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  |   Jan. 19, 2013 at 12:10 PM
Reports: Raid ends Algeria gas plant siege

IN AMENAS, Algeria, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- A raid by Algerian forces on a besieged natural-gas plant left all seven remaining hostages and 11 kidnappers dead, official Algerian media said.

The state news agency said it appeared the hostage-takers executed the hostages at the facility in the desert as commandos closed in.

Algeria's state-run oil company Sonatrach said Saturday the raid was ordered because it appeared the hostage-takers were planning to escape with their hostages and then blow up the plant, The Washington Post said.

"It was found that the plant had been mined with the intention of exploding it," the statement said. "A major clearance operation is in progress by specialized teams of the Algerian army ahead of the launching of start up operations at the plant."

The hostage-takers, identified as Islamist militants, stormed the plant this week in apparent retaliation for France's intervention in neighboring Mali. The attackers claimed to be from a group called Signers in Blood and said they were convinced Algeria would assist the French in their Mali campaign, The New York Times reported.

CNN said notorious Algerian jihadist Moktar Belmoktar offered through a spokesman this week to facilitate the release of three American hostages in exchange for Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahmam, the mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center.

Belmoktar is believed to have links to al-Qaida. His role in the gas plant takeover, if any, was not known.


Poll: Americans back Obama gun proposals

PRINCETON, N.J., Jan. 19 (UPI) -- A majority of Americans approve of President Barack Obama's proposals for laws further restricting availability of guns and ammunition, a Gallup poll has found.

Fifty-three percent said they would want their congressional representatives to vote in favor of the president's proposals, while 41 percent said they would want their representatives to vote against them, The Hill reported Saturday.

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden Wednesday unveiled 23 executive actions the president has signed on gun safety and the president called for universal background checks on gun buyers.

The president asked Congress to restore the federal ban on military-style assault weapons and limit the size of ammunition magazines.

Gallup found 82 percent of Democrats favored the proposals while 15 percent opposed them. Seventy-two percent of Republicans polled opposed the regulations, while 22 percent approved.

"The highly partisan reaction to the proposal among rank-and-file Americans underscores what is likely to be a highly partisan political negotiation in the Senate and in the House in the weeks and months ahead," Gallup said in a statement announcing the results.

The poll, released late Friday, surveyed 1,021 adults. It was conducted Thursday, the day after Obama's announcement. It has a 4 percentage point margin of error.


GOP: New term offers fresh opportunities

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- The swearing-in of President Obama this weekend for his second term offers new opportunities for leaders in Washington, an Oklahoma congressman said Saturday.

Delivering the Republican Party's weekly media address, Rep. James Lankford held out the olive branch of peace for the momentous day, ABC News Radio reported.

"With the swearing in of a new Congress and the inauguration of President Obama, this is an opportunity for a fresh start," he said. "Though we disagree on many areas of policy, I join my fellow Americans in pledging to pray for the President, his family and our nation in the days ahead."

In his other hand, however, Lankford chastised Senate Democrats for failing to pass a budget resolution in nearly four years,

He cited Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada as saying it would be "foolish" for the Senate to produce the budget.

"We disagree," the congressman said. "With more than 16 trillion dollars in debt, we believe it is foolish not to have a budget."

He also criticized the president for missing "more budget deadlines than any of his predecessors."

Lankford said the House will pass its budget on time and that "it will be a plan to slowly but surely walk our nation out of debt, deficit and decline."

A three-month increase in the federal debt limit is expected to be passed next week by House Republicans. They also plan a bill to prevent members of the House and Senate from being paid if a budget resolution is not passed.


Suicide blast in western Afghanistan

GUZARA, Afghanistan, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Suicide bombers in Afghanistan's western Herat province detonated an explosive before reaching their target Saturday, government officials said.

The bombing in the province's Guzara district was carried out by two men who were riding a motorcycle, Khaama Press reported.

Guzara district chief Nisar Ahmad Popal said the bombers meant to assassinate him, but their explosives went off before they were able to enter the district government building.

There were no civilian or security force casualties, Popal said.

So far, no group has taken responsibility for the attack.


U.S. supports term limits for Congress

PRINCETON, N.J., Jan. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. adults support setting term limits for members of Congress and abolishing the Electoral College, a Gallup poll indicates.

Both issues cut across party lines, with strong majorities among Democrats, Republicans and independents. Both would require amending the U.S. Constitution.

Overall, 75 percent of respondents said they would vote for term limits and only 21 percent said they would vote against them if the issue was on the ballot. Support was higher among Republicans at 82 percent, dropping to 79 percent for independents and 65 percent for Democrats.

On the electoral college, 65 percent said they would vote for abolition, and 29 percent said they would vote against it. Partisan differences were smaller, with 66 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents and 61 percent of Republicans favoring abolition.

Gallup said it has conducted polls on both issues over the years and had generally found strong support for both term limits and direct election of the president. One exception is that immediately after George W. Bush won the 2000 presidential race after losing the popular vote to Al Gore Republican support for doing away with the electoral college dropped significantly, although it has bounced back.

Gallup interviewed 1,013 adults across the country as part of its daily tracking survey Jan. 8-9. The margin of error is 4 percentage points.

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