Dems push budget bill
WASHINGTON -- Democrats say they are making the best of a bad situation as they bring to the House floor a massive bill cobbling together 463.5 billion in unfinished budget business. The bill, combining the budgets of 13 Cabinet agencies, won praise Tuesday from Democratic Party allies such as activists pressing the fight against AIDS overseas and advocates for boosting education funding. Lawmakers in both parties hailed the bill for freeing highway construction funds, even as the White House complained that the bill will slow aid to communities harmed by a 2005 round of military base closings and cut a request for basic scientific research. Still, the White House signaled that President Bush would sign the bill into law once it reaches his desk. The House debate today promises to be bitter, and the measure appears likely to pass on a largely party-line vote. But Republicans in the Senate appear unlikely to place procedural hurdles in its path. The harshest criticism came from House Republicans, who complained that they were shut out of any chance to offer changes to the bill -- and had barely any time to read it.
Court reinstates charge
MIAMI -- A federal appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a key terrorism charge, the only one carrying a potential life sentence, against suspected al-Qaida operative Jose Padilla. A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with federal prosecutors in Miami that the charge that the U.S. citizen and his two co-defendants conspired to "murder, kidnap and maim" people overseas did not duplicate other counts in the indictment. The Atlanta-based court reversed a decision last summer by U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke, who said the three charges in the indictment contained nearly identical elements and could subject the defendants to extra punishment for the same act, violating protections against double jeopardy. Padilla was arrested in May 2002 at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, with the government claiming he was plotting to detonate a radioactive "dirty bomb" in a major U.S. city.
Marine wife convicted
SAN DIEGO -- A woman was convicted Tuesday of murdering her Marine husband with arsenic so she could cash in on his 250,000 life insurance policy, some of which she used to have her breasts enlarged. Prosecutors argued that Cynthia Sommer, 33, wanted a more luxurious lifestyle than she could afford on her 23-year-old husband's 1,700 monthly salary and saw his military life insurance policy as a way to "set herself free." In addition to the breast enlargement surgery, Sommer's friends and co-workers testified, she threw wild parties and had casual sex with multiple partners in the weeks after her husband's death and the payment of the insurance policy. Sgt. Todd Sommer was in top condition when he collapsed and died Feb. 18, 2002, at the couple's home on the Marine Corps' Miramar base in San Diego. His death was initially ruled a heart attack. Tests of his liver later found levels of arsenic 1,020 times above normal. Cynthia Sommer, who was arrested in December 2005, swallowed and stared as the verdict was read, while her mother burst into tears. She faces an automatic life sentence. Formal sentencing was set for March 23.
Four killed in explosion
GHENT, W.Va. -- Fumes from a leaking propane tank exploded inside a convenience store near a ski resort Tuesday, shattering the building into a pile of debris and killing at least four people, authorities said. At least five other people were seriously hurt at the Flat Top Little General Store, where scarcely anything remained except twisted metal and a sign showing the price of gasoline. The blast was felt at least a mile away at a store selling skiing gear. "I thought we got struck by lightning. The whole building shook. The power went off," said Ben Monast, manager of the Ski Shop. Authorities said the explosion happened just as a fire truck was pulling into the station in response to a reported gas leak. The fatalities included a paramedic and a retired firefighter who was also a building inspector.
Disney, family settle suit
ORLANDO, Fla. -- Walt Disney World has settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the family of a 4-year-old boy who died of a heart condition after going on a ride, court records show. Neither an attorney representing Daudi Bamuwamye's parents nor Disney would elaborate on the terms. The court file shows a joint motion for dismissal filed Jan. 11 and approved that day. The parties settled the dispute Oct. 26, according to the file, which does not include specifics. The Pennsylvania boy died after riding "Mission: Space" on June 13, 2005. An autopsy determined he died of a heart condition linked to natural causes. People who have the condition are at risk for sudden death, especially in stressful situations, a medical examiner said. The suit alleged Disney did not properly warn the public of hazards associated with the ride. Disney has since opened an additional, tamer version of the ride.
Senators: No war in Iran
WASHINGTON -- Republican and Democratic senators warned Tuesday against a drift toward war with an emboldened Iran and suggested the Bush administration was missing a chance to engage its longtime adversary in potentially helpful talks over next-door Iraq. "What I think many of us are concerned about is that we stumble into active hostilities with Iran without having aggressively pursued diplomatic approaches, without the American people understanding exactly what's taking place," Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., told John Negroponte, who is in line to become the nation's No. 2 diplomat as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's deputy. Bush said Tuesday the United States "will deal with it" if Iran escalates military action inside Iraq and endangers American forces. But, in an interview with ABC News, Bush emphasized this talk signals no intention of invading Iran itself.
Cease-fire taking hold
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip -- Gaza's warring factions began to hold their fire Tuesday as a truce took effect across the volatile territory and brought hopes for an end to the infighting that has left 36 people dead in five days. But the killing of a Hamas militant by rival Palestinians -- combined with an Israeli airstrike on a smuggling tunnel after a suicide bombing -- underscored the fragility of any lull in Gaza's bloodshed. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas called for a total halt to the violence. Previous truces between Hamas and Fatah militants in Gaza have quickly collapsed into new fighting, and it appeared unlikely the two sides would comply with all the terms of the current agreement, such as handing over all those involved in killings and abductions. Late Tuesday, the two sides began releasing hostages, both sides said.
Castro, Chavez on video
HAVANA -- Cuban state television showed a video Tuesday of a healthier looking Fidel Castro meeting and speaking with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the first images of the ailing leader shown in three months. The report said the 10-minute video clip was taped Monday during a two-hour private meeting in Havana that was not previously publicized. The newest images seemed to be aimed at knocking down the most recent round of reports about Castro's health, including a report in the Spanish newspaper El Pais earlier this month that described his health as "grave." Castro, 80, who was standing, more looked alert and heavier than in previous images that had showed him much more thin and frail.
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