John Abizaid, head of US Central Command, will leave his post early next year. The top US Middle East commander and chief architect of US strategy in Iraq opposes increasing US troop presence in Iraq, an idea that has been gaining currency in the Bush administration.

President Bush would support increasing the minimum wage, but said that tax and regulatory relief for small businesses should accompany the hike. Democrats, who will take control of Congress in January, say that a raise from $5.15 to $7.25 in a two-year period is their top priority.

Nearly 1 in 5 Hispanics lacks sufficient access to nutritious food, and 1 in 20 regularly goes hungry, according to a new study by the National Council of La Raza, a Latino advocacy group. America's fastest-growing minority group has nearly as high a "food insecurity" rate as non-Hispanic blacks do. But eligible Latinos are less likely to participate in the national food stamp program, often because they don't understand it or fear for their immigration status.

Dick Cheney will likely become the first vice president to testify in court while still in office, after attorneys for his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, declared Tuesday that they would use him as a witness in Mr. Libby's trial for perjury and obstruction. Lawyer Bill Jeffress and the vice president's press secretary both said that Mr. Cheney would most likely testify if called.

Robert Gates planned to continue meeting with US military officials in Iraq on Day 2 of his visit. The trip came just two days after the new Defense secretary's swearing-in ceremony to replace Donald Rumsfeld.

The Discovery space shuttle is expected to return to Earth Friday, as NASA officials monitor weather forecasts to determine at which station the Discovery can best land. The shuttle's fuel-based electricity supply can last until Saturday.

Hundreds of farmers have consolidated their lawsuits against Bayer CropScience, in one of the largest legal cases of its kind. They claim the company's experimental form of genetically altered rice hurt prices after being discovered in US grain elevators when it had not been approved for human consumption. Regulators have since approved Bayer's Liberty Link rice.

The hunt on Mount Hood all but ended Wednesday, after search teams spent two weeks looking for three climbers in Oregon and found only one, who died in a snow cave. Rescue crews remain on standby.

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