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Deadly winter storm tracks east

NEW YORK, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- A storm system moving across the United States has been blamed for at least seven deaths, bringing blizzard conditions, blackouts and travel delays.


The weather outside was expected to be frightful in some areas Thursday as the storm chugged across the northeastern United States after unleashing heavy snow, sharp winds and tornadoes in the Midwest and South.

Thousands of travelers were stranded after flight cancellations because of the storm, airport officials told CNN. One flight tracking website indicated at least 360 flights were removed from schedules for Thursday after about 1,780 flights were canceled on Wednesday.

Forecasters said heavy snowfall is expected in several states, including upstate New York, southern New England and central Maine through Friday. Up to 2 feet of snow was possible in central Maine, forecasters said.

In Buffalo, N.Y., National Weather Service forecasters said as much as 2 inches an hour could be falling by Thursday morning, combined with 30 mph winds, The New York Times reported.

Obama returns to D.C. as 'cliff' nears

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- President Obama was en route to Washington Thursday to face the ever-dwindling prospects of a deal on the "fiscal cliff" before the New Year, officials said.


Obama was cutting short his Hawaiian vacation to fly to Washington overnight with U.S. Senator-designate Brian Schatz on board Air Force One, NBC News reported.

"What Obama has outlined as minimally acceptable to him doesn't come within a country mile of passing either the House or the Senate," a senior Republican aide told Politico of the president's latest proposal. "No negotiation can change the fundamentals."

"Unless [House Speaker John] Boehner and [Senate Minority Leader] McConnell are willing to buck their Tea Party members, then I see nothing happening," a Democratic aide told the Washington newspaper.

House Republicans said Wednesday Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid must move forward a bill to avert the so-called fiscal cliff or else he would be derelict in his duties, The Hill and Politico of Washington reported.

Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy and Conference Chairman Cathy McMorris Rodgers said the Senate must either send the legislation to President Obama as it reads currently or amend and return it to the House.

Hobby Lobby contraception appeal denied

WASHINGTON, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- The U.S. Supreme Court has blocked Hobby Lobby's request for an emergency injunction to block contraceptive insurance coverage requirements.


The court said Wednesday it won't decide the craft chain's case -- along with Christian bookseller Mardel, both owned by the Green Family of Oklahoma City -- before lower courts have ruled.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said the stores don't meet extremely high standards required for an emergency injunction, a document on the Supreme Court's Web site stated.

"Even without an injunction pending appeal, the applicants may continue their challenge to the regulations in the lower courts. Following a final judgment, they may, if necessary, file a petition" for the Supreme Court to hear the case, she wrote.

The stores have challenged the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's provisions pertaining to certain employer-funded contraception devices and pills that will go into effect Jan. 1.

Tea workers torch owner's home; 2 die

KUNAPATHAR, India, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Tea plantation workers, in a lengthy dispute with management in northeastern India, set their boss's house on fire, killing the owner and his wife, police said.

Two people are missing, The Indian Express reported.

"While four persons have been reported missing, two bodies burned beyond recognition are suspected to be that of [Mridul Kumar] Bhattacharyya and his wife, Rita," local law enforcement official Meenakshi Sundaram said.


"The manager of the tea garden and his wife were also in the bungalow when the mob set it on fire but their whereabouts are not known."

Workers surrounded the bungalow at Kunapathar in Assam state Wednesday and set the house and two vehicles on fire, which police said followed management asking some workers to leave their living quarters, the BBC reported.

Sundaram said two bodies were found in the debris.

Iran bans flights during calls to prayer

TEHRAN, Dec. 27 (UPI) -- Iran's Civil Aviation Organization announced aircraft will be prohibited from flying across the country during the call to prayer five times a day.

The new directive, announced Wednesday, will also prevent aircraft from taking off until at least 30 minutes after the day's first call to prayer, al-Fajr, at 5:38 a.m., local time, The New York Times reported Thursday.

Hamid Reza Pahlevani, the head of Iran's Civil Aviation Organization, told the Iranian Students' News Agency the move is meant to give air travelers time "to carry out their religious duties." The directive is apparently part of an effort to improve obedience to orthodox Islamic codes of conduct, the Times reported.

The announcement by the aviation organization did not explain how the new rules will affect flight schedules, or whether flights would be forced to land or be rerouted during times of prayer. In Tehran, the five daily calls to prayer are at 5:38 a.m., 12:03 p.m., 2:40 p.m., 4:58 p.m. and 6:23 p.m.


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