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March 13, 2013 at 8:10 AM   |   Comments

Black smoke signals no new pope yet

VATICAN CITY, March 13 (UPI) -- Black smoke filtered through a chimney on the roof of the Vatican's Sistine Chapel Wednesday, signaling the 115 Catholic cardinals have yet to elect a new pope.

Voting by eligible cardinals will continue -- with two morning rounds and two afternoon rounds scheduled -- until a cardinal gets a two-thirds majority of 77 votes to succeed Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.

Unclear was how many rounds had been conducted Wednesday before the black smoke emerged, The New York Times reported.

The first ballot taken Tuesday also resulted in black smoke billowing from the chimney.

Once the conclave elects a successor to Benedict, who resigned in February, the announcement will be made by white smoke rising from the chimney and the bells of St. Peter's Basilica ringing.

Despite chilly, rainy weather, crowds were in St. Peter's square, awaiting the outcome of the day's voting, ANSA reported.


Entitlement cuts raise liberal hackles

WASHINGTON, March 13 (UPI) -- Liberal U.S. senators challenged President Obama over his readiness to cut entitlement benefits, as the president prepared to meet with House Republicans.

"I think he is more inclined to cut benefits, which I strongly disagree with," Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind-Vt., said after leaving a 90-minute, closed-door Senate Democratic Caucus meeting with Obama on Capitol Hill that focused a lot on Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The meeting also dealt with immigration policy, drones and cybersecurity, Senate attendees said.

Sanders and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, told Obama they opposed his willingness to consider adopting "chained CPI" -- a less generous formula for adjusting benefits under Social Security and other programs for inflation.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' chained CPI, or a chained consumer price index, is not used by Washington but has increasingly been discussed as a reform because many economists say it better measures inflation than the currently used CPI index.

It tweaks the inflation formula slightly but results in big savings over the long run, perhaps more than $100 billion over a decade, The Washington Post reported.


Group sets up street militias

CAIRO, March 13 (UPI) -- The Egyptian Sunni militant group al-Gama'a al-Islamiya said it would form militias to restore order to the streets, a member of the group says.

A statement issued by the group, which has been declared a terrorist organization by the United States and European Union, said it had decided "not to stand idly by in the face of senseless scenes on the street," Asharq al-Awsat reported Tuesday.

The move comes as police went on strike, demanding better conditions and weapons, the paper said. Rioting was reported in Cairo, Port Said, Alexandria, Assiut, Mahala and Mansoura.

A statement recently issued by the prosecutor-general has interpreted as opening the way for vigilantism, the paper said. The statement said the prosecutor-general "urges all citizens to exercise the right ... to arrest anyone found committing a crime and refer them to official [security] personnel."

The Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice party issued a statement saying the role of the police cannot be carried out by any other institution or group.


Maduro: 'Dark forces' behind Chavez cancer

CARACAS, Venezuela, March 13 (UPI) -- Venezuela will formally investigate the possibility foreign enemies infected Hugo Chavez with cancer, causing the president's death, the interim leader said.

"We have this intuition that our commander Chavez was poisoned by dark forces that wanted to be rid of him," Nicolas Maduro, sworn in as interim president Friday, told Venezuela's pan-Latin American TV network teleSUR.

"The world's best scientists" will be invited to join a government panel to probe the accusation, Maduro said.

Maduro, 50, implied Washington could have been behind such an attack -- an accusation the State Department has flatly denied.

He said in the 1940s and 1950s, Washington and other powers had "scientific laboratories testing how to cause cancer."

"Seventy years have passed," Maduro said. "These kinds of laboratories of evil and death have not advanced?"


Militants kill five Indian soldiers

SRINAGAR, India, March 13 (UPI) -- Four gunmen killed five Indian paramilitary men Wednesday in Indian-administered Kashmir, authorities said, adding the suspects were probably from Pakistan.

Authorities said militants stormed a paramilitary camp near a school in the Bemina area of Srinagar, the summer capital of the Himalayan state, and opened fire.

At least two of the gunmen were killed in the battle, while five paramilitary forces, in addition to the five killed, were injured.

"Prima facie evidence suggests that these (four) militants were from Pakistan. They killed five CRPF personnel and injured five others," R.K. Singh, India's home secretary said in a Times of India report.

"Two militants were killed but two are missing," Singh added.

The nearby school was closed Wednesday due to a strike call by separatists, the report said.

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