President Bush escalated his push to confront doubts about US strategy in Iraq at a news conference in the White House Tuesday. Among his statements:

• "The terrorists haven't given up. They're tough-minded; they like to kill. There will be more tough fighting ahead."

• "I'm optimistic we'll succeed. If not, I'd pull our troops out."

• "The Iraqis had a chance to fall apart [in civil war] and they didn't."

• "I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just flat wrong."

The average price for regular unleaded gasoline rose to $2.504 last week, a jump of nearly 14 cents from the previous week, the Energy Information Administration said. The price was the highest since last October. It cited strong demand, tight global supplies, and geopolitical uncertainties as the key reasons for the upturn.

The White House called for a new presidential election in Belarus after independent observers said the victory of hard-line incumbent Alexander Lukashenko was a farce, flawed by fraud and human rights abuses. The administration said it's discussing possible punitive measures against Belarus with the European Union.

The Labor Department said declines in food and energy prices last month caused wholesale inflation to drop 1.4 percent, the largest falloff in nearly three years.

Fueled by an exploding consumer market, the number of Hispanic- owned businesses in the US grew 31 percent - to 1.6 million - between 1997 and 2002, the Census Bureau reported. It said 87 percent are one-employee businesses, 44 percent are owned by Mexicans, and a third are construction or other service-related firms.

Having completed a new long-term contract with the players and a new TV deal, National Football League Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced he will retire in July after 16 years on the job.

Donation is a 'first'

The First Church of Christ Scientist, the publisher of this paper, has voluntarily donated $2.3 million to a Securities and Exchange Commission-managed fund for the purpose of repaying people bilked by Eric Resteiner, who had donated the funds to the church before his fraudulent activity was exposed, the SEC announced. The contribution is the first to the special fund Congress established as a business reform using a section of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

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