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March 23, 2013 at 12:00 PM   |   Comments

Tour of ancient city ends Obama trip

AMMAN, Jordan, March 23 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama left Jordan on Saturday afternoon after a quick tour of the ancient city of Petra.

King Abdullah II accompanied U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his own foreign minister, Nasser Judeh, to the airport in Amman. The king and president chatted briefly on the tarmac as Obama transferred from the helicopter that took him to Petra to Air Force One.

Obama arrived in Jordan late Friday after three days in Israel, his first visit to the country as president. He was scheduled to fly directly back to Washington from Amman.

While most of his trip involved talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Obama spent several hours Saturday at Jordan's most popular tourist destination. Petra, a 2,000-year-old city carved from rock, was cleared of other visitors.

Dr. Suleiman A.D. Al Farajat, a tourism professor at the University of Jordan, led Obama on the tour.

His casual tour contrasted with his hectic schedule of the previous days. While most of the time was spent in Israel, where the president talked to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, he also traveled to the West Bank to meet with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

At a joint news conference Friday, Abdullah welcomed the president to Jordan late Friday, telling Obama he was looking forward to an "Arab Summer." The king said Jordan would continue to provide shelter for Syrian refugees and to do whatever it can to facilitate talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Obama pledged the U.S. would provide another $200 million in aid to help those who have fled the nearly two-year-old conflict.


Pope has lunch with ex-pope Benedict

VATICAN CITY, March 23 (UPI) -- Pope Francis was flown by helicopter to Castel Gandolfo for lunch Saturday with his predecessor, Benedict XVI, Vatican officials say.

It is the first known occurrence of a newly elected pope meeting with a former pope in more than 600 years, the BBC reported.

Benedict, now known as the pope emeritus, has lived at the castle south of Rome since stepping down last month. He is expected to stay there until accommodations at the Vatican are ready at the end of April.

Francis will lead his first Easter season mass as pope on Sunday when he celebrates Palm Sunday.

In the 10 days he has been the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis has made subtle changes in the lifestyle customary to his position. He has given up the papal ermine robe and red shoes for a white habit and black shoes, and abandoned his special limousine for the public bus. He also no longer greets guests from his elevated throne but at floor level.


Senate passes first budget in four years

WASHINGTON, March 23 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate, by the slimmest of margins, approved its first budget in four years early Saturday, party leaders said.

The 50-49 vote came about 5 a.m., with four Democrats joining the entire GOP caucus in voting "no," The Hill reported.

The Democratic dissenters -- Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Mark Pryor of Arkansas -- are all up for re-election next year in states for voted for Mitt Romney.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., missed the vote.

Senate Budget Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., said the budget resolution "puts economic growth and the middle class first."

The Senate plan relies on $975 billon in new tax revenues over the next 10 years. It cuts $975 billion from spending, including $275 billion from Medicare and Medicaid. Still, it fails to close the budget gap by $566 billion because it ends $1.22 trillion in automatic spending cuts.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the resolution "a rehash of the extreme policies that continue to hobble the economy and crush the middle class."

He predicted it would not become law.

The House passed its budget resolution Thursday on a 221-207 party line vote.

The two bills now go to a joint House-Senate conference that will attempt to work out differences between them.


New Chinese president visits Moscow

MOSCOW, March 23 (UPI) -- New Chinese President Xi Jinping said his trip to Russia has already been a success during a meeting Saturday with President Dmitry Medvedev.

Xi's three-day visit, his first foreign trip since he became president, began Friday, RIA Novosti reported. He spent seven hours with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and signed a number of trade agreements.

"From my point of view, my visit has already reached its aim. The results have far exceeded my expectations," Xi told Medvedev.

Xi also addressed students Saturday at the Moscow Institute of International Relations.

"Russia and China should strengthen strategic cooperation on the international scene, together defend the U.N. principle regulations and secure peace and stability," Xi said.

The two countries are frequent allies on the U.N. Security Council.

One of the agreements signed Friday was a tentative pact between the Russian state company Gazprom and the China National Petroleum Corp. It would guarantee annual supplies of natural gas to China.


Taliban: Musharraf will die if he returns

ISLAMABAD, March 23 (UPI) -- The Pakistan Taliban will assassinate former President Pervez Musharraf if he returns Sunday as planned, a spokesman for the group said Saturday.

Musharraf has spent the last five years in exile in London and Dubai after resigning in 2008, CNN reported.

In a video message posted online, Ehsanullah Ehsan said a "death squad" from Tehrik-i-Taliban would be sent to kill him.

Musharraf has announced he will fly into Karachi Sunday and attend a rally intended to signal his plan to lead his party in the country's general election in May.

Adnan Rasheed, who was convicted of engineering an attack on Musharraf in December 2003, will lead the suicide bombers, Ehsan told Dawn News.

Rasheed was sentenced to die for the attack, but escaped from prison in April 2012 along with other inmates.

Musharraf joined the U.S. war on terror after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, angering the Taliban, and later instituted a major crackdown on militants in Pakistan.


Car bomb found in Northern Ireland

ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland, March 23 (UPI) -- Investigators found a bomb inside an abandoned car in Northern Ireland Saturday, officials said. A number of families were evacuated as a precaution.

The vehicle was found outside Enniskillen on Derrylin Road -- the main road connecting Enniskillen to Dublin, the BBC reported.

Police said they believe it may have been destined for a police station in County Fermanagh.

The size of the device found inside the car was not released.

Several families were evacuated from the area as Army bomb disposal experts worked to safely remove the device, the Belfast Telegraph reported.

"Police in Fermanagh are continuing to deal with a suspicious vehicle on the Derrylin Road, Enniskillen. At this stage we believe we are dealing with a suspect device. The security operation is continuing," said a spokeswoman for the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

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