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Iran TV shows suspected US spy 'confessing'

TEHRAN, Iran  — Iran's state TV broadcast video of a young man Sunday it claimed was a CIA spy who sought to infiltrate Iran's secret services.

The TV identified the man, apparently in his late 20s, as Amir Mirzaei Hekmati, an American-Iranian who received special training and served at U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan before heading to Iran for his alleged intelligence mission.

"Their (US intelligence) plan was to initially burn some valuable information, to give it free so that (Iran's) Intelligence Ministry would see the good things and then would contact me," said in a part of the confession that was broadcast.

The voice of an unnamed announcer on the video said U.S. intelligence was certain that Iran's secret services would not ignore the data. Therefore, they provided a mix of correct and false information to mislead Iran's intelligence but tempt it at the same time.

"Iran's intelligence apparatus overcame the thirst and detected the deception, identified the intelligence corridors (Hekmati's alleged link to U,.S. intelligence) ... and contained the infiltration mission," it said.

The TV showed a card with writing in English identifying the bearer as an "army contractor." It also showed several photos of the man identified as Hekmati, some of them in military uniform, together with U.S. army officers.

There was no immediate comment from Washington.

The broadcast said Hekmati was born in Arizona in the U.S. but was of Iranian descent.

In a statement released Saturday, Iran's Intelligence Ministry said its agents identified Hekmati at Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Bagram is the main base for American and other international forces outside Kabul.

In the video broadcast on several Iranian TV channels Sunday, Hekmati was shown saying he entered the U.S. Army after finishing high school in 2001 and received military and intelligence training.

Before beginning his mission to Iran, Hekmati said he served as an intelligence analyst in Iraq for two years. He said his key responsibility was to identify Iraqi politicians sympathetic to Americans.

His story could not be independently verified.

Iran periodically announces the capture or execution of alleged U.S. or Israeli spies, and often no further information is released.

US Republicans slam Obama over Iraq withdrawal

Republican candidates for the White House slammed President Barack Obama on Sunday over the US troop withdrawal from Iraq, warning of greater Iranian clout and violence in the strife-torn country.

"People do not understand how much the Iranians have penetrated Iraq, and that the vacuum we've created will lead to, I think, a very, very unstable and very unpleasant environment in Iraq," former House speaker Newt Gingrich, the current frontrunner for the party's nomination, told CBS television.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Gingrich's chief rival for the party's nod to take on Obama in November 2012 elections, warned on "Fox News Sunday" that the troop withdrawal was "precipitous."

"I think we're going to find that this president, by not putting in place a status of forces agreement with the Iraqi leadership, has pulled our troops out in a precipitous way and we should have left 10-, 20-, 30-thousand personnel there to help transition to the Iraqi's own military capabilities," he said.

"I'm very concerned in this setting. I hope it works out."

The attacks, coming just two weeks before the heartland state of Iowa holds the first Republican nominating contest, seemed to put Obama's critics at odds with a war-weary US public that opposes the war by a two-to-one margin.

"Republicans won’t get anywhere if they criticize him for pulling the troops out too fast. The American people are war-weary. That is an understatement," John Feehery, an erstwhile spokesman for former House speaker Dennis Hastert, said on his blog, thefeeherytheory.com.

But Republican primary voters have shown a hunger for a candidate who will take the fight to the embattled Democratic president, whose drive for a second four-year term hinges on perceptions of his handling of the sour US economy.

The Democratic National Committee -- effectively a political arm of the White House -- charged that Romney had "no clear plan" for Iraq and would leave US forces there "indefinitely."

Republicans have noted that the withdrawal, called for under a 2008 accord signed by Obama's Republican predecessor George W. Bush, came after Baghdad and Washington failed to reach a deal allowing a smaller US force to say on.

US military commanders had hoped the residual force would train and support Iraq's fledgling force, but Iraqi political leaders balked at granting US troops legal immunity, a diplomatic impasse Republicans have blamed on Obama.

Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, a former ambassador to China and the Republican candidate with the strongest foreign policy credentials, took aim at Obama over the breakdown in the talks.

"President Obama's inability to reach a security agreement in Iraq is a product of the administration's failures in the region," said Huntsman spokesman Tim Miller.

"Governor Huntsman would have supported an agreement that left a small troop presence that could have assisted with the training of Iraqi security forces and vital counter-terror efforts."

The criticisms came after the last US troops crossed out of Iraq into Kuwait nearly nine years after the March 2003 US invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein and hunt for weapons of mass destruction that were never found.

The US public at first split on the war, largely along party lines, then swung sharply against it as claims of Hussein's secret arsenal proved wrong and casualties mounted -- ultimately fueling Obama's historic 2008 White House run.

At last count, the conflict claimed the lives of some 4,474 US troops and tens of thousands of Iraqis, with a financial cost of nearly $1 trillion to the US Treasury.

Recent US public opinion polls have found Americans fearful that Iraq could tip into civil war but deeply pessimistic that a longer US force presence would serve US national security interests and determined to see US troops come home.

"I think we're going to find, to our great sadness, that we've lost several thousand young Americans, and had many thousand more wounded, undertaking a project that we couldn't do," said Gingrich.

Man City stays ahead of Man United at top _ just

LONDON — Manchester City's expensively assembled squad showed Sunday that it may have the character as well as the talent necessary to win the Premier League, beating Arsenal 1-0 to stay on top.

Manchester United's 2-0 win at Queens Park Rangers in the day's early match meant City knew it had to avoid defeat or lose the top spot it had held since mid-October.

It beat Arsenal 1-0 to stay two points ahead of its local rival.

Mario Balotelli burst into space in the 53rd minute and drew a save from Wojciech Szczesny with a shot low to the goalkeeper's left. The ball rebounded into the six-yard box and David Silva poked it in from close range.

"We watched Man United, so we knew we had a job to do this afternoon," said City goalkeeper Joe Hart, who made a string of saves.

Wayne Rooney scored his 15th goal of the season — and 12th in the Premier League — after just 52 seconds at QPR. The England striker headed the ball out to Antonio Valencia on the right and continued his run into the box to meet Valencia's cross with a stooping header into the net.

Michael Carrick then intercepted a pass just inside the United half and advanced to the edge of the area to hit a low shot past goalkeeper Radek Cerny for his first goal in almost two years.

United has 39 points from 16 matches — five more than at the same stage last season when it went on to win a record 19th English league title — but City has 41 and has scored an impressive 50 goals.

"We could have scored a lot of goals today," Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson said.

Arsenal was left in fifth place with 29 points, its goal tally keeping it ahead of Liverpool, which scored from corner kicks twice in the first 15 minutes for a 2-0 win at Aston Villa.

Craig Bellamy poked in from close range after the ball hit American goalkeeper Brad Guzan and then took a corner on the left, sending the ball onto Martin Skrtel's head for the unmarked defender to score.

"We passed the ball and moved it and hit the bar twice: I think it was well deserved three points for us," Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish said.

Tottenham is again the closest rival to the two Manchester clubs after a 1-0 win over Sunderland took it above Chelsea into third place.

Substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko scored the winning goal in the 61st. Scott Parker slipped the ball upfield to Rafael van der Vaart for a clever reverse pass to Pavlyuchenko, who scored past the diving goalkeeper with a low shot to the far post from the edge of the area.

___

MILAN— Unbeaten Juventus returned to the top of the Italian league with a 2-0 victory over struggling Novara on Sunday.

Simone Pepe scored in the fourth minute but the result flattered Juventus and veteran goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon had to make a string of impressive saves before Fabio Quagliarella added the second goal 15 minutes from the end.

Juventus is two points clear of AC Milan.

Inter Milan's revival gathered pace as Andrea Ranocchia helped it win 1-0 at struggling Cesena. Inter's fifth win in six games moves it up to fifth spot — 10 points behind Juventus.

Novara is two points clear of bottom place Lecce, which let slip a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 at Parma.

AC Milan took the provisional lead with victory Saturday but Juventus responded to the pressure with the perfect start as Paolo De Ceglie crossed for Pepe to tap home from close range.

Juventus sealed the points when Quaglierella headed in Andrea Pirlo's corner for his first goal in more than a year.

"We were very good in creating opportunities, but less so in finishing them off," Antonio Conte said. "They're risking giving us heart attacks on the bench."

In a game of few chances at Cesena, Inter made it three wins in a row. Ranocchia found himself unmarked in the area shortly after the hour mark and headed home Maicon's free kick.

"I've never seen my team miss so many passes like today," Inter coach Claudio Ranieri said. "This is a game from which we have to just take the points. For entertainment, you had to turn on the TV today at 1130 to watch Barcelona."

Lecce could have given its survival hopes a big boost as it looked to be on course for a 3-1 victory at Parma — but let the lead slip.

Parma got back into the game four minutes from full time when Lecce substitute goalkeeper Ugo Gabrieli flapped at a cross and the ball fell to Graziano Pelle to score. Daniele Galloppa grabbed the equalizer in stoppage time with a powerful snap shot from the edge of the area.

Catania beat Palermo 2-0 in what is likely to be Maxi Lopez's last home game for the Sicilian side before a likely January transfer to AC Milan. The Argentina international earned and scored a penalty for the second half and was substituted in tears midway through the second half.

"I still don't know what the future holds," Maxi Lopez said. "I think Milan is the most important club in Italy and it would be a great joy for me to join them."

Elsewhere, Bologna is further in trouble after losing 2-1 at Genoa.

___

MADRID — Atletico Madrid picked up its first home league defeat of the season after going down 2-0 to 10-man Real Betis on Sunday to increase the pressure on coach Gregorio Manzano.

Alex Pozuelo scored in the 54th minute and substitute Roque Santa Cruz added a second in stoppage time to give Betis a second straight victory and boost its own beleaguered coach, Pepe Mel.

Pozuelo was sent off in the 72nd.

"We've played worse than other days and won 2-0. But I've got enough at Betis without worrying about Atletico," said Mel, whose team has just recovered from a 10-game winless slump in the league.

Atletico is without an away win in seven Spanish league matches but its impressive home form had given Manzano some protection.

"You have to value the players' attitude, the effort made," Manzano said. "The result wasn't fair today."

At one point against Betis, home fans in the Vicente Calderon stadium chanted the name of Luis Aragones, the former European Championship-winning Spain coach, who is seen as a potential successor.

Later Sunday, third-place Valencia hosts European hopeful Malaga, while Osasuna welcomes Villarreal, Real Sociedad goes to Racing Santander and Levante visits Granada.

On Saturday, a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid to a 6-2 romp at Seville to lead Barcelona by three points atop the standings heading into a three-week winter break.

Defending champion Barcelona was absent, winning the Club World Cup with a 4-0 win over Brazil's Santos.

___

AMSTERDAM — Jozy Altidore's AZ Alkmaar heads into the Dutch league's winter break with a one-point lead at the top of the standings after a 2-1 loss to NAC Breda on Sunday.

Milano Koenders scored a 90th-minute winner for NAC to hand AZ its third loss of the season. American forward Altidore was subbed off the field at halftime.

Second-place PSV Eindhoven closed the gap at the top with a 5-1 rout of SC Heerenveen. John Guidetti's first-half hat trick inspired Feyenoord to a 3-2 win over title contender FC Twente, which stayed third and five points adrift of AZ.

Ajax beat 10-man ADO The Hague to move level with Twente on 33 points.

___

PARIS — Bordeaux beat Sochaux 1-0 Sunday to climb to ninth place in the French league after a poor start to the season.

Bordeaux defender Ludovic Sane played a one-two with Yoan Gouffran to fire home a low strike in the 22nd minute.

Fullback Fousseni Diawara scored from close range in the 83rd to boost struggling Ajaccio with a 1-0 home win over Rennes.

Montpellier tops the standings but Paris Saint-Germain could snatch the lead if it beats defending champion Lille later Sunday.

___

GLASGOW, Scotland — Celtic stayed within four points of Scottish Premier League leader Rangers on Sunday after second-half goals by Gary Hooper and Ki Sung-yueng secured a 2-0 win at St. Johnstone.

Saints goalkeeper Peter Enckelman twice saved from Hooper before the striker put Celtic ahead in the 60th minute with a close-range finish from a corner kick. South Korea midfielder Ki scored from a breakaway four minutes later to seal the win.

Rangers beat Inverness 2-1 on Saturday, with Carlos Bocanegra among the scorers.

Celtic and its fierce Glasgow rival meet on Dec. 28.

"Sherlock Holmes" sequel leads slower box office

LOS ANGELES- Action adventure film "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" led a trio of sequels at the box office over another underwhelming weekend that saw ticket sales fall from last year.

Robert Downey Jr.'s follow-up to the 2009 hit "Sherlock Holmes" pulled in an estimated $54.7 million around the world, distributor Warner Bros. said on Sunday.

That included $40 million from the United States and Canada, where the movie topped the domestic charts, plus $14.7 million from six international markets.

"Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," the third film in the popular family franchise, rung up a global total of $38 million in sales, including a second-place domestic finish of $23.5 million. Thirty-eight international markets added $14.5 million.

Overall, the domestic box office repeated a sluggish trend of recent weeks and dashed hopes for a major kickstart before a crush of big-budget Christmas films hits theaters.

Sales for all movies from Friday through Sunday will reach about $119 million domestically, according to estimates from Hollywood.com Box Office. That is 11.6 percent below the same weekend last year and follows the worst box office weekend in three years.

"The momentum we have lost over the past few weeks has taken its toll on the bottom line," said Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com Box Office. "Thankfully there are some big titles on the way."

In third place for the weekend, Tom Cruise brought some holiday cheer as his fourth "Mission: Impossible" movie opened with a strong $13 million at just 425 domestic theaters over three days. "Sherlock Holmes" and "Chipwrecked" played in more than 3,700 theaters each.

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol" also racked up $68.2 million from three dozen international markets for a global total of $81.2 million.

'M:I' SETS IMAX RECORDS

Hollywood was closely watching the experiment of opening "Mission: Impossible" just on IMAX and other large screens before the movie heads to another 3,000 locations starting on Wednesday.

IMAX Corp said the film's domestic and international openings set records for December and Christmas IMAX debuts.

For "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows," Warner Bros. said the film performed within opening weekend forecasts for the return of Downey as the famous Victorian detective with his sidekick Dr. Watson, played by Jude Law.

The sequel got an A-minus grade from audiences surveyed by exit polling firm CinemaScore, versus a B for the original.

The response puts the movie in good position to reach the $200-million-plus total domestic take of the first installment, said Dan Fellman, head of domestic distribution for Warner Bros.

"We have a movie that has great playability," he said.

"Chipwrecked," which sees the chipmunks stranded on an island, fell short of studio hopes for a mid-$20 million debut.

Chris Aronson, senior vice president for domestic distribution at 20th Century Fox, called the opening a "good start." "Being the only G-rated film for Christmas, I think we are going to have good run," he said.

In fourth place for the weekend, romantic comedy "New Year's Eve" and its star-studded cast took in $7.4 million during its second weekend in theaters.

"The Sitter," a comedy starring Jonah Hill as a reluctant babysitter and also in its second weekend, earned $4.4 million for fifth place.

So far this year, overall domestic sales are 4 percent below 2010. Hollywood is counting on strong showings from big-budget films that open in the coming week, including best-selling book adaptation "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and two movies from famed director Steven Spielberg - "War Horse" and "The Adventures of Tintin."

Time Warner Inc unit Warner Bros. distributed "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows" and "New Year's Eve." "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" and "The Sitter" were released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp. Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc, released "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol."

Kobe Bryant's cheating led to divorce filing: report

LOS ANGELES  - Tiger Woods, you're finally off the hook.

TMZ reported on Sunday morning that Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant cheated multiple times with multiple partners on his wife of more than a decade -- events that led to Vanessa Bryant's surprise divorce filing in an Orange County, Calif., court Friday.

Of course, if this is true, Bryant -- whose public approval rating has vacillated wildly over the years from boy wonder to unlikable cad to uber-determined workaholic -- will likely go back into the media doghouse as the latest celebrity athlete to succumb to carnal temptation.

And this story will be around for weeks, if not months.

According to TMZ, Vanessa Bryant knew that her husband had been involved with "multiple women" over the years, but a recent affair pushed her over the edge.

In a joint statement released Friday, the couple asked that the media respect their privacy, as well as the well-being of their two young daughters.

Given the public's taste for these kinds of stories, and the long-gestating Bryant family drama -- not to mention the fact that the marriage had no prenuptial agreement -- that request isn't likely to be granted.

The fact that Bryant and the Lakers will be showcased in a game against the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day won't help, either.

In 2003, Bryant was accused by a Colorado hotel worker of rape -- a charge he was later cleared of, but not before he had to publicly apologize to Vanessa Bryant for an act of infidelity.

At that pre-TMZ time, celebrity magazines like People ran breathless reports of Bryant's "apology ring" -- which featured an eight-carat purple diamond -- complete with photos.

After losing most of his endorsement contracts -- even sandwich-spread maker Nutella wanted nothing to do with him -- Kobe Bryant gradually rebuilt his public reputation. Several NBA Championships, as well as a Gold Medal-winning performance at the 2008 Summer Olympics, recast him in the public eye as a flawed but highly dedicated professional who had finally grown up.

But rumors about his married life continued to haunt him over the past few years, with sportswriters noting Vanessa's imperious behavior during locker-room visits and a nanny suing the couple for allegedly being mistreated.

Last spring, after the Lakers' inexplicable flameout in the Western Conference Semifinals to the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks, a rumor circulated that gossip by the Bryants about the alleged infidelities of teammates had created a rift in the Lakers' locker room. All parties involved denied it.

In any event, Kobe Bryant will likely now face a level of media scrutiny that dwarfs even what he endured during 2003-04, with the Internet -- and the Tiger Woods effect -- doubling the platforms, speed and avarice at which these kinds of stories are reported.

"What's ironic ... is that Vanessa still loves Kobe -- but she just can't stand his infidelities anymore," TMZ wrote.

Zardari returns to Pakistan from Dubai: party officials

KARACHI- President Asif Ali Zardari returned to Pakistan early on Monday after medical treatment in Dubai which had triggered speculation he would resign.

Officials from his ruling party and local media said he arrived at an airforce base in the southern city of Karachi. It was not clear when he would return to work.

Google releases holiday Easter Egg: Let it Snow

Discovered this weekend, search giant Google added a holiday-themed Easter Egg to the search engine similar to the Barrel Roll Easter Egg added during November. When a user types “Let It Snow” into the search engine, the search results include links to YouTube to hear Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Michael Buble sing the popular holiday song as well as links to lyrics for the song. However, users will notice snowflakes to start slowly falling from the top of the screen and collect around the edges of the browser. Once enough snow collects on the screen, users can trace images in the snow by clicking the left mouse button and dragging around the cursor. At the top of the screen, users will also notice that the blue search button converts to a “Defrost” button allowing the user to clear the screen of the white snowflakes.

During November 2011, typing “do a barrel roll” into the search engine would make the screen spin 360 degrees assuming the user was using a recent version of a major Web browser. In addition, typing “ZZ” or “RR” into the search engine would perform the same task as an homage to Nintendo’s Starfox 64. Google has quietly rolled out other Easter Eggs in the past without any fanfare. Every YouTube video that has been published after April 2010 includes a Snake mini-game that’s activated by hitting the up and left arrow buttons at the same time.

Google has created several translations of the search engine into pop culture-infused languages including Klingon, Hacker, Elmer Fudd, Pig Latin and Pirate. In addition, Google Reader includes the ability to type in the Konami code for a ninja-themed surprise. After typing “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, enter key” while in Google Reader, the sidebar turns blue and a ninja appears on the left side of the screen. The same theme can be found in Gmail.

Anna Hazare threatened with HIV-positive needles, FIR lodged

NEW DELHI: Last week the police received a letter that threatened to inject Anna Hazare and his supporters with needles contaminated with the HIV virus. The letter said if Anna remained adamant on his Lokpal agitation, they will be attacked with the deadly virus.

The police, now beginning to take the threat seriously, have registered an FIR and begun looking for those who sent the letter. The letter states that "a needle team, which has prepared 500 HIV positive needles, would inject the virus in atleast 1,000 people at the demonstration".

This anonymous letter was sent to DCP Central office on December 9.

Delhi Police has registered an FIR under sections 505 (2) - statements conducting to public mischief, 506 (criminal intimidation) and 507 (criminal intimidation by anonymous communication) of Indian Penal Code at Daryaganj police station last week and investigations have begun. The police suspect that "this letter seems to have been posted to the DCP's office from Delhi itself".

"We are trying to ascertain the identity of the sender though, after lot of discussions, we have also come to the conclusion that it might be a prank letter sent by some criminals. But since it is related to Anna Hazare, we don't want to take any chances as there is already a threat to his life and to the large number of people who congregate at his demonstrations," said a police officer.

The letter had stated that there are around 50 "volunteers in this needle group who are trained and they would use the needles cleverly on atleast 1,000 people".

US online holiday sales climb 15 pct to $30.9B

Research firm comScore says U.S. online sales this holiday shopping season are up 15 percent so far compared to last year.

The Reston, Va., company says shoppers have spent $30.9 billion online from Nov. 1 through Dec. 16, up from $26.9 billion at the same point last year.

Online sales surpassed $1 billion on four days last week, which comScore expects to be the heaviest week of online shopping this holiday season. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving, remains the biggest online shopping day in history, with $1.25 billion in sales.

The company says spending will start to slow as Christmas draws closer.

Egypt's Islamists claim sweep of second round vote

CAIRO - Egypt's two leading Islamist parties said on Sunday their separate party lists secured about three-quarters of votes cast in the second round of a parliamentary election, extending their lead in the three-stage vote.

A source from the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) said it was on track to win about 40 percent of votes for party lists, based on results from most districts.

A spokesman for the ultra-conservative Salafi al-Nour Party said its list received about 35 percent of votes.

In the first round of the six-week poll, the FJP won about 37 percent of votes for lists and Nour secured about 24 percent.

The poll is the first since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in February. The West long looked to strongmen in the region like Mubarak to keep a lid on Islamists, and has watched warily as they have come top in votes in Tunisia, Morocco and now Egypt.

An official breakdown of results for the list vote has yet to be announced. But party representatives watch the count and their predictions after the first round were broadly accurate.

Despite their commanding position built up so far in the vote that runs till January, it is unclear whether the two rival Islamist groups will form an alliance in parliament, as they have each spoken warily of the other.

The leadership of the Brotherhood is cautious of a wholly Islamist ruling coalition, which Egyptians from other political trends might view as divisive and polarizing in a period when they think broader national unity is needed. Nour politicians accuse the Brotherhood of compromising Islamic values.

The FJP source said the 40 percent estimate was based on counting completed in 11 of the 15 second-round constituencies where seats will be allocated by party lists.

In a separate statement, the FJP said it was concerned the final result would be skewed against it, saying it had noted differences between its tally and official numbers. It did not specify how the counting may have been flawed.

Independent monitors have listed electoral abuses such as illegal campaigning outside polling stations. The first-round vote in one district of Cairo will be re-run after ballots were lost or damaged during counting.

The election committee has said violations did not undermine the vote's overall legitimacy.

Under Egypt's complicated election system, two-thirds of parliament's 498 elected seats will be allocated to party lists with the rest going to individuals. In the second round, 60 individual seats were up for grabs.

Abdel Moez Ibrahim, head of the election committee, announced the results for individual seats in a news conference late on Sunday, saying only one person secured a seat outright.

Run-offs will be held for the other seats where no candidate secures more than 50 percent of the votes need for outright victory. Ibrahim did not announce results for party lists.

The FJP said on its Facebook page that 47 of its candidates would contest run-offs.

Yousry Hamad, a Nour spokesman, told Reuters before the committee made its announcement that its list had secured about 35 percent of votes for party lists and the party expected to contest 35 individual seats in the run-off votes.

Nour were the surprise runners up after the first round, pushing liberals into third place.

The election committee said turnout for voters who cast ballots for individuals was 67 percent.

Officer testifies on soldier's access to secrets

FORT MEADE, Md.  — An intelligence officer who worked with the Army intelligence analyst accused of giving U.S. secrets to the WikiLeaks website said Sunday that the soldier was considered to have an especially high understanding of enemy threats in Iraq and had to be trusted to keep the material he saw private.

The description of Pfc. Bradley Manning from one of his officers came at the beginning of the third day of a military hearing to determine whether he should be court martialed. He is accused of giving WikiLeaks a trove of government material while working as an intelligence analyst in Iraq in 2009 and 2010, including Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, State Department cables and a military video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men.

Capt. Casey Fulton testified for the prosecution that Manning had a "top secret" security clearance, enabling him to view a wide range of classified material. None of the material posted on WikiLeaks was classified higher than "secret."

Fulton said Manning was regarded as having a better understanding than other analysts of enemy threats in Iraq. She said analysts such as Manning, known as all-source analysts, were trained to synthesize intelligence from a wide array of intelligence sources.

Fulton said analysts are trained not to disclose classified information and are not allowed to burn classified information onto CDs for personal use. But she said it was impossible to supervise them 100 percent of the time.

"You have to trust that they'll safeguard the material the way that they've been taught," she said.

Fulton also said that sometime before April 2010 when WikiLeaks released a video featuring an Apache helicopter attack, she saw a similar clip on a workstation computer in Baghdad. She said Manning later showed her that the WikiLeaks clip and the one Fulton had seen were the same. Manning is suspected of leaking the video.

The hearing began Friday at Fort Meade outside Washington and could run several more days. The Army says it may take several more weeks for the commander of the Military District off Washington to decide whether Manning will be court-martialed.

Maj. Gen. Michael Linnington may choose other courses, including administrative punishment or dismissal of the 22 counts against him, including aiding the enemy. He also could add more charges based on evidence produced at the hearing.

Manning, who turned 24 Saturday, could face life in prison if convicted.

The Obama administration says the released information has threatened valuable military and diplomatic sources and strained America's relations with other governments. Manning's lawyers counter that much of the information that was classified by the Pentagon posed no risk.

Among the first issues to arise during weekend testimony was whether Manning's sexual orientation is relevant to the case against him. His attorneys maintained that his status as a homosexual in the military before the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" contributed to mental and emotional problems that should have barred him from having access to sensitive material.

The defense revealed that Manning had written to one of his supervisors in Baghdad before his arrest, saying he was suffering from gender-identity disorder. He included a picture of himself dressed as a woman and talked about how it was affecting his ability to do his job and even think clearly.

Maj. Matthew Kemkes, one of Manning's lawyers, asked Special Agent Toni Graham, an Army criminal investigator, whether she had talked to people who believed Manning was gay or found evidence among his belongings relating to gender-identity disorder. The condition often is described as a mental diagnosis in which people believe they were born the wrong sex.

Graham said such questions were irrelevant to the investigation.

"We already knew before we arrived that Pfc. Manning was a homosexual," Graham said.

Prosecutors objected several times to the questions. Kemkes responded that if the government can argue that Manning intended to leak secrets, "what is going on in my client's mind is very important."

One of Manning's commanders in Baghdad, Capt. Steven Lim, said Manning should have had his security clearance suspended because of his problems. Lim said the outbursts occurred before he arrived, and that when he learned of them after Manning's arrest, he was shocked. Lim said he was also unaware that Manning believed he was suffering from gender-identity disorder.

Manning's appearances over the last two days in the Fort Meade courtroom marked the first time he has been seen in public after 19 months in detention. The Oklahoma native comes to court in Army camouflage fatigues and wearing dark-rimmed glasses. Manning sat calmly in the courtroom Saturday without appearing to react to the testimony, even when centered on his troubled mental state and homosexuality. Manning listened intently and regularly took notes.

The case has spawned an international support network of people who believe the U.S. government has gone too far in seeking to punish Manning.

Congo opposition leader declares himself winner

KINSHASA, Congo— Congo's opposition leader has declared himself winner of the presidential vote, despite placing second in official election results

Etienne Tshisekedi said Sunday at a news conference that incumbent President Joseph Kabila's government "is dismissed starting today."

Sunday's declaration comes only two days after the country's supreme court upheld incumbent President Joseph Kabila's victory in the November vote.

International observers, however, have expressed concerns about irregularities, saying voter turnout was impossibly high in some districts.

Congolese government spokesman Lambert Mende said he had not comment on Tshisekedi's declaration.

Tshisekedi urged his supporters Sunday to remain calm, so as not to frighten foreign investment in the mineral-rich nation.

Greek protest dog goes global

An Athens stray dog who has become an unofficial mascot of city protests and an online sensation this week reaped another accolade by featuring in Time magazine's 'Person of the Year' award.
Sable-furred Loukanikos -- 'sausage' in Greek -- was granted his own photo gallery in the magazine's annual honours which this year were dedicated to protesters in the Arab world, the crisis-hit EU, the United States and Russia.
Widely known on the Internet as the Greek capital's "riot dog," the central Syntagma Square canine already has his own Facebook page with over 24,000 approval hits.
The Greek capital has many stray dogs and several are drawn to the noisy street protests that have been a fixture of social life even before the country was hit by a crippling debt crisis in 2009.
But protest regulars say only Loukanikos, who appeared around four years ago, actively participates, displaying fearlessness and an apparent dislike of riot police.
"He is always on the side of protesters," says freelance photographer Alkis Konstantinidis.
"He also recognises photographers and greets them during demonstrations. He stands in front of riot police and barks at them, and when they fire tear gas, he runs after the gas cannisters and bites them," Konstantinidis said.
Loukanikos is the latest in a line of four-legged Athens celebrities.
A few years previously, protest observers had also singled out Kanellos, a brown-black male who has not been seen recently.
And in the period around the 2004 Olympics, the city's unofficial protest mascot was Glyka, a black bitch trained by her owner to hold specially-crafted placards between her teeth at the head of demonstrations.

French league to probe 'racist linesman' claims

The president of France's Professional Football League (LFP), Frederic Thiriez, on Sunday called for an investigation into claims Auxerre's Kamel Chafni was racially abused by a linesman.

Chafni, a Morocco international, was sent off following an altercation with the assistant referee, Johann Perruax, in the 55th minute of Auxerre's 1-0 loss at Brest in the French top flight on Saturday.

The midfielder had to be restrained by his team-mates, as well as players from Brest, and as he left the pitch, following a delay of five minutes, he told television cameras he had been the victim of racist abuse.

"The LFP president has spoken with the Auxerre president, Gerard Bourgoin, the Director of National Refereeing, Marc Batta, and the referee from the match, Tony Chapron," read a statement released by the LFP.

"Frederic Thiriez has demanded the opening of an inquiry in order to shed light on this affair as quickly as possible."

Bourgoin had called for an investigation immediately after the match on Saturday.

"There was a serious incident and the player has sworn on his honour," Bourgoin told reporters.

"It appears that the official told him: 'Sod off, Arab.' If that's the case, it's very serious.

"I didn't hear it personally, which is why I'm going to ask the league to open an inquiry. If we're not successful, the boy will make a formal complaint."

Bourgoin also claimed that players from Brest had verified Chafni's version of events, but Chapron later insisted that there had been no racist remarks made by Perruaux.

"I refute any accusation concerning these words. I know him too well for him to have said these words," said Chapron.

"For many reasons -- I know him and I know that two years ago, this lad was with me in Benin to train referees in that country. If he was a racist, I would have been very surprised that he came with me."

House GOP leaders want new payroll tax cut bill

WASHINGTON— Top House Republicans said Sunday they oppose a bipartisan, Senate-approved bill that extends a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for just two months and said congressional bargainers need to write a new version lasting a longer time.

Their comments, along with a House GOP conference call Saturday in which lawmakers voiced strenuous objections to the Senate bill, made clear that House Republicans were intent on changing the measure and left its ultimate fate uncertain.

The Senate used a 89-10 vote Saturday to approve the legislation, which was negotiated by Senate GOP and Democratic leaders and backed by strong majorities of senators from both parties. The House planned to vote on the measure Monday.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Sunday that the bill — which includes the payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and a halt to scheduled Medicare reimbursement cuts for doctors — needs to last an entire year. That was the original goal of President Barack Obama and congressional leaders as they worked on the legislation in recent weeks.

As if to suggest other changes he would like in the legislation, Boehner mentioned a provision that would block Obama administration anti-pollution rules and "reasonable reductions in spending" that were in a House-passed version of the payroll tax bill that the Senate ignored.

"It's pretty clear I and our members oppose the Senate bill," Boehner said on "Meet the Press" on NBC. He added, "I believe two months is just kicking the can down the road."

House Republicans dislike the Senate bill for many reasons, including its lack of what they consider real spending cuts and its removal of restrictions on Obama administration rules. Others are unhappy about extending unemployment benefits or cutting the payroll tax, which is used to finance the Social Security system.

Laena Fallon, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said when the House votes on the bill Monday, it would either formally request negotiations with the Senate or approve changes "so that it is responsible and in line with the needs of hard-working taxpayers and middle-class families."

Her emailed statement did not specify what those changes might be.

The White House and Democrats, who were initially the driving force for the legislation over some GOP reluctance, sought to blame Republicans for any delay the House demands might create. Unless Congress acts by Jan. 1, the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits expire and the Medicare cut in doctors' payments will take effect.

"Instead of threatening middle-class families with a thousand-dollar tax hike, Speaker Boehner should bring up the bipartisan compromise that Senator McConnell and I negotiated," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said in a written statement.

Keeping this year's 2 percentage point payroll tax cut in effect through 2012 would produce $1,000 in savings for a family earning $50,000 a year.

Reid said Boehner had asked him and McConnell to work out a compromise. House Republicans have said they played no role in last week's talks between the two Senate leaders.

"I really think it is very unlikely that the House would disrupt this overwhelming compromise six days before Christmas," said Gene Sperling, director of the White House's National Economic Council.

The Senate bill would force Obama to make a decision in the next two months on whether to build the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The president had initially said he would postpone a decision on the 1,700-mile-long pipeline until after next year's elections and threatened to kill the payroll tax bill if it included the pipeline provision. But he backed off this week as the Senate payroll compromise took shape.

Republicans strongly support the pipeline, which is supposed to pump oil from Alberta, Canada, to Texas, for the thousands of jobs it is expected to create. Unions favor the plan but environmentalists oppose it, forcing Obama to choose between two Democratic constituencies.

The Senate bill says Obama can reject the pipeline only if he decides building it would not be in the national interest.

Congressional leaders had hoped that approval of the tax measure would end their work and let them send lawmakers home for the year. It is unclear how long it would take House and Senate leaders to work out any new compromise on the legislation, but Boehner suggested it could done in the next two weeks.

The Senate bill would extend this year's 4.2 payroll tax rate through February. Without congressional action, that rate would return to 6.2 percent on Jan. 1, costing 160 million workers a two-month tax break. A $50,000-a-year wage earner would save about $170.

The bill would continue extra unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, which would also expire Jan. 1. It would also prevent a 27 percent cut in doctors' Medicare reimbursements from occurring on New Year's Day, a cut that could discourage some physicians from treating Medicare-covered patients.

Levante slip-up in third-place pursuit

Levante missed the chance to move into third place in La Liga on Sunday when they lost 2-1 at Granada.

Granada were fortunate to get a dubious penalty on 35 minutes after the referee signalled that Jose Barkero had handled in the box.

Guilherme Siqueira cooly slotted the penalty home and Abel Gomez made it two on the stroke of half-time, converting the rebound after Odion Ighalo has struck the post.

Levante rallied and Arouna Kone scored with a near-post header from a corner on 60 minutes but Granada held on for an important victory that lifted them to 13th position in the table.

Real Betis won 2-0 away at Atletico Madrid with second half goals from Alejandro Pozuelo, who was sent off late on for two yellow cards, and Roque Santa Cruz to inflict the first home defeat of the season on the team from the capital.

The result created more doubt over the future of Atletico coach Gregorio Manzano who has struggled to find any league form all season.

Atletico are struggling in 10th position, a huge 21 points behind city rivals and leaders Real.

Real Madrid won 6-2 away to Sevilla on Saturday thanks to a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo and goals from Jose Callejon, Hamit Alintop and Angel Di Maria.

Real finish the year three points ahead of Barcelona -- who won the Club World Cup in Japan on Sunday -- at the top of La Liga.

Pakistan: 30,000 Islamists protest against US

ISLAMABAD — More than 30,000 Islamists have rallied against the U.S. in the Pakistani city of Lahore following NATO airstrikes last month that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers.

Sunday's protest was organized by Jamaat-ud-Dawa, widely believed to be a front group for the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba militant organization.

Hafiz Saeed, the head of Jammat-ud-Dawa, demanded Pakistan cut off ties with the U.S., which has provided billions of dollars to Islamabad over the past decade to fight Islamist militants.

The U.S. has expressed its condolences for the NATO attack that killed the Pakistani soldiers at two army posts along the Afghan border on Nov. 26.

Many Pakistanis are still angry over the attack, which the Pakistani military has claimed was deliberate.

'We are the 99 percent' chosen as year's top quote

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The growing scrutiny of the rich dominated this year's best quotes, according to a Yale University librarian who anointed the Occupy Wall Street protesters' slogan — "We are the 99 percent" — as the year's best.

Fred Shapiro, associate librarian at Yale Law School, has released his sixth annual list of the most notable quotations of the year.

Shapiro noted that the conservative tea party movement was prominent in last year's quotes.

"The tea party quotes are very strongly anti-government," Shapiro said. "The Occupy quotes and the other more liberal quotes that you see at the top of the list this year are directed more at Wall Street and the upper 1 percent economically of the country rather than focus squarely on government."

The original "Yale Book of Quotations" was published in 2006. Since then, Shapiro has released an annual list of the top 10 quotes that would be incorporated into the next edition.

Shapiro picks quotes that are famous, important or revealing of the spirit of the times, not necessarily ones that are the most eloquent or admirable.

The "We are the 99 percent" slogan stems from a movement against economic disparity and perceived corporate greed. Protests began with the Occupy Wall Street encampment in Manhattan in September and have spread around the country.

Billionaire investor Warren Buffett made the list for his complaint that rich people pay a smaller share of their income in federal taxes than middle-class taxpayers. His op-ed prompted President Barack Obama to suggest that a minimum tax be imposed on millionaires.

And Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat running for Senate in Massachusetts, made the list with her remarks that the rich didn't do it on their own.

While the super-rich were in the crosshairs of this year's top quotes, bumbling politicians made their usual strong showing.

Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry came in 5th with his "oops" comment at a debate last month. On the Democratic side, former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York placed 9th with his "I can't say with certitude" when asked whether a lewd photograph was in fact of him.

The list:

1. "We are the 99 percent." — slogan of Occupy movement.

2. "There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody. You built a factory out there — good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for." — U.S. Sen. candidate Elizabeth Warren, speaking in Andover, Mass., in August.

3. "My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress." — Billionaire Warren Buffett, in a New York Times op-ed on Aug. 15.

4. "I believe in evolution and trust scientists on global warming. Call me crazy." — Presidential candidate Jon Huntsman in an Aug. 18 tweet.

5. "Oops." — Presidential candidate Rick Perry after unsuccessfully attempting to remember the third federal agency he would eliminate during a Nov. 9 debate.

6. "When they ask me, 'Who is the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-beki-stan-stan?' I'm going to say, 'You know, I don't know. Do you know?'" — Then-presidential candidate Herman Cain in an interview by Christian Broadcasting Network on Oct. 7.

7. "I am on a drug. It's called 'Charlie Sheen.' It's not available because if you try it once, you will die. Your face will melt off and your children will weep over your exploded body." — Actor Charlie Sheen in a February interview with ABC News.

8. "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow." — Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' last words on Oct. 5, as reported by his sister Mona Simpson in her eulogy.

9. "I can't say with certitude." — Then-U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner on June 1 when he was asked whether a lewd photograph was in fact him.

10. "Instead of receiving the help that she had hoped for, Mr. Cain instead decided to provide her with his idea of a stimulus package." — Lawyer Gloria Allred on Nov. 7 discussing Herman Cain's alleged sexual harassment of her client.

Quotes on the death of Vaclav Havel

Reactions to the death of Vaclav Havel, who led Czechoslovakia's 1989 anti-communist 'Velvet Revolution' in Czechoslovakia:

— "A great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy has died . . . His outstanding voice of wisdom will be missed in Europe, which is going through a serious crisis. I am praying for the peace of his soul" — Solidarity founder and Poland's former president Lech Walesa.

— "His peaceful resistance shook the foundations of an empire, exposed the emptiness of a repressive ideology, and proved that moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon. ... He also embodied the aspirations of half a continent that had been cut off by the Iron Curtain, and helped unleash tides of history that led to a united and democratic Europe." — President Barack Obama.

—"Amid the turbulence of modern Europe, his voice was the most consistent and compelling — endlessly searching for the best in himself and in each of us." — Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright.

— "His dedication to freedom and democracy is as unforgotten as his great humanity . . . We Germans also have much to thank him for." — German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and went into politics as communism crumbled.

— "No one of my generation will ever forget those powerful scenes from Wenceslas Square two decades ago. Havel led the Czech people out of tyranny. And he helped bring freedom and democracy to our entire continent. Europe owes Vaclav Havel a profound debt. Today his voice has fallen silent. But his example and the cause to which he devoted his life will live on" — British Prime Minister David Cameron.

— "He was a true European and has been a champion of democracy and liberty throughout his life . .. He was also a source of great inspiration to all those who fight for freedom and democracy around the world. The man has died but the legacy of his poems, plays and above all his ideas and personal example will remain alive for many generations to come." — Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission president.

"Havel was a brave and powerful voice against totalitarianism and an inspiration for dissidents everywhere struggling for freedom," said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a letter to the Czech Ambassador Tomas Pojar. "He was a true friend of Israel and in recent years joined with other international leaders to defend against attempts to delegitimize the one and only Jewish state. His courage and clarity will be sorely missed."

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a letter to his Czech counterpart, called Havel "a man of culture and writer of great talent" who "incarnated an indefatigable commitment to democracy and freedom."

"With the death of Vaclav Havel, the Czech republic has lost one of its great patriots, France has lost a friend, and Europe has lost one of its wise men," Sarkozy wrote.

— "Vaclav Havel is the figure that represents the Velvet Revolution and the reunification of Europe. He will be sorely missed." — Jerzy Buzek, president of European parliament and a former Polish prime minister and activist in Solidarity.

Ward wins Super Six final boxing showdown

Unbeaten Andre Ward captured the Super Six World Boxing Classic tournament with a unanimous decision over Britain's Carl Froch at the Boardwalk Hall arena.

The 27-year-old American dominated the 12-round super middleweight fight from the outset and his victory caps a marathon two-year, round-robin tournament designed to find the top 168-pound boxer.

With the victory, Ward retained his WBA title and won the WBC super middleweight belt as he won on all three judges' scorecards, 118-110, 115-113 and 115-113.

"One of the strongest assets I have is my mind. I kept my composure, I kept things under control. And we pulled it off," said Ward (25-0, 13 KOs) said. "I hope I did a good job. But we can still get better, believe it or not."

Froch, 34, has never backed away from a challenge and he came to fight Saturday but Ward proved to be too smart and too fast for the Nottingham boxer.

UK boxing fans have been searching for a boxing hero ever since the retirement of champions Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe. Just last week, rising star Amir Khan lost his super-welterweight title to Lamont Peterson.

Froch landed his best punches late in the fight, showing some spark beginning in the ninth round. He never came close to getting knocked out but was never a threat to take the fight by decision either.

"I wanted to put my shots together, but he moves around, and slips and slides. He's very good at that," Froch said. "And that's why it was a bad night for me."

It was Ward's biggest fight since winning an Olympic gold medal for the USA in 2004. Ward hasn't lost an amateur or pro fight since the age of 14.

Their championship fight originally was scheduled for October 29 but it had to be postponed when Ward suffered a cut in a sparring session.

Derby win takes Juventus back to Serie A summit

Juventus returned to the top of Serie A following a 2-0 victory at home to Novara on Sunday, while Inter Milan's revival continued as they won 1-0 at Cesena to climb to fifth place.

Juve's win enabled them to leapfrog AC Milan, who had taken over at the top by beating Siena 2-0 on Saturday, but Udinese could draw level with Antonio Conte's side if they win at Lazio in one of Sunday's two late games.

Udinese host Juventus in an appetising final fixture of 2011 on Wednesday, when the matches cancelled on the season's opening weekend due to a player strike will finally take place.

Juve laboured to impose themselves against their Piedmont rivals Novara, promoted from Serie B at the end of last season after a 55-year absence from the top flight.

Novara defended valiantly but were always chasing the game after Simone Pepe converted a low cross in the fourth minute to claim his fifth goal of the season.

Fabio Quagliarella, preferred in attack to Alessandro Matri, made the game safe with Juve's second goal in the 75th minute.

"We're good at creating chances, but less good at taking them," reflected Juve coach Conte. "Playing like that means we take risks with the coronaries of the man on the bench!"

Defending champions Milan had enjoyed a straightforward outing against Siena, prevailing through goals from Antonio Nocerino and a contentious Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty -- his 10th goal of the season.

Inter may be outside the title picture, but they appear to have put their early-season miseries behind them following their third straight victory.

A solitary headed goal from Andrea Ranocchia was enough to take the 2010 champions into the European places, but they are still 10 points off Juve's pace.

"I've never seen my team misplace as many passes as they did today," Inter coach Claudio Ranieri told Sky Sport.

"The only thing we'll take from this match is the points. If you wanted spectacle, you needed to be watching the TV at half-past 11," he added, in reference to Barcelona's 4-0 defeat of Santos in the Club World Cup final.

Two points behind Inter and 12 from the top, Napoli host Roma later on Sunday with both teams attempting to avoid getting left behind by the leading pack.

A superb free-kick from Francesco Lodi set Catania on their way to a 2-0 victory over Palermo in the season's first Sicilian derby.

The win took Catania up to eighth, one place behind Genoa, who defeated Bologna 2-1.

Bottom side Lecce let two precious points slip away in injury time, drawing 3-3 at Parma despite having led 3-1 with only five minutes to play.

Downey dips, 'Sherlock' slips with $40M debut

LOS ANGELES — Sherlock Holmes is facing his worst enemy: declining crowds at the box office.

Robert Downey Jr.'s sequel "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" debuted on top with a $40 million weekend, off 36 percent from the first installment's $62.3 million debut two years ago.

The first movie opened over Christmas weekend, one of the busiest times for movie theaters. Distributor Warner Bros. predicts the "Holmes" sequel will make up the lost ground over the holidays.

But overall business was down again, a sign of the times as Hollywood struggles to interest audiences in its big year-end releases.

"Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" did even worse than "Holmes." ''Chipwrecked" opened at No. 2 with $23.5 million, about half the business the first two "Chipmunks" movies did on their debut weekends.

Czechs, world leaders mourn Vaclav Havel

PRAGUE — Czechs joined their leaders and foreign politicians Sunday in paying tribute to Vaclav Havel, who led the 1989 Velvet Revolution that peacefully toppled communism in the former Czechoslovakia.

A black flag flew over Prague Castle, the presidential seat, while Czechs lit candles to remember the the dissident playwright who helped kick off the fall of the Iron Curtain and then served as president of Czechoslovakia, and later the Czech Republic.

"Mr. President, thank you for democracy," read a note placed at the monument to the revolution in downtown Prague.

Others visited his villa to lay flowers and light candles in memory of the revolutionary-turned-politician, who died Sunday at the age of 75. Josef Klik, a 67-year-old, was among the mourners.

"He is an unforgettable person who contributed to the fall of communism," Klik said. "And after that, he remained a moral authority for ordinary people."

An impromptu gathering of mourners was called for Sunday evening at downtown Wenceslas Square, where Havel rallied hundreds of thousands in 1989. Another was scheduled for the second largest Czech city, Brno.

Bells will toll from cathedrals and churches across the country at 6 p.m. Sunday (1700 GMT; 12:00 EST), said Prague archbishop Dominik Duka, who spent some time with Havel in a communist prison.

Duka said Havel "knew what it meant to lose freedom, be denied dignity, what is repression and inprisonment."

"I am convinced that we all, no matter what our political or religious views are, should pay respect to him and thank him," Duka said.

The Czech government meets Monday to declare a period of official mourning. Czech public television announced it would broadcast Havel's film version of his last play, "Leaving," his directorial debut. Czech public radio said it would play some of the favorite music of the noted rock music fan.

Vaclav Klaus, Havel's political archrival who replaced him as president in 2003, said condolence books will be available for people to sign at the Prague castle the same day.

Klaus called Havel "the symbol of the new era of the Czech state," and Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg added that Havel "returned dignity to the Czech nation."

Tributes poured in from around the world. The founder of the Polish anti-communist Solidarity movement and former president Lech Walesa called Havel "a great fighter for the freedom of nations and for democracy."

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is of Czech origin, said Havel "leaves our world better for having been a part of it."

Time short for S&P to end 2011 higher

NEW YORK  - With two weeks left in the trading year, the euro-zone debt crisis will remain the primary impediment to pushing the S&P 500 index into positive territory for 2011.
Uncertainty over progress in the region, along with the potential for credit rating downgrades on euro-zone countries, have kept investors on edge and market volatility high.
Even with a fairly busy U.S. economic calendar, which includes a batch of data on the housing market, the final reading on gross domestic product and durable goods orders, markets will focus on developments from Europe.
"What everybody is going to look at is the same thing they've been looking at -- every time a German official opens their mouth, we get crushed," said Paul Mendelsohn, chief investment strategist at Windham Financial Services in Charlotte, Vermont.
"I'm keeping my fingers crossed that Santa Claus is out there. But we've got to see something."
The benchmark S&P 500 index <.SPX><.INX> is down about 3 percent for the year and would need to climb above 1,257.64 in order to end higher for the year.
A stocks' rally on Friday fizzled, and the market ended with only modest gains after the latest credit warning about possible downgrades of European nations. For last week, the Dow fell 2.7 percent, the S&P 500 lost 2.9 percent and the Nasdaq slid 3.5 percent.
Italy's prime minister urged European policymakers on Friday to beware of dividing the continent in the effort to contain the debt crisis, warning against a "short-term hunger for rigor" in some countries, in a swipe at Germany.
Stocks have been whipsawed as investors weigh the threat from the euro-zone crisis against modest improvement in U.S. economic data and stocks that many regard as cheap.
"There do appear to be some improving economic indicators domestically, but it's hard to see how they win the day if Europe continues to be a big concern. It's not like the valuations are at such bargain-basement prices that it becomes a one-way bet," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.
As volumes begin to dry up and market moves become more exaggerated during the holiday period, the volatility may help lift the stock market into the plus column.
CHANCE OF RALLY
"Can you see an upside rally? Certainly, because you are going to have some asset managers in the end who are going to try and just push it so the market ends at the very least flat on the year, if not higher," said Ken Polcari, managing director at ICAP Equities in New York.
"If there is going to be a rally at all, it will happen on light volume because there will be fewer and fewer participants. When there is less volume, you do have the ability to have those exaggerated moves, but people will take advantage of that."
Volatility in individual shares could also be affected by corporate earnings pre-announcements. There have been 97 negative earnings pre-announcements issued by S&P 500 corporations for the fourth quarter, compared with 26 positive pre-announcements, resulting in a negative-to-positive ratio of 3.7. That's the highest in 10 years, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Companies that have provided outlooks in recent weeks include DuPont , Intel Corp , United Technologies Corp and Texas Instruments Inc .
Unexpected management shakeups could also be on the horizon and increase the tumult in stocks. Both Cablevision Systems Corp and The New York Times Co saw high-level executives suddenly leave their posts.
But stock movements this week will ultimately be dictated by actions taken in Europe, with the light volume exacerbating market swings.
"The only thing that is going to be of any interest is certainly the continuing headlines on Europe, whether or not they come any closer to what looks like a potential agreement," said Polcari.
"You may get a little bit of a push to the 1,250 to 1,270 range, but much beyond that I don't see why it would go any higher unless you get some explosive announcement out of Europe."

Extra Help Enhances Holidays for Older Relatives

SUNDAY, Dec. 18  -- The holiday season is a time for family gatherings and it's important to include grandparents and other elderly relatives, experts say.
It is also important to consider the special needs of these older family members, according to a news release from Ryerson University in Toronto.
Some older adults may need to be picked up by car. This could be done by newly licensed grandchildren, giving the two generations an opportunity to share, connect and bond.
Keep in mind that hearing loss can be an issue for older guests. Place someone close to them at the dinner table who can repeat parts of the conversations or assist them in other ways.
Watch for when older people appear not to be part of the conversation. You can help make them feel included by asking them about their life experiences.
Bringing out old photo albums is another way to engage older family members. They can fill everyone in on the names of people, times, events and locations in the photos.
While some older adults are highly independent and don't like it when younger adult relatives try to "parent" them, others are dependent on their adult relatives in some ways. Being sensitive to these situations will improve your communications with an older family member and help everyone enjoy their time together.
If you're visiting an older relative in a long-term care facility, bring young children and perhaps even the family dog or cat, if the facility allows it. It might also be a good idea to bring familiar foods from your family's traditions and decorate a small area of the room with items that have been used in family celebrations for many years.

Christmas Trees and Trappings Can Fan Fire Risk

SUNDAY, Dec. 18  -- The risk of burns increases over the holiday season because people are cooking more, putting up potentially flammable decorations and using fireplaces and candles.

"We see a significant increase in burn patients between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Your holiday, which should be full of joy and celebration, can quickly turn tragic," Dr. Jeff Guy, director of Vanderbilt Regional Burn Center in Nashville, Tenn., said in a Vanderbilt University news release.

Many of these injuries are easily preventable if people are cautious and eliminate potential dangers that could lead to burns.

Guy outlined a number of ways to prevent burns and have a safe holiday season.

Staying in the kitchen and being attentive while cooking can prevent most cooking fires. Keep pot holders, wooden utensils, towels, food packaging and anything else that can catch fire away from the stovetop.

Use turkey fryers outdoors and keep them a safe distance from the building. Never overfill a fryer with oil and never leave it unattended.

When you buy an artificial Christmas tree, select one with a "fire resistant" label. When buying a real tree, check for freshness. It should be green, the needles should be hard to pull, the trunk should be sticky with resin and the tree shouldn't lose many needles when it's hit.

Keep fresh trees away from fireplaces and radiators and keep the tree stand filled with water. A well-watered tree is usually safe but it can take just a few seconds for a dry tree to be ablaze, Guy said.

Check new and old sets of Christmas lights for broken or cracked sockets, frayed wires or loose connections, and discard damaged sets. Don't overload extension cords and never use electric lights on a metallic tree.

Don't burn wrapping paper in the fireplace, because it can ignite suddenly and burn intensely. Place candles away from trees and other decorations and in locations where they can't be knocked over. Never leave candles unattended.

"Sherlock Holmes" sequel leads movie box office

LOS ANGELES - Action adventure film "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" led a trio of sequels at the U.S. box office over the weekend with $40 million in ticket sales, according to studio estimates compiled by Reuters on Sunday.

The sequel to 2009's "Sherlock Holmes" starring Robert Downey Jr. beat "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked," the third film in the popular family franchise. "Chipwrecked" pulled in $23.5 million from Friday through Sunday.

"Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol," the fourth movie in the action series starring Tom Cruise, was in third place with $13 million at just 425 theaters over three days. "Sherlock Holmes" and "Chipwrecked" played in more than 3,700 theaters each.

Time Warner Inc unit Warner Bros. distributed "Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows." "Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked" was released by 20th Century Fox, a unit of News Corp. Paramount, a unit of Viacom Inc, released "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol."

Winter vomiting virus closes hospital beds

The highly-contagious Novovirus has forced the closure of many hospital beds across Britain, prompting warnings from health officials about the serious threat posed by the bug, best known as the winter vomiting virus.

Maurice Madeo, deputy director of infection prevention and control at Doncaster Royal Infirmary, where wards have been closed to new admissions, said the condition could be fatal.

Warning people of the importance of thoroughly washing their hands, he said: "We can't be too careful about limiting the spread of all infections.

"An infection on top of another medical condition can prove fatal to sick, frail patients.

"So we all need to be mindful of the need for best practice in personal hygiene."

Medical bosses at hospitals across the country are working to prevent the condition spreading and to reopen wards that were closed on Saturday.

Eighty-two beds were closed on two wards and bays at the 500-bed Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow after between at least 14 and 16 patients developed the illness.

Hospital spokesman Mark Purcell said one ward was scheduled to reopen on Sunday after being deep cleaned.

Doncaster and Bassetlaw Hospitals NHS Trust said wards were also closed to new patients at Montagu Hospital in South Yorkshire because of the seasonal sickness.

Two wards were also closed at Warwick Hospital because of patients suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting but a spokeswoman said test results for norovirus were not back.

The Richard Wells Ward at Bedford Hospital was also closed on Saturday to stop the spread of the contagious viral gastroenteritis among patients, visitors and staff.

Visiting to the ward was restricted to one visitor per patient per day.

Director of nursing and patient services, Eiri Jones, warned visitors not to sit on hospital beds and not to visit at all if they had been ill in the preceding 72 hours.

Jones said: "I cannot stress the importance of this enough.

"Norovirus is extremely contagious and is easily passed through person-to-person contact, unwashed hands, touching surfaces and through virus particles carried in the air."

The first sign of Norovirus is usually a sudden sick feeling followed by forceful vomiting and watery diarrhoea.

Other symptoms include a raised temperature, headaches, stomach cramps and aching limbs.

The Royal College of GPs say the virus has not been a major problem so far this year -- although outbreaks can occur very quickly, as the complaint is extremely infectious.

Brain strain: Christmas shopping when money tight

NEW YORK— Chennel King, a nurse from Norwalk, Conn., went Christmas shopping the other day with a new holiday companion: a budget.

Despite a tough economic situation — her husband was laid off almost a year ago — King didn't want to disappoint her five children. So she still went to a mall in suburban New Jersey, but with a limit of $200 per child.

Plenty of Americans are having to hold back this year as the lure of flashy ads, tempting bargains and family expectations clashes with the realities of the economy. Experts in consumer behavior say that situation can strain the brain.

Scientists say we are to some extent wired for shopping. It seems to tap into circuits that originally spurred our ancestors to go out looking for food, says Brian Knutson, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Stanford University.

"We are built to forage, just like rats, just like dogs," Knutson said. So we have brain circuitry that "compels us to go out there ... to get good stuff, even if we don't know what that good stuff is."

Brain scanning in his lab shows deep brain circuitry called the nucleus accumbens goes to work when people are considering products and prices. When brain cells in that area release a chemical called dopamine, people are motivated to take action, he said.

So the very prospect of shopping — maybe brought on by ads and other marketing tools — may arouse that circuitry and put us in a mood to hit the stores, and then to keep on shopping, he said. "You feel good... It's exciting," Knutson said.

Other circuitry reacts to excessively high prices and dampens the enthusiasm to buy, he said. The competing signals — buy and don't-buy — are passed to the front of the brain, in the prefrontal cortex, where a decision about whether to purchase something is apparently made, he said.

But how does that decision get made when money is tight? Knutson said he hasn't studied that question. But he notes that yet another area of the brain, called the cingulate cortex, responds to conflicts like wanting to buy something that costs too much. So maybe it pitches in when a shopper feels restrained by a budget.

King, the recent mall shopper, isn't sure how much she spent last year but it was a lot, with new bedroom sets, a camera for one daughter, a camcorder for one son, and four PlayStations. This year, she turned down the requests of her oldest two for an iPad. But she didn't consider cutting out Christmas totally. And she's mindful to buy the same number of presents for each kid.

"You only live once," King said. "If it's something my kids really want, I try to get it at the lowest possible price."

From what experts recommend about holding down spending, King was smart to set a budget ahead of time, but she probably made her task tougher by going to a mall.

When you're surrounded by attractive goods and crowds of people buying them, "natural human desires can trigger off intense cravings" to buy, says George Loewenstein, a professor of economics and psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. "Not spending when you're tempted to spend is exhausting and miserable," like not eating when you're hungry, he says.

Trying to apply will power "should be your last resort," he said. Much better is to stay away from the mall in the first place, "and it will be much easier to exert self-control."

It might be preferable to shop on the Internet so you're not surrounded by buyers, although the convenience of online shopping holds its own temptations, he said.

If you do go to a mall, commit yourself beforehand to a hard limit on spending, Loewenstein recommends. "Generally, people tend to be a lot more tempted when there is some kind of uncertainty about whether you're going to get whatever it is you're tempted by," he said.

A definite budget removes that uncertainty when a shopper spots something extra, and so it's easier for the brain to say no, he said.

But how to make that budget limit stick? "The last thing you want to do is spend with a card, especially a credit card, or even a debit card," he said. "It doesn't feel like spending."

Much better to count out some cash and put it in an envelope. When the cash is gone, you're done shopping. Even before then, the act of forking out cash introduces "the pain of paying," which can make a shopper more rational and less vulnerable to impulse purchases, he said.

To Kathleen Vohs, an associate marketing professor at the University of Minnesota, Christmas shopping on tight money is "a classic dilemma between Wants and Shoulds," between enjoying something now or holding back for a payoff later. If you don't give in now, "your wallet will be fatter" later, she says.

Her tips for exerting self-control: Shop alone. Carry a list of things you want to buy, so you don't get drained psychologically by having to make a lot of choices in stores. And if you're trying to hold down spending, ease up on other demands for self-control like dieting.

"If you're trying to watch your waist and you're trying to watch your wallet ... it's probably not a good recipe at being successful at both of those," she said.

In fact, willpower to resist overspending can get depleted over hours of shopping as people face temptations, so that self-control and wise decision-making gradually break down, says psychologist Roy F. Baumeister of Florida State University.

When it gets depleted, people will pay more money for the same products and buy more things on impulse that they don't really need, said Baumeister, co-author of the new book, "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength."

Like Vohs, he recommends trying to limit the number of decisions or demands on self-control you face. And if that's not possible over the course of a shopping day, he said, "try not to make expensive decisions at the end."

But what do you do when you've decided to buy a $1,000 TV, but then you see another model for $1,500 that has more features? If you buy the less expensive one, won't you miss what you passed up for just $500 more?

That's the time to ask yourself, "What else could I do with that $500?" says Michael I. Norton of Harvard Business School. "It really changes your mindset."

If you think about using the money to vacation in Florida or invest in a college fund, "that can help you avoid buying more expensive things," he said.

One more tip to hold down Christmas spending comes from King, the mall shopper.

Her gift list included her niece and goddaughter, but no grown-ups.

"The adults," she said, "they have to wait till their birthdays."

Euro ministers to hold fresh talks on debt

Eurozone finance ministers will hold talks on the debt crisis on Monday to flesh out plans made at a Brussels summit this month to save the European currency.

With several eurozone nations under threat of credit rating downgrades, a key focus of the telephone conference will be boosting International Monetary Fund (IMF) coffers to enable it to come to the aid of floundering members.

A government source told AFP on condition of anonymity that the eurozone finance ministers, known as the Eurogroup, will from around 1500 GMT "discuss what happens after the European summit of December 8 and 9" on saving the eurozone.

European Union members who are not part of the monetary union will also take part.

At the summit, which saw Britain bloc plans for European Union treaty change to save the currency, member countries announced plans to pump 200 billion euros ($260 billion) into an IMF warchest. Eurozone members were to provide about three quarters, and other EU countries the rest.

The aim was to allow the Washington-based institution to come to the aid of eurozone countries in trouble, and the summit gave leaders 10 days to work out the details.

Several countries have agreed to the move in principle, without saying how much they would be willing to contribute. Belgium has promised 9.5 billion euros, Denmark 5.4 billion euros and Sweden 11 billion euros.

But non-euro country Britain has refused to take part.

"We did not agree any increase in bilateral resources last week. We made very clear in that meeting that we were not contributing to that 200 billion euros," a spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron said Friday.

On December 7, ratings agency Standard and Poor's placed the EU on watch for a downgrade of its AAA credit rating.

Fitch Ratings expressed doubt Friday that an envisaged European budget discipline pact would solve the debt crisis and warned it may soon downgrade six countries, including Spain and Italy.

All EU states except Britain agreed last week to draft a strict pact with penalties to ensure they cut budget deficits and reduce their debt, aiming to get it drafted and signed by March.

The pact will also be on the agenda Monday, as will Europe's future bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg sought Sunday to draw a line under a row with France that erupted after the Brussels summit when the French central bank governor and senior ministers suggested rating agencies should be mulling a debt downgrade of Britain rather than France.

"It's always a bit of a tug of war relationship, but history shows that France and Britain always do best when we pull in the same direction which is exactly what I hope we will do," Clegg told Sky News television.

A poll showed that Cameron's Conservative Party had opened up a wider lead on the opposition in the wake of the stormy EU summit.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, has not been so lucky -- facing a crisis within her coalition allies over Europe.

A junior partner in Merkel's two-year centre-right coalition, the Free Democratic Party, narrowly avoided disaster Friday when a bid by rebels to force it to change its pro-Europe stance failed.

Meanwhile, he chairman of one of the eurozone's biggest banks, BNP Paribas, Baudouin Prot, said Sunday the euro will come out stronger from the debt crisis but urged governments to act quickly to put their plans into action.

‘60 Minutes’ Edits Out Obama‘s Claim That He’s the Fourth Best President

President Barack Obama sat for an extensive interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” last week, though it appears the portion of the interview actually broadcast on TV left out a statement where Obama essentially declared himself the fourth best president in terms of his accomplishments.


The statement was only made available online as part of the full interview on “60 Minutes Overtime.”


According to a transcript posted on the “60 Minutes” website, Obama said he would hold his accomplishments so far as president against those of Lyndon B. Johnson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.


“I would put our legislative and foreign policy accomplishments in our first two years against any president — with the possible exceptions of Johnson, F.D.R., and Lincoln — just in terms of what we’ve gotten done in modern history,” Obama told CBS’s Steve Kroft.


Watch the full interview below. The statement comes at the very end, around the 56:10 mark of the 56:53-minute video:

President Zardari may return to Pakistan tonight

DUBAI - President Asif Ali Zardari, in Dubai for nearly two weeks for medical treatment, may return to Pakistan Sunday night, two sources familiar with the president's travel plans said.

"He will fly out tonight (Sunday night)... he will leave in about two to three hours," a worker from Zardari's Pakistan People's Party told Reuters.

"He is perfectly fine now and was just waiting for the doctors to give him a go ahead to travel."

Another Pakistani source in Dubai said Zardari was expected to leave later Sunday but gave no specific time for the departure. They said Zardari was flying back to Pakistan but did not say whether he would land in Islamabad or Karachi.

Pakistani officials said security had been boosted on roads from the airport to Zardari's residence in Karachi, a sign he may be returning there.

Zardari, 56, was released from a Dubai hospital Wednesday and has been resting at his residence in the emirate.

Pakistani officials say he was treated for transient ischemic attack, in which blood supply to a part of the nervous system is cut off, but not for long enough to kill tissue as in a stroke.

His office says he suffered numbness and twitching in his left arm and had lost consciousness for a few seconds.
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British government backs plan to restructure banks

LONDON — The British government will restructure the country's banks by separating their retail activities from riskier investment banking operations, Business Secretary Vince Cable said Sunday.
Cable said the government will comply with the recommendations of an independent commission set up after the 2008 banking crisis and "proceed with the separation of the banks."
"It's absolutely right that we make the British economy safe," Cable told the BBC. "We just cannot risk having a repetition of that financial catastrophe that we had three years ago."
Treasury chief George Osborne is due to lay out the government's plans in Parliament on Monday. Cable told the BBC that the necessary legislation would be passed before the government's term ends in 2015.
The British government bought up large chunks of the country's banking system after it ran into major financial difficulties during the 2008 credit crunch. The British taxpayer now fully owns mortgage lenders Northern Rock and Bradford & Bingley, along with 83 percent of Royal Bank of Scotland and 41 percent of Lloyd's Banking Group.
Northern Rock, however, is due to be sold to Richard Branson's Virgin Money.
The Independent Commission on Banking recommended in September that the banks be restructured by 2019 to reduce the risks of taxpayers having to bear the cost of any future bailouts.
The commission, chaired by former Bank of England chief economist John Vickers, said retail banks should be "legally, economically and operationally separate" from the parent companies.
It also recommended that retail banks should be required to boost the amount of equity capital they hold.
The commission estimated its proposals would cost the banks up to 7 billion pounds ($11 billion) a year, and critics of the plan say it could slow lending at a time when the economy is in danger of sliding back into recession.
 
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