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Dec. 18, 2012 at 7:48 AM
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Obama said to make promising 'cliff' offer

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama backed off from demanding tax rates rise on incomes above $250,000 a year, The New York Times and Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday.

Obama's new offer in intensifying "fiscal cliff" talks with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, is to change the figure to $400,000, so the George W. Bush-era tax rates would expire for households making more than that amount a year rather than $250,000, people familiar with the meeting told both newspapers.

Obama's offer, in a 45-minute White House meeting Monday, would also raise tax revenues $1.2 trillion over the next decade, down from $1.4 trillion, the people said. Obama originally called for $1.6 trillion.

The latest offer brings Obama closer to a plan proposed by Boehner Friday, and both sides told the Times they were confident Obama and Boehner were closing in on a major deficit-reduction plan that could be passed before Jan. 1, when more than a half-trillion dollars in automatic tax increases and spending cuts would otherwise kick in.

Boehner aides told the Journal Obama's offer still asked for too much tax revenue and not enough spending cuts.

But spokesman Brendan Buck said in a statement: "Any movement away from the unrealistic offers the president has made previously is a step in the right direction. We hope to continue discussions with the president so we can reach an agreement that is truly balanced and begins to solve our spending problem."

Boehner was to meet with House Republicans Tuesday morning to discuss the talks, senior GOP aides told the Times.

Pro-gun lawmakers open to new gun laws

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Pro-gun lawmakers said they were open to new gun laws as Newtown, Conn., schools were to reopen, except where 20 first-graders and six adults were killed.

Police separately said 20-year-old Adam Lanza, the alleged gunman who killed himself during the shootings, destroyed a computer in his home, so authorities may not be able to get much or any information from it, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Investigators had considered this action a clue into the killer's state of mind, the Journal said.

The FBI and Connecticut's state forensic laboratory are trying to recover data from the computer, a law enforcement official told The New York Times.

All of Newtown's schools were to reopen Tuesday, except for Sandy Hook Elementary School where the mass killing occurred, school officials said.

The Sandy Hook staff and students will eventually be moved to a school that had been mothballed in Monroe, about 10 miles southeast of Newtown, the Hartford Courant reported.

Syria rebels claim control of Yarmouk camp

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Rebels claimed control of a Palestinian refugee area in Damascus after brutal clashes and regime airstrikes, but Syrian troops massed on the area's north edge.

The claim of control of the former Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp, 5 miles from the center of Damascus, came after severe fighting between rebels, supported by some Palestinians, and a Palestinian nationalist organization loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad, the opposition said.

The rebel claims, which could not be independently verified, came after thousands of Yarmouk residents fled the former refugee camp, which is now a mixed Damascus neighborhood where more than 150,000 Palestinians live alongside 350,000 Syrians.

Hundreds of Palestinians fled Yarmouk Monday during an early morning lull in the fighting a day after the Assad regime killed at least 25 people in the neighborhood in airstrikes.

Their mass departure was part of an exodus that started after deadly fighting escalated Friday between increasingly hostile factions of pro- and anti-Assad Palestinians, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Egypt opposition to protest charter vote

CAIRO, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Egypt's opposition called for mass protests Tuesday against alleged election fraud in the first phase of a referendum on a planned Islamist-backed constitution.

The main secular opposition coalition, the National Salvation Front, led by Nobel Peace laureate and former International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, said it found "unprecedented rigging" in all participating districts in the referendum's first round Saturday.

The Front demanded Saturday's results be canceled and the election's first phase re-run.

Unofficial result estimates of the first phase of the constitutional referendum President Mohamed Morsi ordered showed charter approval was ahead 56 percent to 44 percent, with 31 percent of Egyptians voting, Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram reported.

"It's hard to imagine that any respectable country would pass a constitution rejected by 44 percent of society, especially when turnout rates failed to exceed 31 percent," Mohamed Adel, a member of the opposition April 6 Youth Movement, said in a statement.

Iraqi President Talabani hospitalized

BAGHDAD, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- Iraqi President Jalal Talabani was hospitalized in Baghdad after suffering a stroke, Iraqi TV reported Tuesday.

Iraqi TV said medical teams were working on "stabilizing the president's condition after the brain stroke."

Initial reports from the president's office said Talabani, 79, was taken to the hospital Monday "due to fatigue and tiredness," Kuwaiti news service KUNA reported.

KUNA reported Talabani was under the care of a specialized medical team.

Talabani was elected president of Iraq in 2005, in the first free elections in the country in more than 50 years.

Talibani had heart surgery in the United States in 2008 and was treated for exhaustion and dehydration in Jordan the year before.

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