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Jan. 18, 2013 at 8:40 AM   |   Comments

Report: Algeria hostage situation not over

IN AMENAS, Algeria, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Islamic militants still held hostages at a gas plant in Algeria Friday, diplomatic officials said.

"Parts of the plant are under Algerian authorities' control, and other parts are not. This information is changing by the hour," Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide told the BBC.

Hostages were held at the BP natural gas facility near In Amenas despite an attack by Algerian forces Thursday that freed some of them, officials said.

The Algerian state news service APS, citing local officials, said the military operation at the facility's living quarters, where most of the hostages were held, ended but "hostages are still being held at the Tigantourine gas treatment plant, which is surrounded by special forces."

At least four hostages and a number of militants were killed when troops stormed the living quarters. The Islamic militants had claimed to be holding 41 foreigners after they attacked the facility Wednesday to protest, among other things, French military involvement in Mali.

At least four hostages were freed but the fate of others, from several countries remained unknown.

Algerian officials hadn't released exact casualty figures from the rescue attempt. A spokesman for the insurgents told the Mauritanian news agency ANI 35 hostages and 15 militants were killed by helicopter gunfire in the operation.

APS reported two Britons and two Filipinos were killed Thursday. Two others, a Briton and an Algerian, died on Wednesday when the militants ambushed a bus taking foreign workers at the facility to the local airport.

The plant is operated jointly by BP, the Algerian state oil company Sonatrach and Norway's Statoil. It is situated at Tigantourine, about 25 miles southwest of Amenas and 800 miles southeast of Algiers.

Americans were among the hostages unaccounted for, a U.S. defense official told Fox News Channel. The exact number was unknown.


WH snubs GOP's short-term debt-ceiling fix

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- U.S. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan said Republicans may back a short-term debt-ceiling increase -- a notion the White House immediately rejected.

"We're discussing the possible virtue of a short-term debt-limit extension so that we have a better chance of getting the Senate and the White House involved in [deficit-reduction] discussions in March," the Wisconsin Republican told reporters at the Kinsgmill Resort, a former Southern plantation near Williamsburg, Va.

House GOP lawmakers are holding their annual retreat at the resort. The Washington Times said the lawmakers hope to iron out divisions in their ranks ahead of another round of high-profile fights over spending and taxes.

Ryan's short-term option would make Washington face the current debt-ceiling crisis in two months, when it also faces $85 billion in across-the-board cuts in defense and domestic spending, delayed until March 1 in a New Year's Day "fiscal cliff" compromise.

White House spokesman Jay Carney rejected the notion of raising the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling in the short term, saying postponing Congress' responsibility would create drama in Washington that will hurt the U.S. economy.


Aurora, Colo., movie theater reopens

AURORA, Colo., Jan. 18 (UPI) -- The Colorado movie theater where 12 people were killed and 58 were wounded in a mass shooting reopened in a night billed as an evening of remembrance.

Among the attendees at the Century theater in Aurora, near Denver, was Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the July 20, 2012, shooting during a midnight screening of the film "The Dark Knight Rises."

"This isn't only the place we lost Alex," Sullivan told The Denver Post with his wife and daughter. "This is the place we also live. We love to come to the movies."

Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan told the audience the evening showed Aurora's resilience.

"Today, we take another step forward," he told the audience of families, police and local politicians. "We must put aside our differences for a greater good and avoid the use of violence to solve problems."

Gov. John Hickenlooper said, "We certainly recognize all the different paths that people take to mourn, the different paths that people take to recover from unimaginable, incomprehensible loss.

"Some wanted the theater reopened, some didn't," he said. "For many here tonight, though, this is a part of healing."


Bolshoi artistic director hit with acid

MOSCOW, Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Bolshoi Ballet Artistic Director Sergei Filin was burned on his face and his eyes were damaged by acid thrown on him in Moscow, a theater spokeswoman said.

Yekaterina Novikova said Friday Filin had third-degree burns to his face and eyes and was being treated at a Moscow hospital where doctors tried to save his sight, RIA Novosti said.

Novikova said Filin's recovery could take at least six months.

"Sergei is in a satisfactory condition," a hospital representative said. "He is in our burns center, not intensive care."

The attack occurred late Thursday as Filin was walking home, the BBC said.

No arrests had been made and a motive was unknown but investigators said they believe it could be traced to internal theater politics.

Filin, 43, a former Bolshoi Ballet star, beat out several others to become the ballet's artistic director in March 2011. Several dancers have resigned in protest over its new program, the BBC said.

The acid attack followed several months of intimidation, during which Filin received threatening phone calls and the tires on his car were slashed, RIA Novosti said. Shortly before the attack, an attempt was made to hack his Facebook page.

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