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U.S. Senate kills F-22 funding

WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate bowed to the threat of a presidential veto and rejected additional funding for the F-22 Raptor fighter, which the Pentagon said it didn't need.

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The Senate Tuesday voted 58-40 to kill another $1.75 billion for the F-22 program, acquiescing to Defense Secretary Robert Gates's effort to reform the way the Pentagon does business. The Washington Post reported. The Pentagon wants to shift more of its resources to counterinsurgency efforts, The New York Times reported.

The F-22 fighter jet, which costs $350 million apiece, was designed as a high-tech aerial warfare weapon to fight a threat that never really materialized, Gates argued.

President Barack Obama had threatened to veto the $679.8 billion defense bill that funded more F-22s and praised Tuesday's Senate action.

"Long before I took this office, I argued that meeting our greatest challenges would require not only changing policies in Washington, but changing the way we do business in Washington," Obama said. "I also promised that part of that change would be eliminating waste and inefficiency in our defense projects -- reform that will better protect our nation, better protect our troops, and save taxpayers tens of billions of dollars.

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"As commander-in-chief, I will do whatever it takes to defend the American people, which is why we've increased our funding for our military, and why we will always give our men and women in uniform the equipment and support that they need to get the job done."


Senate committee postpones Sotomayor vote

WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday announced it was rescheduling its confirmation vote on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor to next week.

The committee said on its Web site that the vote, which had been scheduled for Tuesday, would be taken July 28, and would be streamed live over the Internet. The reason for the postponement was not announced.

However, CNN reported that it was to give the Republicans more time to go over Sotomayor's judicial record.

Sotomayor is widely expected to win approval from the committee despite conservative objections that she is too much of an "activist" judge rather than a strict constitutional interpreter.

CNN said four Senate Republicans have said they would vote in favor of Sotomayor's nomination.


Obama attacks healthcare reform foes

WASHINGTON, July 21 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama had harsh words Tuesday for critics trying to block his efforts toward health insurance reform.

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He accused his critics of playing "politics of the moment instead of putting the interests of the American people first."

"These opponents of reform would rather score political points than offer relief to Americans who've seen premiums double and costs grow three times faster than wages," Obama said Tuesday afternoon in the White House Rose Garden. "They would maintain a system that works for the insurance and the drug companies, while becoming increasingly unaffordable for families and for businesses."

Obama said the healthcare reform bills making their way through the House and the Senate reflect a "hard-earned consensus" with members of Congress and the healthcare industry.

"Health care providers have agreed to do their part to reduce the rate of growth in healthcare spending. The pharmaceutical industry has agreed to spending reductions that will make prescription drugs more affordable for seniors. Hospitals have agreed to bring down costs. The American Nurses Association and the American Medical Association, who represent millions of nurses and doctors who know our healthcare system best, have announced their support for reform," the president said.


U.S. head: NATO to reduce Kosovo troops

GRACANICA, Kosovo, July 21 (UPI) -- A U.S. admiral said NATO will reduce its peacekeeping forces in Kosovo by about 4,000 within the next six months to a year, Serbian officials said Tuesday.

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U.S. Adm. Mark Fitzgerald, commander of the NATO joint force command in Naples, Italy, said the peacekeepers will continue to provide security for about 200,000 Serbs in Kosovo, the Serbian news agency Beta reported.

Fitzgerald met with Rada Trajkovic, a prominent leader of the Serbian minority in Gracanica in northern Kosovo on the plan.

NATO commanders have said they plan to reduce the number of troops from the current 14,000 to less than 10,000 next year. The commanders said the security situation in Kosovo is relatively stable.

NATO troops have been in Kosovo since 1999 when the alliance sent peacekeepers to curb ethnic Albanian-Serb conflicts.

Leaders of ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of Kosovo's 2 million population, declared independence from Serbia in February 2008 despite vehement opposition from Belgrade.


Berlusconi's approval rating dips

ROME, July 21 (UPI) -- Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's approval rating has dropped significantly amid news stories about his love life, a poll released Tuesday said.

Only 49 percent of the 1,000 people surveyed by IPR Marketing approved of Berlusconi's performance, the Italian news agency ANSA reported. The poll was done for the Rome newspaper La Repubblica.

The poll was the first since he took office to give Berlusconi an approval rating below 50 percent. His previous low point was 52 percent in March while it hit 62 percent in October.

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The poll was released as La Repubblica and L'Espresso, another left-of-center daily, published portions of alleged pillow talk between Berlusconi and Patrizia D'Addario, described by the prime minister's aides as a prostitute, The Times of London reported Tuesday.

D'Addario claims to have made the recordings during two visits that she made to Palazzo Grazioli, Berlusconi's residence in Rome. D'Addario turned the tapes over to authorities investigating Giampaolo Tarantini on suspicion of corruption and abetting prostitution.

In one recording, Berlusconi apparently told D'Addario to wait for him on the four-poster "Putin bed" -- reportedly a gift from Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin -- while they each took a shower.

Berlusconi, who has rejected the sex scandal allegations, did not comment on tapes and transcripts.

Allies rallied to Berlusconi's defense Tuesday.

Daniele Capezzone, spokesman for Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, called the posts "pathetic," while Maurizio Gasparri, the party's Senate leader, said the revelations were a "failed campaign" by the newspapers to discredit Berlusconi.


Storms rake Denver, Arizona

DENVER, July 21 (UPI) -- Thousands of people were without power Tuesday after heavy storms and two small tornadoes blew through the Denver area overnight.

The storm, which carried wind speeds as high as 80 miles per hour, damaged a fire station in Brighton, Colo., and blew down trees and power lines, The Denver Post reported.

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"The situation is very dangerous," Lisa Stigall, spokeswoman for the Wheat Ridge Police Department, told the newspaper. "Police are asking residents to stay inside their homes. Motorists are asked to stay out of the area as we try to clean up the debris and make the area safe from the downed lines."

The National Weather Service said two weak tornadoes were confirmed near Castle Rock and Englewood.

In Arizona, high winds toppled trees and knocked down power lines, The Arizona Republic said. Arizona Public Service Co. said some 4,300 customers were without power overnight.

Accuweather said the cluster of storms that tore through the southern Plains will reach the Mississippi Valley by Tuesday night, bringing the risk of dangerous flash flooding, large hail, strong winds and isolated tornadoes. A cold front sweeping into the Upper Midwest could also bring damaging storms to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and eastern Nebraska.

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