The Persian Gulf countdown enters its final stage today as the U.N. Security Council deadline expires for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, with no sign of a breakthrough in the deadlock between Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and the U.S.-led coalition opposing him. Around the world, war preparations continued yesterday.

President Bush gave congressional leaders little hope that war can be avoided. White House aides described the mood there as "somber anxiety," and some officials said Bush wants to move quickly toward military action after today.

War anxiety was also evident in Baghdad, as civilians purchased rations and loaded up cars in anticipation of bombing raids.

Thousands of protesters here marched in a candlelight procession to the White House and chanted "Peace Now" in the largest anti-war demonstration since the gulf crisis began.

Japan's Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama said his government would consider providing more money for Operation Desert Shield, but U.S. officials said he did not offer a firm pledge.

In Saudi Arabia, officials sought to calm fears about the economic dangers of war, saying that even if Saudi oil fields are hit by Iraqi missiles, production would not be seriously interrupted.

In Tunis, two of PLO leader Yasser Arafat's top aides and a security officer were assassinated, allegedly by a renegade bodyguard who then held two people hostage for six hours before being arrested.