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World briefly for Nov. 14

POSTED: November 14, 2012 10:11 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers are digging into the tangled tale of emails that exposed an extramarital affair ending David Petraeus' CIA career and led investigators to a questionable relationship between a Florida socialite and the general commanding the war in Afghanistan.

Their main question: Was national security threatened?

The extramarital affair was between Petraeus and his biographer Paula Broadwell, who U.S. officials say sent harassing, anonymous emails to a woman she apparently saw as a rival for Petraeus' affections. That woman, Jill Kelley, in turn traded thousands of sometimes flirtatious messages with Gen. John Allen, possible evidence of another inappropriate relationship.

The CIA's acting director, Michael Morell, started answering lawmakers' questions Tuesday on Capitol Hill, meeting with top Senate intelligence officials to explain the CIA's take on events that led to Petraeus' resignation last week after he acknowledged the affair. The lawmakers are especially concerned over reports that Broadwell had classified information on her laptop, though FBI investigators say they concluded there was no security breach.

President Barack Obama is expected to make his first comments on the widening scandal Wednesday, during a postelection news conference at the White House.

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Florida socialite is at the center of overlapping scandals involving 2 military generals

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — When news broke about a Florida socialite's involvement in a sex scandal that brought down CIA Director David Petraeus, Jill Kelley was doing what she does best — hosting a party.

But the children's birthday festivities abruptly ended Sunday as news vans descended on Kelley's stately two-story brick home overlooking Tampa Bay. A day later, the unofficial social ambassador for some of the military's top brass called police to complain about the media in her yard, her life turned upside down in the wake of the scandal.

"You know, I don't know if by any chance, because I'm an honorary consul general, so I have inviolability, so they should not be able to cross my property. I don't know if you want to get diplomatic protection involved as well," she told the 911 dispatcher.

Nearly all lines in the increasingly tangled sex scandal involving Petraeus lead back to Kelley, whose complaint about anonymous, threatening emails triggered the FBI investigation that led to the general's downfall. And now Kelley is in the middle of an investigation of the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan over alleged "inappropriate communications" between the two.

Kelley's friendship with Petraeus and his wife began when the general arrived in Tampa about 2008. Kelley and her husband, Scott, a cancer surgeon, had moved to the area a few years earlier and threw a welcome party at their home, a short distance from Central Command headquarters, introducing the new Central Command chief and his wife Holly to Tampa's elite, according to staffers who served with Petraeus.

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Obama lobbying business and labor groups ahead of fiscal cliff talks with Congress

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is lobbying business and labor groups to support his plan to avoid an impending fiscal cliff, telling the two sides he remains committed to requiring the wealthy to pay more in taxes.

Obama was meeting Wednesday with about a dozen business executives as the White House and Congress face a series of expiring tax cuts and across-the-board spending cuts scheduled to take effect because lawmakers failed to reach a deal to reduce the federal debt. Business groups want an agreement before the end of the year, warning that the uncertainty could roil the financial markets and harm the economic recovery.

The White House meeting follows a gathering of labor leaders and liberal groups Tuesday in which participants said Obama remained clear that he would push for his campaign pledge of making the wealthiest Americans pay more in taxes.

"We're prepared to stand up to make sure there is shared sacrifice here, so the rich actually start paying their fair share and the middle class don't get soaked for that," said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

Obama was expected to speak in greater detail on the year-ending lame-duck session of Congress at a White House news conference Wednesday. Failure to act would lead to spending cuts and higher taxes on all Americans, with middle-income families paying an average of about $2,000 more next year, according to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center.

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Workers strike, demonstrate through much of Europe to protest austerity, layoffs

BRUSSELS (AP) — With rampant unemployment spreading misery in southern Europe and companies shutting factories across the continent, workers around the European Union sought to unite in a string of strikes and demonstrations on Wednesday.

Most European governments have in recent years had to cut spending, pensions and benefits and raise taxes aggressively to bring public debt under control. That includes not only the most financially troubled governments, like Greece, but also the traditionally more stable ones, like France and Britain.

The result has been a dramatic drop in living standards in many nations that leaders have accepted as collateral for policies they claim are unavoidable. With no end in sight to the economic misery, workers were trying to take a stand on Wednesday.

"Of course it's a political strike, against the policies of a suicidal and anti-social government," said Igancio Fernandez Toxo, a CCOO Spanish union leader, as the general strike spread through Spain where a 25 percent unemployment rate has put the country at the heart of the EU social unrest.

A Spanish Interior Ministry official says 32 people have been arrested and 15 people treated for minor injuries in disturbances.

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Party leader Hu Jintao steps down to clear the way for Xi Jinping to take the helm in China

BEIJING (AP) — President Hu Jintao stepped aside as ruling party leader Wednesday to clear the way for Vice President Xi Jinping to take China's helm as part of only the second orderly transfer of power in 63 years of communist rule.

Hu and senior leaders mostly in their late 60s are handing over power to the leader-in-waiting Xi and other colleagues in their late 50s over the next several months. The new leadership faces daunting challenges including slowing growth in the world's No. 2 economy, rising unrest among increasing assertive citizens and delicate relations with neighboring countries.

In keeping with the widely anticipated succession plans, Hu was not re-elected a member of the party's Central Committee on the final day of a pivotal party congress, showing that he's no longer in the leadership, said two delegates, speaking on condition of anonymity because the official list of members had not yet been released.

It was still unclear whether Hu would relinquish his most powerful remaining position as head of the commission that oversees the military, or hold onto it for a transitional period as previous retiring leaders have done.

Delegates said they cheered when the announced results of secret balloting showed that Xi had been unanimously chosen for the committee, a step toward being named to the topmost panel, the Politburo Standing Committee, and becoming party leader as expected on Thursday. Li Keqiang, designated as the next premier, also was elected to the panel.

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Small plane slams into home, killing 3 pilots en route to FAA safety conference in Mississippi

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The three pilots had just taken off from the Hawkins Field Airport when the single-engine plane they were flying to a Federal Aviation Administration safety conference less than 30 miles away began to falter.

A Jackson police officer looked up in the sky and saw the Piper PA-32 "spitting and sputtering" like it was out of fuel. The plane's owner is a budding pilot whose own life was spared when he decided to go deer hunting instead of flying Tuesday afternoon.

One of the aviators asked for permission to return to the airport, but just minutes later the plane went down. It crashed through trees before slamming into a house that quickly caught fire.

A deputy fire chief told WJTV-TV that one person escaped the burning home with minor injuries.

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Army to decide whether to pursue court-martial against US soldier accused of Afghan massacre

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — As Army officials weigh whether a case against a staff sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage will proceed to a court-martial, Robert Bales' defense team says the government's case is incomplete.

And outside experts say a key issue going forward will be to determine whether Bales, who served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

"There are a number of questions that have not been answered so far in this investigation," defense attorney Emma Scanlan told the investigating officer overseeing the preliminary hearing during closing arguments Tuesday.

Scanlan said that it's still unknown what Bales' state of mind was the evening of the killings. Prosecutors say Bales, 39, slipped away from his remote base at Camp Belambay in southern Afghanistan to attack two villages early on March 11. Among the dead were nine children.

An Army criminal investigations command special agent testified last week that Bales tested positive for steroids three days after the killings, and other soldiers testified that Bales had been drinking the evening of the massacre.

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Plumbers in Ferraris: Beating tax cheats critical to reformer's plan to rescue Italian economy

ROME (AP) — Good plumbers may be worth their weight in gold, but when one was spotted zipping around in a bright red Ferrari, Italian tax police were fast on his trail.

Stamping out entrenched tax evasion is crucial to Premier Mario Monti's quest to keep Italy from succumbing to the European debt crisis, and it is critical to fellow eurozone members in more dire straits, such as Greece and Spain — which are also notorious for making cheating the taxman a way of life.

Indeed, Greece's international rescue creditors have been pressing Greece for two years to reform its ailing tax system, citing poor collection as a key factor keeping the country mired in crisis. In Spain, where tax fraud is rampant, as much as €90 billion ($150 billion) is lost each year to tax fraud -- the equivalent of the country's national debt, according to Spain's main tax inspectors union.

To succeed in Italy, authorities will have to catch the legions of self-employed and small business owners who brazenly lie about their earnings, like the plumber in the eastern town of Pescara, who socked away undeclared income in 30 bank accounts, or a successful pastry shop owner in Calabria, who on his tax return claimed he was earning next to crumbs.

And those are the less sophisticated schemers.

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'Gangnam Style' star PSY joins Madonna onstage at MSG; singer also collects money for Sandy

NEW YORK (AP) — Madonna has gone "Gangnam Style."

Korean pop star PSY joined the pop icon Tuesday night during her second show this week at Madison Square Garden. They danced to his pop culture anthem "Gangnam Style" and to her jam "Music" in front of nearly 20,000.

Madonna said PSY flew "all the way from Frankfurt, Germany this morning." She also said she was a big fan of the rapper and loved his suit, which was bright red.

He added that he's had a lot of experiences in the last few months, and that performing at MSG with Madonna topped his list.

Madonna also collected money for those affected by Superstorm Sandy. Fans threw money onstage while she sang "Like a Virgin." She said she collected $3,000 at Monday's show.

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Danny Green's clutch 3-pointer pushes Spurs past Lakers 84-82; LA's 1st loss under Bickerstaff

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs' final offensive play was smartly drawn and precisely executed, ending in a clutch jumper by Danny Green.

The Lakers' final play? Well, 7-foot Pau Gasol ended up shooting a 3-pointer.

While coach Mike D'Antoni is on his way to Los Angeles with new schemes and strategies, Gregg Popovich and the Spurs are headed out of town with an outstanding start to the season.

Green hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 9.3 seconds left, Tony Parker scored 19 points and the Spurs beat Los Angeles 84-82 Tuesday night in the Lakers' first loss since firing Mike Brown.

Tim Duncan had 18 points and 11 rebounds for the Spurs, who improved the Western Conference's best record to 7-1 thanks to Green's third 3-pointer of the night. The Spurs executed perfectly when facing a one-point deficit, with Duncan helping Kawhi Leonard get the ball to Green.

 

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