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  |   Sept. 23, 2011 at 8:42 AM
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House passes disaster-aid measure

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. House of Representatives narrowly approved a disaster-aid and stopgap spending bill to keep the federal government in business after Sept. 30.

The chamber voted 219-203 early Friday in favor of a measure that includes a controversial cut of $100 million from the same loan guarantee program that funded the bankrupt energy company Solyndra, The Hill reported.

Democrats objected to swapping disaster aid for spending cuts and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the bill would be rejected in the Senate.

Even before the House vote, Reid said the measure was not an "honest effort at compromise."

The bill would fund the federal government through Nov. 18.

Without the support, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is due to run out of money by Monday, officials said.

Both the House and Senate have scheduled a recess next week.

Democrats opposed the GOP bill because it partially offsets $3.65 billion in funding for FEMA with a cut in a separate Department of Energy manufacturing loan program.

"It fails to provide the relief that our fellow Americans need as they struggle to rebuild their lives in the wake of floods, wildfires and hurricanes, and it will be rejected by the Senate," Reid said.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the burden of passage now falls to Reid.

Reid said the Senate is ready to cancel its recess.


Obama to revamp No Child education reform

WASHINGTON, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama will release U.S. states from strict parts of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind education reform law, the White House said.

The new program, which Obama is expected to announce at 10:15 a.m. EDT Friday, would permit states seeking waivers from the law's most onerous requirements to come up with their own plans to bring struggling students up to par while evaluating teachers and principals on their performance, senior administration officials said.

The new plans and evaluations would still need to be linked to student test results and other performance measures, and students would still need to be considered ready for college or a career, the officials said.

It's expected Obama will also allow waivers from the law's requirement that 100 percent of students test at grade level in reading and math by 2014 -- which many educators say is unrealistic.

As the law is now written, a school failing to meet the 2014 requirements would face serious sanctions, including staff dismissals, conversion to a charter school or closure altogether.

"Our administration will provide flexibility from the law in exchange for a real commitment to undertake change," Obama said in a statement Thursday.

The administration also wants the law -- which passed Congress with broad bipartisan support in 2001 and applies to all public schools receiving federal funding -- to stop labeling so many reasonably managed schools as "failing" for missing required passing rates on state achievement tests, the White House said.


Karzai: Rabbani was 'martyr' for peace

KABUL, Afghanistan, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Security was tight Friday at Kabul's presidential palace where Afghan President Hamid Karzai joined others at the funeral of the slain Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Rabbani, a former Afghan president and the country's head of the High Peace Council charged with negotiating peace with the Taliban, was assassinated Tuesday by a suicide bomber.

Mourners offered their respects at the flag-draped coffin of Rabbani, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Times report said security was extremely tight with Afghan police and security forces in armored vehicles patrolling the streets, various checkpoints and traffic circles while helicopters provided air security. Only pedestrians were allowed in much of the city center.

Rabbani, who was president from 1992 to 1996, was killed in his Kabul home. His killer, who said he was carrying a peace message from the Taliban leadership, had hidden the bomb in his turban. Many experts have said Rabbani's death is a blow to the peace process.

Karzai called Rabbani a "martyr" to the cause of peace, the Times reported.

Iran's Press TV quoted Karzai as vowing the peace process would continue.


Sata takes over in Zambia

LUSAKA, Zambia, Sept. 23 (UPI) -- Michael "King Cobra" Sata has won Zambia's presidential election, besting incumbent Rupiah Banda, the country's election officials said.

Sata was to be formally sworn in Friday by Zambia's chief justice, Voice of America reported.

Elections Director Priscilla Isaacs said Sata, who heads the Patriotic Front, received 1,150,045 votes in Tuesday's election to 961,796 for Banda, leader of the Movement for Multi-Party Democracy, and 489,944 for Hakainde Hichilema of the United Party for National Development.

"Mr. Michael Sata has already been declared president by the chief justice, who is also the returning officer for the presidential election, and the inauguration is going to take place today, because our law provides that, once the results are declared for a presidential election, the presidential should be sworn-in no later than 24 hours after the declaration," she said.

Isaacs said the electoral commission had done its job "very well."

"The preliminary results that we have received, some of the international observers have commended us for conducting a credible and transparent election," Isaacs said. "In terms of the results, we have given ourselves the 48-hour target in which to declare the election results, and we just about managed that target."

The polling was watched over by international monitoring agencies.

Isaacs said Zambians should have confidence in the electoral process, VOA said.

"We've conducted an election which has been credible and transparent," she said. "We can proudly, openly and honestly say that we have done a good job and conducted a good election."

There had been no claim of responsibility for the Rabbani killing.

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