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Feb. 15, 2005 at 7:15 PM
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Rice presses Egypt on detained politician

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday she had discussed with Egypt "very strong" U.S. concerns over the detention of a top Egyptian politician.

Ayman Nour, the head of al-Ghad liberal opposition party, was arrested last month on charges of fraud. He was stripped of his parliamentary immunity following his arrest for allegedly forging signatures to establish his political party.

"I did raise our concerns, our very strong concerns, about this case," Rice said after a meeting with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit, adding she hoped "there will be a resolution of this very soon."

Rice also said she and Gheit discussed President Bush's agenda for reform in the Middle East.

"The Egyptian government has the opportunity and the responsibility to be as great a leader for reform in the region as it has been a leader for peace," she said.

She also lauded Egypt for hosting Israeli and Palestinian leaders at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheik earlier this month. During that meeting the two sides agreed to a cease-fire.

Senate approves Chertoff to head DHS

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Tuesday approved Michael Chertoff as the new secretary of Department of Homeland Security.

The 98-0 vote represents the approval of the ninth and last of the bevy of new cabinet replacements in President Bush's second term.

Although Chertoff's approval was nearly unanimous, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich, and others, still had some criticism of the Bush administration's handling of his nomination.

Levin continued his and Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Joseph Lieberman's, D-Conn., arguments that the Justice Department has improperly withheld classified documents related to Chertoff's tenure at the agency heading terrorism prosecutions.

Nevertheless, Republicans, including Homeland Security Committee Chairman Susan Collins, R-Maine, praised Chertoff's expertise on legal issues and willingness to leave his current lifetime appointment as a federal judge to take over the massive DHS agency.

Twin cyclones hit South Pacific

SYDNEY, Australia, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- Two tropical cyclones converging on the Samoan archipelago and Cook Islands in the South Pacific might cross paths.

Cyclone Olaf hit the western end of the Samoan archipelago with winds in excess of 155 mph and is expected to become a Category Five Super-Cyclone -- the most powerful on the scale, the BBC reported.

Several South Pacific islands face a "critically dangerous situation," according to the Australian-Pacific Centre for Emergency and Disaster Information.

A slightly weaker Cyclone Nancy has caused damage in the Cook Islands and officials are concerned the twin cyclones could create one giant storm or strike in short succession, reported the BBC.

Samoa has declared a state of emergency, closed all businesses and residents have sought higher ground.

Tropical storm warnings have also been issued to other nearby regions.

Retirement Act introduced in Congress

WASHINGTON, Feb. 15 (UPI) -- The Retirement Security for Life Act, aimed at helping Americans maintain living standard after retirement, was introduced in Congress Tuesday.

The legislation provides a tax incentive to encourage retirees to invest some of their individual after-tax savings in retirement vehicles, such as annuities that provide a guaranteed lifetime income.

Under the proposal, individuals would not pay federal taxes on one-half of the income (up to a maximum of $20,000 annually) generated by annuities that make lifetime payments. For a typical American in the 25 percent tax bracket, that would provide an annual tax savings of up to $5,000.

The bill's sponsors include Senators Gordon Smith, R-Ore.; Kent Conrad, D-N.D.; Olympia Snowe, R-Maine; Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y.; and Representatives Nancy Johnson, R-Conn.; John Tanner, D-Tenn.; Phil English, R-Pa.; and Stephanie Tubbs Jones, D-Ohio.

"How people are going to manage their savings so they last is increasingly concerning for a vast number of Americans, especially women because they live longer and have less access to traditional pensions," said Elisabeth Gehl, director of public policy for Business and Professional Women/USA, and a member of the Americans for Secure Retirement coalition.

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