In a crucial diplomatic offensive, the US was attempting to overcome staunch international resistance to war with Iraq. Secretary of State Powell, repeating warnings that if the UN Security Council doesn't act to disarm Iraq, the US and its coalition partners will, Friday makes his fourth trip in less than two months to the UN. He is scheduled to address the Council after chief weapons inspector Hans Blix reports on Iraq's cooperation.

Meanwhile, the US expelled two UN-based Iraqi diplomats and urged 60 other governments to oust alleged Iraqi agents - many of them diplomats - who may be poised to attack American interests.

President Bush scheduled a news conference for Thursday night, but his White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer, made clear that it was not for the purpose of making any critical announcement on the Iraq crisis. He said Bush would have an opening statement about successes in the war against terrorism and on the importance of disarming Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

In antiwar protests that ranged from quiet demonstrations to boisterous rallies, thousands of students across the country left classrooms Wednesday to declare their opposition to a war with Iraq. While it could not be determined how many students participated in the protests, the National Youth and Student Peace coalition said tens of thousands at more than 350 high schools, colleges, and universities had pledged to participate.

Senate Republicans failed to break a Democratic blockade on Miguel Estrada's nomination for a federal appeals court judgeship, dealing Bush his first major defeat since the GOP won control of Congress last November. The 55-to-44 vote after four weeks of ethnic-tinged debate was five votes short of the 60 needed to end what had evolved into a Democratic filibuster against Estrada. Bush nominated him two years ago to become the first Hispanic on the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The former US Forest Service employee who confessed to starting the biggest wildfire in Colorado history was sentenced to 12 years in state prison on charges of destroying private property in four counties. Last month, Terry Lynn Barton was sentenced in federal court to six years in prison for destroying federal property. She will serve the sentences concurrently in federal prison.

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