AP Exclusive: A year of strife hardens Syrian rebel brigade into fierce, Islamist fighters
MAARET MISREEN, Syria (AP) — A year ago, a soft-spoken sweet shop owner from this poor Syrian town got together with his little brother and eight friends to declare war on President Bashar Assad.
They didn't have enough guns to go around. Their leader, 35-year-old Mustafa Filfileh, had no real military experience and little idea how to face one of the Mideast's strongest armies. He didn't even know how to drive.
They learned fast. On Nov. 17, the brigade called "The Beloved of Allah" braced for its biggest challenge yet, making it clear how far its members had come and how far the war had brought them from their former lives.
Men who once sold real estate, laid bricks, wore suits and treated sick farm animals armed themselves with vests laden with ammunition, hand grenades and pocket-sized copies of the Quran. After a two-month siege, they planned to storm a major military base in one of the larger coordinated attacks of the uprising.
It was late 2012, the year that Syria's uprising outpaced the other Arab Spring revolts to become the longest, deadliest and most brutal, killing more than 40,000 people and chasing more than 1 million from their homes.
Egypt's rebellion of the judges is complete as crisis over president's decrees worsens
CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's rebellion of the judges against President Mohammed Morsi became complete on Sunday with the country's highest court declaring an open-ended strike on the day it was supposed to rule on the legitimacy of two key assemblies controlled by allies of the Islamist leader.
The strike by the Supreme Constitutional Court and opposition plans to march on the presidential palace on Tuesday take the country's latest political crisis to a level not seen in the nearly two years of turmoil since Hosni Mubarak's ouster in a popular uprising.
Judges from the country's highest appeals court and its sister lower court were already on an indefinite strike, joining colleagues from other tribunals who suspended work last week to protest what they saw as Morsi's assault on the judiciary.
The last time Egypt had an all-out strike by the judiciary was in 1919, when judges joined an uprising against British colonial rule.
The standoff began when Morsi issued decrees on Nov. 22 giving him near-absolute powers that granted himself and the Islamist-dominated assembly drafting the new constitution immunity from the courts.
Geithner says next move up to Republicans, who must accept higher tax rates on top earners
WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans have to stop using "political math" and say how much they are willing to raise tax rates on the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans and then specify the spending cuts they want, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said in an interview that aired Sunday.
Just four weeks from the proverbial "fiscal cliff," House Speaker John Boehner countered that Republicans have a plan for providing as much as $800 billion in new government revenue over the next decade and would consider the elimination of tax deductions on high-income earners. But when pressed on "Fox News Sunday" for precise details, the Ohio Republican declined to say.
There are "a lot of options in terms of how to get there," Boehner said.
Both Boehner's and Geithner's latest remarks indicate it could be some time before serious negotiations begin between the White House and Republicans on how to avert economic calamity expected in less than a month when President George W. Bush-era tax cuts expire and automatic, across-the-board spending cuts kick in.
Last week, the White House delivered to Capitol Hill its opening plan: $1.6 trillion in higher taxes over a decade, hundreds of billions of dollars in new spending, a possible extension of the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut and enhancing the president's power to raise the national debt limit.
Highlights of the approaching 'fiscal cliff'
The "fiscal cliff" is an economy-rattling combination of expiring tax cuts and major across-the-board spending reductions to the Pentagon and domestic programs.
It's the punishment for previous failures of a bitterly divided Congress and White House to deal with the government's spiraling debt or overhaul tax laws. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the austerity program would reduce the deficit by $503 billion through the end of next September, or approaching $700 billion for the entire calendar year. The CBO says millions of jobs could be lost.
The fiscal cliff includes:
—The expiration of George W. Bush-era tax cuts on income, investments, married couples and families with children and inheritances. In addition, some 26 million additional face the alternative minimum tax next filing season, which would raise their taxes by an average of $3,700. Cost through September: $330 billion.
—A $55 billion, 9 percent cut in the defense budget next year and another $55 billion in cuts to domestic programs, including a 2 percent cut to Medicare providers.
AP IMPACT: China passes US as top trade partner for much of world, changing lives globally
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Shin Cheol-soo no longer sees his future in the United States.
The South Korean businessman supplied components to American automakers for a decade. But this year, he uprooted his family from Detroit and moved home to focus on selling to the new economic superpower: China.
In just five years, China has surpassed the United States as a trading partner for much of the world, including U.S. allies such as South Korea and Australia, according to an Associated Press analysis of trade data. As recently as 2006, the U.S. was the larger trading partner for 127 countries, versus just 70 for China. By last year the two had clearly traded places: 124 countries for China, 76 for the U.S.
EDITOR'S NOTE — This is the first installment in "China's Reach," a project that will analyze China's influence with its trading partners over three decades, and explore how that is changing business, politics and daily life.
Bersani wins Italy primary, heads into 2013 general vote as Italy's center-left candidate
ROME (AP) — Pier Luigi Bersani, the head of Italy's main center-left Democratic Party, won a runoff primary Sunday to be the main center-left candidate for Italy's 2013 general elections — a vote that polls indicate could well be won by the Democratic Party given the utter disarray of the opposing center-right.
Preliminary results gave Bersani 60.8 percent of the vote compared to Florence Mayor Matteo Renzi's 39.1 percent, with two-thirds of the votes counted.
Even before the results were released, Renzi conceded the victory to Bersani in a Twitter message, writing: "It was the right thing to try, it was beautiful to do it together. Thank you all from the heart."
The primary had been closely watched since the Democratic Party has a significant lead in the polls over former Premier Silvio Berlusconi's center-right People of Freedom party, which has been in chaos following the media mogul's 2011 downfall, a series of corruption scandals within party ranks and Berlusconi's indecision over whether to run for a fourth term.
The 2013 general election — expected in March or April — will decide if Italy continues on the same path to financial health charted by Premier Mario Monti, appointed last year to save Italy from a Greek-style debt crisis. The former European commissioner was named to head a technical government after international markets lost confidence in then-premier Berlusconi's ability to reign in Italy's public debt and push through structural reforms.
Syrian war planes hit rebellious Damascus suburbs as fighting rages near capital
BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian warplanes and artillery blasted parts of the capital Damascus and its rebellious suburbs on Sunday, part of what activists described as intense fighting as rebels try to push their way into the center of President Bashar Assad's power base.
In central Syria, a car bomb killed at least 15 people, the official news agency reported.
The fighting over the past few weeks in Damascus is the most serious in the capital since July, when rebels captured several neighborhoods before a swift government counteroffensive swept them out.
The Britain-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighter jets struck twice in the suburb of Daraya as regime artillery pounded other districts just south of Damascus.
The Syrian air force also launched airstrikes on the northern city of Aleppo, some cities in the northern province of Idlib and the Mediterranean city of Latakia, the Observatory said. The group relies on reports from activists on the ground.
Palestinian president returns home triumphantly after achieving acceptance from United Nations
RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The Palestinian president returned triumphantly to the West Bank on Sunday, receiving a boisterous welcome from thousands of cheering supporters at a rally celebrating his people's new acceptance to the United Nations.
An Israeli decision to cut off a cash transfer to the financially troubled Palestinian Authority, following an earlier decision to build thousands of new homes in Jewish settlements, failed to put a damper on the celebrations.
But Palestinian officials acknowledged they were undecided on what to do with their newfound status, and were waiting for upcoming Israeli elections and new ideas from President Barack Obama before deciding how to proceed.
Outside the headquarters of President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, some 5,000 people thronged a square, hoisted Palestinian flags and cheered their leader's return from New York. Large posters of the Palestinian leader, whose popularity had plummeted in recent months, adorned nearby buildings.
"We now have a state," Abbas said to wild applause. "The world has said loudly, 'Yes to the state of Palestine.'"
Study: Carbon dioxide emissions worldwide up again, 2-degree limit to global warming unlikely
WASHINGTON (AP) — The amount of heat-trapping pollution the world spewed rose again last year by 3 percent. So scientists say it's now unlikely that global warming can be limited to a couple of degrees, which is an international goal.
The overwhelming majority of the increase was from China, the world's biggest carbon dioxide polluter. Of the planet's top 10 polluters, the United States and Germany were the only countries that reduced their carbon dioxide emissions.
Last year, all the world's nations combined pumped nearly 38.2 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the air from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil, according to new international calculations on global emissions published Sunday in the journal Nature Climate Change. That's about a billion tons more than the previous year.
The total amounts to more than 2.4 million pounds (1.1 million kilograms) of carbon dioxide released into the air every second.
Because emissions of the key greenhouse gas have been rising steadily and most carbon stays in the air for a century, it is not just unlikely but "rather optimistic" to think that the world can limit future temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), said the study's lead author, Glen Peters at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo, Norway.
Day after murder-suicide rocks KC, Chiefs beat Panthers 27-21 to end 8-game losing streak
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Against the backdrop of an unthinkable tragedy, the Kansas City Chiefs gave themselves a reason to be proud Sunday — and perhaps the impetus to let the healing begin.
Brady Quinn threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and Jamaal Charles ran for 127 yards in the Chiefs' 27-21 victory over their Carolina Panthers. The win snapped an eight-game losing streak during one of the most difficult seasons the franchise has ever experienced.
The win came just one day after Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend multiple times at a residence near Arrowhead Stadium, then drove to the team's practice facility and turned the gun on himself as general manager Scott Pioli and coach Romeo Crennel looked on.
Pioli walked through the press box before the game and said he was doing "OK," though he didn't stop to talk. Crennel was on the sideline coaching his team to an uplifting victory.
Cam Newton threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns for the Panthers (3-9), who were informed the game would be played as scheduled while they were heading to Kansas City on Saturday.