though sensors are still able to detect it.

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The Environmental Protection Agency issued regulations to cut toxic mercury emissions, the first such controls on coal-burning power plants, to meet a court-ordered deadline. Critics say the rules favor industry by allowing users to trade limits on emissions, permitting a net increase in air pollution.

Twenty-two women were arrested Monday near Grants Pass., Ore., in the latest environmental protests of logging in an old-growth forest. The protesters were attempting to block timber cutters from felling dead trees burned in a 2002 fire.

Karen Hughes, a longtime aide and adviser to President Bush, was nominated Monday as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, with a mission to try to change Islamic perceptions about the US. If confirmed by the Senate, she would hold the rank of ambassador.

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