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Man pleads not guilty to trying to kill Obama

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — A man charged with trying to assassinate President Barack Obama has pleaded not guilty.

Oscar Ramiro-Ortega Hernandez made a brief appearance with his public defender Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington. He was indicted last week.

Ortega is accused of firing shots at the White House on the night of Nov. 11. Obama and his wife Michelle were not home at the time.

Ortega was arrested several days after the shooting in Pennsylvania.

The indictment includes charges of attempting to assassinate the president, transporting a firearm across state lines and assaulting a United States employee with a deadly weapon.

Prosecutors say Ortega harbored conspiracy theories and fantasies of killing the president.

Ortega did not speak in court Tuesday. He is scheduled to make another appearance next month.

House extends aviation programs for the 23rd time

WASHINGTON (iBBC News) — The House has approved a temporary extension of Federal Aviation Administration programs, avoiding a shutdown of the agency as lawmakers work out their last remaining differences on a long-term plan.

A bill to extend FAA programs through Feb. 17 was approved by a voice vote — the 23rd such extension since 2007. The agency's operating authority had been due to expire on Jan. 31.

Lawmakers said House and Senate negotiators are very near an agreement on a final bill, but needed extra time to resolve a handful or remaining issues. None is seen as an obstacle to passage.

Last week negotiators reached a compromise on rules for how airline workers can form unions, the main issue that has been holding up passage of a long-term bill.

AIG units to merge into Benefits Solutions entity

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — Two units of American International Group Inc. will combine into a single organization to offer insurance services for employers and other groups.

Chartis U.S. Accident and Health and American General Life Insurance Company will become AIG Benefits Solutions, led by former ING Life Insurance executive Curtis Olson.

The new unit will operate through two segments: U.S. Employee Benefits, which will offer group and individual benefits, and U.S. Affinity Benefits. The latter will provide products and services to organizations like unions, where there is no employer-employee relationship. Its portfolio will consist of several lines of insurance, including life, accident, hospital indemnity, dental, vision, limited healthcare, group and personal disability and cancer coverage.

A company spokesman said no new products will be introduced.

"Through this joint venture, we will not only create a new and stronger benefits division, we are positioned to become a major player in the benefits market," Olson said.

Wis. Democrats criticize mining bill ahead of vote

MADISON, Wis. (iBBC News) — Democrats on the Assembly's jobs committee picked apart on Tuesday a Republican bill that would streamline Wisconsin's iron mining permit process, saying the measure robs local governments of tax dollars, could leave the state on the hook for an expensive application and doesn't show enough respect for American Indians.

Republicans have been working for nearly a year on a bill to help Florida-based Gogebic Taconite open an iron mine in the Penokee Hills just south of Lake Superior. The company claims the project would create hundreds of jobs throughout northwestern Wisconsin, but environmentalists fear the mine would pollute one of the most pristine regions in the state.

Gogebic Taconite officials have put their plans on hold. They want state lawmakers to guarantee a clear end point in Wisconsin's complex mine permitting process. Under the bill, the state Department of Natural Resources would have to approve an iron mining application within a year, contested hearings on permitting decisions would be eliminated and no one who isn't directly injured by a mining operation would be allowed to bring a lawsuit alleging violations of mining laws.

The jobs committee was poised to vote on the bill Tuesday, a move that would clear the way for a vote in front of the full Assembly. Republicans control the committee, making approval all but inevitable; the full Assembly has already scheduled a vote for Thursday. Republicans control the body, making passage a near certainty.

Democrats on the committee still put up a fight, though, spending two hours complaining about revisions Republicans unveiled over the last few days. Gogebic Taconite President Bill Williams sat in the audience, taking notes.

The Democrats' biggest problem was a provision that would hand local governments 60 percent and the state 40 percent of proceeds from a state tax on ore sales. Currently all the money from the tax goes to local governments where the ore is mined.

The bill originally divided the proceeds 50-50 between the locals and the state. The committee's chairwoman, Rep. Mary Williams, R-Medford, said she felt that wasn't fair to the locals. But Democrats insisted the locals deserve all of the tax proceeds to offset damage the mine and its equipment could cause to roads and infrastructure.

"Why are we skimming off (40 percent)?" asked Rep. Louis Molepske, D-Stevens Point.

Rep. Jeff Stone, R-Greendale, said local officials obviously want every dollar they can get, but the state could incur expenses related to the mine as well, such as repairing damage from heavy traffic on state highways.

"It's a reasonable split," Stone said.

The Democrats complained, too, about changes that would raise the cap on application fees from $1.1 million to $2 million. Molepske warned that the Gogebic Taconite mine would be gigantic and could incur application review costs beyond $2 million that the state would have to absorb. Stone countered that many other state permits have set application fees.

Molepske also took issue with a revision that would require an applicant to share the application with American Indian tribes with land within 20 miles of a mine site. The Republicans said they wanted to make sure the tribes were aware of application developments, but Molepske said the provision doesn't go far enough to show the tribes the respect they deserve.

"Simple notice to these tribes isn't going to cut it," Molepske said. "They want to be at the table."

Stone said the notification requirement represents a reasonable effort to keep everyone informed and tribes can pursue challenges as they see fit.

"I don't think our job is to provide a seat at the table for the tribes, who want to be treated as a sovereign nation," he said.

Bloomberg blasts use of movie during NYPD training

NEW YORK (iBBC News) — New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg says police used terrible judgment when they showed a film about Muslims during counterterrorism training seminars.

Bloomberg said Tuesday that police had stopped showing the movie, "The Third Jihad." It discusses extremists and their plans for establishing an Islamic regime.

Police documents obtained by a think tank at New York University say the movie was shown on a continuous loop while officers were signing in for counterterrorism training in late 2010. Nearly 1,500 officers may have seen the movie. Police originally said only a few officers had seen it.

Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne says that the movie was not approved for training courses and that the decision to play it was made by a sergeant. He said she had been reprimanded.

Egypt's ruler partially lifts emergency laws

CAIRO (iBBC News) — Egypt's military ruler has decreed a partial lifting of the nation's hated emergency laws, saying the draconian laws will remain applicable to crimes committed by "thugs."

Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi said in a televised address to the nation on Tuesday that the emergency laws would be lifted effective Wednesday, the first anniversary of the start of the popular uprising that toppled longtime authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak.

Tantawi and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces he chairs took over the reins of power when Mubarak stepped down.

His decision to partially lift the decades-old laws, which give police far-reaching powers, will likely not satisfy rights groups that have objected to the repeated use by the military of the term "thugs" to justify crackdown on protesters.

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

CAIRO (AP) — It was a raucous beginning Monday for Egypt's first democratically elected parliament in 60 years.

Islamist lawmakers added religious references to the oath of office. Liberal lawmakers improvised too, adding a pledge to protect the "revolution" that ousted Hosni Mubarak. Some wore scarves with words protesting military trials for civilians. Shouting matches erupted. Hundreds massed outside, calling on the ruling generals to step down.

And millions of Egyptians watched it all unfold live on TV.

The opening session of parliament offered a stark contrast to past decades, when Egyptians knew that lawmakers came to office through deeply fraudulent elections engineered by the authorities, including the police, to ensure that the ruling party won comfortably. Apathetic and demoralized, they paid little or no heed to what lawmakers did or said.

All that came to an end when the new legislature was elected in balloting staggered over six weeks beginning Nov. 28. Islamists led by the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most disciplined political group in the nation of 85 million people, won about 70 percent of the parliament's 508 seats.

The Brotherhood had been banned for most of its 84-year history, legalized only after the uprising that began a year ago Wednesday and toppled Mubarak, Egypt's authoritarian ruler for nearly three decades.

The chamber's top priority will be to elect a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution, which will have to be put to a vote in a referendum. The next major step in the transition will be a presidential election, scheduled to be held before the end of June, when the generals who took over from Mubarak are due to step down.

The lawmakers took office at a time when Egypt appears divided and near despairing. Since Mubarak stepped down, the economy has been battered. Tenuous security has hit tourism hard and foreign currency reserves have rapidly dwindled.

Thousands of people of all political views demonstrated on side streets near parliament to voice a wide variety of demands and speak of expectations from the new lawmakers. Some repeated calls for the ruling generals to step down, while others questioned the legitimacy of the chamber or voiced their opposition to the Islamists' policies.

"We want to remind all those inside the parliament that they are there as the fruit of freedom. Therefore, we need more freedom," said poet and activist Abdel-Rahman Youssef, who said his advocacy group was concerned about calls by Islamists to place restrictions on the arts.

Voices calling for the military to immediately return to the barracks have intensified, with political activists accusing the generals of bungling the transition, torturing detainees and hauling 12,000 civilian before military tribunals for trial.

Many are frustrated by the waves of street protests, strikes and sit-ins preventing life from returning to normal. The generals have taken advantage of the disarray, stepping up a campaign portraying the revolutionaries as irresponsible agents of foreign powers while projecting themselves as Egypt's protectors and true patriots.

The divisions were on display both inside and outside parliament Monday.

Liberal and independent lawmakers wore yellow scarves saying, "No to military trials for civilians." Some of them added to the text of the oath of office, pledging to "continue the revolution" or "to be loyal to the blood of its martyrs."

That led to lawmakers from the ultraconservative Salafist movement to do some improvising of their own. The oath ends with a pledge to respect the constitution and the law, but several of them added "God's law" or said "as long as there are no contradictions with God's law."

The addition of religious references pointed to the Salafis' intention to make good on election promises to impose a strict interpretation of Islam on the nation.

The Islamist character of the chamber was also shown in the attire of lawmakers, many of whom sported long beards, clerical turbans or flowing robes. Most of the women wore Islamic scarves.

Brotherhood lawmaker Saad el-Katatni, a botany lecturer from the central province of Minya south of Cairo, was elected as speaker and sought to woo the revolutionaries.

"Our revolution continues and we will not rest until all the goals of the revolution are met and we avenge our martyrs," he said in an address that drew a standing ovation. "We will never betray the blood of our martyrs."

The Brotherhood won just under half of all seats, followed by the Salafis who won about a quarter. The liberal and left-leaning groups that organized the uprising got less than 10 percent of the seats. Many of them were not as well prepared for the election as the Islamists, particularly the Brotherhood.

Adel Musbah, a 30-year-old supporter of the ultraconservative Al-Nour party, said outside parliament that the protests organized by youth groups to demand that the military step down were pointless.

"Democracy brought the people inside now. Those inside were elected by the people," he said. "Why are these coming to object? The people chose and it wasn't them. They (protesters) are not the people. ... The only legitimacy is inside parliament."

Adding to the tension were Brotherhood volunteers who escorted their lawmakers into the parliament to protect them from protesters.

"I want to make sure that my representatives are safe. I want to celebrate and make sure that no one ruins this atmosphere. There are many who want to ruin it," said Fathy el-Sayed, a 35-year-old Brotherhood supporter.

Others waited with flowers to give to lawmakers they supported. They chanted religious songs to the beat of drums.

The families of protesters killed or wounded in the 18-day uprising and subsequent street protests were there too, calling for those responsible to be brought swiftly to justice.

"This parliament has no legitimacy. These elections were held under the military council's eyes and anything under them has no legitimacy," said Mary Daniel, sister of a protester killed at an October rally violently broken up by army troops.

Some of the protesters wore masks made of photographs of those killed or wounded by security forces in the past year.

"Down, down with military rule!" they chanted. "No military and no Brotherhood!"

Citi says to cut about 100 jobs in India

MUMBAI (iBBC News) - Citigroup Inc said it will cut about 100 jobs in India, where it has been expanding rapidly, while reiterating that the country remained among its highest priority markets.

The third-largest U.S. bank by assets did not give a reason for the cuts, but a source with direct knowledge of the matter said it was part of CEO Vikram Pandit's plan to slash 4,500 jobs worldwide.

Citigroup hired more than 1,500 staff in India in 2011, the bank said in a short statement announcing the layoffs.

Citi, one of the top three foreign banks in India along with Standard Chartered and HSBC , has about 7,000 staff in the country and operates across several businesses including corporate, consumer, investment banking and wealth management.

The headcount reduction will be across all of the bank's businesses, but is not likely to include managing director level executives, the source said.

Citi expects to boost its loans and deposits growth in India by about a fifth in each of the next two years, its India head, Pramit Jhaveri, told Reuters on November 22.

Facing weak markets and tougher regulation, global banks have outlined plans to cut more than 125,000 jobs this year, according to a Reuters tally. Until recently, Asia had largely been untouched by the jobs axe.

Romney campaign touts his tax return transparency

TAMPA, Fla. (iBBC News) — Advisers to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney say more than 500 pages of his 2010 and 2011 income tax returns show "full compliance" with U.S. tax laws.

Romney released two large sets of documents Tuesday on his campaign website. The 2010 federal return shows that he paid about $3 million on nearly $22 million in income. The 2011 return indicates he will pay $3.2 million on nearly $21 million income. Much of Romney's earnings came from investments made by his blind trust and associated with his long career as a private equity manager.

Benjamin Ginsberg, a legal adviser to the Romney campaign, said the documents showed the candidate's effort to be transparent. Romney had declined to disclose any tax information until he came under mounting criticism from his rivals.

Trinidad's former PM in hospital after stroke

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (iBBC News) — The man who led the resource-rich Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago for nearly 15 years has been hospitalized after an apparent stroke.

Patrick Manning's office says the former prime minister was taken to a hospital early Tuesday. A statement says he apparently suffered a "mild" stroke and is undergoing tests.

His wife Hazel-Ann said on the radio that he is conscious and understands what is being said to him. She called on people to pray for the former leader.

The 65-year-old Manning was prime minister from 1991-1995 and from 2001-2010.

His People's National Movement lost general elections in May 2010. Manning kept his seat in the House of Representatives but was ousted as party leader.

S&P says likely to declare Greece in default

NEW YORK (iBBC News) - Standard & Poor's will likely downgrade Greece's ratings to "selective default" when the country concludes its debt restructuring, but that will not necessarily destroy the credibility of the European Union, an official with the ratings agency said on Tuesday.

"It's not a given that Greece's default would have a domino effect in the euro zone," John Chambers, the chairman of S&P's sovereign rating committee, said in an event organized by Blooomberg Link.
 
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