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Associated Press

Posted on December 9, 2012 at 1:01 AM

Updated Sunday, Dec 9 at 1:00 PM

Egyptian panel says disputed constitutional vote will be held on schedule

CAIRO (AP) — A national dialogue committee said a referendum on a disputed draft constitution will be held on schedule, but President Mohammed Morsi has agreed to rescind the near-absolute power he had granted himself.

The statement came after a meeting that was boycotted by the main opposition leaders who are calling for the Dec. 15 vote to be canceled.

Morsi had called for the dialogue to try to defuse a spiraling crisis, but the decision appeared unlikely to appease the opposition since it recommends the referendum go ahead as scheduled. Morsi's initial declaration was to be rendered ineffective anyway after the referendum.

Gamal Eid, a human rights lawyer, said the recommendations to rescind some powers were a "play on words" since Morsi had already achieved the desired aim of finalizing the draft constitution and protecting it from a judicial challenge.

The charter, which would enshrine Islamic law and was drafted despite a boycott by secular and Christian members of the assembly, is at the heart of a political crisis that began Nov. 22 when Morsi granted himself authority without judicial oversight.

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2 million could lose unemployment benefits this month if there's no 'fiscal cliff' deal

WASHINGTON (AP) — Hovering in the background of the "fiscal cliff" debate is the prospect of 2 million people losing their unemployment benefits four days after Christmas.

"This is the real cliff," said Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I. He's been leading the effort to include another extension of benefits for the long-term unemployed in any deal to avert looming tax increases and massive spending cuts in January.

"Many of these people are struggling to pay mortgages, to provide education for their children," Reed said this past week as President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, rejected each other's opening offers for a deficit deal.

Emergency jobless benefits for about 2.1 million people out of work more than six months will cease Dec. 29, and 1 million more will lose them over the next three months if Congress doesn't extend the assistance again.

Since the collapse of the economy in 2008, the government has poured $520 billion — an amount equal to about half its annual deficit in recent years — into unemployment benefit extensions.

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Nelson Mandela, South African anti-apartheid icon is hospitalized, says President Jacob Zuma

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa's former President Nelson Mandela was admitted to a military hospital Saturday for medical tests, though the nation's president told the public there was "no cause for alarm" over the 94-year-old icon's health.

The statement issued by President Jacob Zuma's spokesman said that Mandela was doing well and was receiving medical care "which is consistent for his age." The statement offered no other details.

Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison for fighting racist white rule, became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and served one five-year term. He later retired from public life to live in his village of Qunu, and last made a public appearance when his country hosted the 2010 World Cup soccer tournament.

"We wish Madiba all the best," Zuma said in the statement, using Mandela's clan name. "The medical team is assured of our support as they look after and ensure the comfort of our beloved founding president of a free and democratic South Africa."

While the government sought to reassure South Africans about Mandela's health, he remains viewed as a father figure to many in this nation of 50 million people. Each hospital trip raises the same worries about the increasingly frail former leader of the African National Congress — that the man who helped bring the nation together is slowly fading away.

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North Korea may postpone controversial rocket launch

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea may postpone the controversial launch of a long-range rocket that had been slated for liftoff as early as Monday, North Korean state media said Sunday.

Scientists have pushed forward with preparations for the launch from a west coast site but are considering "readjusting" the timing, a spokesman for the Korean Committee for Space Technology told North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency.

It was unclear whether diplomatic intervention or technical glitches were behind the possible delay. The brief statement cited "some reasons" but provided no further details.

North Korea announced earlier this month that it would launch a three-stage rocket mounted with a satellite from its Sohae station southeast of Sinuiju sometime between Dec. 10 and Dec. 22. Pyongyang calls it a peaceful bid to send an observational satellite into space, its second attempt this year.

The United States, Japan, South Korea and others have urged North Korea to refrain from carrying out the launch, calling it a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions on nuclear activity because the rocket shares the same technology used for firing a long-range missile. China noted its "concern" and called for calm while citing North Korea's right to develop its space program.

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Syrian rebel commanders create joint leadership to coordinate fight to topple regime

BEIRUT (AP) — Rebel commanders from across Syria have joined forces under a united command they hope will increase coordination between diverse fighting groups and streamline the pathway for arms essential to their struggle against President Bashar Assad.

While many of the brigades involved in the fighting are decidedly Islamist in outlook and some have boasted about executing captured soldiers, two of the most extreme groups fighting in Syria were not invited to the rebel meeting in Turkey or included in the new council — a move that could encourage Western support.

Disorganization has bedeviled Syria's rebel movement since its birth late last year, when some protesters gave up on peaceful means to bring down Assad's regime and took up arms, forming the base of what became the Free Syrian Army.

But the movement has never actually been an army. Scores of rebel groups battle Assad's forces across the country, many coordinating with no one outside of their own area. While some say they want a civil, democratic government, others advocate an Islamic state.

The new body, expected to be announced officially on Sunday, hopes to form the basis of a united rebel front.

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US-led coalition: American doctor abducted by Taliban rescued in eastern Afghanistan

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An American doctor abducted by the Taliban five days ago was rescued Sunday in eastern Afghanistan, the U.S.-led military coalition said.

Dr. Dilip Joseph was captured by Taliban insurgents Wednesday outside the Afghan capital, in the Sarobi district of Kabul province.

He was rescued in an early morning operation ordered after intelligence showed that the doctor was in imminent danger of injury or possible death, according to a statement.

"This was a combined operation of U.S. and Afghan forces," said 1st Lt. Joseph Alonso, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. "Information was collected through multiple intelligence sources, which allowed Afghan and coalition forces to identify the location of Joseph and the criminals responsible for his captivity."

Gen. John Allen, the top commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said the joint force planned, rehearsed and successfully conducted the operation.

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Johnny Football makes Heisman history; Texas A&M QB Manziel is first freshman to win trophy

NEW YORK (AP) — Johnny Football just got himself a way cooler nickname: Johnny Heisman.

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, taking college football's top individual prize Saturday night after a record-breaking debut.

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o finished a distant second and Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein was third in the voting. In a Heisman race with two nontraditional candidates, Manziel broke through the class barrier and kept Te'o from becoming the first purely defensive player to win the award.

Manziel drew 474 first-place votes and 2,029 points from the panel of media members and former winners.

"I have been dreaming about this since I was a kid, running around the backyard pretending I was Doug Flutie, throwing Hail Marys to my dad," he said after hugging his parents and kid sister.

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Italy's Monti to call it quits after Berlusconi withdrew support; waiting to pass budget law

ROME (AP) — Premier Mario Monti told the Italian president Saturday he is resigning soon, saying he can no longer govern after Silvio Berlusconi's party withdrew crucial support. It paves the way for early elections a year after the unelected economist helped pull the country back from the brink of financial disaster.

Only hours earlier, Berlusconi announced he would run for a fourth term as premier, aiming for a dramatic comeback, considering the billionaire media baron quit in disgrace in November 2011.

The office of President Giorgio Napolitano, who met for nearly two hours with Monti at the presidential palace, said the premier told the head of state that without the support of Berlusconi's party, "he cannot further carry out his mandate, and consequently made clear his intention to resign" once Parliament passes a crucial budget bill soon.

Political turmoil in Italy, mired in recession and trying to escape the eurozone sovereign debt crisis, could spook financial markets, which, with Monti at the helm, had steadily regained faith in the country's ability to honor its debts.

Standard & Poor's rating agency, indicating on Friday that it could lower Italy's rating if the recession endures well into 2013, cited "uncertainty" over whether the next Italian government could stay the tough course of austerity Monti's nonpartisan government moved through Parliament.

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USDA to allow more meat, grains in school lunches after administrators, students complain

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Agriculture Department is responding to criticism over new school lunch rules by allowing more grains and meat in kids' meals.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told members of Congress in a letter Friday that the department will do away with daily and weekly limits of meats and grains. Several lawmakers wrote the department after the new rules went into effect in September saying kids aren't getting enough to eat.

School administrators also complained, saying set maximums on grains and meats are too limiting as they try to plan daily meals.

"This flexibility is being provided to allow more time for the development of products that fit within the new standards while granting schools additional weekly menu planning options to help ensure that children receive a wholesome, nutritious meal every day of the week," Vilsack said in a letter to Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D.

The new guidelines were intended to address increasing childhood obesity levels. They set limits on calories and salt, and phase in more whole grains. Schools must offer at least one vegetable or fruit per meal. The department also dictated how much of certain food groups could be served.

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Cowboys player facing intoxication manslaughter charge after teammate's death in auto accident

IRVING, Texas (AP) — Police charged Dallas Cowboys defensive lineman Josh Brent with intoxication manslaughter Saturday after he flipped his car in a pre-dawn accident that killed teammate Jerry Brown.

Irving police spokesman John Argumaniz said the accident happened about 2:20 a.m. Saturday in the Dallas suburb, hours before Brent was to be on a team flight to Cincinnati for the Cowboys' game Sunday against the Bengals.

Argumaniz said the 25-year-old Brown — a practice-squad linebacker who also was Brent's teammate for three seasons at the University of Illinois — was found unresponsive at the scene and pronounced dead at a hospital.

It marked the second straight week the NFL found itself dealing with a tragedy right before gameday.

Last Saturday, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher fatally shot his girlfriend before killing himself in front of his coach and general manager. The 25-year-old Belcher shot himself in the parking lot at the team's practice complex at Arrowhead Stadium.

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