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  |   Dec. 11, 2012 at 7:59 AM
White House, Boehner: Waiting for other

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- The White House and the office of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, say they are waiting for a response from the other to avoid the "fiscal cliff."

Budget talks between President Barack Obama and Boehner made headway in recent days, showing a new level of seriousness, people close to the process told The Wall Street Journal, without giving any details.

But both sides publicly indicated they were waiting for the other to respond to their requests before bigger strides could be made.

"Discussions with the White House are taking place, but we have no detail to share about the substance of those conversations," Boehner spokesman Michael Steel said in a statement.

"The Republican offer made last week remains the Republican offer, and we continue to wait for the president to identify the spending cuts he's willing to make as part of the 'balanced' approach he promised the American people," the statement said.

White House spokesman Jay Carney also declined to characterize the talks and said the White House was waiting for Republican action.


Protesters in Cairo attacked with birdshot

CAIRO, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- An armed attack on protesters camped in Cairo's Tahrir Square injured at least 10 people, officials said.

Officials said unknown attackers fired birdshot at the protesters, injuring 10 people in their arms and legs, and one in the head, al-Masry al-Youm reported.

Organizations tasked with securing the square fanned out around its main entrance to help deter another, similar attack, witnesses said. Police cars were deployed around the periphery of the square for the first time since the sit-in began Nov. 23 against a constitutional declaration by President Mohamed Morsi that insulated him from judicial review, a decree he subsequently rescinded.

For two weeks, protesters called on Morsi to reverse the degree as well as cancel a referendum scheduled for Saturday on a constitutional draft opponents argued tramples human and civil rights. There have also been mass protests in support of the president.

The referendum is still scheduled, despite the polarization between supporters and opponents.

Zaghloul el-Balshi, the general secretary of the committee overseeing Egypt's constitutional referendum, has threatened to leave office if more violence occurs before or during polling, Ahram Online reported.


Report: Syria rebels to get U.S. armed aid

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Washington and other Western and Arab powers plan to give air and naval support to Syrian rebels fighting the Assad regime, a British newspaper reported.

High-level uniformed-services officers from the United States, Britain, France, Turkey, Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates met privately in London a few weeks ago at the request of British Prime Minister David Cameron to discuss providing military training to the rebels and supporting them with air and naval power, The Independent reported Tuesday.

The countries concluded the 21-month-old civil war in Syria had reached a tipping point and countries supporting the opposition must help rebel fighters succeed in a final push to defeat President Bashar Assad, the newspaper said.

The Western nations are especially concerned about wanting to influence the political shape of the opposition the West hopes will replace Assad, the newspaper said.

Jihadist groups among the rebels have steadily gained power and influence due to weapons and money coming from some Persian Gulf states, the newspaper said. This puts secular groups at a severe disadvantage, it said.

To counteract that, Western help will be directed at strengthening moderate groups, The Independent said.


Pentagon reports mixed progress

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A U.S. Pentagon report on Afghanistan, while showing mixed progress toward security and stability, says the area along the Pakistani border remains a hot zone.

"Pakistani-based sanctuary for insurgents, such as the Haqqani Taliban Network in North Waziristan, as well as the financial and operational support that insurgents receive from various sources" keeps the security situation volatile along the border with Pakistan, said the report presented to the U.S. Congress.

It said while enemy attacks have declined slightly, eastern Afghanistan accounted for almost a third of all insurgent attacks throughout the country.

The report said the coalition surge has accomplished its mission in that Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents have lost capability and the number of attacks is down.

While Pakistan remains a problem, the report said there is some progress.


Bodies of missing girls identified

EVANSDALE, Iowa, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- The Iowa medical examiner's office confirmed two bodies found in a park are those of two missing cousins, Lyric Cook-Morrissey and Elizabeth Collins.

Forensic identification confirmed the identity of the bodies Monday though Black Hawk County police had said Thursday they were confident they had found the girls after a hunter discovered the bodies about 25 miles north of Evansdale, Iowa.

The two girls had not been seen since they went on a bicycle ride July 13. Their bikes were found near Meyers Lake, but an extensive search through the countryside and examination of car trunks and seats found no sign of them.

Lyric was 10 and her cousin 8 at the time of their disappearance.

Late Wednesday, Elizabeth's mother, Heather Collins, posted a statement on Facebook saying there were two possible outcomes to the search for her daughter, "unfortunately this is not the one that we wanted," ABC News reported.

Black Hawk County Sheriff's Capt. Rick Abben did not indicate how long the bodies might have been in the park and did not say what the cause of death might have been, The Des Moines Register reported.

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