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Dec. 22, 2012 at 12:29 PM
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Russia: Syrian chemical weapons safe

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Syria has consolidated its chemical weapons arsenal into "one or two" locations to keep them out rebel hands, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

Lavrov told reporters the weapons had been re-located from several locations and were secure for the time being.

"The Syrian government has concentrated the stockpiles in one or two centers, unlike the past when they were scattered across the country," Lavrov said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad was still relatively secure in the capital Damascus and had no plans to leave the war-torn country, Lavrov said on a flight back to Moscow from a European Union summit in Belgium.

Russia has been a longtime ally of Assad and Lavrov maintained Syria's poison gases would be safer in the government's hands than they would if rebel groups, including Islamist militants, got control of them, the BBC reported.

Fighting persisted Saturday between rebels and Assad loyalists. The Syrian Network for Human Rights said in a written statement 23 people had been killed during the day.

Nearly half of the casualties were reported in the Damascus area, and one died after being tortured. No details were provided.

Karzai blames foreign money for corruption

KABUL, Afghanistan, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- President Hamid Karzai called corruption a "bitter reality" in Afghanistan but, in a televised speech Saturday, blamed most of it on foreign organizations.

Karzai suggested standards will rise as foreign troops leave the country during the next two years, Khaama Press reported.

"Corruption in Afghanistan is a reality, a bitter reality," Karzai said. "The part of this corruption that is in our offices is a small part: that is bribes. The other part of corruption, the large part, is hundreds of millions dollars that are not ours. We shouldn't blame ourselves for that. That part is from others and imposed on us."

Transparency International rates Afghanistan as one of the most corrupt countries. Foreign governments and non-governmental organizations that have donated billions of dollars to Afghanistan in the past decade blame Karzai for failing to root out corruption in his government and declining to prosecute political allies.

Bomb kills Pakistan ANP party leader

PESHWAR, Pakistan, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- A senior Pakistani provincial minister was among eight people killed Saturday in a suicide bombing, officials said.

Bashir Ahmed Bilour died in surgery after a bomber detonated a device in Peshawar in northwest Pakistan.

The blast occurred near the site of a meeting of the Awami National Party and killed Bilour's personal secretary and a police officer, Dawn News said. Another 18 victims were injured.

Bilour was a senior leader of the ANP, which Dawn said was the largest and current ruling political party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Italy's prime minister resigns as planned

ROME, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Political analysts in Italy said Mario Monti will still be a factor in the country's politics following his resignation Friday as prime minister.

Monti, who stepped down after the Italian parliament voted 373-67 in favor of the 2013 national budget, had previously said he would resign once the budget was passed.

However, he could announce his candidacy for the February elections when he holds his final news conference Sunday, Italy's ANSA news agency said.

Some political watchers in Italy consider Monti's announcement a mere formality.

"He is de facto a candidate," said Stefano Folli, a columnist for the business daily Il Sole 24 Ore. "He is the head politician of this coalition."

Monti has become a centrist rallying point for a political coalition between former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the left-center Democratic Party led by poll front-runner Pier Luigi Bersani, The New York Times said.

Monti's own popularity has waned while he was in office. An economist by training, Monti has proposed raising taxes and cutting spending.

He is likely to remain in office in a caretaker role with the power to handle emergency legislation until a new government is formed, the Times said.

"He's already a senator for life, so he doesn't have to become a candidate in the technical way," Folli said.

Downpours snarl Briton's Christmas travel

LONDON, Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Heavy rain across Britain snarled travel by train and car Saturday with millions of people on the move at the beginning of the Christmas break.

Some of the worst flooding was in Devon and Cornwall in southwest England, The Daily Telegraph reported. Houses were evacuated in some areas because of rising rivers, with roads into Braunton in North Devon blocked after the River Caen rose over its banks, flooding the business district.

The weather caused problems throughout England, Scotland and Wales.

Trains were canceled or rerouted and flights canceled. Closed roads and bad weather snarled the heavy holiday traffic.

Forecasters warned the bad weather is likely to continue through Christmas.

Rain did not keep shoppers away from the stores Saturday. Retailers reported a total of about 13 million people, most of them doing last-minute holiday shopping, collectively spent almost $5 billion.

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