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World briefly for Dec. 4

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POSTED: December 4, 2012 10:02 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was a sneak attack, but not by the enemy they feared.

U.S. Army Capts. Joshua Lawrence and Drew Russell were inside a small command post on an Afghan army base, wrapping up a long day of coordinating the safe arrival of nearly 100 Afghan religious and tribal leaders for a peace conference at a nearby palace.

Darkness had fallen.

Some of their fellow soldiers had retired for the evening. Two stood guard.

All seemed well.

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GOP plan would raise Medicare age, lower Social Security COLAs, while raising $800B in revenue

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans are proposing a "fiscal cliff" plan that revives ideas from failed budget talks with President Barack Obama last year, calling for raising the eligibility age for Medicare, lowering cost-of-living hikes for Social Security benefits and bringing in $800 billion in higher tax revenue.

The counter to a White House plan last week relies more on politically sensitive spending cuts and would raise half the $1.6 trillion in revenue proposed by Obama over the coming decade.

The 10-year, $2.2 trillion proposal from House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, resembles a framework similar to what Boehner supported last year, but Obama is pressing for additional tax increases and appears to be balking at spending cuts discussed in those talks and since.

Administration officials from Obama on down say it'll take money from raising tax rates on the rich — instead of GOP proposals to simply curb their deductions — to win Obama's approval of any plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

While intended to break a stalemate in place since the administration last week angered Republicans with a $1.6 trillion plan that largely exempted Medicare and Social Security from budget cuts, Monday's proposal sparked a predictable round of partisanship.

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Egypt's independent papers suspend publication in latest protest against Islamist president

CAIRO (AP) — Several independent Egyptian newspapers suspended publication Tuesday as protesters prepared for marches amid mounting anger over the hurried drafting of the country's new constitution adopted by an Islamist-led panel.

The media protest involved at least eight influential dailies and was part of a planned campaign of civil disobedience that could bring in other industries and build on an ongoing strike by Egypt's judges.

Meanwhile, opponents of President Mohammed Morsi planned a massive rally outside the presidential palace in Cairo later Tuesday — the latest against the draft constitution and decrees by the Islamist leader giving him nearly unrestricted powers. Morsi called for a nationwide referendum on the draft on Dec. 15.

The draft constitution has been criticized for not protecting the rights of women and minority groups, and many journalists see it as restricting freedom of expression. Critics also say it empowers Islamic religious clerics by giving them a say over legislation, while some articles were seen as tailored to get rid of Islamists' enemies.

The country's privately owned TV networks are planning their own protest Wednesday, when they will blacken their screens all day.

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Iran state TV: Revolutionary Guard captures another US drone

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran's state TV said Tuesday that the country's Revolutionary Guard has captured a U.S. drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Persian Gulf.

The report quoted the Guard's navy chief, Gen. Ali Fadavi, as saying that the Iranian forces caught the "intruding" drone, which had apparently taken off from a U.S. aircraft carrier.

Fadavi said the unmanned ScanEagle aircraft was now in Iran's possession.

"The U.S. drone, which was conducting a reconnaissance flight and gathering data over the Persian Gulf in the past few days, was captured by the Guard's navy air defense unit as soon as it entered Iranian airspace," Fadavi said. "Such drones usually take off from large warships."

He didn't provide any further details nor said when the incident happened. The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it was "looking into" the Iranian claims but had no immediate comment beyond that.

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Offices of Japan tunnel operator searched after deadly cave-in raises infrastructure concerns

TOKYO (AP) — Police investigating an expressway-tunnel ceiling collapse that killed nine people searched the offices of the tunnel operator Tuesday to see if there is any evidence that the company neglected safety.

Hundreds of concrete slabs collapsed Sunday deep inside the Sasago Tunnel west of Tokyo, falling on three moving vehicles. The accident is raising calls for more spending on Japan's aging infrastructure.

The tunnel, a major link between Tokyo and central Japan, opened in 1977 at about the peak of the country's postwar road construction boom. Central Nippon Expressway Co., its government-owned operator, said it had no record of any repairs performed since then, but company official Satoshi Noguchi said an inspection of the tunnel's roof in September found nothing amiss.

Authorities early Tuesday raided several of the company's offices, including its headquarters in the central city of Nagoya. About a dozen uniformed police were shown on television entering the headquarters, toting cardboard and plastic boxes.

"Yes they are searching our offices here. We will be fully cooperating with them," said Osamu Funahashi, another company official.

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After Sandy, NYC pins housing hope on repairs; program is novel, but can it be 'rapid'?

NEW YORK (AP) — Facing Superstorm Sandy's daunting toll of wreckage and displacement in the nation's largest city, officials have put much of their hopes and hundreds of millions of dollars into jump-starting repairs to make homes livable.

Federal and city officials see the strategy — focusing on getting people back into their own homes, not temporary housing — as an innovative and nimble answer to the challenge of housing thousands of storm victims in a notoriously expensive and crowded area.

But with relatively few homes fixed so far, questions are emerging about whether the "rapid repairs" initiative can live up to its name.

More than 10,000 homeowners have signed up for NYC Rapid Repairs in the three weeks since Mayor Michael Bloomberg launched the initiative to bring in hundreds of contractors to restore power, heat and other essentials free of charge.

Contractors have done initial assessments of about 7,000 homes in the city and 2,000 in similar initiatives on Long Island, but just about 400 projects have been completed so far.

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Judge in Fort Hood shooting case ousted, order that suspect be shaved for trial nullified

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — The military judge who ordered the Fort Hood shooting suspect's beard to be forcibly shaved has been thrown off the case, but the ruling ends lengthy delays in the trial of the Army officer charged with the 2009 rampage that killed 13 people.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled Monday that Col. Gregory Gross did not appear impartial while presiding over the case of Maj. Nidal Hasan. Hasan faces the death penalty if convicted in the 2009 shootings on the Texas Army post that killed 13 people and wounded more than two dozen others.

The court said it was not ruling on whether the judge's order violated Hasan's religious rights. Hasan has argued that his beard is a requirement of his Muslim faith, although facial hair violates Army regulations.

"Should the next military judge find it necessary to address (Hasan's) beard, such issues should be addressed and litigated anew," judges wrote in the ruling.

Fort Hood officials said late Monday that proceedings in the case will resume after a new judge is appointed by the Army's highest legal branch. That indicates Army prosecutors will not appeal Monday's ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Coast Guardsman dies as suspected drug smugglers creep farther up California coast from Mexico

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Drug smugglers from Mexico have been creeping farther north along the California coast in an attempt to evade authorities, and it appears the cat-and-mouse game was behind the death of a U.S. Coast Guardsman.

Two Mexican nationals — Jose Meija Leyva and Manuel Beltran Higuera — were charged Monday in Los Angeles with killing a federal officer while the officer was on duty.

Chief Petty Officer Terrell Horne, 34, died Sunday after he was struck in the head by the suspects' vessel, believed to be laden with drugs, near the Channel Islands, west of Los Angeles and about 180 miles northwest of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Horne is the first law enforcement official to die off California since a spike in illegal activity began several years ago, said Ralph DeSio, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman.

At least six people aboard suspected smuggling vessels have been killed since the 2010 fiscal year.

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William and Kate are expecting their first child, duchess hospitalized with morning sickness

LONDON (AP) — Britain doesn't have to wait any longer: Prince William's wife, Kate, is pregnant.

St. James's Palace made the announcement Monday, saying that the Duchess of Cambridge — formerly Kate Middleton — has a severe form of morning sickness and is currently in a London hospital. William was at his wife's side.

The news drew congratulations from around the world, with the hashtag "royalbaby" trending globally on Twitter.

The couple's first child will be third in line to the throne — behind William and his father, Prince Charles — leapfrogging the gregarious Prince Harry and possibly setting up the first scenario in which a female heir could benefit from new gender rules about succession.

The palace would not say how far along the 30-year-old duchess is, only that she has not yet reached the 12-week mark.

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Families of Chiefs linebacker Belcher, slain girlfriend Perkins grieve in wake of tragedy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Breaking their silence for the first time, the family of the woman shot and killed by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher said Monday their "hearts are truly broken" and asked for privacy while they grieve the loss of two loved ones.

Belcher shot and killed his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, at their Kansas City home Saturday before driving to Arrowhead Stadium, where Belcher committed suicide in the practice facility's parking lot, police said. The couple had a 3-month-old daughter, Zoey.

"Our hearts are truly broken for Kasi was a beloved daughter, granddaughter, sister, mother, cousin and friend," the family said in an emailed statement. The family also asked that the media "respect our privacy during this difficult time."

"Please keep us in your hearts and prayers as well as the Belcher family," the statement said.

Kansas City police Sgt. Marisa Barnes said Monday that authorities hope to deliver an investigative report to prosecutors on Tuesday.

 

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