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POSTED: December 24, 2012 8:50 a.m.

WASHINGTON (AP) — Lawmakers from both parties voiced their willingness Sunday to pursue some changes to the nation's gun laws, but adamant opposition from the National Rifle Association has made clear than any such effort will face significant obstacles.

NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre dismissed efforts to revive a ban on assault weapons as a "phony piece of legislation" that's built on lies.

Democratic lawmakers in Congress have become more adamant about the need for stricter gun laws since the shooting of 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California is promising to push for a renewal of expired legislation that banned certain weapons and limited the number of bullets a gun magazine could hold to 10.

"I think we ought to be looking at where the real danger is, like those large clips," said Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas.

"I think we need a comprehensive approach," said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a longtime gun rights supporter. "I'll look at all the proposals. . I think it looks at mental health, I think it looks at protecting our schools but I also think it looks at these high-volume magazines, you know, that can fire off so many rounds."

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Afghan policewoman kills American adviser at Kabul police headquarters, says police official

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — An Afghan policewoman shot and killed an American adviser outside the police headquarters in Kabul on Monday, a senior Afghan official said. The circumstances of the killing were not immediately clear but the shooting could be another insider attack by Afghans against their foreign allies.

A NATO command spokesman, U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Lester T. Carroll, said the shooter was taken into Afghan custody shortly after the incident. The slain adviser was a contractor but the name and nationality of the deceased were being withheld, Carroll said.

Deputy Police Chief Mohammad Daoud Amin said it has not been determined whether the American adviser's death was intentional or accidental. He said an investigation was under way and declined to give more details of the incident, which occurred in central Kabul on the compound housing the governor of the city and near a number of key ministries.

"We can confirm that a civilian police adviser was shot and killed this morning by a suspected member of the Afghan uniform. The suspected shooter is in Afghan custody," Carroll said. He said Afghan and NATO officials were still trying to confirm initial reports that the shooter was a policewoman.

The killing came just hours after an Afghan policeman shot five of his colleagues at a checkpoint in northern Afghanistan late Monday. The attacker then stole his colleague's weapons and fled to join the Taliban, said deputy provincial governor in Jawzjan province, Faqir Mohammad Jawzjani.

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Indian police shut roads in heart of Indian capital to prevent more protests against gang-rape

NEW DELHI (AP) — Authorities shut down roads in the heart of India's capital on Monday to put an end to a week of demonstrations against the brutal gang-rape of a woman on a moving bus.

Thousands of armed police and paramilitary troops blocked roads in central New Delhi to prevent protesters from marching to the presidential palace. A small group of demonstrators gathered at a venue about a kilometer (less than a mile) away from India's parliament to press the government to ensure the security of women in the city.

The city ground to a halt as commuters found themselves caught in massive traffic jams after most roads in central Delhi were barricaded by police.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm and promised that the government would take tough action to prevent crimes against women. There has been outrage across India over the Dec. 16 rape that left the young woman in critical condition in a hospital.

"Anger at this crime is justified, but violence will serve no purpose," Singh told protesters.

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Teams from a US Army brigade heading to 35 African nations to beef up anti-terror training

WASHINGTON (AP) — A U.S. Army brigade will begin sending small teams into as many as 35 African nations early next year, part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle extremists and give the U.S. a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the U.S. military emerge.

The teams will be limited to training and equipping efforts, and will not be permitted to conduct military operations without specific, additional approvals from the secretary of defense.

The sharper focus on Africa by the U.S. comes against a backdrop of widespread insurgent violence across North Africa, and as the African Union and other nations discuss military intervention in northern Mali.

The terror threat from al-Qaida linked groups in Africa has been growing steadily, particularly with the rise of the extremist Islamist sect Boko Haram in Nigeria. Officials also believe that the Sept. 11 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which killed the ambassador and three other Americans, may have been carried out by those who had ties to al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb.

This first-of-its-kind brigade assignment — involving teams from the 2nd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division — will target countries such as Libya, Sudan, Algeria and Niger, where al-Qaida-linked groups have been active. It also will assist nations like Kenya and Uganda that have been battling al-Shabab militants on the front lines in Somalia.

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Conn. shooting site draws hundreds of visitors; residents turn to clergy, counselors

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — The Sandy Hook section of Newtown was a gathering place this weekend for hundreds of people drawn to the scene of the recent massacre to share in the community's mourning and come to terms with the shocking school tragedy.

The village's downtown was clogged with traffic Sunday, with license plates from all across New England and beyond.

Residents across Newtown, meanwhile, were seeking to move forward through faith, community and a determination to seize their future. Many have taken advantage of counseling services.

Both groups are trying in their own way to cope with the puzzling Dec. 14 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School that took the lives of 20 children and six adults. Police say the gunman killed his mother before heading to the school and committed suicide afterward.

People with bouquets of flowers, teddy bears and cameras walked along the closed road to the makeshift memorial near the school. Mark Burkhart brought his wife and daughter from Wingdale, N.Y., to pay their respects.

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Police: Idaho Sen. Crapo arrested in northern Virginia, charged with DUI

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Idaho Sen. Michael Crapo was arrested early Sunday morning and charged with driving under the influence in a Washington, D.C., suburb, authorities said.

Police in Alexandria, Va., said Sunday that the three-term Republican was pulled over after his vehicle ran a red light. Police spokesman Jody Donaldson said Crapo failed field sobriety tests and was arrested at about 12:45 a.m. He was transported to the Alexandria jail and released on an unsecured $1,000 bond at about 5 a.m.

"There was no refusal (to take blood alcohol tests), no accident, no injuries," Donaldson said. "Just a traffic stop that resulted in a DUI."

Police said Crapo, who was alone in his vehicle, registered a blood alcohol level of .11 percent. The legal limit in Virginia, which has strict drunken driving laws, is .08 percent.

The 61-year-old Crapo (KRAY'-poh) has a Jan. 4 court date.

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Lawmakers worry 'fiscal cliff' deal elusive; some predict small-scale patch may be only option

WASHINGTON (AP) — With anxiety rising as the country lurches towards a "fiscal cliff," lawmakers are increasingly skeptical about a possible deal and some predict the best possibility would be a small-scale patch because time is running out before the yearend deadline.

Sen. Joe Lieberman predicted Sunday: "We're going to spend New Year's Eve here, I believe."

Even those who see the possibility of a deal don't expect a lot.

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said she expects "it is going to be a patch because in four days we can't solve everything."

With the collapse Thursday of House Speaker John Boehner's plan to allow tax rates to rise on million-dollar-plus incomes, Lieberman said: "It's the first time that I feel it's more likely we'll go over the cliff than not," meaning that higher taxes for most Americans and painful federal agency budget cuts would be in line to go ahead.

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Stores offer more discounts, expanded hours, but dampened holiday mood persists as clock ticks

ATLANTA (AP) — Last-minute shoppers crowded into malls and stores to scoop up discounted clothing and toys during the last weekend before Christmas, but many didn't seem to be in the spending spirit.

This holiday season, Americans have a lot on their minds on top of the now familiar job worries.

Consumers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, which account for 24 percent of retail sales nationwide, were tripped up by Superstorm Sandy. The storm hit in late October and disrupted businesses and households for several weeks.

Shoppers are also increasingly worried about the fast approaching "fiscal cliff" deadline — the possibility that a stalemate between Congress and the White House over the U.S. budget could trigger a series of tax increases and spending cuts starting Jan. 1. Confidence among U.S. consumers dropped to its lowest point in December since July because of growing concerns about the economy, according to a monthly index released Friday.

And the recent Newtown, Conn., school shooting also dampened shoppers' spirits, analysts said.

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'Absolutely a miracle:' Family that lost home to storm Sandy gets special gift at Christmas

LONG BEACH, N.Y. (AP) — The text from Sister Diane at St. Ignatius Martyr church was as odd as it was urgent: "A man is going to call. You must answer the phone."

Kerry Ann Troy had just finished her daily "cry time" — that half-hour between dropping the kids off at school and driving back to her gutted house on New York's Long Island, or to the hurricane relief center, or to wherever she was headed in those desperate days after Sandy, when life seemed an endless blur of hopelessness and worry.

Cellphone reception was sporadic, so even if the stranger called, she would likely miss him. Besides, she had so many other things on her mind.

After spending the first week with relatives in Connecticut, Troy, a part-time events planner for the city, and her husband, Chris, a firefighter, had managed to find a hotel room for a week in Garden City. The couple had no idea where they and their three children — Ryan, 13, Connor, 12, and Katie, 4 — would go next. Hotels were full. Rentals were gone. Their modest raised ranch, a few blocks from the beach, was unlivable.

But the Troys faced another dilemma.

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'Hobbit' extends No. 1 journey with $36.7M; Cruise's 'Reacher' takes second with $15.6M

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tiny hobbit Bilbo Baggins is running circles around some of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" took in $36.7 million to remain No. 1 at the box office for the second-straight weekend, easily beating a rush of top-name holiday newcomers.

Part one of Jackson's prelude to the "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, the Warner Bros. release raised its domestic total to $149.9 million after 10 days. The film added $91 million overseas to bring its international total to $284 million and its worldwide haul to $434 million.

"The Hobbit" took a steep 57 percent drop from its domestic $84.6 million opening weekend, but business was soft in general as many people skipped movies in favor of last-minute Christmas preparations.

"The real winner this weekend might be holiday shopping," said Paul Dergarabedian, an analyst for box-office tracker Hollywood.com.

 

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