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March 1, 2013 at 12:18 PM
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D-Day: No sequester breakthrough

WASHINGTON, March 1 (UPI) -- A last-ditch meeting at the White House Friday to avert $85 billion in across-the-board U.S. budget cuts failed to produce a resolution.

The Oval Office meeting involving President Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, 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., ended with Obama warning the economy will take a hit and Boehner saying Republicans will not consider any increases in tax revenue.

At midnight, Obama must 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 from federal spending, 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.

Putin submits election reform bill

MOSCOW, March 1 (UPI) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday proposed allowing candidates to run directly for parliament and change the lower chamber's makeup, the Kremlin said.

Putin's bill would see an equal split in the 450-seat Duma between directly elected legislators and those from party lists, RIA Novosti reported.

Under provisions of the bill, candidates seeking direct election to the Duma would be required to present signatures supporting their bid from 0.5 percent of potential voters in their electoral district, less than the current 0.7 percent, RIA Novosti said.

Candidates would be allowed to seek office simultaneously in direct elections and through the party list track. The bill, however, would bar parties from forming electoral blocs, which analysts said is a blow to smaller parties that typically can't mount a nationwide election because of a lack of funds.

Electoral reforms introduced by Putin in 2003 and 2004 ended voting for individual candidates, leaving the post of president as the only individually elected directly by voters on a federal level.

Probe begins of man dragged by police van

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, March 1 (UPI) -- South Africa's police watchdog began a homicide probe 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."

"No human being should be treated in that manner," he said.

He extended condolences to Macia's family and directed Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa to investigate.

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

The Portfolio Committee on Police "is shocked and dismayed that the police, who are meant to protect the public, can be capable of committing such acts," the panel said in a statement.

Man swallowed by sinkhole presumed dead

BRANDON, Fla., March 1 (UPI) -- Florida authorities said a 36-year-old man disappeared into a large sinkhole that opened under his house and was presumed dead.

The man was swallowed up while he was in a collapsing bedroom of the house in Brandon, investigators said.

The hole was up to 100 feet wide and still growing Friday.

The house started to collapse when the sinkhole opened up under the house Thursday night and the man fell in despite his brother's efforts to save him, WPTV, Tampa, reported.

CNN reported that Hillsborough County Fire Department spokeswoman Jessica Damico said Friday, "It's not confirmed, but I think it's safe to presume [the victim is dead]."

Police recover sculpture stolen in 2007

CHICAGO, March 1 (UPI) -- Chicago police say a sting operation led to the recovery of a sculpture valued at $85,000 that was stolen in 2007 from a now-closed gallery.

The bronze work, "Ex Nihilo" (Out of Nothing), was found Feb. 14 at the home of a Chicago man who had put the piece up for sale, the Chicago Tribune reported Friday.

Frederick Hart, who died in 1999, created the sculpture from plaster used in a series of sculptures at the Washington National Cathedral.

At the time of the theft, the piece had been at the gallery on loan from Chase Art Cos.

Police said the artwork was found after a man in Chicago contacted an art dealer in Minnesota about selling the piece.

The dealer, who knew the sculpture was stolen, contacted police. An officer pretending to be an art appraiser went to the owner's home.

Police said the man had not been charged and was cooperating with investigators.

Hart is best known for "Three Soldiers," which is part of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington.

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