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Obama: Fiscal cliff deal is 'work in progress'

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says a fiscal cliff deal is "still a work in progress" as an end of the year deadline rapidly approaches.

Obama made his assessment in a response to questions from reporters as he walked from the White House to a staff holiday party being held across the street. Asked about House Speaker John Boehner's assertion that he was waiting to hear more from the president, Obama said only, "Merry Christmas."

The president has stayed largely quiet this week as the White House and Boehner seek a way to avert a flurry of year-end tax increases and spending cuts. The two sides are stuck on whether to raise tax rates on the top 2 percent of income earners, a position the president supports and Boehner opposes.


Boehner: White House risks fiscal cliff stalemate

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker John Boehner says the White House is so resistant to cutting spending that it is risking pushing the country off the "fiscal cliff."

In remarks he prepared to deliver to reporters on Thursday, the Ohio Republican says President Barack Obama has not been serious about controlling spending, which Republicans say is the source of government's budget deficit problems. Boehner says Obama wants far more in tax increases than on spending reductions, and says the president's refusal to control spending is why talks between the two men have failed to reach an agreement so far.

Wide-ranging tax increases and spending cuts will begin to take effect in January — the so-called fiscal cliff — unless Obama and congressional Republicans work out a deficit-cutting agreement to avert them.


Durbin: White House won't increase Medicare age

WASHINGTON (AP) — One of President Barack Obama's Senate allies said Thursday that an increase in the Medicare eligibility age is "no longer one of the items being considered by the White House" in negotiations with top Republicans on avoiding the so-called fiscal cliff.

But Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin said he didn't get it directly from the president or the White House. However, he is regularly updated on the negotiations.

Increasing the eligibility age is a key demand by Republicans seeking cost curbs in popular benefit programs in exchange for higher tax revenues.

Obama and House Speaker John Boehner remain far apart on a potential agreement to avoid a looming "fiscal cliff" of expiring tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts.


UPDATE: CEOs join governors in push for Sandy storm aid

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — More than 125 prominent CEOs based in New York are urging Congress to quickly pass a $60 billion aid package for Superstorm Sandy relief.

The CEOS include top executives of Time Warner, NBC Universal, Bloomberg, Morgan Stanley, Madison Square Garden and the National Basketball Association.

The plea comes as the governors of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut urge Congress to act quickly on the aid before lawmakers break for the holiday.

Govs. Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy say no region or state should have stand have to alone after a disaster. They say Congress hasn't acted in seven weeks following Sandy, taking longer to provide aid than in previous disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.


UPDATE: US official says satellite is spinning, but might be OK

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — According to a senior U.S. official, the satellite that was launched yesterday by North Korea is tumbling in orbit, and not acting the way it should. But the official says that doesn't necessarily mean it's out of control.

Either way, the official says it's still significant that North Korea was able to successfully execute all three stages of the missile launch and get the satellite into space.

South Korea's Defense Ministry says the satellite is orbiting normally at a speed of 4.7 miles per second, though it isn't known what mission it's performing.

North Korea says the satellite will be used to study crops and weather patterns.

The launch captured the world's attention yesterday, adding to concerns that North Korea could be on its way to developing missiles that could hit the United States and other distant targets. But experts say the North is still a long way from that capability.


UPDATE: ElBaradei pleads for postponement of vote

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's most prominent democracy advocate has pleaded to President Mohammed Morsi to delay an upcoming vote on a draft constitution to avoid the "specter of civil war."

In an emotional televised message on Thursday, Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei told the Islamist leader, "Fear God, Dr. Morsi and postpone the referendum."

His message comes two days before the Dec. 15 vote on the highly contentious constitution. Morsi and his Islamists allies support the charter while a wide spectrum of liberals, youth groups and others see both the process and the draft as flawed.

ElBaradei also urged Egyptians to vote "No" if Morsi did not cancel the vote.


Officials: Libyan government slows investigation

WASHINGTON (AP) — U.S. counterterrorism officials say the search for suspects in the death of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya on Sept. 11 is being slowed by uncooperative or less-than-capable local law enforcement in Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.

Authorities there have not yet arrested suspects the U.S. wants to question in connection to the violent attack on U.S. compounds in Benghazi on Sept. 11, say two U.S. officials briefed on a closed House intelligence committee hearing Thursday. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the briefing publicly.

Egypt has arrested Egyptian Islamic Jihad member Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad for possible links to the attack, but officials said that key al-Qaida sympathizers remain free.

Libyan officials could not be reached for comment.


Gov't: Chavez suffered complications in surgery

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's government says President Hugo Chavez suffered complications during his cancer surgery in Cuba but is recovering.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas says Chavez suffered "bleeding" that required, as he put it, "corrective measures."

He said on Thursday that Chavez was recovering favorably two days after the operation.


McAfee says US authorities aren't trying to question him

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) — He's still wanted for questioning in Belize, in the death of an American expatriate neighbor there -- but John McAfee (MAK'-uh-fee) says U.S. authorities have made no efforts to question him since he arrived last night in Miami.

McAfee asked reporters today, "Why would they want to question me?"

McAfee says he didn't kill his neighbor -- and he's afraid his own life would be in danger if he turned himself in to authorities in Belize. He's now asking the State Department to expedite visas for his 20-year-old Belizean girlfriend and another friend. He says, "Their lives are in danger."

McAfee, the founder of an anti-virus software company that bears his name, has been staying at a Miami Beach hotel since his arrival on a flight from Guatemala. He'd been hoping that the Guatemalan government would let him stay, but he ended up being expelled from that country.

In an interview earlier with ABC, McAfee admitted that he'd been faking illness in Guatemala. He said an apparent heart problem in court there was a ruse, aimed at keeping him from being sent back to Belize.


British police will talk to Australian authorities about nurse's death

LONDON (AP) — Police in London say they'll be getting in touch with Australian authorities, to collect what they call "relevant evidence" in the death of a nurse who was found hanging by a scarf in her room, an apparent suicide.

Jacintha Saldanha, a nurse at a London hospital, had been duped days earlier by a hoax phone call from Australian DJs about the pregnant Duchess of Cambridge. They called, pretending to be Queen Elizabeth and Prince Charles, and Saldanha transferred them to another nurse who gave them information about the duchess.

Police say the nurse -- who also had wrist injuries -- left three notes, which are being examined. They're also interviewing the nurse's friends, family and colleagues, and looking at emails and phone calls, to establish what led to her death.

In the meantime, the nurse's body has been released to her family. Saldanha was born in India, but lived in Bristol in southwestern England with her husband and two teenage children. Her husband has said she will be laid to rest in India.

A memorial Mass is planned Saturday in London.

As for the disc jockeys, they've apologized for the prank, saying they never expected their call would be put through. Their show is off the air, and they've been suspended.


Colo gov says time to talk gun laws

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says "the time is right" for state lawmakers to consider gun control measures, offering his firmest stance in the aftermath of several high-profile shootings, including a movie theater rampage in suburban Denver, that have shocked the nation.

The Democratic governor has until now resisted calls to review state gun laws. He upset some in his party when he said last summer that stricter laws would not have prevented the Aurora rampage.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Hickenlooper said that the legislative session in January would be an appropriate time to take up a debate on gun control measures, though he didn't call for specific legislation.

Former graduate student James Holmes is charged with killing 12 people and wounding 70 others in the July shootings.


Documents: Prisoner plotted to kill Justin Bieber

LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — An imprisoned man whose infatuation with Justin Bieber included a tattoo of the pop star on his leg has told investigators in New Mexico he hatched a plot to kill him.

Court documents in a New Mexico district court say Dana Martin told investigators he persuaded a man he met in prison and the man's nephew to kill Bieber, Bieber's bodyguard and two others not connected to the pop star.

He told investigators that Mark Staake and Tanner Ruane headed east, planning to be near a Bieber concert scheduled in New York City. They missed a turn and crossed into Canada from Vermont. Staake was arrested on an outstanding warrant. Ruane was arrested later.

The two men face multiple charges stemming for the alleged plot.


Official: Family has identified Rivera remains

MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — A state official says Jenni Rivera's family has identified the remains of the Mexican-American music star killed in plane crash.

Nuevo Leon state security spokesman Jorge Domene said DNA tests are still pending. The singer's remains will be given to the family once the tests are completed in coming days.

Officials said earlier that two state police officers had been arrested on suspicion of stealing unspecified items from the scene of the plane crash that killed Rivera.

The Nuevo Leon state government says authorities found images of the scene on the smartphone of one of the officers, who is 23, while trying to determine now the Mexican media got photographs of the secured site, including images of body parts and personal documents.

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