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Jan. 24, 2013 at 1:40 AM
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GOP, Clinton wrestle on Libya

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Republicans at congressional hearings pummeled U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton related to her handling of the Sept. 11 Libyan consulate attack.

During House and Senate hearings on Capitol Hill Wednesday, Clinton conceded reforms are needed, but pushed back against GOP accusations the Obama administration misled the public about the attacks for political reasons.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., pointed out news stories that department officials responsible for not passing on requests for more security to the highest levels were disciplined, and charged the stories were, "Not true!"

Clinton said all four individuals "have been removed from their jobs ... [and] placed on administrative leave." She said federal regulations forbid removing someone because of "unsatisfactory leadership" and urged Congress to change those regulations.

Democrats were more supportive. Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the ranking member, said instead of engaging in "gotcha" politics the committee should be working on solutions.

"Clearly mistakes were made, but let's make one thing perfectly clear, Barack Obama was not responsible for the Benghazi attack, just as George Bush was not responsible for the Sept. 11 [2001] attacks and Ronald Reagan was not responsible for the [1983 attack on the Marine barracks in Lebanon]," Engel said.

He also raked Congress on funding.

"In the past two years alone, the administration's request for [security funding] has been cut by half-a-billion dollars," he said.

U.S. women to get combat roles

WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Defense officials said Wednesday Defense Secretary Leon Panetta will clear the way for women to serve multiple combat roles in the U.S. military.

The Washington publication Roll Call reported a senior defense official said the Pentagon is expected to make a formal announcement Thursday.

Carl Levin, D-Mich., chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement he supports the move.

"It reflects the reality of 21st century military operations," Levin said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, R-N.Y., a member of the committee, applauded the decision.

"This is a proud day for our country and the step we need to formally recognize the brave women who are already fighting and dying for our country shoulder-to-shoulder with their brothers in uniform on the front lines," she said in a statement.

The move should open about 240,000 positions across the four military branches to women, largely in infantry and special operations roles, Stars and Stripes reported.

The move, which has the backing of Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, could lead to a fully gender-integrated force by 2016, the newspaper said.

Russia criticizes demands for Assad's exit

MOSCOW, Jan. 23 (UPI) -- Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the main obstacle to peace in Syria is rebel insistence on toppling the government.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow Wednesday, Lavrov referred to the objectives of Syrian rebel forces as an "obsession with the idea of toppling the Bashar al-Assad regime." He added the Russian Emergency Ministry's removal of 77 Russian citizens from conflict zones in civil war-wracked country was not the start of an evacuation of all Russians.

Lavrov made clear Russia was unlikely to alter its position of support for the Syrian government, and its opposition to any international measures to force Assad from power, The New York Times reported.

More than 60,000 people have died in the two-year conflict, the United Nations reported.

Lavrov mentioned diplomats are in regular contact with Russian citizens in Syria and about 1,000 expressed interest in being taken to Moscow, but fewer than 100 "were ready to use that opportunity" when two Emergency Ministry planes, delivering humanitarian aid to Lebanon, were available to transport them home.

California State U. to hold tuition down

LONG BEACH, Calif., Jan. 23 (UPI) -- California State University will have to be "creative" to avoid tuition increases in an era of straitened budgets, Gov. Jerry Brown says.

Brown attended Tuesday's Board of Trustees meeting, where the university system's budget was discussed, the Los Angeles Times reported. The governor's proposed budget would increase funding by $125 million, while officials had requested $372 million.

State funding for Cal State has fallen by $1 billion since 2008.

Cal State, with 23 campuses, is one of three state university systems in the state. Brown told the University of California regents last week they will also have to hold the line on tuition while receiving only small increases in state aid.

"It's a tight ship and it's going to get tighter," the governor said Tuesday. "We're going to have to do some very creative, very thoughtful, very careful adjustments."

Under the governor's plan, the Cal State system would get 4 percent to 5 percent increases in state aid for the next four years, with no tuition hikes.

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