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March 1, 2013 at 8:38 AM
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D-Day: No sequester breakthrough expected

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) -- Some $85 billion in U.S. budget cuts are to start kicking in Friday if Republican leaders and President Barack Obama don't work out a deal at the White House.

The Oval Office meeting with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., was to begin at 10:05 a.m., the White House said Thursday night.

Vice President Joe Biden was also to be at the meeting.

None of the participants expect a breakthrough ahead of a midnight deadline, The Wall Street Journal reported.

At that point, Obama would formally notify government agencies the across-the-board spending cuts, known in Washington as the "sequester," are in effect, forcing federal spending to shrink.

The cuts -- which will run through the end of the fiscal year in September unless lawmakers intervene -- are the first of a decade-long plan to cut spending $1.2 trillion for nearly every federal program, except for military personnel and entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

The cuts were included in the 2011 deal to raise the federal debt limit. They represent 2.4 percent of the federal government's annual $3.55 trillion budget.

Members of both parties indicated it was possible a deal might be worked out later that would end the sequester before it plays out totally, the Journal said.

Maduro: Chavez 'battling for his life'

CARACAS, Venezuela, March 1 (UPI) -- Cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is "battling for his life" because he "gave his life" for those who have nothing, the vice president said.

"He's battling for his life, for his health, and we are there with him," Nicolas Maduro said in nationally televised remarks at a ceremony at a parish house in Caracas, the capital.

"Our commander is sick because he gave his life for those who don't have anything," Maduro said in a ceremony giving government housing to people in a slum who lost their homes in 2010 torrential rains.

The 58-year-old Chavez -- reported by the government to be in a downtown Caracas military hospital since Feb. 18 after being treated in Havana for complications following Dec. 11 cancer surgery in Cuba -- spent many sleepless hours thinking of how to improve housing, services and the quality of life for Venezuelans but forgot about his own health, Maduro said.

Maduro, 50, a former bus driver and Chavez's self-appointed successor, asked those receiving the housing to remain loyal "to the man who has given everything" for their country.

Filipinos' siege ends in shootout, 14 dead

LAHAD DATU, Malaysia, March 1 (UPI) -- Police said the Filipino rebels' three-week siege in Lahad Datu, Malaysia ended Friday in a shootout that killed 14 and wounded three.

"I am very sad over the incident because what we had wanted to prevent, which is bloodshed, had actually happened," Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak said.

Twelve Filipino gunmen and two Malaysian soldiers were killed, The Malaysian Insider reported.

Police said the gunmen opened fire on security forces, and police then returned fire, but rebel group representatives argue Malaysian authorities shot at them first.

About 180 Filipino rebels, including 30 gunmen, invaded the town Feb. 9 and refused to leave until Friday's shootout, the Insider reported.

The Malaysian Insider said police have put a 4 p.m. curfew in place in the town.

Probe begins of man dragged by police van

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, March 1 (UPI) -- South Africa's police watchdog began a homicide investigation after officers were caught on video tying a man to the back of a police van and driving off, dragging him.

President Jacob Zuma condemned the police action against Mido Macia, 27, a taxi driver from neighboring Mozambique, as "horrific, disturbing and unacceptable."

A parliamentary committee overseeing police affairs also condemned the incident "in the strongest terms."

"The police motto 'to serve and protect' is clearly of no relevance to these police officers," the committee said, calling for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate to conduct a "thorough investigation" that is "afforded the highest priority."

The IPID said its initial investigation indicated police asked Macia to move his taxi because it was obstructing traffic at a marketplace.

The Tuesday evening incident in Daveyton, a township about 27 miles southeast of Johannesburg, was captured on video by at least two cellphones and first published on the website of the tabloid Daily Sun, South Africa's biggest daily newspaper.

Macia was found dead about 2 1/2 hours later in a cell at the Daveyton Police Station, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate said.

Fellow detainees said Macia was beaten in custody.

A postmortem gave the cause of death as head injuries with internal bleeding.

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