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Nov. 25, 2012 at 6:29 PM
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Bangladesh factory fire claims 137 lives

DHAKA, Bangladesh, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- At least 137 people were believed to be dead after fire swept through a clothing factory outside Dhaka, Bangladeshi officials said Sunday.

The Press Trust of India said officials had recovered 124 bodies from the Tazrin Fashion factory in Ashulia Savar, about 18 miles outside the capital city. The fire started Saturday night and quickly moved through the lower floors of the building.

Abu Naim Mohammad Shahidullah, director general of fire service and civil defense, told reporters an electrical short circuit may have been to blame for the fire, though an investigation would be conducted to determine the cause.

The fire left scores of workers trapped on the upper floors while rescue crews contended with difficult access to the area, officials said.

"The main difficulty was to put out the fire; the sufficient approach road was not there," Salim Nawaj Bhuiyan, a retired fire official who now runs a fire safety company in Dhaka, told The New York Times. "The fire service had to take great trouble to approach the factory."

The army was also on the scene. Troops were seen in television footage carrying out bodies of the victims while a crowd of hundreds of onlookers watched, the Press Trust of India said.

The Times said Bangladesh's thriving garment industry has been experiencing growing tensions between factory owners and workers who are among the lowest paid in the world. A union organizer was tortured and killed earlier this year by unknown culprits who dumped his body outside Dhaka.

McCain: Risk of coup increasing in Egypt

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- A senior U.S. senator with experience in the Middle East said he feared Egypt's budding democracy could fall apart.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told "Fox News Sunday" Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi made a serious misstep when he announced the nation's court system could not overturn presidential decrees until a new constitution is in place.

McCain told Fox the decree had sparked unrest in the streets that made Egypt vulnerable to a coup by either the military of militant Islamists.

"You could also see a scenario where there is continued chaos," said McCain, who warned Egypt could wind up falling into a situation similar to the one that installed the current regime in Iran.

McCain added the United States appreciated Morsi's steps to broker a fragile cease-fire in Gaza, but predicted Hamas would keep testing Israel in the coming months with support from the Iranians.

"In the past, it's always been the United States that brokered the peace deals and there is a clear perception among Hamas is that they won on this one," McCain said.

Dems, GOP make overtures on fiscal cliff

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Two senior U.S. senators said Congress was ready to buckle down this week and find an agreement that will avert the dreaded fiscal cliff.

Volatile issues of tax hikes and entitlement reform continue to be daunting obstacles to a deal and both Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told ABC's "This Week" the stands of both parties on those issues needed to be considered.

"With Congress gone for the Thanksgiving recess, there hasn't much progress made," said Durbin. "But tomorrow there's no excuse. We're back in town."

Durbin noted the recent rally in the stock market was fueled in part by pre-Thanksgiving consumer spending, but added the odds of reaching a deal on the fiscal cliff and the associated sequestration plan was also reason for optimism about the economy.

"We can solve this problem," Durbin said.

Graham said Republicans were willing to be flexible about increased revenues provided Democrats bend on entitlements. He said the GOP was primarily concerned about the Draconian cuts the military would face under sequestration if a deal is not reached.

Graham indicated the staunch stand on taxes championed by anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist might not be tenable with the Pentagon cuts at stake. "What I would say to Grover Norquist is that sequester destroys the United States military," he said.

Graham noted the key to the negotiations would be reform of the entitlement system in the United States and not pledges to reduce spending. "I just don't want to promise the spending cuts," he said. "I want entitlement reforms. Republicans always put revenue on the table and Democrats always promise to cut spending. Well, we never cut spending."

Lame-duck lawmakers defend robust debates

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- Some high-profile members of the U.S. Congress who will be leaving office next year said bipartisan bickering should not be confused with robust debate.

The lawmakers took part in a taped interview that aired Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" said certain issues had to be hashed out by all sides on Capitol Hill and not just kicked down the road even though the process might not be particularly smooth.

"I hate it when people say we're bickering," said Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., "We are debating the most fundamental issues."

Frank proposed that the current Congress was the product of nationwide elections in 2006, 2008 and 2010. He said there had been significant swings in public opinion during that period.

Sen. Jon Kyle, R-Ariz., agreed with Frank's take on how Congress conducts business and said the seeming chaos was something of a tradition in American society.

"If you look at our jury system, the whole idea there is you have a big contest between two sides, and supposedly truth wins out in the end," said Kyl. "It's the same thing with the debate in the House and the Senate."

Sen. Kay Bailey-Hutchinson, R-Texas, told CNN the way the system has worked over the years gave her confidence Congress and the White House would pull off an agreement that would prevent the country from hurtling off the so-called fiscal cliff.

Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., advised incoming lawmakers to not paint themselves into a corner with drastic campaign promises they might not be able to keep. He cited George Washington who warned against politicians toeing the party line over the best interests of the nation as a whole.

"The unwillingness to compromise, to approach every issue saying I will not vote for this unless I get 100 percent of what I want, in the end, you get 0 percent," Lieberman said.

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