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Dec. 29, 2012 at 10:20 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- "Fiscal cliff" negotiations were dragging on in Washington Saturday night with the Jan. 1 deadline looming.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., employed shuttled diplomacy of sorts, using aides to run proposals back and forth between their offices, located just 50 paces apart, The Washington Post reported.

The Post said McConnell left the Capitol shortly before 7 p.m., but said the negotiations continue.

"We've been trading paper all day and talks continue into the evening," he said.

The Post said Reid and McConnell have set a deadline of about 3 p.m. Sunday for wrapping up a deal.

President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats would like to bring in more revenue by raising income tax rates for income above $250,000, while preserving current rates for all income under $250,000. Republicans apparently hope to increase the limit to $400,000 and would also like to keep estate taxes low.

In his weekly radio talk, Obama urged Congress, if no deal is in place, to pass legislation extending tax cuts for those with incomes under $250,000, and to extend long-term unemployment insurance benefits.

If no budget deal is in place by Jan. 1, the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush would end and automatic across-the-board cuts in federal spending would kick in -- creating what has come to be called the fiscal cliff.

House Republican leaders said they were considering calling a hearing for Rules Committee Sunday to establish rules for a possible vote on a bipartisan deal.


Russia calls for Syrian peace talks

MOSCOW, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Russian diplomats Saturday called for peace negotiations with leaders of Syrian opposition forces in a neutral country.

"We had contacts through our embassy in Egypt with representatives of the [Syrian] National Coalition, including Mr. Khatib [Syrian opposition leader Moaz al-Khatib]," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said during a meeting with U.N.-Arab League Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi. "We expressed readiness to meet with him in Moscow but at that moment he preferred some neutral capital, some other country. We are also ready for that."

On Friday, Khatib rejected a previous proposal for peace talks extended by Russia, RIA Novosti reported. Those negotiations would have taken place in Moscow.

"We have clearly said we will not go to Moscow. We could meet in an Arab country if there was a clear agenda," Khatib said. "Now we also want an apology from Lavrov because all this time he said that the people will decide their destiny, without foreign intervention. Russia is intervening and meanwhile all these massacres of the Syrian people have happened, treated as if they were a picnic."

Responding to Khatib's comments, Lavrov said: "I know that Mr. Khatib is probably not very experienced in politics. If he aspires to the role of a serious politician, he will nonetheless understand that it is in his own interests to hear our analysis directly from us."

Lavrov also acknowledged that the opposition's condition for peace talks -- that Syrian President Bashar Assad step down from power -- will not likely be met, The New York Times reported.

"[Assad] has repeatedly said, both publicly and privately, including during his meeting with Lakhdar Brahimi not long ago, that he has no plans to go anywhere, that he will stay in his post until the end, that he will, as he says, protect the Syrian people, Syrian sovereignty and so forth," Lavrov said. "There is no possibility of changing this position."


Cough syrup deaths in Pakistan rise to 36

GUJRANWALA, Pakistan, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- A batch of toxic cough syrup has killed as many as 36 people in Pakistan, officials said.

The deaths have come over the past four days, mostly in Gujranwala where 25 people who used the cough syrup have died, News Pakistan reported Saturday.

Among those who died was Chaudhry Irfan, a former councilor for Nadi Pur Town.

About a dozen medical stores have been shut down by authorities and 8,000 bottles of tainted cough syrup have been seized, said health adviser Khwaja Suleman Rafiq, who visited Gujranwala Friday.

The deaths came just over a month after 19 people in Lahore died in November, allegedly from drinking Tyno cough syrup.


5 kids, 1 adult die in Miss. car crash

CHOCTAW, Miss., Dec. 29 (UPI) -- A car loaded with nine people plunged into a creek in Mississippi early Saturday, killing five children and one adult, authorities said.

The accident occurred on Road 107 about 12:30 a.m. near the Neshoba-Newton County line, The Neshoba Democrat reported.

Neshoba County Sheriff Tommy Waddell identified the victims as siblings Dasyanna John, 9; Duane John, 8; Bobby John, 7; Quinton John, 4; and Kekaimeas John, 18 months; and Diane Chickaway, 37.

The children's father, who was driving the car, Dewayne John, was hospitalized, Waddell said.

Two other passengers, the children's mother, Deanna Jim, 28, and Dale Chickaway, 37, were not seriously injured, he said.

All nine belong to the Choctaw Tribe's Pearl River community, the sheriff said.

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