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Jan. 19, 2013 at 8:45 AM
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Algeria: 10 militants still at gas plant

IN AMENAS, Algeria, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Up to 10 militants are holed up with explosives in a machine room at an Algerian gas plant they seized earlier in the week, officials said Saturday.

Authorities do not know how many hostages they still hold, Britain's The Guardian reported.

The militants, part of a larger group that took over the facility Wednesday, are surrounded by Algerian government forces.

Some 30 hostages are reported to have died in the fighting, although Algerian officials said Friday that about 650 hostages had been freed.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, speaking to the House of Commons, described the situation at the desert site as "fluid and dangerous." He said the number of British nationals still in danger was "quite significantly" less than 30.

Cameron said he talked twice to Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal on Friday and believed the Algerians would not mount another unilateral attack against the jihadists.

After Japan rebuked the Algerian attack on the militants without consulting other concerned nations, Algiers issued a statement saying, "This operation saved hundreds of hostages' lives and averted a disaster at the gas installations," the BBC reported.

The Guardian said about 10 British citizens were unaccounted for.

Three Japanese workers had escaped, Japanese authorities said, but the status of 10 others was not known.

The fate of eight Norwegians was unknown, although Norway said one person had escaped.

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta identified Frederick Buttaccio, of Katy, Texas, as among the deceased victims.

A security official was quoted by the Algerian Press Service as saying, "[The army] is still trying to achieve a peaceful outcome before neutralizing the terrorist group that is holed up in the [facility] and freeing a group of hostages still being held."

A Mauritanian news service, ANI, said militants reported holding seven hostages.

A spokesman for the militant group, identified as the Signers in Blood, told ANI they had been ready to attack the gas plant for nearly two months, believing that Algeria "was surely going to be the ally of France" in the conflict in Mali, The New York Times reported.

The attackers were well-prepared and had extensive knowledge about the site and hostages and analysts said. They may have informants on the site, as hostages said the militants knew of plans for a labor strike by catering workers.

Obama: Congress must act 'soon' on guns

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama said Saturday Congress must act soon on gun violence and said opponents of his proposals just want to "make more money."

In his weekly radio and Internet address, the president reviewed a series of executive actions he signed this week following a series of meetings Vice President Joe Biden held with "more than 200 different groups -- from parents and teachers, to law enforcement and sportsmen, to religious leaders and mental health professionals."

He repeated his promise to "do everything in my power" to implement changes, "from strengthening our background check system, to helping schools hire more resource officers if they want them, to directing the Centers for Disease Control to study the best ways to reduce gun violence."

"But the truth is, making a real and lasting difference also requires Congress to act -- and act soon," Obama said.

The president called on Congress to require universal background checks for all gun buyers, restore a federal ban on military-style assault weapons and enact a 10-round limit for magazines.

"Finally, Congress needs to make it easier, rather than harder, for law enforcement to do its job," he said. "We should get tougher on people who buy guns only to turn around and sell them to criminals. And at a time when many communities have been forced to make cuts to their police force, we should put more cops back on the job and back on the street."

Obama said he believes the Second Amendment "guarantees an individual right to bear arms" but he also believes "most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from causing harm on a massive scale."

"None of this will be easy," the president said. "Already, we're seeing pundits, politicians, and special-interest lobbyists calling any attempt at commonsense reform an all-out assault on liberty -- not because that's true, but because that's how they get higher ratings and make more money," he said. "And behind the scenes, they're doing everything they can to protect the status quo."

Once again, the president called on Americans to pressure Congress to take action soon on gun legislation.

Time Warner bans some gun ads

NEW YORK, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Time Warner Cable no longer will show commercials for semiautomatic weapons, the company said Friday.

In a statement, TWC said the ban includes ads that show guns being pointed at people, MultiChannel News reported.

"We stand by this policy. If it's essential to a business owner to show this kind of imagery in their commercials, there are other advertising options in the marketplace," TWC said.

The mass killing of 20 children and six staffers at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December has sparked a new debate on gun control.

A recent commercial sponsored by the National Rifle Association on the Sportsman Channel called President Obama "an elitist hypocrite." The ad suggested Obama should not oppose the NRA's proposal for armed guards in all schools when his own daughters are guarded by armed Secret Service agents.

Japan: Chinese ships in territorial waters

NAHA, Japan, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Three Chinese surveillance ships Saturday entered Japan's territorial waters near the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, Japan's coast guard said.

The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters in Naha, Okinawa prefecture said a coast guard vessel had been directing the Chinese ships to leave the area since they appeared at about 9 a.m.

Chinese ships were last seen in the area Jan. 8, Kyodo News reported.

Haze from Australian fires seen in N.Z.

SYDNEY, Jan. 19 (UPI) -- Early risers in parts of New Zealand got a spectacular sunrise Saturday courtesy of the bushfires raging in Australia, meteorologists said.

The MetService said there were no reports of New Zealanders smelling smoke or noticing soot particles, One News reported. But meteorologists said an orange-yellow haze could be seen at sunrise from Canterbury in the center of the South Island to Waikato in the middle of the North Island.

New Zealand is 900 miles east of Australia, separated by the Tasman Sea. In New South Wales, on the east coast of Australia, firefighters were coping with at least 100 bushfires Friday, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Temperatures were expected to ease Saturday, a day after a record high in Sydney. Fire officials said that might cut the risk.

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