In presidential debate, Gingrich brings front-runner status that's likely to make him a target
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Newt Gingrich is facing his first debate as the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Standing next to him will be Mitt Romney, whose campaign has launched an all-out offensive against Gingrich's record and leadership style.
With less than a month to go before the Iowa caucuses, the debate at 9 p.m. EST Saturday will focus on the federal budget deficit. It also promises a political drama as Gingrich and Romney meet amid a sharp back-and-forth waged by their campaigns.
Gingrich rose to the top of polls largely because of how he's performed in the other 10 debates this year. He's expecting his new position in the race to mean his rivals will criticize him head-on this time, aides say.
If they do, aides say Gingrich knows how he hopes to handle it: Pause, step back and laugh.
That's how Gingrich has responded in the past to what he's often deemed "gotcha" questions from debate moderators — before dressing them down, usually to much applause from the audience.
First protests take place in planned day of demonstrations across Russia against vote fraud
MOSCOW (AP) — Russians angered by allegedly fraudulent parliamentary elections and the country's ruling party took part in protests Saturday in cities from the freezing Pacific Coast to the southwest, eight time zones away — a striking show of indignation that poses a challenge to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's hold on power.
Protests took place in at least 15 cities, most them attracting crowds of several hundred to a thousand. And the day's centerpiece was yet to take place — a massive rally in Moscow that was expected to gather more than 30,000 people.
The protesters are both angered by reports of flagrant vote fraud in the Dec. 4 election and energized by the sense that the elections showed Putin and his United Russia party to be newly vulnerable. The party held an overwhelming two-thirds of the seats in the previous parliament, but its share plunged by about 20 percent in the recent vote.
That result was a significant loss of face for the party that has dominated Russian politics, and protesters say that even its reduced performance was inflated by ballot-box stuffing.
"The falsifications that authorities are doing today have turned the country into a big theater, with clowns like in a circus," said Alexander Trofimov, one of the early arrivals for the protest at Bolotnaya Square, on an island in the Moscow River adjacent to the Kremlin.
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — The Pakistani Taliban is in peace talks with the Pakistani government, a senior commander in the militant group said Saturday. He said negotiations were "progressing well" and could soon end in a formal agreement.
The statement by Maulvi Faqir Mohammad is the first time a named Taliban commander has confirmed that the group is negotiating with the Pakistani government. But it is unclear whether he speaks for entirety of the network, which is believed to have splintered into different factions over the last year.
Mohammad, said to be the deputy chief of the Pakistani Taliban, said his men had held "peace talks with relevant government officials."
"They are progressing well, and we may soon sign a formal peace agreement with the government," he said in a telephone conversation.
Government officials were not available for comment. They have previously denied earlier reports of talks.
NJ widow exposes mishandling of troop remains with push for answers about her husband
FRENCHTOWN, N.J. (AP) — It took Gari-Lynn Smith more than four years to learn what happened to the final remains of her husband, an Army sergeant killed in Iraq.
The New Jersey widow never thought that knowing would be worse than not, or that her search would lead to the bottom of a landfill.
"I was told no one wanted my husband, so he was cremated with the medical waste and thrown in the trash," Smith said in an interview with The Associated Press this week from her home.
Her quest to find the truth of what happened to her husband's remains led to an even more disturbing revelation this week as the Air Force acknowledged it had dumped cremated partial remains of at least 274 troops into a Virginia dump — far more than previously acknowledged.
Her story, first told by The Washington Post, along with information from multiple whistleblowers about other mistreatment of fallen soldiers' bodies became the catalyst for an investigation that found "gross mismanagement" at the Air Force's mortuary in Dover, Del. — the first stop on American soil for fallen troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan.
NY, California feeling fiscal pinch, Occupy Wall Street support, hitting millionaires again
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Hollywood moguls and Manhattan stock brokers are facing a slap by the Occupy Wall Street movement as California and New York again target high-wage earners to address a continued fiscal crisis in the states.
On Wednesday, with the urging of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York raised its top tax rate on single filers making $1 million and joint filers making $2 million, a rate just slightly under the 2008 income tax surcharge that expires Dec. 31.
Earlier this month in California, Gov. Jerry Brown said he, too, wants to avoid further cuts to education and social services by proposing a ballot initiative asking voters to increase taxes. That could hit Californians making over $250,000.
"Occupy turned the political conversation on its head," said Richard Brodsky, a senior fellow at the Wagner School at New York University. "Time was austerity and tax cuts were the only acceptable place to be. Now, income inequality and the 99 percent dominate practical politics. OWS paved the way; Cuomo and Brown seized the moment."
There's no evidence of a national groundswell after more than a dozen states tapped their well-heeled residents for temporary income tax hikes from 2006-2009. But while most of those states let their temporary tax increases lapse as scheduled, New York and California this month went back to the well.
UN conference works through a 2nd night to map out future of fight against global warming
DURBAN, South Africa (AP) — Deep into overtime, negotiators from 194 nations worked straight through a second night, parsing drafts and seeking compromises to map out the future pathway to fight global warming.
Delegates, working on little sleep, huddled with allies to prepare for a decisive meeting later Saturday, when it will become clear whether the diverse and long-bickering parties can come together on a plan to extend and broaden the global campaign to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
"We think it's important not to give up now. We have come a long way," said a weary Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner on climate issues, speaking more than 12 hours after the two-week conference had been scheduled to close Friday evening.
But she was concerned that the process was taking so long that ministers would leave before decisions could be adopted, costing hard-won momentum. "It would really really be a pity if we lose that now," she told The Associated Press.
Small island countries and the world's poorest nations lined up behind an EU plan to begin talks on a future agreement that would come into effect no later than 2020.
Va. Tech gunman described as quiet, typical college student who went to small college nearby
BLACKSBURG, Va. (AP) — The man who authorities say killed a Virginia Tech police officer was described as a typical college student in many ways, making it difficult to understand why he would commit an armed robbery and then, apparently at random, target the patrolman before killing himself.
The gunman was identified Friday as Ross Truett Ashley, a 22-year-old part-time business student at Radford University, about 10 miles from the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg. He first drew authorities' attention Wednesday when, they say, he stole a Mercedes-Benz sport utility vehicle from his landlord's office.
As investigators worked to unravel a motive, thousands of people gathered for a candlelight vigil Friday night on a campus all too familiar with tragedy.
Those who knew Ashley said he could be standoffish. He liked to run down the hallways and recently shaved his head, a neighbor said.
Virginia State Police said he walked up to officer Deriek W. Crouse after noon on Thursday and shot him to death as the patrolman sat in his unmarked cruiser during a traffic stop. Ashley was not involved in the stop and did not know the driver, who is cooperating with police, they said.
Cuban exiles hold fireworks show about 12 miles off Havana, Raul Castro's government indignant
HAVANA (AP) — Fireworks shot from a flotilla organized by Miami exiles exploded in red and white balls off the coast of Havana to call attention to Cuba's human rights record. The stunt irritated Cuban officials but drew few spectators.
The display was visible only intermittently Friday night at a distance of a little more than 12 miles (19 kilometers) from where the exiles anchored their boats just outside Cuban territorial waters under overcast skies and sporadic rain.
Just a handful of people were out along the Malecon seaside promenade, which normally is bustling with young Cubans who socialize along the city's "great sofa" on weekends.
When an Associated Press team tried to interview the few who came out, a pro-government crowd of more than 20 people ran across the wide boulevard shouting "American press!" and demanding that a video camera be turned over. Some were holding bottles of alcohol and appeared to have been drinking.
The journalists identified themselves as accredited members of the press with the right to work in Cuba. One cameraman was punched in the face, another's thumb was sprained and a video camera was broken in the melee before the crew managed to leave.
Lady Gaga gives a naughty and nice performance for hometown holiday concert in NYC
Gaga performed a slightly naughty rendition of the holiday classic Friday night as part of her mini-concert at the radio station's event at Madison Square Garden. Gaga — sporting tight studded leather pants, matching top and a bare midriff — gyrated on a set that included antlers, Christmas trees and holiday lights as she performed "White Christmas."
"So I recently added a couple of lyrics to this song because I think it's too short. It's like when you really start to enjoy it it stops. It's like a really bad orgasm. Merry Christmas New York!" she shouted. Later, she made a suggestive pose as she gave a come hither coo to Santa.
But her performance wasn't all saucy. She was nostalgic and appreciative as she thanked the radio station for allowing her to be the headliner of this year's show, which included performances from Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato, LMFAO, Pitbull, David Guetta, Foster the People, Hot Chelle Rae and more.
Gaga said her first concert as a young girl growing up in New York City was the Z100 Jingle Ball.
NEW YORK (AP) — NBA teams went back to work Friday, which for Chris Paul meant going back to New Orleans.
And there was disbelief and anger around the league — and a commitment to try again to find him a new home.
Commissioner David Stern killed the Hornets' first attempt at moving their All-Star point guard, but New Orleans general manager Dell Demps is working to put together a new deal.
"Yes. People are still calling," Demps said. "People are still calling and we're calling people, so we're confident we can get a deal."
Paul could have been in Los Angeles on Friday, ready to pair up with Kobe Bryant as the next star in Hollywood. That fell apart Thursday when the league, which owns the Hornets, rejected a three-team trade the club had agreed to for "basketball reasons," denying the decision came about because of pressure on Stern from irate owners.