Declaring "the days of the Saddam Hussein regime are numbered," Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld urged Iraqis to reject their leader and to ignore orders to destroy oil wells. US military officials, meanwhile, told the Associated Press that a massive artillery assault by US-led forces could begin at any time. President Bush made a brief address late Wednesday to announce the opening salvo of a "broad and concerted campaign." While accusing Hussein of deliberately placing troops and equipment in civilian areas, he said coalition forces would make "every effort" to avoid civilian casualties.

Antiwar demonstrators in Philadelphia and other cities mobilized to denounce the outbreak of conflict, with scattered arrests reported. Larger protests were being planned for the weekend.

In apparent outreach to the UN, Bush's national security adviser Condoleezza Rice will meet with Secretary-General Kofi Annan later this week on a role in post-conflict Iraq, a UN spokesman said. The UN is readying humanitarian aid to follow the US-led military action, which a divided Security Council did not approve.

The House and Senate were moving toward votes on widely different budgets for next year. The House version, which majority Republicans hoped to pass Thursday, would grant Bush's requested $726 billion in tax cuts through 2013. Senate Democrats, meanwhile, said they had nearly enough votes to limit their package to $350 billion. The Senate narrowly voted Wednesday to remove a provision that would have opened Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil development, a centerpiece of the Bush administration's energy policy.

In a discovery that could yield important clues to the shuttle Columbia disaster, search teams found a data recorder Wednesday in Hemphill, Texas. A spokeswoman for the panel investigating the accident said the recorder appeared intact but had sustained heat damage.

Escorted by Navy fighter jets, a hijacked Cuban airliner landed safely in Key West, Fla., late Wednesday. Six hijackers surrendered to the FBI, and the 35 other passengers and crew were being questioned.

A police sting recovered North Carolina's missing US Bill of Rights document after almost 140 years, Gov. Mike Easley (D) announced Wednesday. A Philadelphia group alerted authorities after being offered the historic item for $5 million. The 13 founding colonies and newly formed federal government each got a copy at the bill's signing in 1789. North Carolina's was stolen by Union troops in the Civil War.

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