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Feb. 15, 2013 at 4:57 PM   |   Comments

Meteorite fragments hit Siberia; 950 hurt

MOSCOW, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- A hail of meteorite fragments hit Russia's Chelyabinsk region Friday, injuring at least 950 people, officials said.

The meteorite, which weighed about 10 tons, broke through the atmosphere around 9:20 a.m., traveling at a speed of 33,000 mph, ITAR-Tass reported.

At least 750 of the injured were in the city of Chelyabinsk, Der Spiegel reported.

Reports indicated most of the injuries were caused by broken glass and flying objects.

A state of emergency was declared.

A spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations told The New York Times the meteorite broke apart and fell in several places.

"I saw a flash in the window, turned toward it and saw a burning cloud, which was surrounded by smoke and was going downward," said Maria Polyakova, 25, of the Park-City Hotel in Chelyabinsk, 90 miles east of Moscow.

Gas supplies were cut off to hundreds of homes as a safety precaution and about 20,000 emergency response workers were called out, RIA Novosti reported.

Russia's national space agency, Roscosmos, confirmed that the strike involved one large object and not several smaller ones.


High-volt short 2 weeks before ship fire

MIAMI, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Carnival Cruise Lines and the U.S. Coast Guard Friday declined to tie a high-voltage generator short to an engine room fire that crippled the Triumph.

"I don't have details" about the cable-damaging short in a high-voltage connection box the Triumph reported to the Coast Guard two weeks before the Sunday fire that disabled the ship, Carnival Public Relations Director Lanie Morgenstern in Miami told United Press International.

The short may not have been fixed before the fire, the Coast Guard report indicated.

Coast Guard Deputy Chief of Media Carlos Diaz told UPI his armed-forces branch and the National Transportation Safety Board were investigating "the circumstances surrounding a fire."

Until the investigation is completed, "it would be speculative," Diaz said, to make a connection between the electrical short and the Sunday fire that knocked out the ship's propulsion system, power, and the sewage, heating and air-conditioning systems.

The 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew members -- who left the Port of Galveston in Texas Feb. 7 for what was supposed to be a four-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico -- spent five days living and sleeping on sewage-soaked carpets and open decks, with food so limited some passengers said they were reduced to eating candy and ketchup on buns.

The ship limped into the Alabama Cruise Terminal in Mobile with Coast Guard tugboat and cutter assistance Thursday night.

The Jan. 28 Coast Guard report examined by UPI indicated during a so-called Port State Control inspection of a foreign ship, the Triumph reported "a short in the high-voltage connection box of one of the ship's generators, causing damage to cables within the connection box."


Charges filed against Jesse Jackson Jr.

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. government Friday filed charges against former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. for allegedly misusing campaign funds.

Jackson, who resigned from Congress in November, was said to be in negotiations with federal prosecutors for a plea deal.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported Jackson was charged with conspiracy, making false statements, and mail and wire fraud. The charges were filed in U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia.

Charges of filing false tax returns were filed against Jackson's wife, former Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, who signed tax returns for Jackson's campaign, the Sun-Times said.

Attorneys for Jesse Jackson Jr., who represented a congressional district on Chicago's South Side and southern suburbs, issued a statement in which the former congressman accepted responsibility for "the mistakes I made" and apologized for his actions.

Politico reported the Jacksons allegedly spent $750,000 for personal items.

Jackson is expected to plead guilty and be sentenced to 46-to-57 months in prison and pay a fine of as much as $100,000, Politico said. He also would be required to return some of the $750,000.


House denies pay hikes to federal workers

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The House on Friday voted to freeze pay for federal workers in a swipe at President Obama's executive order in December granting the raises, officials said.

The bill, which also will freeze pay for congressmen, was approved 261-154, The Hill reported.

People serving in the U.S. military are exempted.

Some 43 Democrats voted for the bill while 10 Republicans voted against it.

Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reforms Committee, said the bill would help control the costs of the federal government.

Obama's executive order had given federal workers a 0.5 percent pay raise that would go into effect at the end of March.

The White House had opposed the bill, saying raises were needed to enable the government to compete in "attracting and retaining the nation's best and brightest individuals for public service."


Hamas delegation kicked out of Bulgaria

SOFIA, Bulgaria, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- A delegation from Palestine's Hamas government was kicked out of Bulgaria Friday by the country's State Agency for National Security, officials said.

The delegation arrived in Sofia Wednesday after being invited by Bulgaria's Center for Global and Middle East Studies, the Sofia news agency reported.

On Friday, security forces kicked the delegation out of the country.

Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu blasted the Bulgarian government for bowing to Israeli pressure.

"We condemn this act, which reflects the scale of compliance with Zionist pressures," Nunu said.

The security agency said although the delegation arrived in Bulgaria legally, "information was received which gives reasons to believe that their presence poses a serious threat for national security."

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