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Dec. 29, 2012 at 8:42 AM
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Obama: Congress must protect middle class

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday Congress must meet its deadlines and responsibilities and protect the middle class from higher income taxes.

"For the past couple months, I've been working with people in both parties -- with the help of business leaders and ordinary Americans -- to come together around a plan to grow the economy and shrink our deficits," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address.

"It's a balanced plan -- one that would protect the middle class, cut spending in a responsible way, and ask the wealthiest Americans to pay a little more. And I'll keep working with anybody who's serious about getting a comprehensive plan like this done -- because it's the right thing to do for our economic growth," the president said.

"In just a couple days, the law says that every American's tax rates are going up. Every American's paycheck will get a lot smaller. And that would be the wrong thing to do for our economy. It would hurt middle-class families, and it would hurt the businesses that depend on your spending."

Obama said Congress can act now to stop that from happening.

"Leaders in Congress are working on a way to prevent this tax hike on the middle class, and I believe we may be able to reach an agreement that can pass both houses in time.

"But if an agreement isn't reached in time, then I'll urge the Senate to hold an up-or-down vote on a basic package that protects the middle class from an income tax hike, extends vital unemployment insurance for Americans looking for a job, and lays the groundwork for future progress on more economic growth and deficit reduction. ...

"We just can't afford a politically self-inflicted wound to our economy. The economy is growing, but keeping it that way means that the folks you sent to Washington have to do their jobs. The housing market is healing, but that could stall if folks are seeing smaller paychecks. The unemployment rate is the lowest it's been since 2008, but already, families and businesses are starting to hold back because of the dysfunction they see in Washington.

"You meet your deadlines and your responsibilities every day. The folks you sent here to serve should do the same. We cannot let Washington politics get in the way of America's progress. We've got to do what it takes to protect the middle class, grow this economy, and move our country forward," Obama said.

Obama going on 'Meet the Press'

WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- President Obama is scheduled to discuss the fiscal cliff in his first Sunday show interview in more than three years, CNN reported.

Obama is scheduled for an interview Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" with host David Gregory.

His last Sunday talk show appearance was in September 2009 when he appeared on five shows to discuss his affordable healthcare law.

The Sunday shows have a reputation for pressing politicians on tough questions, and the longer format allows for more in-depth interviews, CNN said. Most of Obama's re-election interviews were on local television and radio stations.

The president will no doubt be discussing the impending fiscal cliff, about which he said Friday he is "modestly optimistic that an agreement can be achieved," the news broadcaster said.

Protests held over gangrape victim's death

NEW DELHI, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Protests broke out in India Saturday after the death of a 23-year-old woman who was gang-raped in New Delhi, officials said.

The victim, whose name has yet to be released, died early Saturday at a hospital in Singapore where she was taken for special treatment, the BBC reported.

About 4,000 people protested in New Delhi Saturday, despite a government order banning gatherings of more than five people after previous protests over the crime became violent. Protesters came together at the Jantar Mantar observatory, which is not covered by the ban.

One protester, Poonam Kaushik, blamed the attack on "the government's inefficiency to ensure safety of women in Delhi" and said the victim's death would generate "even more anger."

"We don't want your condolences! We don't want your fake sentiments! We demand immediate action to strengthen the laws against sexual violence," said one sign at the protest.

President Pranab Mukherjee called the gang-rape victim a "brave daughter of India" as her family made preparations for her funeral.

The 23-year-old university student's body was to be flown to Delhi from Singapore on a chartered jet Saturday afternoon, Press Trust of India reported. T.C.A. Raghavan, the Indian high commissioner to Singapore, said her family had not yet decided on her last rites.

Raghavan said the family told him they hoped her death would lead to changes making India safer for women.

Meanwhile, on Friday, one of the six suspects in the case was remanded to judicial custody for 12 days, the Press Trust of India reported.

"[Akshay Singh] is remanded to judicial custody. Let he be produced on January 9," the court said.

Singh was ordered held to allow investigators more time to collect evidence.

Venezuelan VP visits Chavez in Cuba

HAVANA, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro arrived in Cuba Saturday to visit President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering from surgery, Granma International reported.

Maduro arrived at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana along with Attorney General Cilia Flores, the state-run Cuban newspaper said.

Chavez entered the Cuban hospital earlier this month for a six-hour procedure Dec. 11 to treat his recurring cancer, CNN reported.

The Venezuelan president revealed in June 2011 he was battling cancer, but has not disclosed what type of cancer he has. Chavez had a cancerous tumor removed at the time and underwent radiation. He declared himself cancer-free in July.

Rumors that his cancer had returned didn't stop Chavez from winning re-election in October, though Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said the president may not be back in Venezuela in time for his inauguration next month, CNN reported.

Last week, Maduro said Chavez's recovery "is progressing with each day that passes."

First gay couples marry in Maine

PORTLAND, Maine, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- The city clerk's office in Portland, Maine, opened Friday night to allow gay couples to marry as soon as the state's new same-sex marriage law took effect.

Steven Bridges and Michael Snell, who have been together for nine years, tied the knot minutes after midnight Saturday in the Maine Room at City Hall, the Portland Press Herald reported. The two men, who said they had a commitment ceremony six years ago, were the first of about 15 couples in line for marriage licenses.

Mayor Michael Brennan arrived at City Hall at about 10 p.m. When the building opened its doors, a local jazz group played "What a Difference a Day Makes."

A crowd of about 300 people, including those waiting for marriage licenses, their guests and supporters, turned out. On the other side of City Hall Plaza two men protested the new law, adopted in a referendum in November.

Snell's adult daughters, Carolyn and Katie, who live in Boston, attended his wedding. Same-sex marriages have been legal in Massachusetts since a 2004 court decision.

"It's nice to see Maine catch up," Katie Snell said.

Portland and Falmouth, a nearby town, opened clerk's offices for midnight weddings. A number of other municipalities, including Augusta, the state capital, Bangor and Brunswick, planned to have special Saturday hours for marriage licenses and weddings.

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