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Dec. 28, 2012 at 8:11 AM
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McConnell to review new Obama 'cliff' plan

WASHINGTON, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he'd review President Barack Obama's latest plan to avoid the "fiscal cliff" in a White House meeting Friday.

"We'll see what the president has to propose," the Kentucky Republican said ahead of a 3 p.m. Oval Office meeting with Obama and all four congressional leaders of both chambers.

"Hopefully, there is still time for an agreement of some kind that saves the taxpayers from a wholly preventable economic crisis," McConnell said ahead of his first direct engagement with the White House to avoid more than $500 billion in tax hikes for virtually all taxpayers and spending cuts in defense and domestic programs scheduled to take effect Tuesday.

"The truth is, we're coming up against a hard deadline here ... and Republicans aren't about to write a blank check for anything Senate Democrats put forward just because we find ourselves at the edge of the cliff," McConnell said in a Senate floor speech Thursday afternoon.

Obama called McConnell, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to meet to try to broker a way forward in stalled negotiations to avoid the tax increases and spending cuts.

Economists have warned missing the year-end deadline and letting those increases and cuts go into effect could thrust the nation back into recession.

At Friday's meeting, Obama was expected to outline elements he thinks should be in a deal that could get majority support in both chambers of Congress, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

Deadly winter storm treks eastward

PITTSBURGH, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- A massive winter storm moving across the United States has been blamed for at least 10 deaths, stranded thousands of travelers and created traffic nightmares.

Weather forecasters said portions of northern Maine could receive more than a foot of snow Friday while Canadians prepared for whiteout conditions, CNN reported.

AccuWeather.com said the storm was expected to pick up strength when it neared the Atlantic Ocean and turns north. How quickly it gathers steam will determine how heavy the snow, wind, seas and tides become over New England and part of Canada Saturday night into Sunday.

"An all-out blizzard appears likely over portions of the Maritime Provinces on Sunday," Canada weather forecaster Brett Anderson said.

Light to moderate snowfall was expected for parts of the Ohio Valley Friday into Saturday and then the central Appalachians and the Interstate-95 mid-Atlantic corridor Saturday into Saturday evening, AccuWeather.com said.

Storm-related incidents this week killed 10 people, including two children in Arkansas and an 81-year-old Alabama man, officials said.

Newtown overwhelmed by gifts

NEWTOWN, Conn., Dec. 28 (UPI) -- Officials in Newtown, Conn., have asked for a temporary halt of donations of teddy bears and other physical goods in the wake of a school mass shooting.

Gifts, school supplies and clothing have arrived by the truckload since Dec. 14 when 26 people were killed in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, officials said. Officials ran out of space to store the items at Town Hall and they are now filling two warehouses, the Hartford (Conn.) Courant said in an editorial Thursday.

"Our hearts are warmed by the outpouring of love and support from all corners of our country and world," said Newtown First Selectman Patricia Llodra. "We are struggling now to manage the overwhelming volume of gifts and ask that sympathy and kindness to our community be expressed by donating such items to needy children and families in other communities in the name of those killed in Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14.

"Thank you for understanding our message of appreciation and our need to now defer gifts to others in need," she said, as quoted by CNN.

The Courant suggested those wishing to express sorrow for the killings should donate to a local United Way, Red Cross, Boys and Girls Club or other reputable charity.

China passes Internet-related laws

BEIJING, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- China tightened Internet-usage rules to enforce a user identification requirement lawmakers said Friday will enhance personal information protection.

The package of bills approved requires Internet users to use their real names to identify themselves to service providers when entering agreements to access the Web, China's state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The decision to approve, which has the same legal effect as a law, was adopted by lawmakers at the closing meeting of a five-day session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.

The move is designed to "ensure Internet information security, safeguard the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal entities or other organizations and safeguard national security and social public interests," the decision indicated.

The 12-article document includes an identity management policy requiring users to use their real names when signing contracts with service providers for Internet, land-line telephone or cellphone service.

U.S. vacates embassy in Cent. African Rep.

BANGUI, Central African Republic, Dec. 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Embassy in the Central African Republic was shut down Friday after the U.S. ambassador and about 40 others fled as rebels advanced toward the capital.

The embassy shutdown, which the State Department described as temporary, was "a result of the deteriorating security situation" in the landlocked Central African country of 4.4 million, the department said in a statement.

The department said the shutdown did not mean Washington had suspended diplomatic relations with the CAR, bordered by Chad, Sudan, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of the Congo and Cameroon.

"The Department of State warns U.S. citizens against all travel to the Central African Republic," the department said. "U.S. citizens who have decided to stay in CAR should review their personal security situation and seriously consider departing, taking advantage of commercial flights."

U.S. officials told CBS News U.S. Ambassador Laurence D. Wohlers and some 40 others flew out of the capital, Bangui, on a U.S. Air Force C-40 Clipper for Kenya.

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