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Associated Press

Posted on December 21, 2013 at 11:02 PM

Updated Sunday, Dec 22 at 9:01 AM

Sloppy storm system snarls start of holiday travel period, leaves Midwest, New England on ice

CHICAGO (AP) — Those who got a jump on their holiday travels this year apparently got it right. Those who didn't may have to wait a bit.

A large storm system moved into the Midwest on Friday for the start of one of the busiest travel periods of the year, but things didn't really get messy until Saturday, when it delivered a bit of everything — freezing rain, snow, ice, flooding and even tornadoes — to an area that stretched from the Louisiana Gulf Coast to eastern Canada.

Those who took to the roads or skies before midday Saturday likely got where they wanted without a major hitch, but by midafternoon, roads had become slick in many places and flight cancellations and delays started to mount.

The system's strange swirl of winter and spring-like conditions produced starkly different weather at times in areas separated by a couple hundred miles. While drivers in Oklahoma and eastern Missouri were navigating ice-slicked streets Saturday, residents in Memphis, Tenn., were strolling around in T-shirt temperatures that topped out above 70 degrees.

By Saturday night, a line of thunderstorms stretching from southern Louisiana to Indiana began wreaking havoc, causing rivers and creeks to swell, flooding roads and spawning winds strong enough to force cars and trucks off of highways. At least two suspected tornadoes touched down in Arkansas, injuring a total of five people and damaging nearly two-dozen homes in or near the towns of Dermott and Hughes. And a man in Rena Lara, Miss., was killed Saturday when wind flipped his mobile home.

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S. Sudan: 3 US military aircraft hit by gunfire, 4 wounded; UN chopper hit in same area

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Gunfire hit three U.S. military aircraft trying to evacuate American citizens in a remote region of South Sudan that on Saturday became a battle ground between the country's military and renegade troops, officials said. Four U.S. service members were wounded in the attack in the same region where gunfire downed a U.N. helicopter the day before.

The U.S. military aircraft were about to land in Bor, the capital of the state of Jonglei and scene of some of the nation's worst violence over the last week, when they were hit. The military said the four wounded troops were in stable condition.

The U.S. military said three CV-22 Ospreys — the kind of aircraft that can fly like a helicopter and plane — were "participating in a mission to evacuate American citizens in Bor." A South Sudan official said violence against civilians there has resulted in bodies "sprinkled all over town."

"After receiving fire from the ground while approaching the site, the aircraft diverted to an airfield outside the country and aborted the mission," the statement said. "The injured troops are being treated for their wounds." It was not known how many U.S. civilians are in Bor.

After the aircraft took incoming fire, they turned around and flew to Entebbe, Uganda. From there the service members were flown to Nairobi, Kenya aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 for medical treatment, the statement said.

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In Iceland, where folklore is more than just stories, concern for elves holds up road project

REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — In this land of fire and ice, where the fog-shrouded lava fields offer a spooky landscape in which anything might lurk, stories abound of the "hidden folk" — thousands of elves, making their homes in Iceland's wilderness.

So perhaps it was only a matter of time before 21st-century elves got political representation.

Elf advocates have joined forces with environmentalists to urge the Icelandic Road and Coastal Commission and local authorities to abandon a highway project building a direct route from to the tip of the Alftanes peninsula, where the president has a home, to the Reykjavik suburb of Gardabaer. They fear disturbing elf habitat and claim the area is particularly important because it contains an elf church.

The project has been halted until the Supreme Court of Iceland rules on a case brought by a group known as Friends of Lava, who cite both the environmental and the cultural impact — including the impact on elves — of the road project. The group has regularly brought hundreds of people out to block the bulldozers.

And it's not the first time issues about "Huldufolk," Icelandic for "hidden folk," have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states in part that "issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on."

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Memorials in US, Scotland, London mark 25th anniversary of Lockerbie attack

ARLINGTON, Va. (AP) — Families of some of the 270 people who died in an airliner bombing 25 years ago gathered for memorial services Saturday in the United States and Britain, honoring victims of a terror attack that killed dozens of American college students and created instant havoc in the Scottish town where wreckage of the plane rained down.

Bagpipes played and wreaths were laid in the Scottish town of Lockerbie and mourners gathered for a moment of silence at London's Westminster Abbey, while U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told victims' relatives at Arlington National Cemetery that they should take comfort in their unity even if time cannot erase their loss.

"We keep calling for change, and fighting for justice, on behalf of those no longer with us. We rededicate ourselves — and our nation — to the qualities that defined the men and women that we lost," Holder said.

The events marked the 25th anniversary of the explosion of Pan Am 103, a New York-bound flight that exploded over Lockerbie less than an hour after takeoff from London on Dec. 21, 1988. Many of the victims were American college students flying home for Christmas, including 35 Syracuse University students participating in study abroad programs.

The attack, caused by a bomb packed into a suitcase, killed 259 people aboard the plane, and 11 others on the ground also died.

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Hospital: 17-year-old student who was shot in head by classmate at Colorado high school dies

LITTLETON, Colo. (AP) — A suburban Denver high school student who was shot in the head by a classmate died Saturday afternoon, hospital officials and her family said.

Claire Davis, 17, was in critical condition after being shot at point-blank range at Arapahoe High School on Dec. 13.

"It is with heavy hearts that we share that at 4:29 p.m. this afternoon, Claire Davis passed away, with her family at her side," a statement from Littleton Adventist Hospital said.

"Despite the best efforts of our physicians and nursing staff, and Claire's fighting spirit, her injuries were too severe and the most advanced medical treatments could not prevent this tragic loss of life. Claire's death is immensely heartbreaking for our entire community, our staff and our families."

The Davis family said in a statement that they are grateful for the 17 years they had with their daughter.

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Report: CIA has helped Colombia kill dozens of rebel leaders

WASHINGTON (AP) — A covert CIA program has helped Colombia's government kill at least two dozen leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel insurgency also known as FARC, The Washington Post reported Saturday.

The National Security Agency has also provided "substantial eavesdropping help" to the Colombian government, according to the Post. And the U.S. provided Colombia with GPS equipment that can be used to transform regular munitions into "smart bombs" that can accurately home in on specific targets, even if they are located in dense jungles.

In March 2008, Colombian forces killed a top FARC commander, Raul Reyes, in one of several jungle camps the rebels operated in Ecuador, just across the border. The Post report Saturday said Colombia used U.S.-made smart bombs in the operation.

The report is based on interviews with more than 30 former and current U.S. and Colombian officials, who the Post said spoke on condition of anonymity because the program is classified and ongoing.

The CIA would not comment on the Post report. Without going into detail, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos told the Post that the CIA has been "of help," providing Colombian forces with "better training and knowledge."

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Top 10 photos of 2013, selected by AP's Director of Photography Santiago Lyon

How to sum up an entire year of news in just 10 photos? The very notion is daunting when we consider that the AP's award-winning team of hundreds of staff photographers, freelancers and photo editors sends out some 3,000 photos every 24 hours - over 1 million photos a year - to our subscribers around the globe.

Photo editing is, of course, a subjective process of comparison and selection. It involves aesthetics, journalism, impact and memory.

In the end, I chose 10 representative photos from some of the biggest stories of 2013.

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US releases once-secret legal rulings in attempt to justify Bush-era surveillance programs

WASHINGTON (AP) — The director of national intelligence on Saturday declassified more documents that outline how the National Security Agency was first authorized to start collecting bulk phone and Internet records in the hunt for al-Qaida terrorists and how a court eventually gained oversight of the program.

The declassification came after the Justice Department complied with a federal court order to release its previous legal arguments for keeping the programs secret.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper explained in a statement Saturday that President George W. Bush first authorized the spying in October 2001, as part of the Terrorist Surveillance Program, just after the Sept. 11 attacks. Bush disclosed the program in 2005. The Terrorist Surveillance Program — which had to be extended every 30-60 days by presidential order — eventually was replaced by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a law that requires a secret court to approve the bulk collection.

Clapper also released federal court documents from successive intelligence directors arguing to keep the programs secret, after a California judge this fall ordered the administration to declassify whatever details already had been revealed as part of the White House's campaign to justify the NSA surveillance. Former agency contractor Edward Snowden first made the surveillance programs public in leaks to the media.

A senior intelligence official Saturday confirmed that the documents were released as part of two long-running class-actions cases against the NSA in California. The official said that at the judge's direction the administration reviewed prior declarations in order to relate information that is no longer classified and determined what could be released. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to describe the court case by name.

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Edgar Bronfman Sr., Seagram Co. billionaire, longtime head of World Jewish Congress, dies

NEW YORK (AP) — Edgar M. Bronfman Sr., the billionaire businessman and longtime president of the World Jewish Congress, which lobbied the Soviets to allow Jews to emigrate and helped spearhead the search for hidden Nazi loot, died Saturday. He was 84.

The Canadian-born Bronfman died at his New York home surrounded by family, according to the family charity he led, The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.

Bronfman made his fortune with his family's Seagram's liquor empire, taking over as chairman and CEO in 1971 and continuing the work of his father, Samuel. Under Bronfman's leadership, Seagram expanded its offerings and was eventually acquired by French media and telecom group Vivendi Universal in 2000.

But Bronfman's wealth, combined with his role in the World Jewish Congress, an umbrella group of Jewish organizations in some 80 countries that he led for more than a quarter century, allowed him to be a tireless advocate for his fellow Jews.

"He was the first of his kind, a titan of industry that dedicated himself fully to advocating, advancing and encouraging the Jewish people," said Dana Raucher, executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation.

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Former oil tycoon Khodorkovsky says he won't get involved in politics or seek asset returns

MOSCOW (AP) — Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the onetime Russian oil tycoon who was imprisoned for a decade in a politically tinged case, says he doesn't intend to get involved in politics now that he has been pardoned and released.

President Vladimir Putin pardoned Khodorkovsky on Friday, and hours later he flew on a private jet to Berlin. Khodorkovsky had been imprisoned for tax evasion and money-laundering. The cases were widely criticized as political revenge; Khodorkovsky funded opposition parties and was believed to have personal political ambitions.

In an interview published Sunday on the website of the Russian newspaper Novoye Vremya, Khodorkovsky is quoted as saying that in his pardon application he said he did not intend to get involved in politics or seek the return of the assets of his dismantled Yukos oil company.

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