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Jan. 31, 2013 at 10:05 PM
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14 dead in Mexico City explosion

MEXICO CITY, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- An explosion Thursday at the Mexico City offices of state oil company Pemex killed at least 14 people and injured scores more, the interior minister said.

Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told reporters at least 80 people were injured in the blast, CNN reported.

"People were screaming. ... You could see pieces of the wall falling to the ground," said Joaquin Borrell Valenzuela, an attorney for the Pemex comptroller's office.

A large plume of smoke was seen near the office tower, where dozens of people were trapped inside, Foro TV said.

Some of the injured were removed from the scene in stretchers, while helicopters airlifted others to local hospitals.

Pemex spokesman Francisco Montano told Notimex the explosion occurred in the basement.

The cause of the blast was unknown.

Atlanta middle school student shot

ATLANTA, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- A middle school student in Atlanta was hospitalized with a gunshot wound to the head and a fellow was student was taken into custody in the case, police said.

The victim, 14, was talking to investigators at Grady Memorial Hospital, where he was being treated for the wound, sustained just before 2 p.m. at Price Middle School, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

Police said he was "alert, conscious and breathing," the newspaper said.

The victim's mother told CNN her son knows his assailant. She said the other student had been "talking smack" to her son before pulling a gun and shooting him.

Police said they recovered a gun at the scene.

One teacher sustained what police called a minor injury while running, but no other students were injured.

"Gun violence in and around our schools is simply unconscionable and must end," Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed said in a statement. "Too many young people are being harmed, and too many families are suffering from unimaginable and unnecessary grief."

Hagel tries to combat hostile GOP

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Former Sen. Chuck Hagel took a hard line on Iran before a Senate confirmation panel, but spent much of Thursday defending or explaining past statements.

Hagel said all options were on the table in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, but refused to draw a "red line" that would trigger U.S. military action.

The Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on Hagel's nomination to be the next defense secretary, and several Republican members -- including John McCain of Arizona and freshman Ted Cruz of Texas -- subjected him to tough questioning.

The hearing ended at about 5:50 p.m. EST.

Republicans spent much of the day confronting Hagel with past statements and positions they said showed a softness on Iran and an antagonism toward Israel. Hagel backtracked on some statements, but largely insisted he was being quoted out of context, or that his views were being distorted. Often, he was cut off in mid-response.

Hagel, R-Neb., said he agrees with all of President Barack Obama's positions on national security, including Iran.

"I am committed to the president's goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon," Hagel said, adding all options were on the table.

He said the president's policy was prevention, not containment of Iran, and he would make sure the Defense Department was prepared for all contingencies.

Debt ceiling delay gets Senate OK

WASHINGTON, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The U.S. Senate followed the House's lead Thursday and approved a temporary suspension of the U.S. debt ceiling, averting yet another fiscal showdown.

The measure now goes to President Obama for signature.

The United States hit its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit New Year's Eve and since then the Treasury has been using what Secretary Timothy Geithner called "extraordinary measures" to pay the nation's bills. That ability, he had warned, would run out before the middle of March.

The suspension, approved 64-34, runs through May 19, at which point the debt limit will be reset at a higher level. Extraordinary measures then can be reinstituted to carry the issue into August.

The Bipartisan Policy Center estimates the United States will run up an additional $450 billion in debt before mid-May, The Washington Post reported.

Though a debt ceiling crisis has been averted for now, Congress still needs to deal with the sequester, which kicks in March 1, imposing a series of across-the-board spending cuts that hit the Pentagon especially hard. Also looming is the March 27 expiration of a broad government funding bill, posing the threat of a possible shutdown.

The suspension bill also requires the Senate to produce a 2014 budget or face suspension of members' paychecks.

Morsi says he is no anti-Semite

BERLIN, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi at a Berlin news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel denied he is an anti-Semite.

Morsi was asked by a German reporter about a recording from 2010 in which Morsi said Zionists are "descendants of apes and pigs," The New York Times reported. Morsi responded he is "not against Judaism as a religion" and his remarks were taken out of context.

"My religion instructs me to believe in all the prophets and to respect all religions as well as every person's freedom of religion," Morsi said. "Everyone believes in and practices his religion the way he sees fit as long as it remains lawful in the country he lives in."

Merkel said Egypt must respect human rights if it wants to keep German support.

"One thing that is important for us is that the channels of dialogue are always open with all political forces in Egypt, so that the different political forces can play their role," Merkel said.

Morsi made the already scheduled trip to Germany, Egypt's No. 3 trading partner while rioting has disrupted life in several Egyptian cities.

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