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Freed U.S. hikers land in New York

NEW YORK, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Two freed U.S. hikers arrived in New York Sunday after being held as spies in Iran when they hiked across the Islamic Republic's border in 2009.


Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were all smiles as they stepped off a flight from Oman and prepared to deliver remarks at a news conference, CNN said.

The pair flew home from Oman after they were released on a combined $1 million bail by the Persian Gulf nation.

"Just hours after we left prison, we were able to swim in the calm waters of the gulf," Fattal said in a written statement while in Oman. "We stayed up all night with our loved ones and watched the most beautiful sunrise we have ever seen."

Fattal and Bauer were allowed to leave Iran the day before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the United Nations. Both have maintained they and a third hiker, Sarah Shourd, mistakenly crossed the unmarked border between Iran and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Shourd was released from prison on a $500,000 bond a year ago on medical grounds and is engaged to Bauer.


Obama rallies Congressional Black Caucus

Washington, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- President Obama gave the Congressional Black Caucus a pep talk in Saturday night as the political wrangling over spending on the economy drags on.

Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were greeted warmly at the CBC Foundation annual awards dinner in Washington, and the president vowed to continue fighting to help the poor and middle class.

"The future rewards those who press on and I'm going to press on," Obama told the cheering crowd. "I don't have time to feel sorry for myself; I'm going to press on."

The speech pointed out what the president said was a difference in philosophies in which Democrats tried to maintain valuable education and public works projects while the Republicans were most concerned with coddling the wealthy and preventing them from paying their fair share of the nation's tax burden.

"Give me a break," Obama said. "If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a janitor makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that with a badge of honor."

Obama specifically urged the lawmakers to get behind his latest economic-stimulus package. He countered concerns about the cost by accusing the Republicans of opposing a program that would create or preserve jobs for workers and improve the nation's schools and infrastructure while favoring tax breaks and subsidies for banks and the oil industry.


"If we want to create new jobs and close the deficit and invest in our future, the money has got to come from somewhere," he said. "And so, should we keep tax loopholes for big oil companies? Or should we put construction workers and teachers back on the job?"

Iraq city multi-bomb attack kills 15

KARBALA, Iraq, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- An orchestrated series of four bombings in the Iraqi city of Karbala killed at least 15 people and injured 100 others, provincial officials said Sunday.

The first car bomb exploded outside a government building where people were lined up before offices opened, The New York Times reported.

Minutes later as emergency personnel arrived, a second car bomb went off followed by two smaller bombs, the report said.

Tariq al-Khaikani, a member of Karbala's provincial council, told the Times the site and delayed detonations were hallmarks of al-Qaida terrorists.

"The perpetrators attempt to target the most crowded places in order to kill as many as possible," he said.

Regardless, no group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings.

Karbala, which is south of Baghdad, is considered a sacred place among the sect of Shiite Muslims and has repeatedly been targeted by Sunni Muslim extremists. Al-Qaida is predominantly composed of Sunni Muslims, international intelligence records indicate.


Earlier this month, 22 Shiite religious pilgrims in a bus were gunned down in the western, Sunni-dominated province of Anbar as they headed to Karbala, the Times reported.

Saudi women gain right to vote

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Saudi Arabian women will be allowed to participate in upcoming elections of the Shura Council and municipal polls, the Saudi king said Sunday.

King Abdallah extended the right to vote to women Sunday while addressing the Shura Council, the Kuwait news agency KUNA reported.

The king stressed that the decision is intended to affirm the role of women in society and to discontinue the marginalization, Arab News reported.

"Because we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with Shariah (Islamic law), we have decided, after deliberation with our senior ulema and others to involve women in the Shura Council as members in line with the Shariah regulations, starting from the next term," Abdallah said.

"Secondly women have the right to run for municipal council membership. She also has the right to vote within Shariah regulations. Brothers and sisters, it is your right that we enable to achieve everything that guarantees your honor, dignity and interest. It is our right on you to have their guidance and advice in line with the Shariah regulations."



Mexican newspaper editor decapitated

MEXICO CITY, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- The headless body of a Mexican newspaper editor was found in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas with a warning note, police said.

The state attorney's office said the head of Maria Elizabeth Macias Castro, 39, was found Saturday near her body with a note whose contents weren't disclosed, CNN reported.

Castro was the editor of the Primera Hora newspaper.

The state office said her death was "attributed to a criminal group," and various media noted there were similarities in her slaying to a double homicide in the area earlier this month.

The bodies of a man and woman, both in their 20s, were found badly mutilated with signs of torture in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. Both had posted online denunciations of a regional drug cartel, as had Castro, the report said.

Firefighters put out 50 fires across Russia

MOSCOW, Sept. 25 (UPI) -- Firefighters had quelled 50 forest fires across Russia in the past 24 hours, the Federal Forestry Agency said Sunday.

"As of the morning of Sept. 25, 2011, 40 wildfires were registered in Russia. The area affected by forest fires has increased by 1,713 hectares in the past 24 hours," the agency said.


The area most affected is the Siberian District, which has 36 wildfires blazing, RIA Novosti reported.

Wildfires in Russia's forested regions are common during the summer season. Most fires are started by local residents behaving carelessly in the woods.

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