President Bush challenged the UN to support his plan for steady transition to democratic rule in Iraq. But in a speech to the General Assembly Tuesday, he made clear that the US would follow a timetable "neither hurried nor delayed by the wishes of other parties" - an apparent jab at France, Germany, and other governments demanding the transfer of power from a military occupation forces led by the US to the Iraqi people in a two-stage plan. Bush invited the UN to play an expanded role in Iraq's reconstruction by helping to prepare a constitution, training civil servants, and conducting free and fair elections.

A federal appeals court in San Francisco ruled California's recall election can go as scheduled, one day after hearing arguments in the case. Eleven judges of the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals sharply questioned attorneys for both the state and the American Civil Liberties Union. Proponents of the Oct. 7 referendum on Gov. Gray Davis (D) said the risk of missed votes is acceptable. Opponents argued it constituted an "unlawful election." The 9th Circuit overruled a decision by a three-judge panel last week that the election should be postponed until new voting machines are available next year.

Attorney General Ashcroft directed federal prosecutors to seek the severest charges and penalties more often, regardless of the nature of the cases involved. Plea bargains should be pursued only in limited, specific circumstances, he said in a memo Monday to all 94 US attorneys' offices. The policy change is the latest example of Ashcroft's attempts to bring greater symmetry - critics say inflexibility - to the federal justice system. Over the summer Ashcroft instructed federal prosecutors to seek the death penalty whenever applicable, overruling some who would not, and to vigorously oppose sentences imposed by judges that are lighter than suggested by federal guidelines.

Top Air Force leaders knew about serious sexual misconduct at the Air Force Academy but failed to take effective action, an independent panel reported Monday. It accused the service's general counsel of having tried to "shield" headquarters officials from criticism. The seven-member group chaired by ex-US Rep. Tillie Fowler recommended the Pentagon investigate the failure to respond to clear signals of an antifemale culture at the academy. The report found 142 allegations of sexual assault had been made at the Colorado school over the past 10 years.

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