Thursday December 27, 2012

Large storm hits nation’s midsection and heads east, leaving 6 dead, outages, damage

A powerful winter storm system pounded the nation’s midsection Wednesday and headed toward the Northeast, where people braced for the high winds and heavy snow that disrupted holiday travel, knocked out power to thousands of homes and were blamed in at least six deaths.

Hundreds of flights were canceled or delayed, scores of motorists got stuck on icy roads or slid into drifts, and blizzard warnings were issued amid snowy gusts of 30 mph that blanketed roads and windshields, at times causing whiteout conditions.

"The way I’ve been describing it is as a low-end blizzard, but that’s sort of like saying a small Tyrannosaurus rex," said John Kwiatkowski, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Indianapolis.

The system, which spawned Gulf Coast region tornadoes on Christmas Day and a historic amount of snow in Arkansas, pushed through the Upper Ohio Valley and headed toward the Northeast. Forecasts called for 12 to 18 inches of snow inland from western New York to Maine starting late Wednesday and into Thursday and tapering off into a mix of rain and snow closer to the coast.

The storm left freezing temperatures in its aftermath, and forecasters also said parts of the Southeast from Virginia to Florida would see severe thunderstorms.

Bush’s fever rising, doctors at Houston hospital have ex-president on liquid diet

HOUSTON (AP) -- A "stubborn" fever that kept former President George H.W. Bush in a hospital over Christmas has gotten worse, and doctors have put him on a liquids-only diet, Jim McGrath, Bush’s spokesman in Houston, said Wednesday.

"It’s an elevated fever, so it’s actually gone up in the last day or two," McGrath told The Associated Press. "It’s a stubborn fever that won’t go away."

Doctors at Methodist Hospital in Houston have run tests and are treating the fever with Tylenol, but they still haven’t nailed down a cause, McGrath said. Doctors also have put Bush on a liquid diet, though McGrath could not say why.

The bronchitis-like cough that initially brought Bush to the hospital on Nov. 23 has improved, McGrath said.

Plaintiffs’ attorney: Settlement reached in Toyota recall case, worth more than $1B

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- A plaintiffs’ attorney says Toyota Motor Corp. has reached a settlement in a case involving hundreds of lawsuits over accelerations problems.

Steve Berman said Wednesday the settlement, which still needs a federal judge’s approval, was worth more than $1 billion and is the largest settlement in U.S. history involving automobile defects.

Toyota has recalled more than 14 million vehicles worldwide due to acceleration problems in several models and brake defects with the Prius hybrid. Toyota has blamed driver error, faulty floor mats and sticky accelerator pedals for the unintended acceleration.

A phone message left with Toyota’s attorneys was not immediately returned.

Syrian interior minister leaves Beirut hospital for fear of arrest; general defects

BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria’s wounded interior minister cut short his treatment at a Beirut hospital Wednesday and returned home for fear of being arrested by Lebanese authorities, while Syria’s chief of military police defected to the opposition, becoming one of the highest-ranking officers to switch sides.

The twin developments reflected the deepening isolation of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government, which has suffered a number of setbacks on the battlefield as well.

In the latest challenge, rebels launched a massive attack on a military base in the northern province of Idlib after laying siege to it for weeks.

The defector, Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem al-Shallal, becomes one of the most senior members of Assad’s regime to join the opposition during the 21-month-old revolt against his authoritarian rule.

Al-Shallal appeared in a video aired on Arab TV late Tuesday saying that he was casting his lot with "the people’s revolution."

Russian parliament approves bill banning U.S. adoptions of Russian children

MOSCOW (AP) -- Defying a storm of domestic and international criticism, Russia moved toward finalizing a ban on Americans adopting Russian children, as Parliament’s upper house voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a measure that President Vladimir Putin has indicated he will sign into law.

The bill is widely seen as the Kremlin’s retaliation against an American law that calls for sanctions against Russians deemed to be human rights violators. It comes as Putin takes an increasingly confrontational attitude toward the West, brushing aside concerns about a crackdown on dissent and democratic freedoms.

Dozens of Russian children close to being adopted by American families now will almost certainly be blocked from leaving the country. The law also cuts off the main international adoption route for Russian children stuck in often dismal orphanages: Tens of thousands of Russian youngsters have been adopted in the U.S. in the past 20 years. There are about 740,000 children without parental care in Russia, according to UNICEF.

All 143 members of the Federation Council present voted to support the bill, which has sparked criticism from both the U.S. and Russian officials, activists and artists, who say it victimizes children by depriving them of the chance to escape the squalor of orphanage life. The vote comes days after Parliament’s lower house overwhelmingly approved the ban.

South Africa: Nelson Mandela released from the hospital, will get more care at home

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Former South African President Nelson Mandela was released Wednesday from the hospital after being treated for a lung infection and having gallstones removed, a government spokesman said.

The 94-year-old anti-apartheid icon will continue to receive medical care at home.

Mandela had been in the hospital since Dec. 8. In recent days, officials have said he was improving and in good spirits, but doctors have taken extraordinary care with his health because of his age.

Mandela was released Wednesday evening and will receive "home-based high care" until he fully recovers.

"We thank the public and the media for the good wishes and for according Madiba and the family the necessary privacy," said Maharaj in a statement, using Mandela’s clan name, a term of affection. The statement requested that Mandela’s privacy continue to be respected "in order to allow for the best possible conditions for full recovery."

Egypt’s president calls for dialogue after disputed charter passed, proclaims new republic

CAIRO (AP) -- Egypt’s Islamist president proclaimed the country’s newly adopted constitution as the dawning of a "new republic" in a television address Wednesday, calling on the opposition to join a dialogue with him after a month of violent turmoil and focus on repairing a damaged economy.

Mohammed Morsi sought to present the Islamist-drafter charter as the turning of a historic page for Egypt, but his speech did little to ease the suspicions of those who fear he and his Muslim Brotherhood are entrenching their power. He offered no concrete gestures to an opposition that has so far rejected his dialogue and vowed to fight the constitution.

Instead, with a triumphalist tone, he presented the constitution, which was approved by nearly 64 percent of voters in a referendum that ended last weekend, as creating a democracy with balanced powers between branches of government and political freedoms.

"We don’t want to return to an era of one opinion and fake, manufactured majorities. The maturity and consciousness (of voters) heralds that Egypt has set on a path of democracy with no return," Morsi said. "Regardless of the results, for the sake of building the nation, efforts must unite. There is no alternative to a dialogue that is now a necessity."

The opposition says the constitution allows a dictatorship of the majority -- which Islamists have won with repeated election victories the past two years. It says the charter’s provisions for greater implementation of Islamic law, or Shariah, would allow Islamists who hold the presidency and overwhelmingly dominate the temporary legislature to restrict civil rights and limit the freedoms of minorities and women.