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Jan. 6, 2012 at 8:46 AM
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Report: Suicide bomber kills 25 in Syria

DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- A suicide bomber detonated himself near a school in Damascus Friday, killing at least 25 people and wounding 46 others, Syria's state-run news agency reported.

Preliminary information indicated the bomber detonated his explosives at a traffic light in a heavily populated area of the Midan district, the Syrian Arab News Agency said.

The district recently has been the scene of protests against President Bashar Assad's government.

Arab League monitors are in Syria trying to ensure the government's compliance with a peace plan, but opposition activists and human rights organizations said a violent crackdown against anti-government protesters was still going on and dozens of people have died.

At least 24 people were killed Thursday, half of those in the northeastern Deir Ezzor province, the Local Coordination Committees activist group said.

Foreign news agencies cannot independently verify accounts from Syria because the government has restricted access.

A senior Syrian official who defected said the Assad regime redirected funds to security forces responsible for the brutal response to protesters.

Mahmoud Souleiman Hajj Hamad, head auditor at the Syrian defense ministry, told reporters in Cairo that in the course of his duties he determined the Assad regime reallocated money to security forces responsible for the violent 10-month crackdown against protesters.

Two bombings kill five coalition soldiers

KABUL, Afghanistan, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Two bombings in southern Afghanistan Friday killed five coalition soldiers, NATO officials said.

The officials said four soldiers died after a roadside bomb detonated and one died in a separate attack, Voice of America reported.

Details about the two attacks were unavailable.

On Thursday, three coalition service members died in a bombing in southern Afghanistan, CNN reported.

Nine coalition troops have died since the start of 2012, officials said.

Watchdog head 'new sheriff in town'

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Payday lenders and other firms outside conventional banking will have fallout if they break the law, the new director of a U.S. consumer protection bureau said.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau "will make clear that there are real consequences to breaking the law," Richard Cordray told the non-partisan Brookings Institution public policy organization Thursday, a day after President Barack Obama defied Senate Republicans and appointed Cordray to head the watchdog agency.

The bureau, created by the 2010 financial reform law, began operation July 21, 2011, supervising large banks for compliance. But it was unable to apply new powers, such as supervising non-bank financial firms, until the Senate confirmed its director.

Senate Republicans opposed filling the position, saying the bureau and its director would wield unchecked authority over financial institutions. Cordray's nomination received a majority of Senate votes last month but was blocked by a Republican-led filibuster.

Obama said Wednesday he was frustrated by opposition by "a minority in the Senate" and broke with two decades of precedent to install Cordray through the end of 2013 while the Senate was in a short recess.

"There's a new sheriff in town," Bill Bartmann, chief executive officer of the Tulsa, Okla., CFS II debt-collection company told the Los Angeles Times.

Iran: EU oil embargo 'economic war'

TEHRAN, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- A planned European oil embargo and other efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program, including new U.S. sanctions, are "economic war," a top Iranian official said.

"The enemies of the Islamic republic's regime, with all their tricks, have not been able to chain the nation and now they want to chain the economy," Finance Minister Shamseddin Hosseini said Thursday in comments carried by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

"These sanctions are an economic war against us," he said.

European Union and U.S. officials had no immediate comment.

Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran had already "taken provisional measures" and was fully prepared to "weather the storm," which includes an imminent EU ban on its oil as well as U.S. sanctions signed into law New Year's Eve by President Barack Obama.

"Iran, with divine assistance, has always been ready to counter such hostile actions, and we are not concerned at all about the sanctions," Salehi told a Tehran news conference Thursday.

Oil represents about 60 percent of Iran's economy and oil exports are a vital source of foreign currency.

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