AP News in Brief at 5:58 a.m. EST

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Associated Press

Posted on December 11, 2013 at 6:02 AM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 11 at 7:01 AM

World leaders bow and pray before Nelson Mandela's flag-draped casket as he lies in state

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — World leaders bowed and prayed Wednesday before the flag-draped casket containing the body of Nelson Mandela, having a final look at the anti-apartheid icon in the amphitheater where he was sworn in 19 years earlier as South Africa's first black president.

Some made the sign of the cross, others simply spent a few moments gazing at Mandela's face through a glass plane atop the coffin at the Union Buildings in South Africa's capital, Pretoria. Leaders like Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, South African President Jacob Zuma and others passed by the casket in two lines. Four junior naval officers in white uniforms kept watch. Celebrities like singer Bono of the band U2 also paid their respects. So did F.W. de Klerk, the last president of white rule who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela for ending the apartheid era.

Mandela 's widow Graca Machel, his former wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and other family members also viewed his body.

Some appeared lost for a moment looking down at Mandela. South Sudan's Salva Kiir Mayardit stood for a moment, transfixed, before removing his trademark black cowboy hat and crossing himself.

"I just hope I won't cry," said Paul Letageng, 47, an employee there. "It's amazing to think that 19 years ago he was inaugurated there, and now he's lying there. If he was not here we would not have had peace in South Africa."

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GOP, Obama line up behind modest budget plan, aiming for more bipartisan dealing

WASHINGTON (AP) — Top Republicans and President Barack Obama are lining up behind a modest but hard-won bipartisan budget agreement that seeks to replace a portion of tough spending cuts facing the Pentagon and domestic agencies.

The deal to ease those cuts for two years is aimed less at chipping away at the nation's $17 trillion national debt than it is at trying to help a dysfunctional Capitol stop lurching from crisis to crisis. It would set the stage for action in January on a $1 trillion-plus spending bill for the budget year that began in October.

The measure unveiled by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and his Senate counterpart, Patty Murray, D-Wash., blends $85 billion in spending cuts and revenue from new and extended fees — but no taxes or cuts to Medicare beneficiaries — to replace $63 billion in cuts to agency budgets over the coming two years.

The package would raise the Transportation Security Administration fee on a typical nonstop, round-trip airline ticket from $5 to $10; require newly hired federal workers to contribute 1.3 percentage points more of their salaries toward their pensions; and trim cost-of-living adjustments to the pensions of military retirees under the age of 62. Hospitals and other health care providers would have to absorb two additional years of a 2-percentage-point cut in their Medicare reimbursements.

The plan pales compared with earlier, failed attempts at a "grand bargain" that would trade tax hikes for structural curbs to ever-growing benefit programs like Medicare and Social Security. But it would at least bring some stability on the budget to an institution — Congress — whose approval ratings are in the gutter.

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Tributes aside, US had deeply mixed and conflicted record on Mandela, South Africa

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Nelson Mandela eulogized to the world by President Barack Obama as "a giant of history" and the "last great liberator of the 20th century" seemed a different person from the one the United States held at arm's length, to put it diplomatically, for much of his life and career.

Even as presidents from John F. Kennedy to Bill Clinton denounced apartheid as a racist, untenable system, successive American administrations from the 1960s had friendly ties with South African governments and viewed Mandela with suspicion, if not outright hostility, through the prism of the Cold War.

And Mandela remained on a U.S. terrorism watchlist from the 1970s until the late 2000s. That period covers the living presidents of that period — Jimmy Carter, Clinton and George W. Bush — all of whom joined Obama at Mandela's memorial service in Johannesburg's Soweto township on Tuesday, as well as Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush.

Even after his 1990 release from prison, his election as South Africa's first black president and the dismantling of apartheid, the U.S. relationship with Mandela was an uneasy one, notably because of his harsh criticism of Israel, the Iraq war and the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Still, if the U.S. presidents present at Tuesday's ceremony harbored anything other than good will toward Mandela, it was not apparent and has been absent since his death last week at the age of 95.

Comparing him to Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Abraham Lincoln and America's founding fathers, Obama lauded Mandela for his leadership of a resistance movement, giving voice to the oppressed, holding a splintering nation together in a time of great peril and creating a constitutional order to preserve the freedoms he struggled to realize.

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Ukraine police stand down after clashes with protesters in Ukrainian capital

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Police in Ukraine on Wednesday pulled back as protesters claimed victory after an overnight face-off in which authorities removed some barricades and tents and scuffled with demonstrators occupying Kiev's main square.

Squadrons of police in helmets and bearing metal shields converged at about 1 a.m. on Independence Square, but thousands of protesters put up fierce resistance for hours, shoving back at police lines to keep them away from key sites.

The Ukrainian chief of police issued a statement saying that there would be no attempt to break up the demonstrations. Protesters have been gathering around the clock to demand the resignation of the government in a crisis that threatens the leadership of President Viktor Yanukovych.

"I want to calm everyone down — there will be no dispersal," Interior Minister Vitaly Zakharchenko said on the ministry's website. "No one is encroaching on the rights of citizens to peaceful protest."

Three police buses that had been parked outside the building all night drove away to the protesters' shouts of "Shame!" Another group of police that had been stationed outside the Kiev city hall building, which has been occupied by protesters for weeks, departed from the scene.

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AP-GfK poll: Discontent with Congress, Obama high; most want their House member ousted

WASHINGTON (AP) — Heading into a congressional election year, Americans hold Congress in strikingly low regard, and nearly two-thirds say they would like to see their House member replaced, a new poll finds.

Even though Americans are feeling somewhat better about the economy — and their personal finances — elected officials in Washington aren't benefiting from the improved mood, the Associated Press-GfK poll found.

President Barack Obama's approval rating was negative: 58 percent disapprove of the job he's doing as president, while 42 percent approve.

Obama isn't running for office again, however, whereas all 435 House seats and one-third of the Senate's seats are on the ballot next November. And nearly 9 in 10 adults disapprove of the way lawmakers are handling their jobs.

The low opinions of Congress don't necessarily signal major power shifts next year in the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate. House Democrats need to gain at least 17 net seats to claim the majority. But many House districts are so solidly liberal or conservative that incumbents can withstand notable drops in popularity and keep their seats.

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NTSB reviewing possible pilot or mechanical error, emergency response in Asiana airliner crash

WASHINGTON (AP) — The National Transportation Safety Board is holding a hearing Wednesday to try to learn why so many things went wrong when an Asiana Airlines Boeing 777 crash-landed at San Francisco International Airport in July, leaving three people dead and more than 150 injured.

An Asiana chief pilot is slated to testify on what the airline teaches about automated systems and visual approach procedures. That's a focus for the safety board, which has questioned whether the three men in the cockpit were overly reliant on electronic systems.

San Francisco Fire Department Assistant Deputy Chief Dale Carnes is also scheduled to talk about how a fire truck racing toward the burning plane ran over a survivor on the tarmac.

The hearing was originally scheduled to run for two days, starting Tuesday, but it was postponed because of wintry weather in Washington, D.C.

Footage taken after the crash showed a fire truck running over 16-year-old Ye Meng Yuan while she was lying on the tarmac covered with fire-retardant foam. The San Mateo County coroner later ruled that she was killed by the truck.

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New General Motors CEO known for her approachability, long record of effectiveness

DETROIT (AP) — Kettering University President Robert McMahan was traveling in China a few months ago when he bumped into one of the university's board members at an airport in Shanghai.

Mary Barra, the busy global product development chief at General Motors Co., might have just said hello and turned back to her phone. Instead, she had a long discussion with McMahan's teenage son about his education and his efforts to learn Mandarin.

"I turned to my son after she left and said, 'I put a month's pay on the fact that you just met the next president and CEO of GM,'" McMahan said. "Even he, as a 16-year-old, was impressed by her approachability."

McMahan can keep his pay. On Tuesday, GM's board named Barra, a 33-year company veteran, as its next CEO, making her the first woman to lead a major car company.

Barra replaces Dan Akerson, who moved up retirement plans by several months to help his wife, Karin, battle advanced cancer.

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Uruguay begins bold experiment in launching first national marketplace for legal marijuana

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay (AP) — Uruguay has become the first country to create a national marketplace for legal marijuana, with the government regulating the production, sales and use of pot in a bold bid to control addiction and drug violence.

The Senate gave final legislative approval to the bill late Tuesday, and President Jose Mujica, who campaigned for the legislation, is expected to sign it into law. The 78-year-old president has said he wants the market to begin operating next year.

"Today is an historic day. Many countries of Latin America, and many governments, will take this law as an example," Sen. Constanza Moreira, a member of the governing Broad Front coalition, said as the bill passed with 16 votes in favor and 13 against. Congress' lower house approved the measure in late July.

The groundbreaking legislation to create a government-run marijuana industry was opposed by two-thirds Uruguayans, recent opinion polls said.

But Mujica, a former leftist guerrilla who spent years in jail as a younger man while others experimented with marijuana, went ahead with the legislation anyway. He argued the global drug war is a failure and said bureaucrats can do a better job of containing addictions and beating organized crime than police, soldiers and prison guards.

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As Detroit struggles for resources, city water pours down the drain from ravaged pipes

DETROIT (AP) — Torrents of water spew from broken pipes in Detroit's Crosman School, cascading down stairs before pooling on the warped tile of what was once a basketball court.

No one knows how long the water has flowed through the moldy bowels of the massive building a few miles north of downtown, but Crosman has been closed since 2007. It's not the only empty structure where city water steadily fills dark basements or runs into the gutter, wasting money and creating safety hazards.

As Detroit goes through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, the city's porous water system illustrates how some of its resources are still draining away even as it struggles to stabilize its finances and provide basic services.

More than 30,000 buildings stand vacant in neighborhoods hollowed out by Detroit's long population decline, vulnerable to metal scavengers who rip out pipes, leaving the water to flow. The city's water system has no way of tracking the leaks, and the water department doesn't have enough workers to check every structure.

"The water was running all last winter," said 32-year-old Delonda Kemp as she pointed to a vandalized two-story bungalow across from her home on Detroit's eastside. "You can actually hear it running." She says she reported the leak, but water officials say they have no record of it.

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Young women's pay rising but they say more work needed for workplace equality

WASHINGTON (AP) — About 75 percent of young women believe the U.S. needs to do more to bring about equality in the workplace, a new study finds, despite a narrowing pay gap and steady employment gains for women at higher levels of business and government.

Those women remain as pessimistic as their mothers and grandmothers regarding gender equality in the workplace, according to the report released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

The study finds that women under 32 now make 93 percent of what young men earn, aided by women's higher rates of college completion. But the analysis of census and labor data also shows the gender pay gap will widen for women by their mid-30s, if the experience of the past three decades is a guide.

That widening gap is due in part to the many women who take time off or reduce their hours to start families. Other factors cited in the report are gender stereotyping, discrimination, weaker professional networks and women's hesitancy to aggressively push for raises and promotions, which together may account for 20 percent to 40 percent of the pay gap.

Even so, just 15 percent of young women say they have been discriminated against because of their gender.

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