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Feb. 13, 2013 at 8:06 AM
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LAPD: Charred body found in cabin

BIG BEAR LAKE, Calif., Feb. 13 (UPI) -- A charred body was found in the burned cabin police say ex-Los Angeles police officer Christopher was in after a gunfire exchange with police, officials said.

If the remains are identified to be Dorner, then a weeklong manhunt for the man accused seeking deadly revenge following his 2008 firing from the force would be over, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.

Dorner allegedly killed four people -- a couple in Irvine last weekend, a Riverside County police officer last week and a San Bernardino County sheriff's deputy during Tuesday's shootout in the snowy San Bernardino Mountains near Big Bear Lake.

The last burst of gunfire Tuesday came after Dorner, trying to get away from law enforcement officials, shot to death the sheriff's deputy and seriously injured another deputy. He then barricaded himself in a cabin outside Big Bear, not far from ski areas in the mountains east of Los Angeles, a police source told the Times.

Law enforcement officials broke the cabin's windows, lobbed in tear gas and called for the suspect to surrender, the Times said. After receiving no response, officials used a special vehicle to tear down the cabin's walls individually. When they reached the last wall, they heard what they believed was a gunshot.

Then the cabin burst into flames.

Obama to tout middle-class economy at plant

WASHINGTON, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- America must restore a "thriving middle class," President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union speech before visiting an auto parts maker Wednesday.

"We gather here knowing that there are millions of Americans whose hard work and dedication have not yet been rewarded," Obama said in an hourlong nationally televised address before a joint session of Congress.

"Our economy is adding jobs, but too many people still can't find full-time employment. Corporate profits have rocketed to all-time highs, but for more than a decade, wages and incomes have barely budged.'

"It is our generation's task, then, to reignite the true engine of America's economic growth -- a rising, thriving middle class,'' Obama said.

He pledged to fight for a higher minimum wage -- $9 an hour from $7.25 an hour by the end of 2015.

"This single step would raise the incomes of millions of working families," he said. "It could mean the difference between groceries or the food bank, rent or eviction, scraping by or finally getting ahead."

N.C. lawmakers slash jobless benefits

RALEIGH, N.C., Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Lawmakers in North Carolina moved to slash unemployment benefits, passing a measure that would cut the number of weeks and the maximum benefit allowed.

The state Senate gave preliminary approval to the proposal Tuesday and Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, promised to sign it into law, The Washington Post reported.

The measure would reduce the maximum number of week a person could receive state jobless benefits from 26 weeks to 20 weeks and reduce the maximum weekly benefit from $535 to $350. The new law also would require about 30,000 businesses to pay unemployment insurance taxes they don't currently pay.

In North Carolina, the unemployment rate is 9.2 percent, among the nation's highest .

The reductions could have fallout for the state's unemployed, the Post said. If they don't collect at least 26 weeks of unemployment checks from the state, they are disqualified from getting jobless benefits from the federal government, which adds up to an additional 47 weeks.

An estimated 170,000 people would be ineligible for federal jobless benefits in the state, the U.S. Labor Department said.

Reports of civilian deaths in raid probed

KABUL, Afghanistan, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- A NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed 10 civilians, including five women and four children, an Afghan official said.

Wasifullah Wasifi, a spokesman for the governor of Kunar province, said Tuesday's strike was successful in killing the three Taliban commanders who were the targets but it also killed civilians, CNN reported Wednesday.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said it was investigating.

The deaths of civilians during the NATO-led airstrikes have been a source of contention between Afghan and U.S. officials for years, with Afghan leaders saying they represent a lack of respect by the United States.

The number of civilian casualties dropped in 2012 compared to the previous year, the United Nations said.

ISAF officials said they also were looking into accusations seven civilians died as a result of a night raid in Wardak province Sunday in which four insurgents were killed, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan said.

Pope's Ash Wednesday mass now in St. Peter's

VATICAN CITY, Feb. 13 (UPI) -- Pope Benedict XVI's Ash Wednesday mass was moved to St. Peter's Basilica from a small Rome church to let more worshipers say goodbye to him, the Vatican said.

"It's very clear that St. Peter's is a much bigger church than Santa Sabina in Aventino, so for a celebration in which we expect there will be a lot of faithful, bishops and cardinals who wish to be present to pray together with the pope, St. Peter's Basilica was chosen spontaneously," Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi told the Catholic News Agency.

The Basilica of St. Sabina on Aventine Hill -- one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built -- is a minor basilica. St. Peter's, in Vatican City, is one of only four major basilicas in the world, the highest-ranking Roman Catholic churches. The three others are in Rome.

St. Sabina is the mother church of the Order of Preachers, better known as the Dominicans.

"It's a natural motive of space, and it's also necessary to bear in mind that this will probably be the last big liturgical celebration, the last mass, presided over by the pope with the cardinals," Lombardi said. "So it's normal that it occurs in his church, in St. Peter's Basilica."

The 85-year-old Benedict announced Monday he would abdicate Feb. 28 -- the first pope in six centuries to do so.

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