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Dec. 21, 2012 at 8:35 AM
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Midwest blizzard causes at least 4 deaths

MILWAUKEE, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- A winter storm muscled through the U.S. midsection, killing at least four people, snarling travel and knocking out power for tens of thousands of customers.

Double-digit snowfalls were reported in the region's first blizzard of the season and driving was hazardous in many areas.

Officials in Nebraska temporarily closed much of Interstate 80 Thursday and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker declared a state of emergency for much of southern Wisconsin, CNN reported.

The storm system was heading toward the Northeast, AccuWeather.com reported.

Bad road conditions were blamed for two deaths in Wisconsin and two in Iowa Wednesday, law enforcement officials said.

Blinding snow was blamed for a 30-car pileup on Interstate 35 near Fort Dodge, Iowa, Sgt. Scott Bright of the Iowa State Patrol said Wednesday.

"When the winds start to blow, you can see about 5 feet in front of your vehicle" he said. "We've had major issues all over the place. We got around 10 to 12 inches throughout the state and it's a wet snow. We have around an inch of ice on our roadways."

Numerous school districts canceled classes Thursday throughout the region.

Energy companies reported power outages affecting tens of thousands of customers.

At least 500 flights had been canceled at Chicago's airports as of 8:30 p.m. Thursday. Officials at O'Hare and Midway said there could be a ripple effect on Friday.

WH: Obama determined to make 'cliff' deal

WASHINGTON, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama is set on finding a "fiscal cliff" deal that will pass Congress, the White House said after Speaker John Boehner's "Plan B" failed.

"The president will work with Congress to get this done and we are hopeful that we will be able to find a bipartisan solution quickly that protects the middle class and our economy," spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement after House Republican leaders abruptly canceled a vote on Boehner's fallback bill Thursday night after failing in an emergency meeting to rally enough votes for passage.

Conservatives refused to support Boehner's proposal to let taxes to rise on incomes above $1 million a year, lawmakers said.

"I want something that treats everybody fairly. I think everybody needs to be protected, and I don't think the bill does that," Rep. Mick Mulvaney, R-S.C., who opposed Plan B, told The New York Times.

After pulling his bill, Boehner, an Ohio Republican, unexpectedly disbanded the House until after Christmas.

If Congress and Obama cannot work out and pass a deal by Dec. 31, more than a half-trillion dollars in tax increases and spending cuts will go into effect Jan. 1.

Egypt Islamists protest secular 'thuggery'

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- A planned mass rally in Alexandria, Egypt, Friday would defend religion's public role, Islamists said ahead of the last phase of a divisive constitutional vote.

The rally in front of the Qaed Ibrahim Mosque -- the scene of a violent confrontation a week ago that included a Muslim preacher being held for 14 hours inside the house of worship -- would "defend scholars and mosques," the Muslim Brotherhood said in a statement.

Sheik Ahmed el-Mahalawy was held inside the landmark mosque by worshipers angry at him for calling during his sermon for congregants to vote "yes" in the national constitutional referendum.

The first phase of voting on the Islamist-backed draft constitution was held the following day. The second phase, a week later, is to take place Saturday.

President Mohamed Morsi and his Islamist allies say the charter is essential to Egypt's transition to democracy 22 months after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak.

The opposition says the constitution gives Islamists too much power, ignores personal freedoms and disregards the rights of women and minorities, including Coptic Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt's population.

39 reported dead in Kenyan tribal violence

NAIROBI, Kenya, Dec. 21 (UPI) -- Tribal attacks along Kenya's coastal Tana River Delta Friday resulted in the deaths of at least 39 people, including children, a police official said.

About 30 others were seriously injured.

Police said fighting erupted when attackers from the Pokomo community raided Kipao, an Orma village, The New York Times reported.

"So far, 39 people are dead, including 13 children and 6 women," Robert Kitur, regional deputy police chief, said.

Kenya Red Cross officials said their workers at the scene gave a lower toll, noting they counted 30 bodies, among them children and women.

Red Cross officials said at least 30 people were seriously injured and more than 45 houses were torched, the Times said.

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