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Feb. 19, 2013 at 10:00 PM
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DoD prepares to furlough civilian workers

WASHINGTON, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The Pentagon said it is preparing to notify Congress it plans to impose furloughs on civilian U.S. defense workers because of impending budget cuts.

The department will notify Congress Wednesday it plans to furlough almost 800,000 employees one day a week beginning in April, unless Congress finds a way to avoid across-the-board domestic and defense spending cuts scheduled to take effect March 1, Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday.

Federal law requires the department to notify Congress at least 45 days in advance of such furloughs, and regulations require that affected workers be notified at least 30 days in advance, the report said.

Defense officials estimated civilian workers would be furloughed for a total of 22 days beginning April 1 and running through the end of the fiscal year Sept. 30, the report said.

Military troops would not be affected immediately. Political appointees and defense workers whose incomes are not appropriated by Congress would also be spared, Stars and Stripes said.

Lt. Col. Elizabeth Robbins, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said the Defense Department is not planning for furloughed civilian workers to recoup lost pay, as has been the practice in past government shutdowns.

Furloughed workers may not be able to draw unemployment because of the way the furloughs are being implemented. The Pentagon would be responsible for paying unemployment benefits, which would force the department to make other cuts to cover that spending.

K.C. firefighters battle 4-alarm blaze

KANSAS CITY, Mo., Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Firefighters in Kansas City, Mo., fought a four-alarm fire Tuesday evening after an explosion at a restaurant, authorities said.

City Fire Battalion Chief James Garrett said it appeared the blast that triggered the fire at JJ's restaurant near the upscale Country Club Plaza was fueled by a gas leak, The Kansas City Star reported. The explosion, which occurred shortly before 6 p.m., could be felt several blocks away.

"I thought something had exploded in my house," said Peggy Zilm, who lives about 7 blocks away. "It's horrible."

The newspaper reported a man with blood on his face was seen being wheeled away on a gurney.

Emergency crews had spread tarps on the street and had other gurneys out, possibly in anticipation of further victims, the Star said.

The University of Kansas Hospital said two people with injuries came in on their own.


Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, unable to forge a new government amid mounting citizen protests, announced his resignation Tuesday.

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Tunisian prime minister resigns

TUNIS, Tunisia, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- Tunisian Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, unable to forge a new government amid mounting citizen protests, announced his resignation Tuesday.

"I vowed that if my initiative did not succeed, I would resign and I have done so," Jebali said at a news conference after meeting with President Moncef Marzouki.

The BBC reported Jebali said his decision to step down was "a big disappointment," but he did it to "fulfill a promise made to the people."

"Our people are disillusioned by the political class. We must restore confidence," the British network quoted him as saying.

Jebali, who leads the Islamist Ennahda party, had sought to find common ground among the various political factions following the assassination this month of opposition leader Chokri Belaid. He had attempted to put together a caretaker Cabinet of technocrats to guide Tunisia until elections can be held.

"The failure of my initiative does not mean the failure of Tunisia or the failure of the revolution," he said.

Tunisia was where the so-called Arab Spring began two years ago with the ouster of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

Jebali's proposed cabinet failed to win a majority in the National Constituent Assembly members who met Monday to discuss his idea of a non-partisan Cabinet, Tunisia Live reported.

Sri Lankan navy rescues 32 refugees

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, Feb. 19 (UPI) -- The Sri Lankan navy this week rescued 32 asylum seekers stuck at sea for two months after their wooden boat broke down, officials say.

The survivors, however, told authorities that before their rescue they spent 21 days without food and were forced to throw the bodies of 98 people overboard, Time magazine reported Tuesday.

The refugees told local officials they are Muslims from near the Myanmar-Bangladesh border who had set out for Indonesia or Australia.

The magazine said the United Nations estimates at least 13,000 people fled the region between Myanmar and Bangladesh by boat last year with 485 of them known to have drowned.

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