Each Democratic presidential candidate stressed a determination to end the war in Iraq during Wednesday's first all-candidates forum, held in Carson City, Nev., but John Edwards went further. The former North Carolina senator, who, unlike Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, has apologized for his vote to authorize the war, pointedly said that Clinton's vote of approval is "between her and her conscience." The format did not permit rebuttal. Only Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, who campaigned in Iowa, was absent.

Laid-off workers filed 27,000 fewer applications for jobless benefits last week than the week before, the Labor Department said Thursday. Despite the sharp drop, the four-week average for such claims rose, and economists are predicting greater unemployment in the coming months.

With parental consent, children ages 15 and younger will be able to enter the US at land or sea entry points with a copy of their birth certificates, rather than passports, according to an announcement the Bush administration was expected to make Thursday. That would exempt them from new rules that take effect as soon as January 2008.

For the first time, astronomers have captured light from exoplanets outside our solar system, scientists said Wednesday at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The achievement comes years earlier than anticipated because of data collected by NASA's infrared Spitzer Space Telescope, which has led to identifying atmospheric molecules as much as 904 trillion miles away.

Paul E. Cortez became the second US soldier to plead guilty in the rape of a 14-year-old girl and the murder of her and her family in their Iraq home last March. Because of his admission Wednesday at Fort Campbell, Ky., Cortez will be spared the death sentence but must testify against three other soldiers.

Virginia lawmakers passed a bill Wednesday like those in 11 other states that prohibit teenagers from using cellphones while driving. If the governor signs it into law, teen drivers won't be able to talk, send text messages, or snap photos with a phone on Virginia roads.

As part of the first overhaul of food safety inspections in a decade, the Agriculture Department announced Thursday that it will increase scrutiny at about 250 processing plants where unsafe practices have been found. Stepped-up efforts, which begin in April, will impact roughly 5 percent of such facilities.

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