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Feb. 4, 2013 at 11:59 AM
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Aide: Dems backing off assault weapons ban

WASHINGTON, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- U.S. President Barack Obama Monday headed for Minneapolis to push his gun control plan.

Obama Monday was to visit the Minneapolis Police Department's Special Operations Center at 12:30 p.m. CST. At the center he was to meet with local leaders and law enforcement officials in the first on-the-road pitch for his plan to fight gun violence, the White House said.

Senate Democrats, however, won't seek a military-style semiautomatic arms ban in their gun bill, an aide said. The Senate bill, expected to get to the Senate floor next month, would likely seek to limit the capacity of guns' ammunition magazines, a top aide to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told The Wall Street Journal.

The bill would also seek to expand background checks to include sales at gun shows and other types of private gun sales, and require improved record keeping to make sure guns don't get in the hands of people with mental illnesses, the aide told the newspaper.

But it would not include some of Obama's most ambitious goals -- particularly his call for new bans on certain types of military-style guns commonly described as assault weapons, the Reid aide told the Journal.

Cuomo plan to level homes in flood plain

ALBANY, N.Y., Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he would like to spend as much as $400 million to buy homes damaged by Hurricane Sandy, tear them down and leave the land undeveloped.

The program, if approved by federal regulators, would be the most ambitious ever taken in reshaping how coastal land is used, The New York Times reported Sunday.

The amount paid for homeowners to relocate would depend on their location and the amount of damage suffered from Sandy.

Homes in flood plains that were significantly damaged would be offered the pre-storm value for their homes, those in more vulnerable areas would be offered a bonus to sell and a small number of homes in highly flood-prone areas would offered double the bonus if an entire neighborhood agreed to sell.

The land could never be built on again. Local leaders could decide how the land could be used as long as no construction was involved.

Sandy substantially damaged about 10,000 homes in the 100-year flood plain.

Iraq suicide bomber kills 22, injures 45

BAGHDAD, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- A suicide bomber detonated explosives near a group of anti-al-Qaida fighters in Iraq Monday, killing 22 people and injuring 45, a security official said.

The official said the attacker set off an explosive vest among a gathering of Sahwa members who were receiving their paychecks in the al-Taji district in northern Baghdad, IraqiNews.com reported.

The inured included seven Iraqi soldiers, an official said.

Sahwa is another name for Awakening groups founded to counter the influence of al-Qaida in Iraq.

Hostages freed in trade with Syrian rebels

DAMASCUS, Syria, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- Two Russians and an Italian held hostage in Syria by rebel forces were freed in exchange for captured rebels, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Monday.

The three men were taken hostage Dec. 12 while on their way to Tartus, the site of a Russian naval base in the violence-torn country, RIA Novosti reported.

The Russian hostages, Viktor Gorelov and Abdessattar Khassun, were delivered to Russia' embassy in Damascus and were described by the ministry as "in good health and feel well."

The Italian, Merio Belluomo, was to be handed over to Italian officials, the ministry said.

The rebels had earlier demanded a ransom of more than $700,000 for the men's release.

In earlier reports, Russian officials said the men were working at a steel plant.

Syria has suffered through a conflict between rebel forces and the regime of President Bashar Assad since March 2011. Tens of thousands of people have died.

Mint: Pennies not going to Canadian banks

OTTAWA, Feb. 4 (UPI) -- The Royal Canadian Mint stopped circulating pennies to financial institutions Monday, a death knell for a coin in circulation since 1908.

No more 99-cent sales.

Payments will be in 5-cent increments, with charges ending in 3 or 4 rounded up to the nearest nickel and anything with a 1 or 2 at the end of the total rounded down, The (Montreal) Gazette reported. If the price ends in 6 or 7, it will be rounded down and if it ends with 8 or 9 it'll be raised.

At its plant in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the mint said it was spending 1.6 cents on every penny it made because of rising costs of metal, labor and other expenses rose.

Removing pennies from circulation -- production ceased in May -- will save about $11 million a year, officials said. The press to remove pennies was announced in March as part of the government's budget.

The penny won't disappear overnight because the billions still in circulation will be legal tender "indefinitely," mint officials said.

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