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Thursday, March 22

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Editor's Note: The CNN Wire is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents and producers, and The CNN Wire editors. "Posted" times are Eastern Time.

Police investigating cricket coach's death as murder

KINGSTON, Jamaica (CNN) -- Jamaican police are now treating the death of Pakistani cricket coach Bob Woolmer as a murder, according to a statement from Jamaican police commissioner Lucius Thomas.

The statement was read to reporters Thursday night. It said that the pathology report indicated Woolmer died of "manual strangulation."

"We are now treating this as a case of murder," the statement said.

Police announced Tuesday that Woolmer's death was suspicious, two days after he was found unconscious in his hotel room. Woolmer, 58, was declared dead at a hospital soon after he was found. (Posted 7:50 p.m.)

Census estimate puts New Orleans population at half of pre-Katrina number

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- A new Census Bureau estimate puts New Orleans' population at less than half the number before Hurricane Katrina roared ashore in August 2005, while the larger metropolitan area has shed nearly one-quarter of its pre-storm population.

Yearly estimates released Thursday put the city's population at 223,388 as of July 1, 2006 -- down 50.6 percent from a year earlier, just before flooding triggered by Katrina inundated the city. However, the estimate, which showed nearly 229,000 fewer people in the city, does not take into account any population growth that may have taken place since last summer.

Also, the seven-parish New Orleans metro area's population was estimated at 1.02 million, compared to 1.31 million a year earlier, a loss of about 289,000 people, or 22 percent. (Posted 6:49 p.m.)

Committee chairmen formally nix White House proposal to allow Rove, others to be interviewed behind closed doors

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Key Democratic committee chairmen Thursday formally rejected the White House proposal to allow two of his key aides to be interviewed in private regarding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, but left open the possibility of further negotiations on the matter.

The Democrats want the aides -- top political adviser Karl Rove and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers, along with their deputies -- to testify under oath and in public. Bush's proposal allows neither.

"We would be pleased to discuss further proposals from you to achieve these objectives that provide us with the records and information we need to complete our investigation while respecting your needs and interests," Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding. "... If you are willing to work in good faith, we can assure you that we are as well."

Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and Subcommittee Chairwoman Rep. Linda Sanchez sent a nearly identical letter to Fielding.

The White House held its ground, however, with spokeswoman Dana Perino accusing the chairmen of engaging in "a political fishing expedition." (Posted 6:30 p.m.)

Former sailor indicted on terrorism charges

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (CNN) -- A former sailor accused of providing information regarding the classified movements of his U.S. Navy battle group to a group that operated jihadi Web sites was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury, U.S. Attorney Kevin O'Connor announced.

Hassan Abujihaad, formerly known as Paul Hall, was charged with material support of terrorism and disclosing previously classified information relating to the national defense, O'Connor said in a written statement.

He is scheduled to make an initial court appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Holly B. Fitzsimmons in Bridgeport on Friday. (Posted 6 p.m.)

None hurt in blast at Spanish Embassy in Congo

KINSHASA, Congo (CNN) -- A grenade or mortar shell struck the Spanish Embassy during fighting between factions in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Thursday, causing no injuries but prompting the evacuation of Spanish diplomats in U.N. armored vehicles, a Spanish Foreign Ministry spokesman told CNN.

Spanish-speaking troops from Uruguay, part of the 17,000-strong U.N. force in the country, moved in quickly after the shell hit the embassy, amidst ongoing disturbances that included gunfire, the spokesman said.

The diplomats were taken to a secure U.N. building in Kinshasa, the nation's capital.

The Spanish Embassy is near the residence of former rebel leader Jean-Pierre Bemba, who lost a presidential election last October to Joseph Kabila.

Bemba loyalists battled government troops Thursday in what Spanish diplomats described as the most intense fighting since Kabila began his presidential term last December. --From CNN Madrid Bureau Chief Al Goodman in Madrid (Posted 5:51 p.m.)

House Dems looking for votes on supplemental funding

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- House Democrats say they are determined to change course in Iraq, but Democratic leaders were still trying Thursday to change minds.

Democratic Caucus chairman Rahm Emanuel told CNN they're at least one or two votes short of the 218 needed to pass binding legislation with a firm deadline -- Aug. 31, 2008 -- for combat troops to leave Iraq.

It's contained in a supplemental funding bill -- a bill that President Bush has promised to veto if it contains the deadline.

The biggest resistance isn't coming from the other side of the aisle -- although Republicans are mostly united in opposition -- but rather from a handful of undecided Democrats, including freshmen Keith Ellison of Minnesota, Brad Ellsworth of Indiana and Hank Johnson of Georgia.

But the list has grown smaller in the last day or so as anti-war Democrats who had been on the fence agreed to vote yes. --From CNN Congressional Correspondent Andrea Koppel (Posted 5:35 p.m.)

Justice Dept. says attorney general recommended investigators be granted security clearances

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales last year recommended Justice Department officials be granted security clearances needed to investigate the conduct of department lawyers in connection with the administration's classified warrantless surveillance program, Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard Hertling disclosed in a letter to Congress Thursday.

President Bush, however, decided not to grant the clearances, which prevented the inquiry from proceeding, he said.

This is the first time officials have disclosed Gonzales had recommended to the president that security clearances be given.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., as well as several Democratic senators, last week wrote to the attorney general wanting explanations of his role in the denial of the clearances and whether he knew he would be a focus of the probe. That followed a National Journal story raising the question of whether Gonzales urged the president to prevent the probe from proceeding. --From CNN Senior Producer Kevin Bohn (Posted 4:40 p.m.)

U.S. criticizes Italian deal to free journalist in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States has taken its ally Italy to task for a deal to free five Taliban prisoners in exchange for the release of an Italian journalist.

The State Department has criticized the deal to free journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo as making concessions to terrorists that could increase the risk for U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke by phone with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema about the matter, after a flurry of diplomatic activity between Washington and Rome over the deal.

Mastrogiacomo, a correspondent for the Italian daily La Repubblica, was taken captive March 5 by the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand. --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott (Posted 4:12 p.m.)

Edwards 'optimistic' despite wife's second cancer diagnosis

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (CNN) -- The breast cancer first diagnosed in 2004 in Elizabeth Edwards, wife of presidential candidate John Edwards, has recurred, but will not interrupt his campaign for the White House, the couple said Thursday.

Dr. Lisa Carey, the oncologist treating Elizabeth Edwards, categorized the cancer as metastatic Stage 4 cancer, which is largely confined to the bones. The cancer is not curable, but is treatable, she said.

"Many patients with exactly the circumstances that she has do very well for a number of years," Carey told reporters after the Edwards' news conference. She said the next phase of treatment has not been determined.

"We are very optimistic about this," John Edwards said, "because having been through some struggles together in the past, we know that the key is to keep your head up and keep moving and be strong, and we intend to do exactly that." (Posted 1:32 p.m.)

3 arrested in connection with July 7 attacks in London

LONDON (CNN) -- Three men were arrested Thursday in connection with the July 7, 2005, terrorist attacks that killed 52 people in London, New Scotland Yard said.

Two of the men, ages 23 and 30, were arrested shortly before 1 p.m. at Manchester Airport, where they were preparing to catch a plan to Pakistan, New Scotland Yard said in a written statement.

The third man, aged 26, was arrested at a house in Leeds shortly after 4 p.m., the statement said.

"The three men were arrested on suspicion of the commission, preparation, or instigation of acts of terrorism under the Terrorism Act 2000," it said. (Posted 1:19 p.m.)

Blair, al-Maliki speak on phone

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and British Prime Minister Tony Blair held a 20-minute telephone chat on Thursday in which they focused on issues in the southern city of Basra -- where British troops are based, al-Maliki's office said.

Blair called al-Maliki and reiterated "his full support of the efforts made by the Iraqi government to impose law in the country. However, there was a focus on Basra, where a British raid conducted earlier this month drew al-Maliki's ire.

The Iraqi prime minister's office said Blair "expressed his regrets for recent events that took place in Basra, stressing the necessity to respect government institutions and not to violate their jurisdiction. "

Al-Maliki also updated Blair on the Baghdad security plan and said Iraq will continue efforts to confront terror groups outside the capital "once Baghdad proper is cleared of terrorists." (Posted 12:58 p.m.)

U.N. agency needs help reviving water-tanker program in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The U.N. children's agency said an operation designed to supply clean water to Baghdad residents needs some major and swift financial replenishment.

For the past four years, UNICEF has been shipping tankers with clean water into deprived neighborhoods primarily in Basra and Baghdad, where underfunded water service is plagued by leaky pipes and sabotage.

However, the operation -- which reached an average population of 70,000 every day in Baghdad -- stopped after it ran out of money on March 1. The Basra operation was halted two years ago because of lack of funds.

"UNICEF is urgently asking for more support to enable water-tankering operations to restart in the capital city for another 12-18 months. Iraq is still in an emergency situation and many families simply have no alternative," UNICEF said in a statement issued Wednesday. (Posted 11:47 a.m.)

Former astronaut pleads not guilty to kidnap, battery charges

ORLANDO, Fla. (CNN) -- Attorneys for former NASA astronaut Lisa Nowak formally entered a not guilty plea Thursday to charges stemming from an alleged assault of a woman who was dating her ex-boyfriend.

Nowak, 43, has been charged with attempted kidnapping, battery and burglary of a vehicle with a weapon. The trial is scheduled to begin on July 30.

Nowak, a captain in the U.S. Navy, was not present at Thursday's arraignment at Florida's Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orlando. Her lawyers had said earlier this month she would plead not guilty to the charges.

In the past, her attorney has said the charges overstate her conduct. (Posted 11:40 a.m.)

Senate Judiciary Committee approves use of subpoenas to compel testimony from White House aides

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate Judiciary Committee cemented a showdown with the White House Thursday when it authorized its chairman to issue subpoenas to force key White House aides to testify about what they know regarding the firings of eight U.S. attorneys.

That power, though, does not mean that subpoenas will be issued; rather that they could be if the aides in question do not voluntarily appear before the committee.

President Bush has said that his top political adviser, Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and their two top deputies could be interviewed by congressional investigators -- but with no oath and no transcript of the proceedings.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said that if lawmakers decide to use subpoenas to force testimony, the president's offer is off the table. (Posted 11:35 a.m.)

Afghan child killed in accident with NATO convoy

KABUL (CNN) -- An Afghan child was struck and killed by a NATO vehicle in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said.

A convoy was heading north through Puli Alam, toward Kabul, when the child darted from the side of the road in a bazaar, it said. Puli Alam sits about midway between Kabul and Gardez in Logar province.

The regional local commander for ISAF soldiers in Logar province, Lt. Col. Steven Baker, called the incident "a tragic event for the family" and said, "we will continue to do all we can to prevent these types of accidents from occurring." (Posted 10:49 a.m.)

Pakistani cricket players to submit statements about coach's death

KINGSTON, Jamaica (CNN) -- Pakistani cricket players whose rooms were on the same hotel floor as their coach, Bob Woolmer, when he mysteriously died last weekend will submit statements to police on Thursday as part of the ongoing investigation, a team spokesman told CNN.

"It is standard procedure," spokesman Pervez Mir said. "Each of them will come along and give a written statement."

The team will then leave Kingston later in the day and head to Montego Bay, Jamaica, for two days' rest before returning to Pakistan, Mir said. (Posted 10:39 a.m.)

Basra official: Mehdi militia members fire shots at rival Shiite offices

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Members of a Shiite militia attacked the offices of rival parties Wednesday night in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, an official with the Basra provincial council told CNN Thursday.

The Mehdi Army, the militia of anti-U.S. Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, used small armaments to attack the headquarters of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI's military wing, the Badr Organization, and the Fadhila party.

Guards at those offices fired back at the attackers, but no casualties were reported. (Posted 10:38 a.m.)

Report: Severe outbreak of pandemic flu would likely result in recession

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A report from a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization concluded Thursday that a severe outbreak of pandemic flu "would almost certainly lead to a major economic recession."

The report, titled "Pandemic Flu and the Potential for U.S. Economic Recession," estimates that, in the aftermath of a severe pandemic, the U.S. gross domestic product could drop more than 5.5 percent, resulting in a loss of $683 billion.

"The U.S. is not prepared to face an economic shock of this magnitude," said Jeff Levi, executive director of the Trust for America's Health, which issued the 96-page report. "While important government preparedness efforts focusing mainly on medical and public health strategies are under way, efforts to prepare for the possible economic ramifications have been seriously inadequate. Stepping up pandemic preparedness is vital to our national and economic security."

TFAH said it based its conclusions on analyses from three financial and economic institutions. The study was funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.(Posted 10 a.m.)

Senate committee set to vote on authorization of subpoenas in prosecutor firings

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Even as the Senate Judiciary Committee prepared Thursday to authorize the use of subpoenas to compel testimony from key White House aides regarding the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, some members of the committee were working on a counter-offer to a White House deal on the conditions under which the aides would talk.

The committee is set to vote at 10 a.m. to authorize chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to use subpoenas to force President Bush's top political adviser Karl Rove, former White House counsel Harriet Miers and their two top deputies to reveal what they know about the dismissals of those prosecutors.

The approval does not mean that subpoenas will be issued; only that Leahy can use them if necessary.

A House Judiciary subcommittee passed the same motion Wednesday, allowing its leader, Sen. John Conyers, to use subpoena powers as well for the same four White House aides as well as Kyle Sampson, the former chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

But even as the Senate committee prepares for a voice vote on the motion, some members on that panel are mulling ways to counter a White House offer made Tuesday that the key aides would talk to congressional investigators -- in private interviews, with no oaths and no transcript of the proceedings. (Posted 9:55 a.m.)

2 brothers detained in January attack on Karbala compound

BAGHDAD (CNN) --Two brothers, one of whom has known links to a radical Shiite cleric, have been detained by U.S. forces in Baghdad in connection with the killing of five American soldiers in Karbala in January, U.S. officials said.

"Over the past several days, coalition forces in Basra and Hilla captured Qais Khazali, his brother Laith Khazali, and several other members of the Khazali network," the U.S. military said Thursday.

The military is being tight-lipped about the arrests. Military officials are not disclosing what evidence they have to link the network to the Karbala attack, but one official called the evidence "significant."

Qais Khazali had been known to reporters as a spokesman for Muqtada al-Sadr's political movement in 2004 in Sadr City, but it is not known whether he is still involved with the al-Sadr movement.

Al-Sadr's Mehdi Army, a Shiite militia, has been thought to be involved in Iraq's sectarian violence. The U.S. military said the network is "directly connected" to the January incident in Karbala -- the Shiite city, south of Baghdad. -- From CNN's Jamie McIntyre, Jennifer Deaton, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Basim Mahdi (Posted 9:50 a.m.)

U.N. chief gets welcome wagon, Baghdad-style: Strike in Green Zone during presser

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon got a taste Thursday of the violence in Iraq -- up close and personal.

An explosion caused by mortar fire rattled Baghdad's Green Zone and rocked the room where Ban and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki were holding a televised press conference.

Two mortar rounds were fired at the Green Zone, an Interior Ministry official said. The strike occurred near the briefing room and al-Maliki's office in the Green Zone.

Mortar and rocket fire targeting the Green Zone is not particularly unusual, and it has occurred before when high-profile press conferences were being held.

The explosion startled the Ban Ki-moon, who ducked slightly behind the podium and then swiftly regained his composure as the men continued the press briefing which ended minutes later. It was just another day in volatile Baghdad for the prime minister, who exuded his characteristic poker-faced demeanor.(Posted 9:14 a.m.)

At least 28 Taliban militants killed in Afghan fighting, official tells CNN

KABUL (CNN) -- At least 28 Taliban militants have been killed in fighting on Thursday in southern Afghanistan, Afghanistan's interior minister said.

Afghan police and soldiers have launched an operation to fight the insurgents in Helmand province, where British forces -- part of the NATO contingent in Afghanistan -- are stationed.

According to the official, Zmarai Bashiri, NATO soldiers are not involved in this operation. Bashiri said the death toll is expected to rise and the operation is still ongoing. (Posted 8:46 a.m.)

Former Saddam Fedayeen leader captured in northern Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A former Saddam Fedayeen leader "involved in setting up training camps in Syria for Iraqi and foreign fighters" was captured Thursday in northern Iraq, the U.S. military said.

The arrest was made in Mosul by coalition forces.

The U.S. military has long been concerned about foreign fighters infiltrating Iraq from Syria with the intent of conducting insurgent attacks in towns along the Euphrates River and in Baghdad., which provides background data "in the fields of defense, space, intelligence, WMD, and homeland security," said the Saddam Fedayeen was founded in 1995 by Saddam Hussein's son, Uday, and had "a total strength reportedly between 18,000 and 40,000 troops." (Posted 7:56 a.m.)

8 seized in Afghan operations

KABUL (CNN) -- Eight suspected militants were arrested Thursday by coalition and Afghan forces in eastern and southern Afghanistan, the U.S.-led coalition command said.

Five people were detained at a compound near Asadabad in Kunar province in an operation targeting extremist facilitators suspected of helping militant fighters enter Afghanistan from Pakistan.

One person was seized in Khost province after troops found a small weapons cache and other contraband items. Khost and Konar provinces are in the eastern section of the country.

In Helmand province in the south, two people were arrested in an operation targeting militants "involved in anti-government activity" there. (Posted 7:16 a.m.)

Civilian killed, 3 wounded in Baghdad clash

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A civilian was killed and three were injured shortly after noon Thursday in fighting between Iraqi soldiers and militants in the central Baghdad neighborhood of Fadhil, police said. -- From CNN's Basim Mahdi (Posted 6:20 a.m.)

3 U.S. troops killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Three U.S. troops were killed Wednesday in Iraqi combat, the U.S. military said on Thursday.

A soldier and a Marine assigned to Multi National Force-West were killed in Anbar province. There were no details about the circumstances of the deaths.

Another, assigned to Multi-National Division-Baghdad, was killed when insurgents launched a small-arms attack on a U.S. army patrol in Baghdad's western section Wednesday.

With the deaths, 3,226 U.S. military personnel have died in the four-year-old Iraq war. (Posted 6:14 a.m.)

2nd day of intense fighting reported between government forces, insurgents in Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia (CNN) -- Fighting subsided Thursday afternoon in the Somali capital after a pitched morning battle between government forces and insurgents, local residents said.

The heaviest exchanges were reported in northeastern Mogadishu -- an area where government and Ethiopian forces occupy an army base. Insurgent forces are trying to oust Ethiopian-backed interim President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed.

At a news conference inside the presidential palace, Deputy Defense Minister Salad Alijeele blamed the fighting on what he called "terrorists," including al Qaeda agents. He pledged the Somali government would defeat them.

Residents said people were fleeing the capital by the hundreds, with their belongings in tow. (Posted 6:04 a.m.)

Security sweeps begin in southern Baghdad neighborhoods; 1,600 forces involved

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- U.S. soldiers, working with Iraqi security forces, began sweeps through two Baghdad neighborhoods Thursday, targeting al Qaeda and illegal militias, a U.S. military statement said.

The clearing operations began in the southern Ghazaliya and Ameriya neighborhoods, with about 1,100 U.S. soldiers working with another 500 Iraqi soldiers and police.

"Iraqi security forces partnered with coalition soldiers conducted precision raids this morning against multiple known terrorist targets and then quickly transitioned to clearing neighborhoods house by house looking for terrorist support zones and illegal weapons caches," the statement said.

In separate operations northeast of Karma, coalition forces freed three hostages and detained 13 suspected terrorists, another military statement said. (Posted 5:46 a.m.)

U.N. secretary-general makes unannounced visit to Baghdad

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon arrived in Baghdad Thursday morning on an unannounced visit, according to Iraq's state-run Al-Iraqiya TV network.

Ban is slated to meet with Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and will co-host a news conference afterwards, an official with the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq told CNN.

The trip is his first visit to the war-torn country since taking office in January. --From CNN's Mohammed Tawfeeq (Posted 5:41a.m.)

New York police scour area for attacker after teenage boy found handcuffed to tree

NEW YORK (CNN) -- New York police scoured Staten Island overnight for a man who allegedly had attacked a teenage boy, stripped him down to his underpants and handcuffed him to a tree a day earlier.

The 13-year-old boy was found in the Grasmere section of Staten Island Wednesday morning after a passerby heard him screaming and alerted authorities.

According to police, the boy said he was walking to a school bus stop when a black man in his 20s approached him with a knife and forced him into the woods.

Police would not comment on reports they were searching for a sexual predator. --From CNN's Cheryl Robinson (Posted 5:13 a.m.)

Report: Iraq reconstruction planning inadequate for the task

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Planners for Iraq reconstruction did not anticipate the conditions inside Iraq after the initial 2003 invasion, setting the scene for a string of lackluster services that still plague the country today, according to a report by the Pentagon's inspector looking into the U.S. government's plans for reconstruction efforts in Iraq.

The report -- Iraq Reconstruction: Program and Project Management, released Thursday -- made nine recommendations for improvements for future nation-building plans by the United States.

Among the suggestions is for Congress to come up with a plan to have better coordination between the departments of Defense and State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), which are the primary agencies charged with working with other governments and international agencies. (Posted 5:02 a.m.)

Sources: Edwards, wife to discuss her health at Thursday news conference

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (CNN) -- Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, will hold a news conference Thursday to discuss what sources close to Edwards described as possible developments with her health.

The sources would not disclose the exact nature of Thursday's announcement, but they did say that the couple is not going before the press to say that "everything is OK."

Elizabeth Edwards underwent treatment for breast cancer after the 2004 campaign, in which her husband was the Democratic vice presidential nominee.

The sources close to Edwards said his wife had a routine follow-up appointment on Monday to check her breast cancer, which was believed to be in remission. According to sources, the doctor asked her to come in again.

Edwards, who was campaigning in Iowa, cut short the rest of his schedule on Tuesday to fly back to be with her. The two of them went to see the doctor together on Wednesday, the sources said. (Posted 11:50 a.m.)

House vote on Iraq supplemental postponed until Friday

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The House leadership has postponed the vote planned for Thursday on the Iraq Supplemental bill until Friday as Democrats scramble to find the 218 votes needed to pass it, according to two Democrat leadership sources.

One House leadership Democrat told CNN that they are "grinding it out" and are into "single digits" in terms of how many votes they still need. The source said that is now "all about one on one conversations," but would not say who the leadership is targeting.

The House will start six hours of debate on the bill on Thursday and then wrap up with two additional hours and the vote on Friday. -- From CNN's Deirdre Walsh and Dana Bash (Posted 10:06 p.m.)



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