AP News in Brief at 4:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on November 25, 2012 at 6:02 AM

New Congress: More women and many newcomers, but fewer moderates make getting deals harder

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the next Congress cranks up in January, there will be more women, many new faces and fewer tea party-backed House Republicans from the class of 2010.

Overriding those changes, though, is a thinning of centrist veterans in both parties. Among those leaving are some of the Senate's most pragmatic lawmakers, nearly half the House's centrist Blue Dog Democrats and several moderate House Republicans.

That could leave the parties more polarized even as President Barack Obama and congressional leaders talk up the cooperation needed to tackle complex, vexing problems such as curbing deficits, revamping tax laws and culling savings from Medicare and other costly, popular programs.

"This movement away from the center, at a time when issues have to be resolved from the middle, makes it much more difficult to find solutions to major problems," said William Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a private group advocating compromise.

In the Senate, moderate Scott Brown, R-Mass., lost to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who will be one of the most liberal members. Another GOP moderate, Richard Lugar of Indiana, fell in the primary election. Two others, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Olympia Snowe of Maine, are retiring.

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UN group wants Europe's 'baby boxes' banned; others say they save lives of unwanted infants

BERLIN (AP) — German pastor Gabriele Stangl says she will never forget the harrowing confession she heard in 1999. A woman said she had been brutally raped, got pregnant and had a baby. Then she killed it and buried it in the woods near Berlin.

Stangl wanted to do something to help women in such desperate situations. So the following year, she convinced Berlin's Waldfriede Hospital to create the city's first so-called "baby box." The box is actually a warm incubator that can be opened from an outside wall of a hospital where a desperate parent can anonymously leave an unwanted infant.

A small flap opens into the box, equipped with a motion detector. An alarm goes off in the hospital to alert staff two minutes after a baby is left.

"The mother has enough time to leave without anyone seeing her," Stangl said. "The important thing is that her baby is now in a safe place."

Baby boxes are a revival of the medieval "foundling wheels," where unwanted infants were left in revolving church doors. In recent years, there has been an increase in these contraptions — also called hatches, windows or slots in some countries — and at least 11 European nations now have them, according to United Nations figures. They are technically illegal, but mostly operate in a gray zone as authorities turn a blind eye.

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Unbeaten Irish: No. 1 Notre Dame beats USC 22-13 to earn spot in BCS championship game

LOS ANGELES (AP) — For four straight plays in the waning minutes, Notre Dame's defense was backed up to its 1 with its perfect season in peril.

And on four straight plays, Southern California got nothing.

"We're going to fight," linebacker Manti Te'o said. "That's our name. It doesn't matter where we are."

The Fighting Irish will be in Miami next. With one another hard-nosed victory, they punched their ticket to the BCS championship game.

Theo Riddick rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown, Kyle Brindza kicked five field goals, and No. 1 Notre Dame secured the chance to play for the national title with a 22-13 victory over USC on Saturday night.

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Retailers see sales decline on Black Friday despite more shoppers; Thanksgiving took spending

Thanksgiving shopping took a noticeable bite out of Black Friday's start to the holiday season, as the latest survey found retail sales in stores fell slightly from last year.

Saturday's report from retail technology company ShopperTrak finds consumers spent $11.2 billion at stores across the U.S. That is down 1.8 percent from last year's total.

This year's Friday results appear to have been tempered by hundreds of thousands of shoppers hitting sales Thursday evening while still full of Thanksgiving dinner. Retailers including Sears, Target and Wal-Mart got their deals rolling as early as 8 p.m. on Turkey Day.

Online shopping also may have cut into the take at brick-and-mortar stores: IBM said online sales rose 17.4 percent on Thanksgiving and 20.7 percent on Black Friday, compared with 2011.

Yet ShopperTrak said retail foot traffic increased 3.5 percent, to more than 307.67 million store visits, indicating at least some shoppers were browsing but not spending freely.

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At least 112 killed as fire races through garment factory outside of Bangladesh's capital

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — At least 112 people were killed in a fire that raced through a multi-story garment factory just outside of Bangladesh's capital, an official said Sunday.

The blaze broke out at the seven-story factory operated by Tazreen Fashions late Saturday. By Sunday morning, firefighters had recovered 100 bodies, fire department Operations Director Maj. Mohammad Mahbub told The Associated Press.

He said another 12 people who had suffered injuries after jumping from the building to escape the fire later died at hospitals. The death toll could rise as the search for victims was continuing, he said.

Local media reported that up to 124 people were killed in the fire. The cause of the blaze was not immediately clear, and authorities have ordered an investigation.

Bangladesh has some 4,000 garment factories, many without proper safety measures. The country annually earns about $20 billion from exports of garment products, mainly to the United States and Europe.

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Powerful Gaza cleric says violation of truce with Israel would be a sin

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — A leading Islamic cleric in the Gaza Strip has ruled it a sin to violate the recent cease-fire between Israel and the Hamas militant group that controls the Palestinian territory.

The fatwa, or religious edict, issued by Suleiman al-Daya late Saturday accords a religious legitimacy to the truce and could justify any act by Gaza's government to enforce it.

"Honoring the truce, which was sponsored by our Egyptian brethren, is the duty of each and every one of us. Violating it shall constitute a sin," the fatwa read.

The Wednesday truce put an end to an eight-day Israeli offensive against Gaza militants who fired rockets into Israel. The agreement remains fragile because details beyond the initial cease-fire have not yet been worked out.

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No Powerball winner Saturday night; jackpot increases to record $425M for next drawing

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Lottery officials say nobody has won the Powerball jackpot and the top prize will now increase to about $425 million for the next drawing, the largest jackpot ever for the game.

Iowa Lottery spokeswoman Mary Neubauer said sales were strong over the holiday week for Saturday's drawing, which was estimated at $325 million before the numbers were picked. That was the fourth-largest jackpot in the game's history.

Neubauer says the jackpot for Wednesday's drawing could go even higher than the estimated $425 million because sales pick up in the days before record drawings.

The previous top Powerball prize was $365 million, won in 2006 by ConAgra Foods Workers in Lincoln, Neb.

The Powerball numbers for Saturday were 22-32-37-44-50, and the Powerball was 34.

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Hobbits, superheroes make Jackson's effects studio — and New Zealand — a home for blockbusters

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — A crate full of sushi arrives. Workers wearing wetsuit shirts or in bare feet bustle past with slim laptops. With days to go, a buzzing intensity fills the once-dilapidated warehouses where Peter Jackson's visual-effects studio is rushing to finish the opening film in "The Hobbit" trilogy.

The fevered pace at the Weta Digital studio near Wellington will last nearly until the actors walk the red carpet Nov. 28 for the world premiere. But after "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" hits theaters, there's more work to be done.

Weta Digital is the centerpiece of a filmmaking empire that Jackson and close collaborators have built in his New Zealand hometown, realizing his dream of bringing a slice of Hollywood to Wellington. It's a one-stop shop for making major movies — not only his own, but other blockbusters like "Avatar" and "The Avengers" and hoped-for blockbusters like next year's "Man of Steel."

Along the way, Jackson has become revered here, even receiving a knighthood. His humble demeanor and crumpled appearance appeal to distinctly New Zealand values, yet his modesty belies his influence. He's also attracted criticism along the way.

The special-effects workforce of 150 on "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy a decade ago now numbers 1,100. Only five of Weta Digital's workers are actual employees, however, while the rest are contractors. Many accept the situation because movie work often comes irregularly but pays well. Union leaders, though, say the workers lack labor protections existing in almost any other industry.

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South Korean rapper PSY's 'Gangnam Style' becomes YouTube's most watched video of all time

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean rapper PSY's "Gangnam Style" has become YouTube's most viewed video of all time.

YouTube says in a posting on its Trends blog that "Gangnam Style" had been viewed 805 million times as of Saturday afternoon, surpassing Justin Bieber's "Baby," which has had 803 million views.

The blog says the "velocity of popularity for PSY's outlandish video is unprecedented."

PSY's video featuring his horse-riding dance was posted on YouTube in July, while "Baby" was uploaded in February 2010.

PSY's video has become a global sensation, with many people around the world mimicking his "Gangnam Style" dance. In their October meeting, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, joked that he had to relinquish his title as "the most famous Korean," and tried a few of PSY's dance moves.

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ElBaradei warns of turmoil unless Morsi rescinds decree as opposition tries to unite

CAIRO (AP) — Prominent Egyptian democracy advocate Mohammed ElBaradei warned Saturday of increasing turmoil that could potentially lead to the military stepping in unless the Islamist president rescinds his new, near absolute powers, as the country's long fragmented opposition sought to unite and rally new protests.

Egypt's liberal and secular forces — long divided, weakened and uncertain amid the rise of Islamist parties to power — are seeking to rally themselves in response to the decrees issued this week by President Mohammed Morsi. The president granted himself sweeping powers to "protect the revolution" and made himself immune to judicial oversight.

The judiciary, which was the main target of Morsi's edicts, pushed back Saturday. The country's highest body of judges, the Supreme Judical Council, called his decrees an "unprecedented assault." Courts in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria announced a work suspension until the decrees are lifted.

Outside the high court building in Cairo, several hundred demonstrators rallied against Morsi, chanting, "Leave! Leave!" echoing the slogan used against former leader Hosni Mubarak in last year's uprising that ousted him. Police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd of young men who were shooting flares outside the court.

The edicts issued Wednesday have galvanized anger brewing against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, from which he hails, ever since he took office in June as Egypt's first freely elected president. Critics accuse the Brotherhood — which has dominated elections the past year — and other Islamists of monopolizing power and doing little to bring real reform or address Egypt's mounting economic and security woes.

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