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Jan. 12, 2013 at 8:53 AM
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Two French soldiers dead in failed rescue

PARIS, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Two French soldiers and 17 insurgents have died in a failed attempt to rescue a French secret service agent held by al-Shabaab, France's defense ministry says.

The fate of the hostage, Denis Allex, was unclear, Radio France International reported Saturday.

In reporting the overnight Friday raid, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Allex was killed by his captors. Al-Shabaab said the hostage was alive, but had been moved to a new location and his fate would be decided within the next two days.

Allex has been held in what France said was inhumane conditions since his capture in Mogadishu in July 2009.

Soldiers in four helicopter gunships raided the southern Somali town of Bulomarer where Allex was being held, witnesses said.

Afterward, they reported seeing a number of bodies, including that of a white man.

A French soldier was killed in the rescue mission, but his body was left behind after two attempts to retrieve the remains failed, a resident said.

A second soldier was missing, Le Drian told reporters in Paris, the BBC reported.

Al-Shabaab, in a statement, said the "fierce firelight" had lasted 45 minutes.

The insurgents said a wounded soldier left behind was now "in the custody of the mujahideen," CNN reported.

Obama: Afghan war over by end of 2014

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday "America's war in Afghanistan will be over" by the end of next year and "the nation we need to rebuild is our own."

In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president said the United States' "core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaida can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America."

He said he and Afghan President Hamid Karzai agreed in their White House meeting Friday "this spring Afghan forces will take the lead for security across the entire country, and our troops will shift to a support role."

"In the coming months, I'll announce the next phase of our drawdown," he said. "And by the end of next year, America's war in Afghanistan will be over."

Obama said the mission in Afghanistan remains a "very difficult mission" and U.S. forces "are still in harm's way."

"But make no mistake -- our path is clear, and we are moving forward," he said. "Because after more than a decade of war, the nation we need to rebuild is our own."

Obama said the United States needs to provide proper care for military troops and veterans and also must "grow our economy and shrink our deficits," create jobs and increase Americans' incomes.

"We have to fix our infrastructure and our immigration system," the president said. "We have to protect our planet from the destructive effects of climate change -- and protect our children from the horrors of gun violence.

"These, too, will be difficult missions for America," he said. "But they must be met. And if we can summon just a fraction of the determination of our men and women in uniform, I know we can meet them."

GOP: Don't touch defense, cut social plans

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- A freshman Republican senator Saturday called for maintaining the military budget while cutting entitlements as Congress considers ways to cut the national debt.

Delivering the party's weekly media address, Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) said "the debate over taxes is done," ABC Radio News reported.

"It's time for serious action," she said. "No more kicking the can down the road. No more using the threat of middle class tax hikes to force last minute deal-making. The debate over taxes is done."

"The problem is not the American people are taxed too little; it's that the federal government spends too much," said Fischer, who was sworn in about a week ago.

"The president will soon ask Congress to raise the nation's debt limit -- again," she said."I believe we cannot agree to increase the borrowing limit without addressing our out-of-control spending."

"I'm 100 percent committed to both reducing spending and meeting my constitutional obligation to defend this nation," she added. However, she said entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid were the "primary drivers of our national debt."

"But in order to save these popular programs, we must reform them," she said. "If not, they will no longer exist for future generations and will bankrupt us in the meantime."

Flag riots spread to Belfast suburbs

BELFAST, Northern Ireland, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Rioting over flying the British flag in Northern Ireland spread Friday to two towns north of Belfast.

Loyalist protesters threw Molotov cocktails and stones at police officers in Carrickfergus, an ancient town on the north shore of Belfast Lough, and in the Rathcoole neighborhood in Newtownabbey, the Belfast Telegraph reported. Police used water cannon to get the crowds under control.

Four officers were injured, including one who was hospitalized, police said.

Violent demonstrations began in early December when the Belfast council voted to limit the flying of the Union Jack at city hall to 17 days a year. The move was supported by nationalist parties and by the Alliance Party, a group that has attempted to bridge the sectarian divide.

The Progressive Unionist Party and the Democratic Unionist Party have both filed court challenges to the new flag rules. At the same time, their leaders have urged protesters to abandon violence and seek political and legal solutions.

Police said demonstrations were held around Northern Ireland on Friday but most were peaceful. In Belfast, some roads were blocked, hampering Rugby football fans trying to get to the Heineken Cup match between Belfast and Glasgow.

In the center city, an online campaign, Operation Sit-in, appeared to have been successful in bringing business to restaurants, pubs and cafes hit hard by the demonstrations, the Telegraph said.

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