Georgia woman has 1 winning ticket in $636M Mega Millions jackpot; other ticket sold in Calif.

ATLANTA (AP) -- A Georgia woman who bought just one ticket and used family birthdays and lucky No. 7 to choose her numbers was one of two winners of the $636 million Mega Millions jackpot, the second-largest in U.S. history.

Lottery officials in Georgia identified the winner as Ira Curry, of Stone Mountain, which is east of Atlanta. Curry will take a lump sum of $123 million after taxes, Georgia Lottery chief executive Debbie Alford said.

"She has not decided how she’ll spend those winnings," Alford said at a news conference that Curry did not attend.

The other winning ticket was sold at a gift shop in San Jose, Calif. There winner there has one year to come forward.

Curry was driving to work Wednesday when an announcer on the radio talked about the Mega Ball being 7. Curry knew that was her Mega Ball number, so she called her daughter to check the ticket.

Holiday 2013 season is shaping up to be most deal-driven -- and disappointing -- since 2008

NEW YORK (AP) -- Sparse crowds at malls and "50 percent off" signs at The Gap and other stores offer clues as to how this holiday season is shaping up so far: It’s the most discount-driven one since the U.S. was in a deep recession. It’s also the most disappointing for stores.

Sales are up 2 percent to $176.7 billion from Nov. 1 through Sunday, according to data provided to The Associated Press from store data tracker ShopperTrak. That’s a slower pace than expected with days left in the season. ShopperTrak’s predicts sales will rise 2.4 percent to $265 billion for the two-month stretch that’s typically the busiest shopping period of the year.

The modest growth comes as the amount of discounts that stores are offering this season is up 13 percent from last year -- the highest level since 2008, according to financial services firm BMO Capital Markets, which tracks 20 clothing stores.

"The holiday season has been marginal to just OK," said Joel Bines, managing director and co-head of the retail practice at AlixPartners. "Retailers are doing anything they can to get rid of merchandise."

The data underscores how aggressive discounting has been both a blessing and a curse for retailers. Since the recession, the only way to get Americans into stores has been to flash huge discount signs in front of their faces.

In unusually heavy air assault, Syrian government pounds rebel areas of Aleppo

BEIRUT (AP) -- In a withering four-day air assault, the Syrian government pummeled opposition-held neighborhoods in the northern city of Aleppo, leveling apartment buildings, flooding hospitals with casualties and killing nearly 200 people.

Rebels say the unusually intense airstrikes have prompted civilians to flee to the countryside and could portend a government ground offensive against the opposition-held half of the city, which has been divided for a year and half by grueling fighting.

The air campaign’s timing -- five weeks ahead of an international peace conference -- also suggests that Syrian President Bashar Assad could be trying to strengthen his position on the ground while exposing the opposition’s weaknesses before sitting down at the negotiating table.

The stakes are high in the battle for Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and a former commercial and industrial hub. For the government, wresting back control of the entire city would deal a devastating blow to the rebels’ morale and throw doubt on the opposition’s long-term hold on the vast territory in northern Syria that it has captured over the past two years.

Since it began on Sunday, the government air assault has hammered more than a dozen neighborhoods in the rebel-held areas of Aleppo. The campaign has killed at least 189 people and wounded 879, the aid organization Doctors Without Borders said in a statement Wednesday.

Poll: Obama foreign
affairs ratings mostly
top his domestic ones,
but worries remain

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama’s approval ratings for handling foreign policy issues generally top his ratings for most domestic issues, including the economy and health care, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. But the poll also suggests a majority of Americans want the president to pull troops out of Afghanistan faster than he’s doing, and many are skeptical about a tentative nuclear deal with Iran.

The poll found that 57 percent now say going to war in Afghanistan after the 2001 terror attacks was probably the "wrong thing to do." And 53 percent say the pace of the planned withdrawal is too slow, 34 percent said the pace was just about right and 10 percent said it was too fast. All combat troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.

Meanwhile, six in 10 Americans approve of the preliminary deal between Iran and six global powers to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But that support is soft and many doubt it will lead to concrete results.

Even though he garners more disapproval than approval on the handling of Afghanistan and Iran, Obama generally gets better ratings on foreign policy than on domestic issues.

Nearly half (49 percent) approve of his handling of U.S. relations with other countries while 50 percent disapprove. In contrast, just 40 percent approve of his handling of the economy, while 59 percent disapprove. And on health care, the approval rating stands at 39 percent, with 61 percent disapproving. His overall job approval is at 42 percent, with 58 disapproving.

New trial set for Egypt’s ousted Islamist president
on charge of sweeping terror conspiracy

CAIRO (AP) -- Egyptian prosecutors on Wednesday announced a new trial of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and the top leaders of his Muslim Brotherhood, accusing them of conspiring with Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and militant groups to carry out a wave of terrorism to destabilize the country.

The charges, which carry a potential death penalty, are the most sweeping and heaviest accusations yet in a series of trials against the Brotherhood. The new trial of Morsi, the three top Brotherhood leaders and 32 other defendants appeared aimed at decisively crippling the top echelons of the group that dominated Egypt’s political scene during Morsi’s one-year presidency.

The timing appeared aimed at further tarnishing the Brotherhood among the public ahead of a key January referendum on a new constitution, a substantial rewrite of the charter largely drafted by Islamists under Morsi. The new military-backed government is seeking a strong "yes" vote for the constitution to show the legitimacy of the political transition process put in place after the military removed Morsi on July 3. Brotherhood supporters oppose the new document and have vowed protests against it.

Since the coup, prompted by massive protests calling for Morsi’s removal, Egypt has been in continual unrest. Morsi supporters have been holding near daily protests demanding his reinstatement, met by a fierce security crackdown that has killed hundreds of people and arrested thousands of Brotherhood members. Meanwhile, a wave of retaliatory attacks by suspected Islamic militants have targeted Christians and security forces, and the Sinai Peninsula has been the center of a mounting militant insurgency.

Govt: 500 killed, 700 wounded in South Sudan amid power struggle between rival ethnic groups

JUBA, South Sudan (AP) -- At least 500 people, most of them soldiers, have been killed in South Sudan since Sunday, a senior government official said, as an ethnic rivalry threatened to tear apart the world’s newest country.

The clashes apparently are pitting soldiers from the majority Dinka tribe of President Salva Kiir against those from ousted Vice President Riek Machar’s Nuer ethnic group, raising concerns the violence could degenerate into a civil war.

Fighting spread on Wednesday to Jonglei, the largest state in South Sudan, where troops loyal to Machar were said to be trying to take control of Bor, the state capital.

Machar himself is the subject of a manhunt by the country’s military after he was identified by Kiir as the leader of an alleged coup attempt on Sunday. Machar has denied he was behind any coup attempt.

Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the foreign minister, told The Associated Press late Wednesday that there was heavy fighting in Bor, but he denied renegade soldiers had overtaken it.

Guide dog, hailed as hero after blind man falls in NYC subway, is assured a loving home

NEW YORK (AP) -- The guide dog that leaped onto subway tracks after his blind owner lost consciousness and fell off a station platform is assured a loving home after his retirement.

Cecil Williams, who has been recovering at a hospital with Orlando still by his side, had been slated to get another working dog in January or February to replace the 11-year-old black Lab.

Now, he would ideally like to have two dogs -- one working and one retired as a pet -- if logistics, physical abilities and finances allow.

If that’s not possible, the family that raised Orlando as a puppy says it will be "absolutely thrilled to have him back," said Guiding Eyes for the Blind spokeswoman Michelle Brier. "They’re very thrilled their little baby has made such a big difference."

Williams told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he couldn’t pay for a non-working dog, so he was planning to look for a good home for Orlando. Guiding Eyes, based in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., provides working dogs for free but cannot cover retired dogs’ expenses.