Saturday, December 29, 2012

Published:

Senators negotiate over fiscal cliff; Obama warns against "self-inflicted wound" to economy

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senate leaders groped for a last-minute compromise Saturday to avoid middle-class tax increases and possibly prevent deep spending cuts at the dawn of the new year as President Barack Obama warned that failure could mean a "self-inflicted wound to the economy."

Obama chastised lawmakers in his weekly radio and Internet address for waiting until the last minute to try and avoid a "fiscal cliff," yet said there was still time for an agreement. "We cannot let Washington politics get in the way of America's progress," he said as the hurry-up negotiations unfolded.

For all the recent expressions of urgency, bargaining took place by phone, email and paper in a Capitol nearly empty except for tourists. Alone among top lawmakers, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell spent the day in his office.

In the Republicans' weekly address, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri cited a readiness to compromise. "Divided government is a good time to solve hard problems -- and in the next few days, leaders in Washington have an important responsibility to work together and do just that," he said.

Even so, there was no guarantee of success, and a dispute over the federal tax on large estates emerged as yet another key sticking point alongside personal income tax rates.

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If US falls off 'fiscal cliff,' economy could get soft landing -- or dizzy dive onto the rocks

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Efforts to save the nation from going over a year-end "fiscal cliff" were still in disarray as lawmakers returned to the Capitol to confront the tax-and-spend crisis. A tone-setting quotation was Democratic Sen. Harry Reid's assertion that the House under Republican Speaker John Boehner had been "operating with a dictatorship."

President Barack Obama flew back to Washington from Hawaii after telephoning congressional leaders from his Christmas vacation perch. Once back, he set up a meeting with leaders of both parties at the White House late Friday to make a fresh attempt to find a solution before Monday night's deadline.

A look at why it's so hard for Republicans and Democrats to compromise on urgent matters of taxes and spending, and what happens if they fail to meet their deadline:

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NEW YEAR'S HEADACHE

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Indian police charge 6 men with murder in gang-rape case after victim dies in hospital

NEW DELHI (AP) -- Indian police have charged six men with murder, adding to accusations that they beat and gang-raped a woman on a New Delhi bus two weeks ago in a case that shocked the country.

The murder charges were laid Saturday, hours after the woman died in a Singapore hospital, where she had been flown for treatment.

New Delhi police spokesman Rajan Bhagat said the six face the death penalty if convicted, in a case that has triggered protests across India for greater protection for women from sexual violence, and raised questions about lax attitudes by police toward sexual crimes.

The tragedy has forced India to confront the reality that sexually assaulted women are often blamed for the crime, forcing them to keep quiet and discouraging them from reporting it to authorities for fear of exposing their families to ridicule. Police often refuse to accept complaints from those who are courageous enough to report the rapes, and the rare prosecutions that reach courts drag on for years.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said he was aware of the emotions the attack has stirred, adding it was up to all Indians to ensure that the young woman's death will not have been in vain.

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Russian foreign minister says Assad won't step down, can't be persuaded

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia's foreign minister said Saturday that Syrian President Bashar Assad has no intention of stepping down and it would be impossible to try to persuade him otherwise.

After a meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N.'s envoy for the Syrian crisis, Sergey Lavrov also said that the Syrian opposition risks sacrificing many more lives if it continues to insist on Assad leaving office as a precondition for holding talks on Syria's future.

Assad "has repeatedly said publicly and privately, including in his meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus not long ago, that he does not intend to leave for anywhere, that he will stay to the end in his post, that he will, as he expressed it, defend the Syrian people, Syrian sovereignty and so forth," Lavrov said. "There's no possibility to change this position."

Brahimi warned that the country's civil war could plunge the entire region into chaos by sending hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring nations, but his talks in Moscow produced no sign of progress toward settling the crisis.

Brahimi and Lavrov both said after their meeting that the 21-month-old Syrian conflict can only be settled through talks, while admitting that the parties in the conflict have shown no desire for compromise. Neither official hinted at a possible solution that would persuade the Syrian government and the opposition to agree to a ceasefire and sit down for talks about a political transition.

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Woman charged with murder as hate crime in man's NY subway death after tip leads to her arrest

NEW YORK (AP) -- A woman who told police she shoved a man to his death off a subway platform into the path of a train because she has hated Muslims since Sept. 11 and thought he was one was charged Saturday with murder as a hate crime, prosecutors said.

Erika Menendez was charged in the death of Sunando Sen, who was crushed by a 7 train in Queens on Thursday night, the second time this month a commuter has died in such a nightmarish fashion.

Menendez, 31, was awaiting arraignment on the charge Saturday evening, Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown said. She could face 25 years to life in prison if convicted. She was in custody and couldn't be reached for comment, and it was unclear if she had an attorney.

Menendez, who was arrested after a tip by a passer-by who saw her on a street and thought she looked like the woman in a surveillance video released by police, admitted shoving Sen, who was pushed from behind, authorities said.

"I pushed a Muslim off the train tracks because I hate Hindus and Muslims ever since 2001 when they put down the twin towers I've been beating them up," Menendez told police, according to the district attorney's office.

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4 dead after airliner goes off Moscow runway, catches fire

MOSCOW (AP) -- A passenger airliner careered off the runway at Russia's third-busiest airport and partly onto a highway while landing on Saturday, broke into pieces and caught fire, killing at least four people.

Officials said there were eight people aboard the Tu-204 belonging to Russian airline Red Wings that was flying back from the Czech Republic without passengers to its home at Vnukovo Airport.

Emergency officials said in a televised news conference that four people were killed and another four severely injured when the plane rolled off the runway into a snowy field and partly onto an adjacent highway, then disintegrated. No collisions with vehicles on the major, multilane highway were reported.

The plane's cockpit area was sheared off from the fuselage and the tail section partly torn away.

The crash occurred amid snow and winds gusting up to 15 meters a second (30 mph), but other details were not immediately known. A spokesman for Russia's top investigative agency, Vladimir Markin, said initial indications were that pilot error was the cause.

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21 tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by Taliban found shot dead in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) -- Twenty-one tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban were found shot dead in Pakistan's troubled northwest tribal region early Sunday, government officials said.

Officials found the bodies shortly after midnight in the Jabai area of Frontier Region Peshawar after being notified by one policeman who escaped, said Naveed Akbar Khan, a top political official in the area. Another policeman was found seriously wounded, said Khan.

The 23 policemen went missing before dawn Thursday when militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons attacked two posts in Frontier Region Peshawar. Two policemen were also killed in the attacks.

Militants lined the policemen up on a cricket pitch late Saturday night and gunned them down, said another local official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but suspicion fell on the Pakistani Taliban, who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for the past few years. The tribal region is the main sanctuary for the Taliban in Pakistan.

Las Vegas police suspect casino worker killed 10-year-old girl, slashed co-worker with razor

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- Police suspect that a casino worker killed a 10-year-girl before going to a Las Vegas resort and allegedly slashing the face of a co-worker with razor blades.

The search for Jade Morris ended Friday afternoon when officials confirmed that it was her body that was found a day earlier in an undeveloped housing tract.

The Clark County coroner's office said she died of multiple stab wounds. Jade was last seen Dec. 21 with family friend Brenda Stokes Wilson, who picked her up to go Christmas shopping.

Wilson, 50, returned the car she had borrowed for the outing to a friend two hours later. Jade never came back. Investigators later found blood on the driver's door and steering wheel of the 2007 Saab sedan.

Later that night, Wilson was wrestled to the ground with razors in each hand after allegedly slashing the face of a female co-worker at the Bellagio casino.

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A year along 79th: How a Chicago corridor coped with gangs, shootings and death in 2012

CHICAGO (AP) -- It was February, the middle of lunch hour on a busy South Side street. The gunman approached his victim in a White Castle parking lot, shot him in the head, then fled down an alley.

The next month, one block away, also on West 79th Street: Two men in hooded sweatshirts opened fire at the Bishop Golden convenience store. They killed one young man and wounded five others, including a nephew of basketball superstar Dwyane Wade. The shooters got away in a silver SUV.

In July, a Saturday night, two men were walking on 79th when they were approached by a man who killed one and injured the other. This shooting resulted in a quick arrest; police had a witness, and a security camera caught the shooting.

These three violent snapshots of a single Chicago street are not exceptional. It's been a bloody year in the nation's third-largest city.

A spike in murders and shootings -- much of it gang-related -- shocked Chicagoans, spurred new crime-fighting strategies and left indelible images: Mayor Rahm Emanuel voicing outrage about gang crossfire that killed a 7-year-old named Heaven selling candy in her front yard. Panicked mourners scrambling as shots ring out on the church steps at a funeral for a reputed gang leader. Girls wearing red high school basketball uniforms, filing by the casket of a 16-year-old teammate shot on her porch.

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Family spokesman: Former President George H.W. Bush has been moved out of intensive care

HOUSTON (AP) -- Former President George H.W. Bush's condition continued to improve Saturday, prompting doctors to move him out of intensive care, a spokesman said.

"President Bush's condition has improved, so he has been moved today from the intensive care unit to a regular patient room at The Methodist Hospital to continue his recovery," family spokesman Jim McGrath said Saturday. "The Bushes thank everyone for their prayers and good wishes."

Bush was hospitalized Nov. 23 for treatment of a bronchitis-related cough. He was moved to intensive care at the Houston hospital on Dec. 23 after he developed a fever.

On Friday, McGrath said Bush had improved since arriving in the ICU. He said he was alert and in good spirits and was even doing some singing.

McGrath said Saturday morning that future updates on Bush's condition would be made as warranted.