Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) visited Iowa on Sunday after announcing his candidacy for president the day before in Springfield, Ill. Name recognition would be his toughest challenge, he said Sunday, in the race with Democratic rivals Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton defended her 2002 vote in favor of invading Iraq, after a participant in a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire asked her to repudiate that decision. The Democratic presidential hopeful has said she would not have voted for the measure "knowing what we know now" and opposes President Bush's troop surge, but the issue remains a potential vulnerability for her campaign.

The first Mardi Gras parades kicked off in New Orleans last weekend, as the city's tourism industry remained optimistic about a higher turnout than last year. Hotels for the coming weekend are 80 percent full so far, and three dozen parades are planned between now and Feb. 20, or "Fat Tuesday." Many businesses depend on the famous celebration, which generated more than $1 billion in revenues in 2000. In 2006, after hurricane Katrina, attendance dropped to 350,000 visitors from the usual 1 million, and festivities were reduced to eight days.

Macalester College plans to hold a campuswide discussion Tuesday, after school officials learned that a student had dressed as a Ku Klux Klan member and another wore blackface and put a noose around his neck at a party last month. Partygoers at the Minnesota school had been asked to wear "politically incorrect" outfits. Incidents involving racially offensive costumes have been reported at four other colleges this school year.

Accused Al Qaeda suspect Jose Padilla was declared fit for trial on Friday by the US Bureau of Prisons, but defense attorneys asked to delay a competency hearing, scheduled for Feb. 16, to further investigate the conclusions of the report. Mr. Padilla suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, his lawyers say.

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