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Dec. 3, 2010 at 12:21 PM
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Obama in Afghanistan to meet with troops

BAGRAM, Afghanistan, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama arrived in Afghanistan Friday on an unannounced trip focusing on meeting with and thanking U.S. troops, the White House said.

Obama, who arrived in Bagram, also conduct a secure teleconference call with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, White House officials said. Obama had been scheduled to visit Karzai's palace in Kabul, but bad weather disrupted the plans.

Obama is scheduled to met with top U.S. military and diplomatic leaders, address the troops and visit patients in a Bagram hospital, officials said. The president will award four Purple Hearts during his hospital visit.

During a briefing White House spokesman Robert Gibbs and deputy national security adviser for strategic communications Ben Rhodes said Obama wanted to visit with the troops during the holiday season to thank them and wish them a happy holiday.

Rhodes said this is "particularly tough time of the year" for military personnel and their families. He said the president wanted to "underscore" the sacrifice service members and their families make.

Most of the troops attending Obama's address are from the 101st Airborne Division, Rhodes said, but all service units will be represented.

Rhodes and Gibbs stressed the focus of the trip was on the troops since Obama and Karzai met in Lisbon, Portugal, less than two weeks ago during a NATO summit.

Rhodes said there would be "no major new piece" of news arising from Obama's teleconference call with Karzai.


Vote on DREAM Act delayed until next week

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- A vote on a bill to give some young illegal immigrants a chance at legal residency in the United States won't come before next week, a congressman said.

Democrats "ran out of time" this week so the DREAM Act won't make it to the House Rules Committee until next week, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., told The Hill.

The DREAM Act would offer a chance at legal residency to illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States before age 16 if they obtained a high school diploma. The bill would also grant residency to those who attend college for two years or enter the military.

Gutierrez said Thursday he is confident the bill has enough support to pass through the House.

"I'm encouraged, because the obstacles appear procedural in nature -- it's not the votes, Gutierrez said."


Europe remains in deep freeze

LONDON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- More frigid weather was forecast for parts of Europe already weary from heavy snow and freezing temperatures that officials blamed for 28 deaths.

Thousands of travelers were stranded because roads and rail networks were snow-covered and airports were closed because of the conditions, the BBC reported Friday.

Officials in Albania, Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro declared states of emergency in several areas after heavy flooding forced more than 1,000 people to flee their homes to escape rising waters.

During the past several days, temperatures hovered around minus 27 degrees Fahrenheit in Poland, where officials say at least 18 people have died from exposure. Other weather-related deaths were reported in Russia, Germany and Britain.

Authorities in Poland said many of the victims were homeless people. Thousands of residents in Poland had lost the heating in their homes, officials said.

In Berlin, officials kept underground transit stations, soup kitchens and heated buses open overnight to provide shelter for the homeless.

In Britain, the Automobile Association called on government leaders to be "more innovative" in addressing the conditions, The Daily Telegraph reported. Frustration about the response to the weather spilled over into the House of Commons Thursday, with Labor Party leaders accusing the government of "breathtaking complacency."

Toys that were supposed to arrive in Britain in time for the holidays were delayed by the harsh weather. The Telegraph said container ships carrying goods from Asia were blocked Thursday when several ports were closed.

Suppliers were unable to reach gas stations, sparking fears of fuel shortages from Kent to Scotland. Mail delivery also was affected by inclement conditions.

Air travel was disrupted, with major airports in Britain, France, the Netherlands and Germany forced to close, airport officials said.

Eurostar officials said the rail service would operate on a scaled-back schedule until Sunday but new tickets wouldn't be available until Monday.


Leaked cables tell of Afghan corruption

WASHINGTON, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Corruption is commonplace in the Afghan government and an honest official is hard to find, leaked U.S. State Department cables indicate.

In the latest round of sensitive communications released by whistle-blowing Web site WikiLeaks through several newspapers, hundreds of cables discuss blatant graft ,The New York Times reported Friday.

One one Cabinet official "about whom no allegations of bribery exists" was found, a cable said.

The existence of corruption in Afghanistan isn't new. The United States has made cleaning up the Afghan government a condition for continued aid, and Transparency International, an advocacy organization that tracks worldwide government corruption, ranks Afghanistan as the world's third most corrupt country, after Somalia and Myanmar.

But analysts told the Times the cache of cables obtained by WikiLeaks provides a new look at the breadth and depth of the graft and the challenges it poses to U.S. officials trying to build support for the Afghan government as part of its counterinsurgency strategy in the country.

The latest documents released also contain criticism raised by U.S. diplomats about the British military effort in Afghanistan from 2007 to 2009, the BBC reported.

The cables, published in The Guardian, indicate U.S. officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai believed British forces were not up to securing Helmand province by themselves, with Karzai reportedly saying he was glad when the U.S. Marines were sent to the province.

A cable sent in 2008 from the U.S. Embassy said, "(We) and President Karzai agree that British forces are not up to the task of securing Helmand" without U.S. support.


Saudi king scheduled for 2nd back surgery

NEW YORK, Dec. 3 (UPI) -- Saudi King Abdallah needed a second back surgery in New York City, a spokesman said.

Abdallah had a back operation last week to remove a clot and repair a spinal disk. The second surgery, schedued Friday, was to stabilize several vertebrae in his spinal cord, the Saudi newspaper Ash-Sharq al-Awsat reported.

Abdallah was walking within days of the first surgery at New York's Presbyterian Hospital, the report said.

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