By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama pressured Republican lawmakers on Saturday to agree to raise the U.S. debt ceiling for longer than they would prefer, as their fiscal impasse dragged into the weekend with five days left to find a deal.The budget battle between Obama and Republicans who control the House of Representatives has idled hundreds of thousands of government workers hit by a 12-day government shutdown and put the United States at risk of a historic debt default, possibly by next Thursday, unless the borrowing limit is raised.With the potential of an economic calamity looming, Obama and his Republican opponents are trying to agree on how long to extend the debt ceiling, with Republicans wanting to limit the extension to six weeks to try force more concessions out of the president.Obama made clear in his weekly address Saturday that he wants a longer debt ceiling extension to get the U.S. economy through the holiday shopping season without a convulsive shock. Republicans want a commitment to broader deficit-reduction talks from the White House.”It wouldn’t be wise, as some suggest, to kick the debt ceiling can down the road for a couple of months, and flirt with a first-ever intentional default right in the middle of the holiday shopping season,” Obama said.While Obama’s talks with House Republicans on Thursday and Senate Republicans on Friday were seen as a constructive sign of progress, there appears to be still a ways to go and many details to iron out before a deal can be clinched.North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven said there are enough ideas being discussed to get to an agreement, but the key now is finding the right combination of them that can pass both the House and Democratic-controlled Senate.”I do think it’s going to take a few days here to get that right combination, but I’m hopeful we’ll get a deal,” Hoeven told Reuters.He said Republicans are willing to lift the debt ceiling and end the shutdown but want to make sure that government spending is cut – something they have been trying to negotiate with the White House for months without success.”I want to see the government get opened and I want to see a debt-ceiling solution. But we’ve got to use this time as well to find some savings and reforms, and we are talking about what savings and reforms we can get people to agree to,” he said.Republicans have been knocked on their heels by polls showing Americans largely blame them for triggering the crisis, a political dynamic that has strengthened Obama’s hand. The president has been unyielding in his insistence that he will not negotiate over the debt ceiling.Obama told Americans that his Republican opponents are manufacturing a crisis that has the potential for damaging the U.S. credit rating and causing global markets to go haywire.”Our government is closed for the first time in 17 years. A political party is risking default for the first time since the 1700s. This is not normal. That’s why we have to put a stop to it,” he said.House Republicans will meet at the Capitol on Saturday morning to discuss their options after sending the White House a proposal that included the short-term increase in the debt limit that would clear the way for re-opening the government.The House Republican proposal called for cuts in entitlement programs like the Medicare health plan for seniors to replace two years of the automatic spending cuts known as „sequestration” agreed to last year by Congress, senior congressional aides said.California Republican Representative Buck McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in the Republican weekly address that his party is standing on some important principles.”It’s about stemming the tide of debt and deficits that threatens to wash out an entire generation’s opportunities,” he said.(Editing by Philip Barbara)
Kabul (AFP) – President Hamid Karzai and US Secretary of State John Kerry held a second day of talks in Kabul on Saturday, after making progress over a long-delayed deal on the future of US forces in Afghanistan.Karzai said this week that he was prepared to walk away from negotiations on the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA), which would allow some US troops to stay in the country after 2014.The United States has pressed for the pact to be signed within weeks so that the US-led NATO military coalition can schedule its withdrawal of 87,000 combat troops by December 2014.”The tone was constructive throughout the entire conversation,” a US official told reporters after meetings late Friday. „It is fair to say that the differences that exist were narrowed on the vast of majority of the outstanding issues.”Karzai’s spokesman also said negotiations had advanced, though a joint press conference due at the presidential palace on Saturday was delayed for several hours as talks were extended.The Afghan government has previously said the sticking points were US demands for the right to conduct unilateral military operations against militants, and how the US would pledge to protect Afghanistan.Negotiations between Kerry and Karzai came as the US said it had captured a senior leader of the Pakistani Taliban, Latif Mehsud, who is being held in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon.View gallery.”US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai at the Presidential Pa …”I can confirm that US forces did capture… terrorist leader Latif Mehsud in a military operation,” State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said, describing him as a senior commander in the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).She gave no details of the operation, but Pentagon officials said Mehsud was still inside Afghanistan.”As part of the armed conflict against Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces… Mehsud was captured and is being lawfully held by US military forces in Afghanistan,” said Pentagon spokeswoman Commander Elissa Smith.The Washington Post reported Mehsud was seen by Afghanistan as a possible go-between in the struggling peace efforts between Kabul and the Afghan Taliban, and that Karzai was angered by Mehsud’s capture.Karzai officially suspended BSA talks in June in a furious reaction to the Taliban opening a liaison office in Qatar that was presented as an embassy for a government in waiting.He has said he refuses to be rushed into signing any BSA deal, and would first seek approval from a traditional grand assembly of tribal leaders to be convened in about month’s time.The agreement would see a few thousand US troops remain in Afghanistan to train local forces and target Al-Qaeda remnants.View gallery.”Members of the US and Afghan air forces stand alongside a C-130 transport aircraft at Kabul internat …Afghan officials dismiss the possibility that the US may enact the „zero option” of a complete pull-out after its soldiers have fought the Taliban since the 9/11 attacks in 2001.The Afghan leader has had a tempestuous relationship with the US and other foreign allies since he came to power in 2001, often sparking outrage with his criticism of international military efforts to thwart the Taliban insurgents.”The entire NATO exercise was one that caused Afghanistan a lot of suffering, a lot of loss of life, and no gains,” he said this week.A credible election is seen as the key test of Afghanistan’s stability as NATO troops withdraw, and Kerry was also due to discuss issues such as voter registration and security with the president.The Taliban regime was driven from power by a US-led coalition in 2001 for sheltering the Al-Qaeda leaders behind the 9/11 attacks.Since then the Islamist rebels have fought a bloody insurgency, and both the US and Afghan governments now back peace talks to end the conflict.Kerry will travel to Paris on Saturday and then London.
Mortar shells hit near inspectors’ hotel in Syria
Beset by bad news, Canada cheers up over NobelBy CHARMAINE NORONHA 56 minutes ago View gallery FILE – This combination of 2009 and 2013 photos shows Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, left, author Alice Munro, center, and singer Justin Bieber. Munro’s Nobel Prize, awarded Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013 is a morale boost for a country that has been generating an unusual run of bad headlines. Earlier in the year, Mayor Ford was allegedly caught on video smoking crack cocaine, and there was an uproar over a maladroit reference by pop idol Bieber to Anne Frank. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn, Peter Morrison, Joseph Nair) TORONTO (AP) — Alice Munro’s Nobel Prize in literature is a morale boost for a country that has been generating an unusual run of bad headlines.There’s the lurid story of Toronto’s mayor, allegedly caught on video smoking crack cocaine; a jaw-dropping tale of official corruption in local Quebec politics, and a runaway freight train loaded with oil that derailed and set off a fireball that killed 47 people and destroyed the center of a small Quebec town.On the entertainment side there was an uproar over a maladroit reference by pop idol Justin Bieber to Anne Frank, while in the business world, Canadians are agonizing through the slow demise of their once golden child of technology, BlackBerry. Overall, Canadians have been feeling self-confident with their rising profile in sports and the arts, their growing oil might and their success in having weathered the global economic crisis.Yet the bad-news stories seem to have come thicker and faster in the past year or so.Nelson Wiseman, a political science professor at the University of Toronto, said the flow of negative news got so bad that Al-Jazeera, the Middle Eastern TV network, interviewed him about it.So he has extra reason to celebrate the 82-year-old Munro’s Nobel triumph. „The scandals have blackened our eye to some degree but with this award, it reverberates on many levels; it’s tooting Canada’s horn,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. Topping the list of ongoing sagas is that of Rob Ford, the bumbling, tough-talking mayor of the city that brands itself „Toronto, the good.” The Toronto Star says two of its reporters watched a video that purports to show the 300-pound (135-kilogram) mayor sitting in a chair, inhaling from what appears to be a crack pipe.The Star says it did not obtain the video or pay to watch it. The video hasn’t been made public and The Associated Press hasn’t seen it. Ford has said there is no video and has called the allegations ridiculous.Meanwhile, Montreal has lost one mayor, Gerald Tremblay, amid corruption allegations, and then his temporary replacement, Michael Applebaum, was arrested on fraud charges linked to two real estate deals. Among the juicy details that emerged from the French-speaking province’s scandals was a safe so jam-packed with cash that the official in charge of it needed help to shove its door shut.”It’s too depressing, and would make Mordecai Richler do backflips in his grave,” journalist and social commentator Dalton Higgins said in an interview. Richler was one of Montreal’s most celebrated novelists.Of course, cautions George Stroumboulopoulos, a popular TV talk show host, „Every country in the world has positive and negative moments.”He noted in an interview that „we have the biggest pop star in the world (Bieber), one of the biggest rock bands in the world (Arcade Fire), we have a Nobel-winning author now, right? And those aren’t the only ones in their genre. We have always punched above our weight in the arts and culture game. Just sometimes people don’t pay attention.”In the arts and culture realm, „Canada’s really come along and cut out a niche, it’s come out of the shadow of its British colonial past,” Wiseman said. „While we have had our share of dismal stories this year, a lot of people don’t read politics but they read literature so these authors help shape their image of Canada and Munro’s win has helped create a feel-good story.”And Canada is shining not just in the arts. With a touch of the-Empire-strikes-back, Mark Carney, former chief of Canada’s central bank, this year became governor of the Bank of England — the first non-Briton to hold the post.The feel-good factor in Munro’s Nobel is heightened by her own modest, homespun manner. Told of the award, her reaction was: „At this moment I can’t believe it. It’s really very wonderful. I knew I was in the running, yes, but I never thought I would win.”John Degen, the director of the Writers Union of Canada, called Munro’s award „a bright spot” in an otherwise less than enjoyable year for Canada.”It’s a nice story and I’m glad that it happened to us,” Degen said. „And just listen to how I’m talking about it. It didn’t happen to Alice Munro, it happened to us! It happened to you and I. We claim it for our own and immediately, that’s how proud we are!”
View galleryGerman Chancellor and leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel and leader of the …By Erik Kirschbaum BERLIN (Reuters) – A powerful conservative ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused on Saturday to rule out an unorthodox coalition with the Greens party ahead of further exploratory talks next week.Three weeks after an inconclusive election, Bavarian state premier Horst Seehofer told the Leipziger Volkszeitung newspaper it was not true that his Christian Social Union (CSU), Bavarian allies of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), would thwart a deal with the Greens.Seehofer, until now the chief opponent of such an alliance, appeared to change his tune after an unexpectedly cordial first three-hour meeting with Greens leaders on Thursday to explore the chances of a coalition between the former political enemies.The conservatives emerged as the dominant force in the September 22 election but need a coalition partner. Separate talks with SPD and Greens leaders may take up to two months to conclude.”It’s simply wrong and unfounded,” Seehofer said of reports the CSU would sabotage a deal with the Greens, a left-leaning party with roots in the 1970s peace and anti-nuclear movements that has been at the opposite end of the spectrum from the CSU.Seehofer, who previously spoke out against the Greens, said he would personally „prefer a ‘grand coalition'” with the center-left SPD, still seen as the most likely outcome.”But the decisive question is: which party can we build a solid government with? Nothing has been decided yet,” he said.”There’s nothing that divides Angela Merkel and me,” he said, adding he had „positive experiences with Greens leaders”.In a separate interview with Bavarian state TV, Seehofer said: „The talks with the Greens were quite reasonable.”CULTURAL DIVIDE–Germany’s European partners worry that drawn-out coalition talks could delay decisions on measures to fight the euro zone crisis such as an ambitious plan for a banking union.Seehofer’s comments may signal a genuine change of heart, but could also be a tactic to wring concessions from the SPD.It still looks unlikely that the CDU/CSU and Greens will move on to formal talks due to historic animosities.Their first round of exploratory talks highlighted policy differences on clean energy and industry and senior Greens later played down prospects of a deal.But some CDU and Greens leaders see a chance to explore new power options. The CDU/CSU’s veteran partner, the Free Democrats (FDP), crashed out of parliament and the Greens’ SPD allies were beaten by the CDU/CSU for the third straight time.Merkel is eager to keep the Greens option open to strengthen her hand in talks with the SPD and in case the SPD balks. The SPD promised to give its 472,000 members the final word with a referendum on whether to accept a ‘grand coalition’.The SPD is in no hurry to back Merkel again since it lost much popular support during the 2005-2009 grand coalition. Many Greens supporters also prefer to see the party in opposition than in a coalition with the conservatives.”I think it’s a good thing that we’re continuing talks with the conservatives because it’s opening awareness for the other sides’ views,” Sylvia Loehrmann, a Greens leader and deputy state premier in North Rhine-Westphalia, told die Welt daily.But she said the talks had been complicated because of the CSU’s initial opposition to the Greens. The CSU, which rules with an absolute majority in Bavaria, is to the right of the CDU, which has drifted towards the center under Merkel.It would be easier, Loehrmann said, if the CDU was the only partner: „We have to deal with two parties on the other side.”(Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum
African Union gives world court untimatum over Kenya case12 minutes agoView galleryKenyan Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta (second-left), and Cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura (second-right) attend a hearing, at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, on August 8, 2011 (AFP Photo/Bas Czerwinski)Nairobi (AFP) – African nations on Saturday said that Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta should not show up for trial at the International Criminal Court before a response is given to demands his case be adjourned.”What the summit decided is that President Kenyatta should not appear until the requests we have made is actually answered,” said Ethiopian Foreign Minister Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus after a special African Union meeting.”This elected leader should lead his country,” he said
Argentina will not accept remains of Nazi war criminal PriebkeBy Laure Brumont 14 hours ago View galleryBuenos Aires (AFP) – Argentina will not accept the remains of Nazi war criminal Erich Priebke who died in Italy, officials in Buenos Aires said Friday.”Foreign Minister Hector Timerman has given the order not to accept the slightest move to allow the return of the body of Nazi criminal Erich Priebke to our country,” the foreign ministry said in a tweet.”Argentines will not accept this kind of affront to human dignity.”Priebke died Friday in Rome aged 100 after serving nearly 15 years under house arrest for a World War II massacre in Italy for which he never expressed remorse.His lawyer Paolo Giachini had said he would be buried near his wife in Argentina, where he fled after the war.View gallery.”This picture taken on November 20, 1995 shows Former Nazi SS captain Erich Priebke waving goodbye as …Priebke lived for more than 40 years in the city of Bariloche, in southwest Argentina, where he was arrested in 1994 and then extradited to Italy for trial.He was sentenced to life in prison in 1998 for his role in a bloodbath at Rome’s Ardeatine caves in March 1944 that left 335 people dead, including 75 Jews.But because of his age and ill-health he was allowed to serve out his life sentence at Giachini’s home.Nicknamed the „butcher of the Ardeatine caves”, Priebke always insisted that he had only ever obeyed orders.Two Jewish organizations, the Israelite Argentine Mutual Aid Association (AMIA) and the Delegation of Argentine Jewish Associations (DAIA), welcomed the refusal by Buenos Aires.View gallery.”Policemen stand in front of the residence of former SS captain Erich Priebke in Rome on October 11, …The fact that Priebke had „resided with impunity for decades in our country, enjoying a life that so many civilians had been deprived of” was „an affront to the principles of the Republic,” the DAIA said.It urged people „not to forget and not forgive the Nazi genocide, or any type of genocide.”Argentina’s Jewish community is the largest in Latin America, consisting of some 300,000 members.
Venezuelan beauty contest bridges political divideBy JORGE RUEDA 17 hours agoView gallery CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelans have trouble agreeing on anything these days, whether it’s who really won the election to replace Hugo Chavez or who to blame for this South American nation’s mounting economic woes.But for a few gala-filled hours, they put all that aside to embrace a shared national obsession: beauty. In what is traditionally the country’s most-watched television event, millions tuned in Thursday night to watch as 18-year-old Migbelis Castellanos was crowned Miss Venezuela.The 5-foot-7-inch, green-eyed blonde is a political science and communications college student from the state of Zulia. The youngest of 26 finalists competing for the crown, she’ll represent Venezuela at next year’s Miss Universe pageant.Even as regular Venezuelans struggle to contend with galloping inflation, shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper and strict currency controls, the beauty contest, now in its 61st edition, is experiencing something of a rebirth. After four years of reduced budgets and smaller venues, the pageant returned this year to Caracas’ main indoor arena, the Poliedro, with a capacity of 15,000. Interest was also piqued by a new reality show beamed across Latin America, called „Miss Venezuela: Everything for the Crown,” which followed the finalists as they learned to walk, talk and smile their way to glory.View gallery.”Miss Costa Oriente Migbelis Castellanos, center, competes with other contestants at the Miss Venezue …Venezuela has won more major international beauty competitions than any other nation, including six Miss Universe titles, and beauty pageants rank alongside baseball as the country’s most-followed diversion, one that transcends social class. A whole industry of grooming schools, plastic surgeons and beauty salons has emerged to prepare young women for the thousands of pageants that take place each year around the country in schools, army barracks and even prisons.”It doesn’t matter if you’re Chavista or a government opponent, this is one sin we all share,” Jose Luiz Martinez, a 21-year-old college student, said yesterday in downtown Caracas.As if to prove that point, Maria Eugenia Enriquez, wearing a red shirt stamped with the piercing gaze of the late Chavez, said she never misses the festivities.”I’m a revolutionary but I like to watch the show with my entire family,” said Enriquez.”Miss Venezuela is as much ours as the arepa,” she said, referring to the corn cake that’s an emblematic part of the country’s diet.View gallery.”Miss Costa Oriente, Migbelis Castellanos smiles after being crowned as Miss Venezuela 2013 during th …Last night’s show was expected to draw more than two-thirds of the television audience, according to Venevision, the network responsible for organizing and broadcasting the pageant.While the self-styled 21st century socialist revolution implemented a decade ago by Chavez drove a wedge in Venezuelan society, the scale of political vitriol has intensified since the charismatic leader’s death in March and the narrow victory by his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro, over opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who has accused Maduro of stealing the vote. In turn, Maduro has slammed his critics as „lackeys” of the U.S. empire conspiring to destabilize the government.The country’s problems weren’t visible under the bright lights last night, politics did nudge their way into the question and answer period, when the candidate for Caracas, Andrea Lira, said that more than chasing an ideal of beauty, she dreams of one day transforming her divided nation.”I want my country to be a country that isn’t complacent and that continues to struggle in the face of adversity so that we can come together in spite of our differences,” she said in remarks that elicited extended applause from the audience.
Brazil’s Rousseff seen beating likely 2014 challengers: poll28 minutes ago ElectionsPoliticsDilma RousseffView galleryBrazil’s President Dilma Rousseff participates in a session to honour the 25th anniversary of the promulgation …SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff would win re-election against her most likely challengers without a runoff if ballots were cast today, according to a Datafolha opinion poll published by newspaper Folha de S.Paulo on Saturday.Rousseff, a pragmatic leftist expected to seek a second term next October, won 42 percent support in a hypothetical matchup against Senator Aecio Neves of the traditional opposition party PSDB and Pernambuco Governor Eduardo Campos, whose center-left PSB party recently bolted the governing coalition.Neves and Campos, who are still introducing themselves to a national audience, took 21 percent and 15 percent in the poll, respectively.Their higher-profile party colleagues fared better, underscoring the long shadow cast by more established politicians a year ahead of the 2014 elections.Jose Serra, the PSDB candidate who faced Rousseff in 2010, and Marina Silva, a former presidential candidate for the Green Party who joined the PSB a week ago, would push the vote to a runoff, according to Datafolha.In that matchup, which is seen as unlikely, Rousseff polled at 37 percent, Silva took 28 percent and Serra won 20 percent.The Datafolha poll of 2,517 people had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.In 2010, Serra took about 33 percent in the first round of voting and Silva earned nearly 20 percent. Rousseff won the election in the second round with 56 percent of the vote.Silva’s strong showing in the Datafolha poll also highlights why Campos is expected to share the PSB ticket with her in 2014.Campos runs the national party and has been considered its likely candidate since last year. Silva’s popularity was bolstered by nationwide protests in June over poor public services, as well as her ill-fated attempt to register a new party known as the Sustainability Network.The unexpected alliance between the two has shaken up next year’s presidential race, although they have said the PSB ticket will not be determined until 2014.(Reporting by Brad Haynes; Editing by Eric Beech)
View galleryU.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (3rd L) meets with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, in Kabul October …KABUL (Reuters) – Secretary of State John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai extended talks on Saturday as part of a last-ditch effort to negotiate a security pact that would determine, among other things, how many U.S. troops stay after 2014.Talks had hit a wall over two sticking points that the United States hopes will be ironed out by the end of the month, a deadline previously set for signing the deal.”We will try to see if we can make a little more progress, which we have been doing,” Kerry told reporters and U.S. embassy staff.Karzai’s spokesman, Aimal Faizi, told reporters: „There are still issues we are finalizing, therefore there is a need for a third round of talks this evening.”While the United States is keen to conclude the negotiations quickly, the Afghan president has said the pact can wait until after Afghan elections, due in April.Progress towards an agreement was made on the first day of talks, on Friday, according to both Afghan and U.S. officials.An agreement appeared to have been reached on the first of the two sticking points – a U.S. request to run independent counter-terrorism missions on Afghan territory.The focus of the talks had turned to the second contentious point, a U.S. refusal to guarantee protection from foreign forces, which it wants to avoid as it could require taking offensive action against its ally Pakistan, an Afghan official said.Most foreign combat troops are due to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014 and without a deal, the United States could pull out all of its forces in an outcome known as the „zero option”, which was unthinkable until a few months ago.The collapse of similar talks between the United States and Iraq in 2011 – triggered partly by Baghdad’s refusal to provide immunity to U.S. soldiers serving there – led to the United States pulling its troops out of the country.Afghan security has been deteriorating, increasing worry about the country’s prospects after Western forces leave. On Saturday, a car bomb killed four people in the eastern city of Jalalabad.Efforts to draw the Taliban into negotiations have come to nothing. The militants say they will fight on until all foreign forces leave and they dismiss Karzai as a U.S. „puppet”.(Reporting by Leslie Wroughton; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Saudi confirms new MERS deaths ahead of hajjOctober 10, 2013 1:56 PM Health