The House voted 264-163 Wednesday to permanently abolish the estate tax, but the controversial issue is not expected to win support in the Senate. Republican lawmakers turned back a Democratic attempt to retain the tax on the largest estates. Republicans lobbying for passage said the tax must be fully repealed to protect families who own small businesses and farms. The same measure passed the House last year, but died later in the Senate.

The deficit in the broadest measure of trade swelled to a record $136.1 billion in the first three months of 2003, as war tensions stoked the prices of imported crude oil and other petroleum products, the Commerce Department reported. It said the mushrooming "current account" deficit in the first quarter was 5.8 percent larger than the previous record deficit, $128.6 billion, in the fourth quarter of 2002.

The Conference Board reported Thursday that its index of leading economic indicators increased in May, bolstering hopes that the economy may be headed for a rebound. The index rose 1.0 percent, after a 0.1 percent rise in April and a 0.2 percent decline in March. Analysts had expected a 0.6 percent rise in May. The index is widely seen as a predictor of where the economy is headed in the next three to six months.

A tester missile failed to intercept an incoming target over the Pacific Ocean Wednesday, the Defense Department said. This is the first such failure since the Bush administration outlined plans to have a sea-based missile-defense program in place by 2005. The US resumed sea-based testing after withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty last summer.

City officials in Sacramento were bracing for mass protests by opponents of genetically modified foods at an international agricultural conference whose delegates begin arriving this weekend. Up to 8,000 demonstrators are expected. The first Ministerial Conference and Expo on Agricultural Science, sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture, is intended to share ways of boosting farm productivity and curbing hunger in developing nations.

Hall of Famer Larry Doby, who died Wednesday, was the second black player to don a Major League Baseball uniform. On July 5, 1947, just 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier with the Brooklyn Dodgers, Doby joined the Cleveland Indians of the rival American League, where he spent most of his 13-year playing career. He later managed the Chicago White Sox.

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