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Ind vs Aus: Pattinson dismisses Rahul Dravid to put India in trouble

NEW DELHI: Peter Siddle had Gautam Gambhir caught by Ricky Ponting at second slip to put India under pressure on the fourth day of the Boxing Day Test at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on Thursday.

Scorecard

Gambhir and Rahul Dravid resumed the Indian second innings after lunch in pursuit of a 292-run victory target.

The Indian run chase got off to a bad start as Michael Hussey took a sharp catch at gully to dismiss Virender Sehwag off Ben Hilfenhaus.

Sehwag (7) went for a wild swing at a wide delivery, middled it but Hussey grasped it out of thin air over his head to dismiss the dangerman for Australia.

Earlier, India bowled out Australia for 240 runs in their second innings which them left with a 292-run victory target.

Ishant Sharma took the last Australian wicket when he had Ben Hilfenhaus caught by VVS Laxman at second slip.

Zaheer Khan squared up Michael Hussey with an absolute beauty and had him caught behind by MS Dhoni.

Hussey hit 9 fours in his 89-run knock before edging a good length delivery outside the off-stump that kicked up a hint and seamed away from him.

The day's play started with Hussey and James Pattinson resuming the Australian second innings.

On a bright and sunny Day 3, during the course of which the pendulum swayed crazily and as many as 15 wickets tumbled, Hussey redeemed himself and rescued his Test career with a gallant unbeaten 79 that took Australia to 179/8.

India, having goofed up with the bat in the first innings, hit back with the ball to reduce Australia to 27/4 in their second essay before yielding ground once again to the hosts who recovered through a fine fifth-wicket stand of 115 runs between veterans Ricky Ponting (60) and Hussey.

India did manage to prise out Ponting in the final session, along with Brad Haddin, Peter Siddle and Nathan Lyon, to regain some lost ground, but the 51-run lead they conceded in the first innings could well make all the difference as the match heads for a close finish.

Things started going wrong for India from the very second ball of the day as Ben Hilfenhaus produced a beauty to square up Rahul Dravid and peg back his stumps. Dravid's dismissal sent shock waves through the Indian camp and fired up the Aussie pacers, who came hard at the Indians.

Hilfenhaus came up with his maiden five-wicket haul and got excellent support from James Pattinson (2/53) and Siddle (3/63), who had triggered the Indian collapse on Day 2 by dismissing a well-set Sachin Tendulkar.

Lacklustre batting saw India collapse sensationally from 214/3 to 282 all out. The recognised batsmen cut a sorry figure as VVS Laxman, Virat Kohli and Dhoni were all guilty of poking at deliveries outside their off stump.

But for a strong rearguard action by nightwatchman Ishant Sharma and the belligerence of R Ashwin, Australia's lead would have been much bigger. While Sharma defied the Australian pace attack for 103 minutes in making a 69-ball 11, Ashwin played a cameo (31 off 35 balls) and was the last man to be dismissed.

Australian second innings got off to a shaky start with Umesh Yadav striking twice in his fourth over to dismiss both the openers. While David Warner dragged one back on to his stumps, Ed Cowan padded up to one that was straight and full. Yadav then added a third to his kitty when Shaun Marsh did a Warner.

At 24/3, the Aussies looked vulnerable. And when the luckless Ishant, who topped 152.2 kmph on the speed gun, finally broke his wicket-drought by forcing skipper Michael Clarke to play on, the match had turned on its head. It required two men with grey hair and ample class to alter the equation for Australia.

Ponting and Hussey not only settled nerves in the dressing room with their no-frills approach, but also scored at a fair clip to demonstrate that they still have a lot to offer to the team.

Jury upholds Investec Loyal Sydney-Hobart win

An international racing jury has upheld supermaxi Investec Loyal's nail-biting victory over five-time winner Wild Oats XI in the Sydney to Hobart ocean race.

"The full committee has dismissed the protest against us," Loyal skipper Anthony Bell told reporters at the Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania.

Loyal's three-minute, eight-second upset victory over Wild Oats -- the fourth-closest in the race's 67-year history -- was challenged by the race committee on Wednesday night over claims it had received outside assistance.

But a five-nation jury ruled that the 100-footer had fairly won line honours, dismissing a protest centred on a conversation with a media helicopter crew midway through the race about what sail Wild Oats was using.

Bell said the jury had "made a point of saying that they didn't think there was any advantage" gained from the conversation and held that the crewman, Michael Coxon, hadn't sought to gain any once they heard his side of the story.

"I guess that was the major factor in why the protest was dismissed," a visibly emotional Bell said.

"It's very relieving to actually get to this point."

He said the neck-and-neck finish had been a "great moment that got cut short" but he preferred that any question marks over the result be cleared up with an official process.

"It is an against-the-odds, I guess, win for us," he added.

"I'm still waiting for one of my crew members to wake me up and say 'You're on watch, get up' ... The buzz is made best by the fact that Oats is such a fantastically run campaign.

Bell said the gruelling 628-nautical mile race down Australia's east coast was "one of those great experiences you only get once in every three lifetimes," and he was looking forward to finally celebrating his first-ever win.

Seven suspected kidnappers killed in China's restive west

BEIJING (iBBC News) - Police in China's far-western Xinjiang region shot and killed seven "kidnappers in a hostage rescue," the official Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

"In the rescue, two hostages were freed. Four kidnapping suspects were wounded," said the brief English-language report that gave few other details of the incident Wednesday.

The report did not say whether the alleged kidnapping was related to ethnic tensions in the region, where many members of the largely Muslim Uighur minority resent the presence of Han Chinese and the controls of the central government.

In July 2009, Uighurs rioted against Han Chinese residents in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, killing at least 197 people, mostly Han, according to official estimates.

Xinjiang sits astride south and central Asia, and China sees it as a bulwark in this volatile part of the world, making it all the more jumpy about unrest.

In September, courts in Xinjiang sentenced four people to death for violence in two cities over the summer that left 32 people dead.

The government blamed the incidents in Kashgar and Hotan -- both in the majority Uighur southern part of Xinjiang -- on religious extremists and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan for their people who speak a Turkic language.

Asian stocks inch lower, euro extends drop

SINGAPORE (iBBC News) - Asian stocks fell on Thursday, taking cues from weak U.S. and European shares, as players cut positions heading into the year end with an Italian debt auction later in the day keeping markets nervous.

The euro extended losses against the dollar to near a one-year low, and a 10-year low against the yen, while the sell-off in stocks and the firm U.S. currency helped crude oil snap a six-session rally and kept gold prices near a three-month low.

The Nikkei <.N225> fell as much as 1.1 percent, before recovering to be off 0.7 percent. The MSCI ex-Japan Asia Pacific index <.MIAPJ0000PUS> shed 0.6 percent, weighed down by energy and material stocks.

"Everyone is holding onto their cash and people are not willing to invest in risk assets. With this kind of market sentiment, there's nowhere for the cash to go," said Hajime Nakajima, a sales trader at Cosmo Securities.

Italy's sale of up to 8.5 billion euros ($11 billion) later Thursday is seen as the first test of banks' willingness to buy longer-term sovereign debt with the nearly 500 billion euros they borrowed last week from the European Central Bank.

While Rome's short-term funding costs halved at an auction Wednesday, market players are worried that thin volumes prevalent across markets near the end of the year could complicate its efforts to sell longer-dated bonds.

U.S. stock indexes fell more than 1 percent in thin trading as investors feared what many expect to be a tough start to the year. The broad S&P 500 index erased its 2011 gains after just turning positive in last week's rally.

Wall Street's decline weighed on European stocks, which erased early gains. The FTSEurofirst 300 <.FTEU3> index of top European shares fell 0.71 percent to end at 983.32, after rising as much as 0.63 percent earlier in the session.

EURO, OIL, GOLD SLIP

The euro nursed heavy losses in Asia, having suffered a sudden drop overnight as moves were amplified in poor year-end liquidity after stop-losses were triggered.

The single currency hit $1.2887, moving closer to its 2011 trough of $1.2860 marked on January 10, nearly a year ago. Against the yen, the euro skidded to a 10-year trough around 100.70, before steadying at 100.88.

Crude oil, which had gained for six sessions on heightened supply worries after Iran threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, eased as traders viewed the threat as rhetoric.

"A big increase in U.S. crude oil stocks and the falling euro against the dollar are the main pressure points for the market at the moment," said Ken Hasegawa, a derivatives manager with brokerage Newedge in Tokyo.

"We also had six consecutive days gaining in the oil market, so it is not strange to see some profit-taking from these sharp gains."

Brent eased three cents to $107.53 a barrel by 0207 GMT, adding to a loss of nearly $2 the day before.

Gold wallowed near a three-month low Thursday, remaining under pressure due to a firm dollar, while investors fretted over the Italian bond auction.

Spot gold edged down 0.3 percent to $1,550.90 an ounce by 0022 GMT, on course for an 11-percent decline in December. It hit a three-month low of $1,549.24 in the previous session.

Wade's winning shot lifts Heat over Bobcats 96-95

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (iBBC News) — Dwyane Wade hit a bank shot over Gerald Henderson with 2.9 seconds left to lift the Miami Heat to a 96-95 victory over the pesky Charlotte Bobcats on Wednesday and remain unbeaten.

After Henderson hit a 3-pointer from the right wing to put the Bobcats up by one with 12 seconds left, the Heat called time and had Wade bring the ball up. He drove to the left side and banked the shot over Henderson, then turned to Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton seated courtside and imitated Newton's Superman touchdown celebration by pretending to rip open his shirt.

D.J. Augustin's 3-point attempt off a side inbounds play didn't fall and D.J. White's putback at the buzzer rolled off the rim as time expired.

Yangon blast kills 17, injures 80-Myanmar police

YANGON (iBBC News) - At least 17 people died and 80 were injured in an early morning explosion at an industrial district on Thursday in an eastern suburb of Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, police said.

Earlier, witnesses had spoken of about 50 dead bodies after the 2 a.m. (1930 GMT Wednesday) blast in an industrial district of the country's commercial hub.

But a police officer said 12 men and five women had been confirmed dead as of 6 a.m. He said further deaths were expected.

Some witnesses said a fire had broken out at a chemical storage warehouse, causing an explosion that triggered several smaller blasts. Police said three firemen were among the dead.

Fire engines from all parts of Yangon were at the scene, witnesses said. Fire was reported to have spread to a nearby shipyard and factories.

Television pictures showed rescue teams carrying casualties on stretchers in the middle of the night around what appeared to be badly damaged buildings.

The shock from the loud explosion in the area was felt by many people in eastern and central Yangon.

Police would not comment on the cause of the disaster.

"There are many casualties. We are not in a position to give you further information. We are still looking into it," a second police officer from Mingalar Taungnyunt Township Police Station told Reuters.

Last Wednesday, December 21, a woman was killed and another injured when what was described as a bomb exploded in a public toilet near the main campus of Yangon University.

Bomb blasts are common in Myanmar, which has been torn by ethnic rebellions and armed struggle against successive governments since independence in 1948.

'The Blondies' cartel chief caught in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY (iBBC News) — Mexican federal police said Wednesday they detained one of the United States' most-wanted drug traffickers, Luis Rodriguez Olivera, at Mexico City's international airport.

U.S. authorities had offered a reward of up to $5 million for Rodriguez Olivera, who is known by the nickname "Blondie," according to Mexico's Public Safety Department.

Olivera and his brother Esteban are accused of smuggling tons of cocaine and methamphetamine into Europe and the U.S., mainly through Texas. Esteban was extradited to the United States in March.

Luis Rodriguez Olivera, 39, was indicted in U.S. federal court in 2009 on cocaine-smuggling conspiracy and related charges. The red-haired suspect was arrested Tuesday, officials said.

His gang, known as "The Blondies" formed temporary allegiances with bigger Mexican cartels, including the Sinaloa cartel, the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, officials say. He is being held until a hearing on a U.S. extradition request.

Also Wednesday, Mexican authorities seized 120 metric tons of a precursor chemical used to make methamphetamines at the Pacific coast port of Lazaro Cardenas, the fifth such large shipment seized so far in December.

The Attorney General's Office said the shipment, like the previous four, came from China and was destined for Puerto Quetzal in Guatemala.

The chemical, which filled eight shipping containers, was identified as methylamine.

The latest bust brings to almost 675 metric tons the amount of meth precursors seized in Mexico in December, more than half of the entire amount — 1,200 tons — seized in Mexico in all of 2011.

Experts familiar with meth production call it a huge amount of raw material, noting that under some production methods, precursor chemicals can yield about half their weight in uncut meth.

Authorities said they seized 205 tons of the chemical at Lazaro Cardenas over several days in early December, and on Dec. 19 they announced the discovery of almost 100 metric tons. On Dec. 23, authorities announced the seizure of 229 metric tons of precursor chemicals at the port, and on Dec. 26 another 21 tons were found at another port.

Experts familiar with meth production call it a huge amount of raw material, noting that under some production methods, precursor chemicals can yield about half their weight in uncut meth.

Authorities have not said which cartels the shipments may have belonged to.

The port of Lazaro Cardenas is located in the home territory of the Knights Templar drug cartel, but the Sinaloa and Zetas cartels have been more active in Central America. Officials say the Sinaloa cartel in particular has moved into meth production on an industrial scale.

Mexico has busted a few huge meth laboratories, and traffickers could be looking for other locations to install production.

"When controls over precursors were strengthened in the United States, manufacture shifted to Mexico," according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime 2011 World Drug Report. "As Mexico has responded with strong counter-methamphetamine initiatives, manufacturing activities are increasingly reported from countries in Central and South America."

In Guatemala, National Police spokesman Donald Gonzalez said Puerto Quetzal has tightened controls after a period in which traffickers had moved shipments "with ease" at the terminal.

"Now it is more difficult for that to happen, because better control measures have been implemented," Gonzalez said.

The National Police have reported seizing 7,847 barrels of precursors so far in 2011, with 3,876 of those seized at Puerto Quetzal. No weight measure of those seizures was immediately available, but if those were standard shipping drums, which usually contain 55 gallons or 208 liters, that would suggest Guatemala's total seizures may have equaled or surpassed Mexico's.

North Korea calls Kim Jong Un 'supreme leader'

PYONGYANG, North Korea (iBBC News) — North Korea says Kim Jong Il's son is now "supreme leader" of the ruling party, military and people as a massive crowd gathers to memorialize the late leader.

Ceremonial head of state Kim Yong Nam on Thursday told a sea of people in the main plaza in Pyongyang that Kim Jong Un inherits his father's "ideology, character and revolutionary" cause.

Kim Jong Un looked on with his head bowed from a balcony during the memorial.

He was flanked by the top party and military officials.

The memorial began with a silent tribute for Kim Jong Il. The elder Kim led his 24 million people with absolute rule after taking power following the 1994 death of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

PYONGYANG, North Korea (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans packed the main plaza in Pyongyang as the nation's next leader looked on from a balcony at a solemn memorial for late leader Kim Jong Il Thursday.

Kim Jong Un stood watching from a balcony at the Grand People's Study House overlooking Kim Il Sung Square, flanked by the top party and military officials.

It was a cold, gray day as the memorial began with a silent tribute for the man who led his 24 million people with absolute rule for 17 years after taking power following the 1994 death of his father, North Korea founder Kim Il Sung.

A sea of soldiers filled the square, often the site of the massive military parades that Kim Jong Il loved, some of the seen stamping and trying to keep warm before the ceremony began.

The entire country is engulfed in sadness, a solemn Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly and the ceremonial head of state, told the crowd. State television showed a smiling photograph of Kim Jong Il below him.

The memorial was taking place on the second day of funeral ceremonies for Kim Jong Il, who died of a heart attack Dec. 17 at age 69, according to state media.

The events are being watched closely for signs to who will take power in the next era of leadership in the country founded by Kim Il Sung in 1948 and led since then by the Kim family.

On Wednesday, hundreds of thousands of mourners had lined the streets as Kim Jong Il's hearse had made its way through the snowy streets in a 2 1/2-hour-long funeral procession.

NJ troopers shoot, wound man armed with ax, dagger

QUINTON TOWNSHIP, N.J. (iBBC News) — State police shot and wounded a southern New Jersey man after he allegedly threw an ax at three troopers and charged at them while reaching for a dagger.

Today's Sunbeam of Salem (http://bit.ly/sVz485) reports 63-year-old Wesley Pitts of Quinton Township was struck in the arm and shoulder during the confrontation. But his injuries were not considered life-threatening.

The shooting occurred around 5:25 a.m. Wednesday, after the suspect's brother reported that Pitts was at his home, brandishing the ax and making threatening comments. The troopers soon arrived and found Pitts at the nearby home of another relative, and the shooting soon occurred.

Pitts remained hospitalized Wednesday night and couldn't be reached for comment. His bail was set at $200,000 cash.

Pitts faces three counts of aggravated assault and several weapons offenses.

Vietnam's economy grows 5.9 pct in 2011

HANOI, Vietnam (iBBC News) — Vietnam's gross domestic product grew at a slower pace this year than a year ago amid doubling inflation and a trade deficit.

The government's General Statistics Office said Thursday that the country's economy has maintained "reasonable" growth at 5.9 percent despite global and domestic economic turbulence. Vietnam's economic growth in 2010 was 6.8 percent.

Inflation of 2011 doubled to 18.6 percent from 9.2 percent a year earlier. The trade deficit stood at $9.5 billion, down from $12.6 billion from a year ago.

The government has introduced a series of measures including tighter monetary policy and cutting public spending to try to tame one of Asia's highest inflation rates.

NKorea says at Kim Jong Il memorial that son is 'supreme leader' of party and military

PYONGYANG, North Korea (iBBC News) — NKorea says at Kim Jong Il memorial that son is "supreme leader" of party and military.

Mexico arrests drug dealer linked to boss Guzman

MEXICO CITY (iBBC News) - Mexico captured a suspected drug trafficker with links to the country's most wanted man, Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, whose operations have recently suffered a string of blows.

Mexico's federal police said on Wednesday they had captured Luis Rodriguez Olivera, known as "El Guero" (Blondie), for whom U.S. authorities have offered a reward of up to $5 million.

In a statement, Mexican police said Rodriguez Olivera and his brothers were responsible for trafficking cocaine to the United States between 1996 and 2008 for Guzman's gang.

A "wanted" statement on the U.S. State Department's website said Rodriguez Olivera and his brothers split with the Sinaloa cartel around 2005 and later forged a strong relationship with Guzman's rivals, the Zetas cartel.

One intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the 39-year-old Rodriguez Olivera had ties to Guzman but had recently struck out on his own. Federal police arrested him on Tuesday in Mexico City airport.

Later on Wednesday, the government said it had seized eight containers carrying more than 120 tonnes of monomethylamine in the Pacific port of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan state.

It was the second big seizure announced this week of monomethylamine, a compound used to make methamphetamines. According to calculations by security analysts, the shipment could have been worth $300 million dollars or more.

President Felipe Calderon's conservative administration has been dominated by a military crackdown on drug cartels that has claimed more than 46,000 lives in the past five years, eroding support for his National Action Party, or PAN.

The PAN has trailed its main rival for months as Mexico gears up for a July 2012 presidential election, and analysts say it needs to rack up some victories in the fight on drugs.

Javier Oliva, a drug war expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), said Michoachan-based cartel La Familia was the most likely intended recipient for the Lazaro Cardenas shipment, though the Zetas were also a possibility.

The shipment set out from Shanghai and was destined for the Guatemalan port of Puerto Quetzal, the government said.

Though the Sinaloa cartel deals in methamphetamines, it is not regarded as exercising much control over Lazaro Cardenas.

Mexico had already arrested three senior traffickers allied to Guzman in the past three months.

Obesity tied to older adults' risk of falls: study

(iBBC News) - Obese older adults may be more likely than their thinner peers to suffer a potentially disabling fall -- though the most severely overweight may be somewhat protected from injury, according to a U.S. study.

Falls are often seen as a problem for thin, frail older adults, since their bones are especially prone to fractures, but obesity carries its own risks, said researchers whose findings appeared in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

"People who are obese may have a harder time with balance," said Christine Himes, of Syracuse University in New York, who worked on the study.

And when obese older adults lose their footing, they may be less able to react quickly and stop a fall, she added.

Looking at 10,755 people aged 65 and up, Himes and colleague Sandra Reynolds found that obese older adults were anywhere from 12 percent to 50 percent more likely to suffer a fall over two years than their normal-weight peers.

Those odds rose with the level of obesity. The 50 percent higher risk was seen among people with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher -- about 45 kg (100 lb) overweight for a man, or 36 kg (80 lb) overweight for a woman.

Body mass index is a measure of weight against height.

The study participants were surveyed every two years. Between 1998 and 2006, the group reported a total of 9,621 falls, resulting in more than 3,100 injuries serious enough to need medical attention.

Of people who suffered a fall, 23 percent were obese, compared with just under 20 percent among older adults who did not fall during the study period.

The researchers factored in health conditions linked to both obesity and the risk of falling, such as arthritis, pain in the legs, diabetes and stroke. But obesity itself was still linked to a higher fall risk.

But when it came to the risk of being injured by a fall, the most severely obese older adults, with a BMI of 40 or higher, were one-third less likely to be injured than normal-weight people who fell.

People with milder obesity had no such protective effect. In fact, those moderately obese people were at greater risk of reporting longer-term disabilities after falls, versus normal weight men and women.

Those with a BMI of 30 to 34.9 were 17 percent more likely than normal weight people to report a disability after a fall. And those with a BMI between 35 and 39.9 were 39 percent more likely to report a disability.

Himes said the patterns make sense.

Obese people, in general, may be more vulnerable to falls than thinner folk, and when they do fall, the most obese people may get some protection from injury by their extra padding and denser bones.

But when obese people are injured, they may be less likely to recover.

"It's just harder for obese people to recover from injury. They're going to be in poorer physical shape to begin with," Himes said.

It's estimated that more than one-third of U.S. residents age 65 and up suffer a fall each year, and a similar proportion of older adults are obese -- a trend, Himes noted, that is likely to get worse.

"This is just another reason that obesity needs to be considered an important public health problem," she said.

Djokovic, Nadal, Federer seek early tennis blows

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer meet in a $250,000 three-day exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi's winter sun from Thursday, eager to strike early blows ahead of the 2012 season.

In the new year, world number one Djokovic will defend three Grand Slam titles and Nadal will look to hang on to his Olympic title and French Open crown, while Federer, despite nearing his 31st birthday, is keen to extend his impressive late run in 2011.

Djokovic won three of the four Grand Slams and five Masters this year and built a 70-6 winning record.

His progress towards the end of the year was slowed by a series of back and shoulder injuries, but the Serb insists he is well rested as 2012 approaches.

"This year's success gives me a reason to believe that I can win again. Why not?" said Djokovic, who has been based in Abu Dhabi for the past two weeks.

"I think it doesn't make any sense to be anything other than optimistic. I need to believe in my qualities and my abilities and I need to believe that I can repeat the success.

"Of course it is going to be an incredibly difficult task to achieve, but you never know, nothing is really impossible."

Nadal lost his world number one ranking to Djokovic in 2011 and cut a world-weary figure as the year came to an end, having played 84 matches -- more than any of his rivals.

But the 25-year-old, whose French Open triumph was his 10th major and sixth at Roland Garros, believes leading Spain to a fifth Davis Cup has helped reignite his hopes for 2012.

He is also determined to adopt a new approach to his trade.

"I tell myself: 'If I do a bit more, I will be nearly back to winning things again.' That is the motivation. Recovering the extra will that makes you give a bit more of yourself," he said.

"I have to get back to my cruising altitude, which should be higher. From Indian Wells to Wimbledon and the Olympic Games is where I have to recover my best level."

Federer, meanwhile, defied those who believe that having celebrated his 30th birthday in 2011, his best was behind him.

The Swiss won his first title in Doha in January before picking up three more in the home straight in Basel, Paris and a sixth World Tour finals trophy.

He will go into 2012, his 13th year on the tour, on the back of a 17-match winning run.

"My passion for competition and my love for tennis has a lot to do with it," Federer told the United Arab Emirates' The National newspaper.

"I have always said that the minute you decide or think that you cannot improve is the time that you should stop playing.

"The good news for me is that I feel like I still have things to learn and parts of my game to improve, so I am excited for the future."

The three-day tournament at the Abu Dhabi International Tennis Complex in Zayed Sports City also features Spain's David Ferrer and French duo Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils.

Toledo holds off Air Force 42-41 in Military Bowl

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — Air Force's attempt at a 2-point conversion went awry with 52 seconds to play Wednesday, giving Toledo a 42-41 win in the Military Bowl.

Air Force lined up to kick the extra point after Zach Kauth's 33-yard touchdown catch pulled the Falcons within a point. But holder David Baska ran the option instead, and he was hit and fumbled the ball out of bounds.

Bernard Reedy's third touchdown of the game gave Toledo a 42-35 lead with 5:01 remaining. Reedy finished with a career-high 126 yards on four catches.

Toledo, from the Mid-American Conference, finishes the season at 9-4. The Rockets scored 40 or more points in each of their last six games.

Air Force of the Mountain West ends up at 7-6.

Judge holds hearing on alleged Ohio 'pill mill'

PORTSMOUTH, Ohio (iBBC News) — A southern Ohio judge has ordered the continued closure of a medical clinic described by authorities as little more than a drug house.

Greater Medical Advance in Wheelersburg was temporarily closed last week by a Scioto County judge. The facility's operator and clinic's doctor face charges of corrupt activity and drug trafficking.

A different county judge on Wednesday ordered the facility to remain closed for now.

The facility was the last so-called 'pill mill' in Scioto County, where tens of thousands of painkillers were allegedly prescribed or dispensed to almost anyone who walked through its doors.

The owners of the building where the clinic was located denied any knowledge of illegal activity. Their attorney says they voluntarily agreed to the space remaining closed temporarily.

No. 2 Ohio State beats Northwestern 87-54

COLUMBUS, Ohio (iBBC News) — Northwestern coach Bill Carmody was in mid-thought when he suddenly said of Ohio State's William Buford, "I don't know if you'd call it his team but ... he's a senior, right?"

Told that Buford was, indeed, the second-ranked Buckeyes' only senior, Carmody muttered, "Thank God."

Buford had career-highs of 28 points and five 3-pointers as Ohio State showed off its perimeter shooting in an 87-54 victory over Northwestern on Wednesday night in the Big Ten opener for both teams.

"I was just shooting the ball," said Buford, who was 9 of 14 from the field including 5 of 7 on 3-pointers. "I was fortunate to knock them down because my teammates were setting great screens for me. They kept telling me to shoot."

Next-to-last in the conference in 3-pointers at 4.8 per game, the Buckeyes hit seven in the first half to build a big lead and finished 10 for 20 from long range.

"We were saving it," Ohio State coach Thad Matta cracked.

It wasn't just a bunch of guys firing up shots from a distance, either. Jared Sullinger added 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Buckeyes (13-1, 1-0), who dominated the boards 49-30.

Deshaun Thomas had 16 points for Ohio State, which broke the game open with a 13-0 first-half run fueled by 3-pointers. Jordan Sibert added 12 points, all on 3s.

"Thad said at the end when we shook hands, 'This was about as good as we can play,'" Carmody said, adding "And we had a lot to do with that."

The conference's top two scorers, John Shurna and Drew Crawford, had miserable games. They were held to 11 and 13 points, respectively, on a combined 9-for-30 shooting.

The loss was the 31st straight for the Wildcats (10-3) in Columbus, dating to 1977.

Even when Northwestern pared what was a 19-point lead down to 12 in the second half, the Buckeyes pulled away again and Buford led the way.

He hit four free throws in a 10-3 run — all the points coming at the line — to push the lead to 59-39 with 11:55 left. By then, a refreshed Sullinger and point guard Aaron Craft, who sat out for several minutes due to foul trouble, were back on the court and the game was well in hand for Ohio State.

With Shurna and Crawford struggling — shadowed wherever they went, taking bad shots when they did get a chance — the Buckeyes took a 41-26 halftime lead.

The pace favored the Wildcats in the early going. They pulled to a tie at 13 on Davide Curletti's 3 at the 12:16 mark.

But the Buckeyes suddenly found the range behind the arc and the game teetered in their favor.

Sibert, just 8 for 31 on 3-pointers coming in, hit 3 of 4, as did Buford. Sibert's 3 ignited a 13-0 rally as the Buckeyes held the Wildcats scoreless for 4:36.

Craft had smacked Sibert's shooting hand in practice recently. Sibert said he had torn ligaments in it, but Sullinger joked that it was just "a little bruise."

The injury certainly didn't seem to bother him.

His four 3s and 12 points were career-highs.

"I had kind of gotten complacent in the spring and summer shooting and I didn't work as hard as I felt I needed to," he said. So he shot 400 or 500 extra shots per night with managers chasing down rebounds.

Matta joked that Sibert's shooting is so much better with the injured hand that even if it required surgery, Sibert would have to play through the pain.

"We're not going to fix it," Matta said, laughing. "We're going to leave it be."

Thomas continued the spurt by hitting a short jumper before Buford nailed a 3 and then made the play of the game. Shurna muscled past the smaller Craft and broke free for a short jumper but Buford went high to block it.

That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the surge. Sibert hit another 3 and Buford followed with a perimeter jumper that was first signaled a 3 but then discounted to a two-point basket after a video review.

The lead never dropped below 11 points again as Ohio State won its 34th straight home game and stayed perfect at home against Northwestern since 1977.

Buford, who came in averaging 8 points and 4 rebounds in five previous games against Northwestern, had 13 points and 7 rebounds at halftime.

Sullinger said Buford has grown into being a leader after remaining quiet for much of his first couple of years on campus.

"Will's doing a great job," he said. "He's more vocal. He's taking on a lot more of the leadership on himself this year."

Sibert said that with an Ohio State team that only has one senior and one junior (backup post Evan Ravenel), Buford has had a profound effect on the younger players.

"We look to Will," he said. "He finds a way to make sure our team stays in rhythm."

Huge crowds gather as North Korea begins memorial for Kim Jong Il

PYONGYANG, North Korea (iBBC News) — Huge crowds gather as North Korea begins memorial for Kim Jong Il.

Malaysia proposal video wins hearts worldwide

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (iBBC News) — After watching an emotional video of Malaysian Timothy Tiah propose to his girlfriend, "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest hailed it as a heartwarming coda to 2011. Singer Christina Perri confessed that it made her cry.

Celebrity endorsements have helped the creatively crafted clip rack up nearly 4 million views online within a week, turning Tiah and his now-fiancee, Audrey Ooi, into unexpected role models for numerous young romantics worldwide.

It's a surreal twist for Tiah, a 27-year-old Internet entrepreneur who says he has long been allergic to the idea of getting hitched, partly because some of his older friends suffered failed marriages.

"But I realized there's no other girl who gets me like (Ooi) does. There's no other girl I've ever considered marrying," Tiah told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The video, set to Perri's wistful U.S. hit ballad "A Thousand Years" and shot by a Malaysian wedding footage company, shows Tiah surprising Ooi while she was having dinner with friends at an Italian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur on Nov. 30.

At first, Tiah nervously walks to the restaurant's glass entrance and waves from outside to get Ooi's attention.

Ooi, 26, appears bewildered as a grinning Tiah holds up a series of posters imprinted with Internet memes — catchphrases and artwork that became popular online — that narrate how he wants to spend the rest of his life with Ooi despite being terrified of marriage.

"If you like it, y u no put a ring on it," one poster proclaims, before Tiah shows Ooi a picture of the animated character Puss in Boots with pleading eyes under the words "Will you marry me?"

The nearly five-minute clip ends with Tiah on bended knee, offering Ooi a ring and a bouquet while she tearfully accepts his proposal.

Tiah, who has been dating Ooi for three years after meeting her at his birthday party, initially planned to show the video mainly to family and friends, but the crew that filmed it convinced him to let them put it online in mid-December.

Bloggers began sharing the clip, which went viral after Seacrest mentioned it on Facebook and Twitter on Dec. 23.

Perri tweeted that she was "honored" that her song was used in the clip.

"Ahhh I just cried my eyes out (and) couldn't stop smiling all at the same time!" Perri wrote.

Others had similar reactions on video-sharing websites YouTube and Vimeo, where the clip has accumulated nearly 4 million combined views over the past week. "I wanna be proposed to like this!!" YouTube user XGothify wrote.

Strangers have approached Tiah in elevators and cafes, saying they recognize him from the video. But Tiah believes the attention will fade soon, insisting that the proposal was little more than a "goofy and geeky" gesture.

"We feel a bit shy about it, but it feels nice at the same time," he said.

Ooi said that midway through Tiah's proposal, she feared he was trying to break up with her.

The couple is now busy planning their nuptials.

"It'll be a fairly simple" traditional Chinese wedding ceremony and dinner next year, Tiah said. "I don't think people will be interested in seeing a video of it."

A's trade closer Bailey, OF Sweeney to Red Sox

BOSTON (iBBC News) — For Andrew Bailey, coming in from the bullpen at Fenway Park is a special feeling.

He'll experience that a lot more next season.

New manager Bobby Valentine found his new man for the back end of the Boston bullpen on Wednesday when the Red Sox obtained the All-Star closer and outfielder Ryan Sweeney from the Oakland Athletics for outfielder Josh Reddick, infield prospect Miles Head and minor league pitcher Raul Alcantara.

In the deal, first reported by ESPN, Bailey gives the Red Sox a reliable ninth-inning guy to replace the departed Jonathan Papelbon, who signed a $50 million, four-year contract as a free agent with the Philadelphia Phillies in November.

The 27-year-old Bailey has three saves in four appearances at Fenway Park in his three major-league seasons.

"The one that sticks out the most was my first save opportunity this year was against the Red Sox," Bailey said in a conference call. "I actually blew that save. From what I remember, there's nothing like the atmosphere of running into the game from the bullpen at Fenway Park."

A New Jersey native and offseason resident of Connecticut, Bailey is excited about coming back east.

He already knows Valentine, who lives in Stamford, Conn., and hosted several events for the pediatric cancer foundation of Bailey and former teammate Craig Breslow.

"Bobby and I are good friends," Bailey said. "It just kind of helps knowing someone going in."

Bailey — the 2009 AL Rookie of the Year, who made the All-Star team that season and again in 2010 — had been the subject of trade talk this offseason.

The right-hander went 0-4 with a 3.24 ERA and 24 saves in 41 2-3 innings and 42 appearances this year. He spent time on the disabled list for the second straight season, pitching for the first time in 2011 on May 29 after being sidelined with a strained right forearm.

"I'm feeling good," he said. "This is my first healthy offseason I've had since I've been in the big leagues."

In his career, he is 7-10 with a 2.07 ERA and 75 saves in 84 opportunities.

Bailey becomes the fourth key pitcher traded this month for the rebuilding A's, who dealt starter Trevor Cahill and reliever Breslow to the Arizona Diamondbacks on Dec. 9 and then sent left-handed starter Gio Gonzalez to Washington last Thursday.

"That organization is heading down a different road where they're trying to get younger and build for a future in San Jose," Bailey said.

Oakland general manager Billy Beane is retooling his roster for the future in hopes of the franchise getting the go ahead to build a new ballpark some 40 miles south in San Jose despite the San Francisco Giants owning the territorial rights to technology-rich Santa Clara County.

Beane and owner Lew Wolff have said they expect to hear soon from Commissioner Bud Selig, and Beane said the unsettled stadium situation would affect him being able to sign his own free agents this winter.

The A's (74-88) haven't posted a winning record or earned a playoff berth since being swept in the 2006 AL championship series by Detroit.

The Red Sox missed the playoffs the past two years, but won the World Series in 2004 and 2007.

"I think every kid playing T-ball out there strives to pitch in the postseason and meaningful games in September and, ultimately, the World Series," Bailey said. "So I'm going to welcome that with open arms."

On Dec. 14, Boston traded for Houston closer Mark Melancon, who had 20 saves last year in 71 relief outings but may be a setup man for Bailey.

"We believe both are fully capable of (closing)," Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said. "Bailey's been doing it for a little bit longer so perhaps he goes in with the leg up."

Sweeney is in the mix for Boston's right field job now that J.D. Drew is a free agent. He's an outstanding fielder who can play all three spots. In six seasons, he has a .283 batting average after hitting .265 with one homer and 25 RBIs in 264 at bats last season.

Reddick, who began last season at Triple-A Pawtucket before being promoted in late May, will look to fill a big void in Oakland's open outfield.

The 24-year-old Reddick batted .280 with seven homers and 28 RBIs in 87 games for Boston in 2011. He can play any outfield spot and likely will get immediate action for the A's, who already lost outfielders David DeJesus and Josh Willingham in free agency. Center fielder Coco Crisp isn't expected to return either.

At last summer's trade deadline, the A's and Red Sox were near completion on a deal that would have sent Oakland right-hander Rich Harden to Boston for Triple-A first baseman Lars Anderson, but it fell through late because of Harden's lengthy list of injury issues.

Former Red Sox pitching coach Curt Young returned to the A's this offseason to work under manager Bob Melvin.

Head, a first baseman, batted .299 with 22 home runs and 82 RBIs in 129 games with the Red Sox two Single-A affiliates, at Greenville and Salem.

The right-handed Alcantara, 19, combined for a 1-4 record and a 2.20 ERA in 13 starts with Single-A Lowell and the Red Sox affiliate in the Gulf Coast League. He struck out 50 and walked just 12 while holding opponents to a .208 batting average.

Family of Marine jet crash victims awarded $17.8 million

LOS ANGELES (iBBC News) - The surviving relatives of four family members killed when a Marine fighter jet crashed into their San Diego home in 2008 were awarded $17.8 million by a federal judge on Wednesday.

Don Yoon, who lost his wife, his mother-in-law and two of his children when an F/A-18D Hornet fighter jet crashed into and incinerated their home, was awarded $9.6 million by U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller, court documents show.

Yoon's father-in-law, Sanghyun Lee, 67, was awarded $3.7 million in the decision, according to the court papers. Yoon's three surviving children were awarded $1.5 million each.

Yoon was at work on December 8, 2008 when the fighter, which was approaching the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar after taking off from an aircraft carrier during a training exercise, smashed into his home.

The crash killed his wife 36-year-old wife, Youngmi Lee Yoon, his daughters Grace Yoon, 15 months, and Rachel Yoon, 7 weeks, and his mother-in-law Seokim Kim-Lee, 59, who was visiting from South Korea to help take care of the children.

The pilot ejected from the plane before the crash and survived.

The United States admitted sole liability for the crash, fire, and deaths of those who perished, according to the court decision.

Yoon's older brother testified during a three-day trial in U.S. District Court in San Diego that his brother used to be funny, cracking jokes and playing with children. Now, he said, Yoon visits the graves of his family every day, and no longer smiles or sees people.

Yoon told the court that reuniting with his wife and daughters in death is "all I have to look forward to," according to court documents.

An attorney for the plaintiffs, who sought $56 million in damages, could not immediately be reached for comment.

A U.S. Department of Justice attorney representing the government in the case did not immediately respond to request for comment.

6-time Pro Bowler Taylor to retire after season

DAVIE, Fla. (iBBC News) — Linebacker Jason Taylor walked across the locker room brushing his teeth, then ducked into the equipment room to rinse and spit. Minutes later he tried to muster a smile for a cluster of TV cameras.

It was time to call it quits.

The NFL's active sacks leader said he'll retire after this season, his 15th in the NFL and his 13th with the Miami Dolphins. Taylor has contemplated retirement in years past only to be lured back, but now he insists his mind's made up.

"Sunday's my last game," he said. "I might even change my cell phone number so they can't reach me."

The 37-year-old Taylor, who made the announcement following practice Wednesday, ranks sixth all-time with 139½ sacks. He has six fumble returns for touchdowns, an NFL record.

He'll conclude his career Sunday against the New York Jets. It'll be his 204th game with the Dolphins, which ranks second to Dan Marino's 242.

"His contributions on the field as one of the greatest players in team history will be remembered by Dolphins fans for years to come," owner Stephen Ross said in a statement. "He will always remain an integral part of the Dolphin family."

Taylor has had three stints with the Dolphins, who drafted him in the third round in 1997. He also played for the Redskins in 2008 and the Jets in 2010.

"In my opinion, that's a no-brainer Hall of Fame player," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "He was a phenomenal teammate here. We only had him the one year, yet he affected the team so positively. I'm proud that I had a chance to coach him."

Taylor helped the Jets reached the AFC championship game. He never made it to the Super Bowl, and his final playoff game with the Dolphins was way back in 2001.

"If there was one regret I have as an athlete, it's that I didn't get a chance to bring a championship to Miami," he said.

Taylor said his wife was surprised he's hanging it up. But the Dolphins (5-10) are nearing the end of another disappointing season and about to embark on a coaching search, which influenced his decision.

"The last few weeks I thought about it more," he said. "It has been a tough year. This organization is going to make some changes. This is the right time for me to go and allow this organization to grow and improve."

Taylor made the Pro Bowl six times, spending much of his career at end before switching to linebacker. He has been used mostly in passing situations this season and has seven sacks this season, which ranks second on the team.

"He's a great leader, a great ambassador for the city of Miami, and a great player in this league," teammate Jake Long said. "He'll definitely be missed."

His best season was in 2006, when he was chosen NFL Defensive Player of the Year. That season he had 13½ sacks, forced 10 fumbles and returned two interceptions for scores.

Taylor has scored nine touchdowns, the most by any player whose primary position was the defensive line and who entered the league after 1970. He has four safeties, which ties him for fourth in NFL history. Taylor holds a Dolphins record with 27 fumble recoveries.

He has been honored many times for his work in the community, and his South Florida foundation has contributed more than $2 million in grants and services to help children.

"He's a tremendous role model," teammate Kendall Langford said. "He is always giving, giving, giving."

The foundation will help keep Taylor busy in retirement. He has also dabbled in acting, and earned runner-up honors on ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" in 2008.

"I look forward to the future. There are a few irons in the fire," Taylor said. "Nothing is going to replace professional football. You can't find it on the golf course or anywhere. There's no place like an NFL locker room. Those guys become your family for seven months of the year. You won't replace that. But I'll find something else."

Gingrich campaign raises about $9 million

LE MARS, Iowa (iBBC News) — Newt Gingrich has raked in roughly $9 million for the last three months of the year, far more than the former House speaker has been able to collect in any previous quarter, his presidential campaign said Wednesday.

Gingrich has paid off some — but not all — of the more than $1 million in debt it had accumulated earlier this year, campaign spokesman R.C. Hammond told reporters.

Gingrich has been sliding in new polls with the leadoff Iowa caucuses just six days away. A new CNN poll had him tumbling 19 percentage points in Iowa from a survey conducted earlier in the month.

The fundraising announcement Wednesday — weeks before the Jan. 15 deadline to file paperwork with the Federal Election Commission — seemed designed to counter signs that his campaign is in freefall.

Hammond said the campaign had shelled out about $500,000 for television ads in Iowa running this week. And that was only part of its ad buy, he said.

"Any good campaign would make sure they spend their money before the Iowa caucuses," he said.

Hammond noted that Gingrich's fourth quarter haul was "in the neighborhood" of the amount John McCain raised in the same quarter in 2007. He went on to become the party's nominee and then lost to Democrat Barack Obama.

Gingrich has been outraised by rivals Mitt Romney and Rick Perry.

Earlier Wednesday, Gingrich answered questions about a luxury cruise he took through the Greek Isles last spring that prompted top aides to flee his campaign. He said the vacation, which came just days after he formally announced in May he would seek the presidency, had always been planned to give him time to think and showed he was "a different kind of candidate.".

"I think you need to pace yourself. You need to get a sense of distance," he told reporters following a campaign event in Mason City.

And Gingrich said being in Greece during that country's financial crisis was helpful.

At the time, however, Gingrich's Greek cruise was seen by many political observers as evidence that he wasn't serious about pursuing the White House. Shortly after he returned, the entire top echelon of his fledgling presidential campaign resigned. An aide said at the time there was a question of Gingrich's commitment as well as a path to victory.

Gingrich said Wednesday that from the beginning he wanted to run a different campaign focused on big ideas

"The consultants found this very mystifying, very strange," he said. The trip with his wife, Callista, forced the issue, making clear that he would call the shots, he said.

"Either they wanted to be the advisers to my campaign or they needed to leave because I couldn't be the candidate to their campaign," he said.

The former House speaker distanced himself from a mailer circulating in Iowa and paid for by a political action committee that supports him. The mailer says Romney is the "second most dangerous man in America."

Gingrich had previously pledged to disavow any independent political action committee working on his behalf that went negative.

"I would discourage them from sending out that kind of negative information. I think that's wrong," Gingrich said Wednesday.

He said all of his ads in advance of next week's leadoff Iowa caucuses will be positive.

"You can fight in a positive way. You can be very strong in a positive way," he said.

Muslims upset by NYPD to boycott mayor's breakfast

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Several Muslim leaders have declined invitations to the mayor's annual year-end interfaith breakfast, saying they're upset at police department efforts to infiltrate mosques and spy on Muslim neighborhoods.

The imams and activists said in a letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg that they're disturbed at his response to a series of stories by The Associated Press detailing New York Police Department intelligence-gathering programs that monitored Muslim groups, businesses and houses of worship.

Bloomberg has defended the NYPD, saying last week it doesn't take religion into account in its policing.

Bloomberg spokesman Stu Loeser acknowledged Wednesday that about a dozen people turned down the breakfast invitation. But he said "a couple dozen" more said they plan to attend.

The Muslim leaders said they appreciate the mayor's staunch support a year ago during an uproar over a planned Islamic center near the World Trade Center site. But they said they were disappointed by what he said after the AP stories since August about the police department's efforts to infiltrate Muslim neighborhoods and mosques with aggressive programs designed by a CIA officer who worked with the department after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The stories disclosed that a team of 16 police officers speaking at least five languages was assigned to use census information and government databases to map ethnic neighborhoods in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Documents reviewed by the AP revealed that undercover police officers known as rakers visited local businesses such as Islamic bookstores and cafes, chatting up store owners to determine their ethnicities and gauge their views. They played cricket and eavesdropped in ethnic cafes and clubs.

The AP stories also revealed that one of the CIA's most experienced clandestine operatives began working inside the police department in July as the special assistant to the deputy commissioner of intelligence.

The CIA is prohibited from spying domestically. Its unusual partnership with the NYPD has troubled top lawmakers and prompted an internal investigation.

Bloomberg in October defended the arrangement, saying it was necessary in a dangerous world.

"There are people trying to kill us," he said. "And if the CIA can help us I'm all for getting any information they have and then letting the police department use it as — if it's appropriate to protect you and to protect me."

1 million visit NYC's Sept. 11 memorial, fountains

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Officials at the Sept. 11 Memorial in New York City say they plan to announce Thursday that the site has had 1 million visitors since opening to the public this year.

The memorial plaza and its two huge fountains now draw about 10,000 visitors each day to ground zero, even as construction continues on the rebuilt World Trade Center.

Visitors are required to get free passes in advance. No more than 1,500 people are allowed on the lower Manhattan site at a time.

The memorial opened on Sept. 12 after its dedication on the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks.

Malaysian proposal video wins hearts worldwide

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (iBBC News) — After watching an emotional video of Malaysian Timothy Tiah propose to his girlfriend, "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest hailed it as a heartwarming coda to 2011. Singer Christina Perri confessed that it made her cry.

Celebrity endorsements have helped the creatively crafted clip rack up nearly 4 million views online within a week.

The video has turned Tiah and his now-fiancee into unexpected role models for numerous young romantics worldwide.

The 27-year-old Internet entrepreneur told The Associated Press this week that it was a surreal twist for him because he has long been allergic to the idea of marriage.

The video shows Tiah surprising his girlfriend at an Italian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur.

Samoa skips a day, crosses international dateline

APIA, Samoa (iBBC News) — The South Pacific nation of Samoa is jumping forward in time as it crosses westward over the international dateline to align itself with trading partners throughout the region.

At the stroke of midnight on Thursday, Dec. 29, time in Samoa will leap forward to Dec. 31 — New Year's Eve. For Samoa's 186,000 citizens, Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, will simply cease to exist.

The time jump comes 119 years after some U.S. traders persuaded local Samoan authorities to align their islands' time with nearby U.S.-controlled American Samoa and the U.S. to assist their trading with California.

But the time zone has proved problematic in recent years because it puts Samoa nearly a full day behind key trading partners Australia and New Zealand.

Injured Cowboys quarterback Romo expects to face Giants

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo expects to play in Sunday's regular season finale against the New York Giants, when the NFC East title will be on the line, despite struggling with a bruised right hand this week.

Romo suffered the injury during last Saturday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, when he banged his throwing hand against the helmet of a defender, and was limited in team practice on Wednesday.

"It's continuing to improve a little day by day," Romo said on a conference call with New York reporters. "Today was good. I was able to do some things with the ball that we weren't sure about.

"It was a good start to the week. We'll continue working on it and getting treatment on it. We'll be good to go this weekend. I expect to play."

Romo arrived at team practice on Wednesday with a black receiver's glove on his right throwing hand but he removed it after making a few soft tosses.

"We're working on the compression of the hand and trying to get the swelling to go down," Romo said. "Hopefully it will continue to get better and better. As of now, I'm not anticipating playing with the glove."

Sunday's game at the new Meadowlands Stadium pits the (8-7) Cowboys against the (8-7) Giants and the winner will clinch the NFC (National Football Conference) East title, along with a home playoff game in the wild-card round. The loser will miss the playoffs altogether.

"When you play QB in the National Football League, you understand you're going to have bumps and bruises along the way," Romo said. "Every week is important and you have to go out and play."

Dolphins T Long placed on injured reserve

DAVIE, Fla. (iBBC News) — Miami Dolphins left tackle Jake Long went on injured reserve Wednesday with a torn right biceps, meaning he'll miss the team's final game Sunday against the New York Jets.

The move came one day after Long was chosen a Pro Bowl starter for the third consecutive year. He endured an injury-filled season, including a back ailment that forced him to miss two games after he started the first 61 games of his career.

Long suffered the arm injury in the first quarter of Saturday's loss at New England.

"It's definitely disappointing — not the way I wanted to end the season," he said. "I'm going to get healthy and come into next year the healthiest I've been in the NFL."

Three other players missed practice Wednesday due to injuries — running back Reggie Bush (knee), tackle Marc Colombo (ankle) and cornerback Jimmy Wilson (hamstring). Receiver Brandon Marshall (knee) was limited. The Dolphins didn't specify whether the injuries were on the right or left side.

Tight end Anthony Fasano returned to practice after missing last week's game because of a concussion.

To fill Long's spot on the roster, the Dolphins signed running back Richard Medlin from the practice squad. He signed with New England as a rookie free agent in August and was released at the end of training camp.

Family 'devastated' by Conn. Christmas house fire

STAMFORD, Conn. (iBBC News) — An uncle of three girls killed with their grandparents in a Christmas morning house fire said Wednesday family members are devastated by the tragedy but comforted by each other and an outpouring of public sympathy.
Campbell Badger said that his brother Matthew Badger was devoted to his daughters. He says their family appreciates the prayers and support it has received.
"Matthew is devastated," Campbell Badger said Wednesday. "He's doing as best as can be expected under the circumstances."
Matthew Badger hasn't commented publicly since 10-year-old Lily and 7-year-old twins Grace and Sarah died of smoke inhalation along with their mother's parents, Lomer and Pauline Johnson.
Lomer Johnson also suffered a blunt head and neck trauma, which could have resulted from a fall or being hit by an object, according to the medical examiner.
Matthew Badger and the girls' mother, Madonna Badger, are divorcing, and he was not at the home when it was engulfed by flames.
Authorities say embers in a bag of discarded fireplace ashes started the blaze.
Madonna Badger, an advertising executive and the home's owner, escaped from the fire, as did Michael Borcina, a friend and contractor working on the house. Borcina was released from a hospital on Wednesday morning, a spokeswoman said.
As flames shot from the three-story home, Madonna Badger climbed out a window onto scaffolding, screaming for her children and pointing to the third floor.
Firefighters went into the house twice trying to rescue the victims but were forced out by the blaze's intensity.
Borcina and Lomer Johnson, a department store Santa Claus who spent a long career as safety and security director for a Louisville, Ky.-based liquor company, tried to save them, as well. One of the girls, found dead just inside a window, had been placed on a pile of books, apparently so Johnson could reach in and grab her after he jumped out.
Instead, authorities say, Johnson fell through the roof outside the window and was found dead in the rear of the house. He and his wife, both of Southbury, had been visiting their daughter for the holidays.
The Department of Consumer Protection said its records show neither Borcina nor his company, Tiberias Construction Inc., are currently registered to perform home improvement work in Connecticut. Registration is required by state law and provides certain contractual rights to the consumer, according to the department.
"We do not yet have enough information about what work was being done or had been completed," the agency said. "We will address the pertinent regulatory issues in due course."
Campbell Badger said his nieces were "wonderful, delightful energetic children."
"They were loved tremendously by their mother and their father, who always put their kids first," he said.
He said his brother, a television commercial director who lives in New York, was involved in all aspects of his daughters' lives and played all types of games and activities with them, including soccer, rollerblading and painting.
He said the Johnson and Badger families are grateful for the public support, which has included floral bouquets, stuffed animals and candles left by passers-by at the site of the torn-down Victorian home.
"We are really touched," he said. "Everyone wants to help in any way they can. We feel it, and it's remarkable."

Infamous 'Yeti Finger' Flunks DNA Test

A finger long claimed to be from a yeti, once revered in a monastery in Nepal and taken in the 1950s by a Bigfoot researcher, has been identified after decades of mystery. Turns out, it's just a regular old human finger — albeit one with a very interesting history.

The yeti is said to be a muscular beast weighing between 200 and 400 pounds and covered with dark grayish or reddish-brown hair. As in the case of its North American counterpart, Bigfoot, most of the evidence of its existence comes from fuzzy sightings, oversize footprints in the snow, or the occasional strand of funny-looking hair.

But there has been one interesting piece of physical evidence of the yeti: a finger that was either bought or stolen from the Pangboche Buddhist monasteryin the 1950s, depending on which disputed story you believe. It has been in London, among the collection of the Royal College of Surgeons, for more than half a century.

The finger was taken from the monastery by Bigfoot researcher Peter Byrne and was smuggled out of the country, so the story goes, by beloved Hollywood actor Jimmy Stewart, who hid it amid his wife's lingerie. The monstrous finger ended up in the possession of Dr. William Osman Hill, who had searched for the yeti in the 1950s on behalf of Texas millionaire Tom Slick; Hill later bequeathed the finger to the Royal College of Surgeons.

The finger has generated controversy among Bigfoot and yeti believers for decades and, until relatively recently, when researchers at the Edinburgh Zoo performed DNA analysis on the mysterious digit, it was impossible to know for certain what kind of animal it belonged to. [Mythical Beasts That Might Actually Exist]

If it is indeed a Yeti finger, then the mysterious beast is even more man-like than anyone imagined. According to the researchers' DNA analysis, the Yeti finger is human, perhaps from the corpse of a monk. But definitely human.

Rob Ogden of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland explained to BBC News: "We had to stitch it together. We had several fragments that we put into one big sequence, and then we matched that against the database and we found human DNA." The researchers said that the result “wasn’t too surprising, but obviously slightly disappointing.”

It is not the first yeti claim to be debunked by science. In 1960 Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to scale Mount Everest, searched for evidence of the beast and found a "scalp" that scientists later determined had been fashioned from the skin of a serow, a Himalayan animal similar to a goat.

Earlier this year a team of researchers in Russia claimed to have found "indisputable proof" of the yeti, though so far the evidence has fallen far short of the claims. If populations of yetis really exist, they, like Bigfoot, have somehow managed to avoid leaving any physical traces of their presence: bodies, bones, teeth, hair, or anything else.

Mosquitoes Pick Out Human Meals With Help from Microbes

Mosquitoes like some people better than others, and differences in the microbes living on our skin may help explain the bloodsuckers' dining preferences. 

It turns out men with a large variety of microbes living on their skin make for less attractive meals for the African malaria-carrying mosquito Anopheles gambiae sensu stricto.The mosquito instead appears drawn to men whose skin bacteria are relatively similar to each other.
Those findings come from a study that also found a connection between certain types of microbes and men's status as more or less attractive to a mosquito.

Preventing disease

Mosquito bites are more than just an itchy annoyance; they can spread malaria and other fatal diseases. Malaria is caused by a parasite called Plasmodium, and in 2010 it was responsible for an estimated 655,000 deaths, mostly among African children, according to the World Health Organization.

So the relationship between mosquitoes' preference and skin microbes has important health implications.

This study suggests skin microbes could be part of a person's built-in defense system, and this line of research could lead to new tools to protect against the spread of disease, the research team writes in a study published Dec. 28 in the journal PLoS ONE.

The secret's in the sweat

The logic behind the effect is simple: Odors from human skin are essential cues that guide mosquitoes to our skin, and the microbes living on our skin play an important role in producing these odors. In fact, without skin bacteria, human sweat would be odorless to the human nose, according to the researchers, led by Niels Verhulst of Wageningen University in the Netherlands

Verhulst and colleagues collected volatiles — the easily evaporated chemicals responsible for odor — from the left feet of 48 men. They then gave the mosquitoes a choice between each sample and a standard ammonia concentration. (The odor of ammonia is known to attract mosquitos.) They also sequenced DNA from the skin of the left foot; this gave them information on what, and how much of it, was living on the men's feet.

Of the 48 men who volunteered for the study, the researchers classifed nine as "highly attractive", while seven were considered "poorly attractive."

The microbes responsible

In addition to finding that a greater diversity of skin microbes seems to deter mosquitoes, the researchers came to associate certain types of bacteria with how delicious the mosquitoes found the person to be.

The more tasty men had microbes that were less diverse and were likely to include Leptotrichia, Delftia, Actinobacteria Gp3, and Staphylococcus microbes, the researchers found.

Meanwhile, the volunteers who, for instance, had a diverse array of microbes on their skin, as well as lots of Pseudomonas and possibly Variovorax species, were less attractive.

"We hypothesize that the lower attractiveness to mosquitoes is caused by a selective group of skin microbiota that emanates compounds that interfere with the attraction of mosquitoes to their human hosts," the researchers wrote.

Monsters and UFOs to Watch For in 2012

2011 was a year of weird news, and sitting on the cusp of 2012, it's time to look back on the odd year that was — as well as look ahead to a year that promises a new level of strangeness.

Monster sightings in 2011: Researchers looking in Siberia for the yeti — the Asian version of North America's Bigfoot — claimed in October to have found "indisputable proof" of the long-sought mystery beast. The Russian team, which included several American scientists, located some odd footprints, as well as some gray hairs in a cave. About a month later, a member of the expedition, biologist John Bindernagel, claimed his group found even more evidence, including nests and shelters made of tree branches twisted together. However, another member of the same group reported finding evidence of hoaxing and branded the whole expedition a publicity stunt.

2011 was also the year that the mystery of the chupacabra, the Hispanic vampire beast, was solved, after some 15 years of mystery. DNA testing on dead "chupacabras" found in Texas and elsewhere revealed them to be mostly dogs and coyotes afflicted with mange, and the legendary creature's origin was traced back to a 1995 monster movie instead of any real-life encounter. [Is It Illegal to Kill a 'Chupacabra'?]

Monsters to look for in 2012: Will the yeti footprints and hair samples finally reveal the truth? If the claims made by the Russian expedition are not hype or hoax, then perhaps the world will finally get definitive proof of the long-rumored creature. Surely after so many decades of ambiguous sightings and searches, hard evidence of Bigfoot or the yeti is long overdue. As for the chupacabra, people in North America and elsewhere will continue to find mangy dogs and coyotes and assume the unfortunate beasties are chupacabras.

Doomsday predictions made in 2011: The year began on an ominous note when fundamentalist Harold Camping, leader of the ministry Family Radio Worldwide, concluded after careful study of the Bible that the world would end May 21. The announcement made national news, and concerned many believers. Camping and his followers were embarrassed when May 21 came and went without a hitch, and he eventually admitted there must have been a miscalculation somewhere. Camping moved the date back a few months, concluding that October was the real month Armageddon would begin. That doomsday date came and went, as well, and the only thing destroyed was Camping's credibility.

Doomsdays to prepare for in 2012: The upcoming year is certain to bring more concerns about doomsdays and apocalypse — not necessarily from Bible-thumping evangelicals but (supposedly) from the ancient Mayans, whose calendar "ends" next year. Some New Agers think the world will end along with the end of the Mayan calendar cycle; others believe a new age of global peace and harmony will emerge. For other groups, the concern isn't so much the calendar date but a collision between Earth and the mysterious (and nonexistent) planet Niburu. Of course, people have been predicting doomsdays for millennia, and while nary one has come to pass, one day, sooner or later, the prognosticators will be right. [Does Howard Camping Foresee the World Ending in 2012?]

UFOs and aliens spotted in 2012: The summer of 2011 was an especially busy period for UFO sightings, according to an organization that tracks such reports. The Mutual UFO Network noted that sightings in some states more than doubled their usual numbers. The group could not explain the apparent increase, saying that it could be real, or possibly just a computer error.

As the reports of sightings soared, so did the lights in the skies. In early October more than a dozen strange lights were seen over the northern Utah city of Washington Terrace just after 11:30 p.m. They emitted a strange, fiery glow as they headed north at an estimated speed of about 70 mph, according to one eyewitness. The lights puzzled the public and police and had the UFO community buzzing. Finally, students at the local Bonneville High School admitted they had launched 16 lit Chinese lanterns that night; the lanterns had been reported as UFOs.

Even close-up views of alien spaceships proved to be of something else. That was the case of a "flying saucer" spotted being hauled down a main street in a Kansas town; it turned out to be a (comparatively mundane) military spy plane.

UFOs and aliens to look out for in 2012: There's some reason to believe UFO sightings will continue at the same rate, or even increase, through 2012. UFO reports historically occur in clusters or “flaps." And reports could be on the rise because more and more people carry cellphones with built-in cameras, making it easier than ever to report a potential sighting.

A few sightings tend to encourage even more sightings. Will extraterrestrials finally make their presence clearly known, landing on the White House lawn or staying still long enough to get some clear, sharp photos or videos? That's been the hope and promise of UFO believers for decades now.

Australia out for 240 on 4th day against India

MELBOURNE, Australia (iBBC News) — India needs an imposing 292 runs to win the first test after dismissing Australia for 240 in its second innings before lunch on the fourth day of the first test Thursday.

James Pattinson (37) and Ben Hilfenhaus (14) shared a defiant 43-run partnership for the last wicket until Hilfenhaus sent an outside edge to V.V.S. Laxman in the gully off an Ishat Sharma ball.

Zaheer Khan made the breakthrough India dearly needed early in the session when Mike Hussey offered an outside edge to wicketkeeper Mahendra Singh Dhoni.

Hussey made an Australia top-score of 89 with nine boundaries from his 151 balls.

To win, India must produce the best second-innings run chase at the Melbourne Cricket Ground since South Africa made 297-4 in 1953.

Could Romney score an early knockout?

NORTH LIBERTY/MASON CITY, Iowa (iBBC News) - Mitt Romney's campaign did its best on Wednesday to lower expectations, but no one was really buying it.

As six of the contenders for the Republican nomination for president barnstormed across Iowa, there was a clear sense that Romney could be in position to lock down the nomination far sooner than could have been expected just a few days ago.

Urging Iowans to vote in the caucuses that kick off the nominating process next Tuesday, Romney and his aides were surprised at the size and enthusiasm of overflow crowds at diners and coffee shops.

And two new polls -- one from Public Policy Polling showing the Massachusetts governor running a close second to Texas congressman Ron Paul; another from CNN showing Romney ahead -- suggested that the dynamics of the race were shifting in Romney's favor.

In contested races under the current primary system, it has been rare for a nonincumbent to win the Republican nomination after winning both the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary that follows, this year on January 10.

Romney, who has a big lead in New Hampshire polls, could pull off that feat and gain a strong grip on the nomination -- if he can win Iowa.

On Wednesday Romney was having a hard time containing a smile at the thought of striking such a huge blow so early in the primary season.

"I can't possibly allow myself to think in such optimistic terms," Romney said during a stop at Homer's Bakery in Clinton, Iowa.

The polls also indicated that former House speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia -- who led in the polls in early December -- could fade out of contention before he gets to the January 10 primary in South Carolina, where he still leads and has put much of his hope.

In Iowa, Gingrich was third in the Public Policy survey and fourth -- behind former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum -- in the CNN poll.

As his standing in the polls has fallen amid a barrage of negative TV ads from Romney, Paul and a group supporting Romney, Gingrich has been pointing to South Carolina, where he is building up his staff.

Gingrich, whose modest campaign was traveling around Iowa in a car just a few weeks ago, is now traversing the state in a giant bus with "NEWT 2012" emblazoned on the side.

Although he declared himself the front-runner in the race in early December after strong debate performances shot him to the top of voter surveys, the Gingrich campaign now is considerably more humble.

He told CNN this week that he would be fine if he finished in the "top three or four" in Iowa, but political strategists said that type of showing Tuesday could damage his campaign.

"If he wants to be one of the two finalists, he has to win Iowa," said Charlie Black, a top adviser to John McCain's 2008 presidential campaign who is backing Romney. "Unless he wins there, he's going to have a very hard time fighting his way back into the race."

Republican strategist Ron Bonjean, who has not backed a candidate, said Gingrich's attempts to lower expectations were not going well.

"His efforts to manage expectations are proving difficult after he pledged to win the state," Bonjean said, adding that Gingrich should focus on placing in the top three in the January 10 primary in New Hampshire.

Then, Bonjean said, Gingrich could seek to shore up his leads in the next two primary states, South Carolina and Florida, which are closer to Gingrich's conservative southern base.

FOR ROMNEY, A PLEASANT SURPRISE

The notion that Romney could come roaring out of Iowa with a win has seemed preposterous for much of the campaign.

As a candidate in 2008, Romney invested heavily in Iowa. But Iowa's Christian conservatives became infatuated with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Baptist preacher.

Romney finished second in Iowa, then lost New Hampshire to eventual nominee John McCain, the Arizona senator.

For much of 2011, Romney did not seem particularly interested in campaigning in Iowa.

But when conservative Texas Governor Rick Perry stumbled in debates, Romney's team began pouring resources into Iowa -- and spending big on TV ads.

Perhaps the most devastating ads against Gingrich were put on the air by a political action committee that supports Romney. They cast Gingrich as a Washington insider who earned millions as a lobbyist after leaving the House.

Gingrich has called the ads unfair.

At a shopping mall Wednesday in Mason City, Gingrich said that "the only person helped by negative ads is Barack Obama, and our business is to defeat him, not to help him."

Gingrich then told a small crowd, "I would ask you, when you go to the caucus, to remind your friends and neighbors: Do you really want to reward somebody who's done nothing but run negative ads? Or do you want to elect somebody who has big, positive solutions, runs positive ads, and has a track record of actually getting it done?"

When asked Wednesday whether he will win the state, Romney demurred, saying that both Gingrich and Paul have led polls in the state.

Romney added that the race for the nomination won't be over until a candidate is backed by 1,150 delegates, which are awarded proportionately by state. Twenty-eight delegates are at stake in Iowa.

"I like the fact that my support is building and the momentum is positive, but I can't tell" who will win, Romney said. "I'll tell you this: I've got to get 1,150 delegates. And I'd like to get a good start here and in New Hampshire and in South Carolina and Florida."

Romney supporter Indra Brewer wasn't so reserved.

"I think he can" win Iowa, she said. "The momentum's building, and I think that's going to pay off for him in the end."

Gingrich supporters, meanwhile, are holding out hope.

Iowan Jerry O'Neill, 72, said he was glad Gingrich was staying positive.

"He's dropping in the polls, but polls fluctuate," O'Neill said. "It's coming down to the wire as far as the Iowa caucus, but it's not the end of the road."

Bargain hunters divided shopping season into two

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — The holiday shopping season turned out to be two seasons: the Black Friday binge and a last-minute surge.

Together, they added up to decent sales gains for retailers. And the doldrums in between showed how shoppers have learned to wait for the discounts they know will come.

"The days that the American consumer gets excited about 25 percent off are over," said C. Britt Beemer, chairman of America's Research Group. "Shoppers are keeping their eye on the ball for the big sales events."

In November, spending rose 4.1 percent. And from Dec. 1 to Dec. 24, it rose 4.7 percent compared with the same period last year, according to research firm ShopperTrak. A 4 percent increase is considered a healthy season.

The higher sales are good news for the economy, because they show shoppers were willing to fund a holiday splurge despite high unemployment and other lingering economic woes. Consumer spending, including major items such as health care, accounts for 70 percent of the economy.

Still, plenty of people are pinched for cash in the slow economic recovery, and they were seeking the best deals, which could squeeze stores' profits for the fourth quarter, says Hana Ben-Shabat, a partner in the retail practice of A.T. Kearney, a management consulting firm.

Stores have trained even shoppers who are primed to spend to look for a discount.

Heading into the season, stores were nervous that shoppers would be tight-fisted. Many officially opened the season with discounts on TVs and toys that started as early as Thanksgiving Day. Consumers came out in droves, resulting in record spending.

Then the frenzy tapered off. A mild winter and the fact that Christmas fell on a Sunday encouraged people to wait until the last minute and accentuated the peaks and valleys of spending.

Stores started to push more discounts to get shoppers to spend in the finale. In fact, retailers' promotional e-mails from Sunday, Dec. 18, to Thursday, Dec. 22, spiked 34 percent, compared with the same period a year ago, according to Responsys, which tracks e-mail activity from more than 100 merchants.

According to Beemer's consumer surveys, 60 percent of shoppers polled were looking for discounts of more than 50 percent to get them to buy. That's up from last year's 51 percent of shoppers polled.

Tracey Spears of Locust Grove, Ga., who was shopping Wednesday at Atlanta's Lenox Square Mall, said she got 75 percent of her holiday shopping done on Black Friday or the day after Thanksgiving. She took advantage of deals, including a Keurig coffee pot from Target and clothes from Hollister on sale.

"I had more money because I got a better bonus this year, but sales are important. You always want to buy stuff cheaper," she said.

Spears and others helped to create pronounced waves in spending.

"The downs and ups were much more accentuated," said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers. "It just shows how cautious the consumer is. Consumers are bargain hunters more today than ever before."

In the week before Christmas, last-minute shoppers gave retailers a 4.5 percent increase in revenue over the same week last year at stores open at least a year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index. The index estimates sales at 24 major stores including Macy's Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp.

Revenue at stores open at least a year is an important measurement of a retailer's performance because it excludes the effects of stores that open or close during the year.

Total retail revenue for the week ended Saturday rose 14.8 percent compared with the year ago, ShopperTrak estimates.

For the week that ended Nov. 26, which included the traditional start of holiday shopping on the day after Thanksgiving, stores had the biggest sales surge from the week before since 1993, according to the ICSC-Goldman Sachs index.

The post-Black Friday lull was deeper than usual. The two weeks after Thanksgiving weekend showed the biggest percentage sales decline since 2000.

Then, during the final two weeks before Christmas, sales surged again, by the highest rate since 2005, Niemira said.

The season "was good but uneven," he said.

Stores are expected to benefit when shoppers come back to spend gift cards, because people often spend more than the cards' value. In addition, gift card sales are recorded only when shoppers redeem them.

People have more money on their cards to spend. According to an ICSC-Goldman Sachs survey of shoppers conducted Sunday, 18 percent of holiday spending went toward gift cards, up from 14.6 percent last year.

A total sales figure for the whole season won't be available until after Dec. 31. And a fuller holiday spending picture will come Jan. 5, when stores including Target Corp. and Macy's release December sales figures. Government retail sales data will be released in mid-January.

ICSC said it expects holiday sales for November and December to rise in line with its forecast of 3.5 percent. The National Retail Federation expects total retail sales for November and December combined to increase by 3.8 percent, up from its earlier forecast of 2.8 percent issued back in October. That's still below the 5.2 percent holiday sales increase in 2010 from the previous year.

As proof that consumers are timing their spending to seek the best bargains, Black Friday was the biggest sales day, as expected, generating sales of $11.4 billion, up 6.6 percent from a year ago, according to ShopperTrak.

But based on preliminary data, Christmas Eve and Dec. 26 were the second- and third-heaviest spending days of the season, according to ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin.

He had originally expected Saturday, Dec. 17, to be the second-largest spending day. And Christmas Eve wasn't even forecast to be among the top 10 holiday shopping days.

ShopperTrak measures foot traffic in 25,000 stores in the U.S. and blends those figures with economic data along with proprietary sales figures from merchants. The data excludes sales from auto dealers, gas stations, restaurants and grocery stores.

"Shoppers are willing to spend when they know the biggest discounts are available," Martin said.

Brooks Brothers, the upscale men's and women's clothier that doesn't discount before Christmas, learned that this year. The Monday after Christmas, when the company offered discounts up to 40 percent, was a record spending day at its stores and its website.

"The first three weeks leading up to holiday were soft," Lou Amendola, chief merchandising officer, wrote in an email. "But customers really partook in the after-Christmas sales."

No trial delay for accused Ponzi schemer Stanford

(iBBC News) - Allen Stanford, accused of running a $7.2 billion Ponzi scheme, on Wednesday lost his bid for a three-month delay in his criminal fraud trial, clearing the way for jury selection to begin on January 23.

District Judge David Hittner said the public interest in a speedy trial was "particularly acute," citing the allegations that Stanford deceived thousands of investors into buying certificates of deposit from his Antiguan bank, resulting in billions of dollars of losses.

The Houston-based judge also noted that Stanford has been in pre-trial detention for 2-1/2 years since his arrest.

"This case needs to be tried," Hittner wrote.

Fatal Conn. fire reminds homeowners of ash dangers

HARTFORD, Conn. (iBBC News) — Fire safety officials are warning homeowners about the dangers of fireplace ashes after a Christmas morning blaze that killed five people in Connecticut.

Authorities say the fire in Stamford was caused by a bag of fireplace ashes left near the back of the home. Seven-year-old twin girls, their 10-year-old sister and their grandparents died.

The U.S. Fire Administration says ashes can remain hot enough to start a fire for up to 24 hours. The agency recommends leaving ashes in the fireplace protected by a metal or glass screen with the damper open.

If the ashes are removed, they should be placed outside in a metal container well away from the house.

The agency says hot embers or ashes cause more than 11,500 residential building fires a year.
 
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