AP News in Brief

AP News
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Posted: Dec 24, 2009 6:18 AM

Obama health care overhaul on brink of Christmas Eve passage in Senate

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Senate Democrats are poised to pass a landmark health care bill that could define President Barack Obama's legacy and usher in near-universal medical coverage for the first time in the country's history.

Ahead lie complex talks with the House to reach final legislation in the new year.

"We stand on the doorstep of history," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. "We recognize that, but much more importantly, we stand so close to making so many individual lives better."

After 24 consecutive days of debate _ the second-longest such stretch ever _ the final vote on the Democrats' 10-year, nearly $1 trillion bill is set for early Thursday, Christmas Eve morning. It will be the Senate's first Christmas Eve vote since 1895, when the matter at hand was a military affairs bill concerning employment of former Confederate officers, according to the Senate Historical Office.

Democrats have demonstrated their hard-won unity by clearing three 60-vote procedural hurdles this week, the last one Wednesday afternoon, with all 58 Democrats and two independents holding together against unanimous GOP opposition.

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Boy delivered by Brazilian family at US consulate, finally reunited with dad

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) _ A Brazilian family has delivered a 9-year-old boy to his American father in Brazil, ending a five-year custody battle.

The boy, Sean, was brought into the U.S. consulate by his maternal grandmother and his stepfather, making it into the compound's front door as scores of reporters and cameramen tried to get close. His U.S. dad, David Goldman, was waiting for him inside.

Brazil's Supreme Court chief justice two days ago had ordered the boy handed over to Goldman.

The pair were expected to fly back to the Goldman's home in New Jersey within hours.

The case began in 2004 when Goldman's then-wife took Sean to her native Brazil on what was to be a two-week vacation. Instead, she divorced Goldman, remarried, but died giving birth last year.

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Holiday travelers deal with slick roads, airport delays; worst of storm still to hit Midwest

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) _ A major winter storm lumbering across the nation's midsection promised a white Christmas for some but brought headaches for residents without power and travelers crawling along slick, icy roads and dealing with canceled and delayed flights.

The worst of the storm was expected to hit the region Thursday and Friday, bringing heavy snow, sleet and rain to a large swath of the Plains and the Midwest. A foot or two of snow was possible in some areas by Christmas Day.

"It's kind of hard to stay on the roads. You've got to go slow," said Jason Juhan, a clerk at the Love's truck stop in Goodland, Kan. "People are just trying to get through and get to where they need to as fast as they can."

Still, he saw an upside: "It's been a few years since we've actually had a white Christmas out this way."

Snow began falling before sunrise Wednesday in northwest Kansas, after freezing rain had already iced up roads. A stretch of Interstate 70 in western Kansas was snowpacked by mid-afternoon, and state officials warned that travel would be almost impossible in northeast Kansas by Thursday afternoon.

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Obama to depart for family holiday in Hawaii when Senate passes big health care overhaul bill

WASHINGTON (AP) _ After working hard to push a massive health care overhaul plan through the Senate, President Barack Obama will finally get to take a vacation with his family.

The Obamas are to fly off Thursday morning to Hawaii, where they're expected to remain through Jan. 3. It will be Obama's first visit to his native state as president. He was born in Hawaii and spent many of his childhood years there.

Before the Obamas leave the White House, the president will deliver some brief remarks.

Obama delayed his vacation until the Senate passed its version of health care overhaul. That was expected to take place around dawn Thursday.

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Suspect in wheelchair surrenders to police after daylong hostage standoff at Va. post office

WYTHEVILLE, Va. (AP) _ A disabled man in a wheelchair who authorities say held three people for more than eight hours inside a small-town Virginia post office surrendered to police after freeing the hostages unharmed.

Warren "Gator" Taylor of Sullivan County, Tenn., was being questioned and authorities did not have a motive, state police Sgt. Michael Conroy said.

The standoff began at about 2:30 p.m. Wednesday after Taylor, who has an artificial leg, pushed the wheelchair into the one-story post office in the mountain town of Wytheville in western Virginia, state police said. Shots were fired soon after Taylor entered the building, but no one was injured and at least two of the hostages were able to call family or friends.

About 8 1/2 hours later, authorities ordered the suspect to come out. The three hostages walked out first and Taylor followed, this time sitting in the wheelchair. Dozens of SWAT members surrounding the building armed with automatic weapons did not have to fire a shot.

"We're just grateful it ended peacefully," Conroy said. "This is just the best outcome we could hope for."

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Police: Suicide bomber kills 4, wounds 14 in troubled northwest Pakistan's Peshawar city

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) _ A suicide bomber struck a neighborhood home to government buildings and a church in Pakistan's main northwest city Thursday, killing four people and underscoring that militant groups retain strength despite being under siege by the army.

The attack was the second in three days in Peshawar, and the latest in a wave of violence that has killed more than 500 people in Pakistan since October. Insurgents are suspected of avenging a U.S.-supported Pakistani army offensive against the Taliban in a northwest tribal region along the Afghan border.

The attackers have struck a range of targets, from markets popular with women to security checkpoints. Thursday's blast rocked a busy sector of Peshawar where buildings housing the state-run airline, a public school and a government insurance company were located. A Catholic church was nearby, likely preparing for Christmas Eve services, but the bomber had been walking away from it.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the region's information minister, also noted army installations were close but he "cannot say for sure what the target was."

The bomber walked up to a checkpoint along the road and detonated his explosives when a police officer asked him to stop, city police chief Liaquat Ali told The Associated Press. He paid glowing tributes to the slain policeman, saying if he had not acted the attacker might have struck a more crowded area, killing a higher number of people.

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Yemeni forces assault suspected al-Qaida sites; more than 30 dead

SAN'A, Yemen (AP) _ Backed by U.S. intelligence, Yemeni forces struck a series of suspected al-Qaida hideouts Thursday, killing more than 30 militants in its stepped-up campaign against the terror network, the government said.

Yemen's Supreme Security Committee said airstrikes in the eastern Shabwa province targeted an al-Qaida leadership meeting that was organizing attacks. It said top al-Qaida officials were at the meeting, though it was unclear whether they were harmed.

The Pentagon recently confirmed it is has poured nearly $70 million in military aid to Yemen this year, a massive financial infusion aimed at eliminating the expanding al-Qaida safe havens in that country.

A secretive U.S. air strike last week was part of the fast-growing campaign to better equip and fund Yemeni forces. The increased spending compares with no spending in 2008.

Yemen's deputy defense minister, Rashad al-Alaimy, confirmed that U.S. and Saudi assistance had been key to the latest strikes against al-Qaida.

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Congressional roadblocks may keep Guantanamo prison open until 2011 as Ill replacement readied

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama's commitment to close the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, by next month may be delayed until 2011 because it will take months for the government to buy an Illinois prison and upgrade it to hold suspected terrorists.

The drawn-out construction timetable shows the political risk of Obama's pledge, a delay that could even be extended by congressional opposition to funding the purchase and upgrades for the Thomson Correctional Center, an underused state facility about 150 miles west of Chicago.

Lawmakers in both parties have been wary of bringing detainees to the United States. Attorney General Eric Holder already has decided that self-declared 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four others will be tried in federal court in New York City.

In the Senate, a spokesman for Republican leader Mitch McConnell promised that the GOP would use delaying tactics to prevent funding the Illinois facility and added that he expected support from Democrats.

"I think there will be bipartisan opposition" to bringing detainees to Illinois, Donald Stewart said.

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Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, partners for 23 years, announce they separated over the summer

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ One of Hollywood's most enduring couples has separated.

Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, partners for 23 years and parents of two sons, split up over the summer, publicist Teal Cannady said in a statement Wednesday. She did not elaborate.

Sarandon, 63, and Robbins, 51, met while shooting the 1988 film "Bull Durham." He played a hotshot pitcher, she was the passionate fan who simultaneously seduced him and prepared him for the big leagues.

Sarandon and Robbins never married. Instead, they have been compared to other longtime Hollywood pairs who remain committed despite never officially tying the knot, such as Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell.

Sarandon stars in "The Lovely Bones," opening worldwide next month. Robbins last appeared in 2008's "City of Ember."

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Patterson leads TCU to perfect season and BCS on the way to winning AP Coach of the Year

NEW YORK (AP) _ Gary Patterson guided TCU to its best season in 70 years on the way to becoming the first Associated Press Coach of the Year from outside the six conferences with automatic BCS bids.

Patterson led the Horned Frogs to a perfect regular season, their second Mountain West Conference title, their first BCS appearance and even had them vying for a spot in the national championship game.

"I'm really kind of humbled by the whole thing," Patterson said in a telephone interview. "The best way I know how to deal with it is to put my nose down and keep getting ready for Boise."

No. 3 TCU will play No. 6 Boise State (13-0) in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 4.

In a close vote released Wednesday, Patterson received 21 votes from the AP college football poll panel to edge Brian Kelly. The former Cincinnati coach, now with Notre Dame, received 19 votes, and Alabama's Nick Saban, who won the award last season, got 14 votes.