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Obama debt-panel leaders: Make $2T in cuts

WASHINGTON, June 28 (UPI) -- Democrats ought to agree to GOP lawmakers' demands for $2 trillion in spending cuts over 10 years, the heads of U.S. President Barack Obama's fiscal panel said.

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The money would be a "down payment" on "a $4 trillion-plus, gimmick-free fiscal consolidation package that stabilizes and then reduces our debt as a share of the economy," Erskine Bowles, White House chief of staff in the Clinton administration, and former Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., said in an op-ed piece published in The Hill Tuesday.

A fiscal consolidation package is "what this country needs -- and what the American people deserve," they said.

But a fiscal overhaul can't be done by the Aug. 2 deadline when the U.S. Treasury Department says the federal government faces default if the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling isn't raised, Bowles and Simpson said.

Hence, a two-part approach, they said.

Shortly after making the down payment, negotiators will have to work out the significant structural reforms, they said.

"And policy makers must agree -- including with an honest process and strict enforcement mechanisms -- to address the remainder of the problem before the next election," they said. "Elections take all options off the table, instead of setting the table for reform.

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"There can be no more kicking the can down the road or handing the baton to the next guy," they added. "The markets won't allow it and the American people should not tolerate it."

The White House and congressional leaders of both parties had no immediate comment on the proposal.


Los Alamos evacuated as wildfire nears

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., June 28 (UPI) -- Residents were ordered to evacuate Los Alamos, N.M., as an out-of-control wildfire was at the town's edge and buffeted the secretive U.S. military nuclear lab.

A Los Alamos National Laboratory spokesman said the blaze, at the facility's southern boundary, remained a few miles from key structures on the 25,600-acre property.

Nuclear and other hazardous materials were in safe storage deep inside vaults within concrete and steel buildings, Kevin Roark told the Alibi newspaper of Albuquerque.

The lab would not comment on a Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety allegation that the wildfire was about 3 miles from a nuclear dumpsite containing tens of thousands of 55-gallon drums of plutonium-contaminated waste.

The anti-nuclear watchdog group's Web site appeared hacked early Tuesday morning, a United Press International check indicated. Its Facebook page had six messages from people alerting the group of the possible hacking, including a message commenting on the timing of the incident happening "just as the fires started."

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The wildfire, which began Sunday and exceeded 50,000 acres, or 78 square miles, early Tuesday, destroyed at least 30 homes and outbuildings south and west of Los Alamos, fire officials said.

"We don't have a hard number," Los Alamos Assistant Fire Chief Mike Thompson told the Albuquerque Journal.

Officials planned a flyover Tuesday morning to assess its scope.


Defector: Told to shoot Syrian civilians

ISTANBUL, Turkey, June 28 (UPI) -- Syrian soldiers were ordered to shoot unarmed civilians, a military defector alleges, adding neither he nor his colleagues ever saw protesters with weapons.

Commanding officers told soldiers from the Syrian army's 14 division, deployed during anti-government protests, "not to shoot at the men carrying guns. They said [the gunmen] were with us," the defector told Britain's The Guardian newspaper in a safe house in Istanbul, Turkey.

Instead, the soldiers were ordered to shoot at unarmed protesters, he said.

"I could not believe what I was hearing -- to leave alone the people carrying guns. It shocked me. We are soldiers and soldiers do not shoot at civilians," said the man, 20, who had been drafted and was identified in The Guardian's story by the pseudonym of Wasid to protect his family from reprisals.

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Wasid showed The Guardian his military ID and application for refugee status in Turkey.

He said he was deployed to Daraa, about 60 miles south of the capital, Damascus, the starting point of the anti-Assad regime Syrian uprisings, which started when 15 children from one family were arrested in early March for writing an anti-regime slogan on the wall of their school.

A few hundred protesters called for reforms and an end to corruption in front of a mosque March 15 after attempts to negotiate the children's release were rejected by the local government.


Pakistan denies intentional firings

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 28 (UPI) -- The Pakistani military has denied any intentional firing of artillery across the border into Afghanistan.

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai was quoted as saying about 470 missiles from Pakistan had landed in Afghanistan's border provinces in the past three weeks, resulting in the deaths of dozens of people including children, Voice of America reported. While denying any intentional firing, Pakistani Army spokesman Gen. Athar Abbas said some rounds may have gone across the border when Pakistani security forces were chasing away militants trying to attack Pakistani border posts.

"Militants have been attacking our check posts," Abbas said.

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"So maybe when the militants were escaping back to the border, in engaging them a few rounds would have accidentally gone across. That possibility cannot be ruled out," he said.

Pakistan has long been seen as allowing militants to seek sanctuaries on its side of the border and the militants use them to launch attacks on U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The military is now trying to resolve that, the report said.

The VOA report said Islamabad also has been saying the withdrawal of coalition forces from Afghanistan is encouraging anti-Pakistani militants to attack Pakistan.

Karzai has warned there would be consequences if the artillery firings continue.


Rebel official: Hospitals near crisis

BENGHAZI, Libya, June 28 (UPI) -- Hospitals in rebel-held eastern Libya are running out of supplies, creating a crisis, the rebels' health minister said.

Dr. Nagi Barakat said most emergency aid coming from abroad goes straight to the battle fronts in the rebels' fight to oust leader Moammar Gadhafi, and if a new offensive broke out, hospitals would face a crisis, the BBC reported Tuesday.

On the cancer ward of a children's hospital in Benghazi, the rebel capital, most patients aren't getting the proper dosages of medicine because drugs are scarce and doctors divvy supplies to ensure every patient gets at least a little, Dr. Amina Bayou said.

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"We try to divide the drugs between this patient and that patient. It's not good," she said. "We are treating more than 200 children. We ask parents to go to Egypt to buy medicines and when they bring them back, we divide them up like parceling out food." At Hawari General Hospital, Director Ezzedin Benomran estimated more than 20 patients have died since February because of a lack of supplies. The physician said anesthetics are so low that the hospital closed nine of its 12 operating rooms and performs only emergency operations, the BBC reported.

Barakat said cash donated by foreign governments and non-government organizations isn't keeping up with the demands of all the hospitals in a city such as Benghazi, which services the entire population of eastern Libya.

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