Wall Street Week Ahead: Earnings, money flows to push stocks higher

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With earnings momentum on the rise, the S&P 500 seems to have few hurdles ahead as it continues to power higher, its all-time high a not-so-distant goal.


The U.S. equity benchmark closed the week at a fresh five-year high on strong housing and labor market data and a string of earnings that beat lowered expectations.


Sector indexes in transportation <.djt>, banks <.bkx> and housing <.hgx> this week hit historic or multiyear highs as well.


Michael Yoshikami, chief executive at Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California, said the key earnings to watch for next week will come from cyclical companies. United Technologies reports on Wednesday while Honeywell is due to report Friday.


"Those kind of numbers will tell you the trajectory the economy is taking," Yoshikami said.


Major technology companies also report next week, but the bar for the sector has been lowered even further.


Chipmakers like Advanced Micro Devices , which is due Tuesday, are expected to underperform as PC sales shrink. AMD shares fell more than 10 percent Friday after disappointing results from its larger competitor, Intel . Still, a chipmaker sector index <.sox> posted its highest weekly close since last April.


Following a recent underperformance, an upside surprise from Apple on Wednesday could trigger a return to the stock from many investors who had abandoned ship.


Other major companies reporting next week include Google , IBM , Johnson & Johnson and DuPont on Tuesday, Microsoft and 3M on Thursday and Procter & Gamble on Friday.


CASH POURING IN, HOUSING DATA COULD HELP


Perhaps the strongest support for equities will come from the flow of cash from fixed income funds to stocks.


The recent piling into stock funds -- $11.3 billion in the past two weeks, the most since 2000 -- indicates a riskier approach to investing from retail investors looking for yield.


"From a yield perspective, a lot of stocks still yield a great deal of money and so it is very easy to see why money is pouring into the stock market," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.


"You are just not going to see people put a lot of money to work in a 10-year Treasury that yields 1.8 percent."


Housing stocks <.hgx>, already at a 5-1/2 year high, could get a further bump next week as investors eye data expected to support the market's perception that housing is the sluggish U.S. economy's bright spot.


Home resales are expected to have risen 0.6 percent in December, data is expected to show on Tuesday. Pending home sales contracts, which lead actual sales by a month or two, hit a 2-1/2 year high in November.


The new home sales report on Friday is expected to show a 2.1 percent increase.


The federal debt ceiling negotiations, a nagging worry for investors, seemed to be stuck on the back burner after House Republicans signaled they might support a short-term extension.


Equity markets, which tumbled in 2011 after the last round of talks pushed the United States close to a default, seem not to care much this time around.


The CBOE volatility index <.vix>, a gauge of market anxiety, closed Friday at its lowest since April 2007.


"I think the market is getting somewhat desensitized from political drama given, this seems to be happening over and over," said Destination Wealth Management's Yoshikami.


"It's something to keep in mind, but I don't think it's what you want to base your investing decisions on."


(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos, additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak and Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Baseball reflects on HOF pair Weaver, Musial


One was born in St. Louis, the other became a star there.


Aside from that, Earl Weaver and Stan Musial were about as different as two Hall of Famers could be.


"Talk about your odd couple," said George Vecsey, the longtime sports columnist for The New York Times who wrote a recent biography of Musial.


Weaver was a 5-foot-6 rabble rouser whose penchant for quarreling with umpires belied a cerebral approach to managing that has stood the test of time. Musial was a humble slugger with a funky batting stance who was beloved by Cardinals fans and respected by pretty much everyone else.


Saturday began with news of Weaver's death at age 82, and by the end of the night Musial had died, too, leaving baseball to reflect on two distinguished careers rich in contrasts.


"Earl was well known for being one of the game's most colorful characters with a memorable wit, but he was also amongst its most loyal," Commissioner Bud Selig said.


Selig later released a statement after Musial's death at age 92.


"Stan's life embodies baseball's unparalleled history and why this game is the national pastime. As remarkable as 'Stan the Man' was on the field, he was a true gentleman in life," Selig said.


A three-time MVP and seven-time National League batting champion, Musial helped the Cardinals win three World Series championships in the 1940s. His popularity in St. Louis can be measured by the not one, but two statues that stand in his honor outside Busch Stadium. After his death Saturday, Cardinals of more recent vintage began offering condolences almost immediately.


"Sad to hear about Stan the Man, it's an honor to wear the same uniform," said a message posted on the Twitter account of Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday.


Albert Pujols, who led St. Louis to World Series titles in 2006 and 2011 before leaving as a free agent before last season, offered prayers for Musial's family via Twitter.


"I will cherish my friendship with Stan for as long as I live," said a message posted on Pujols' site. "Rest in Peace."


Weaver was born in St. Louis, but his greatest success came as a manager in Baltimore. He took the Orioles to the World Series four times, winning one title in 1970.


Never a fan of small-ball strategies like bunting and stealing bases, Weaver preferred to wait for a three-run homer, always hoping for a big inning that could break the game open.


"No one managed a ballclub or pitching staff better than Earl," said Davey Johnson, who played under Weaver with the Orioles.


Johnson now manages the Washington Nationals and ran the Orioles from 1996-97.


"He was decades ahead of his time," Johnson said. "Not a game goes by that I don't draw on something Earl did or said. I will miss him every day."


While Musial could let his bat do the talking, Weaver was more than willing to shout to be heard. His salty-tongued arguing with umpires will live on through YouTube, and Orioles programs sold at the old Memorial Stadium frequently featured photos of Weaver squabbling.


Former umpire Don Denkinger remembered a game in which the manager disputed a call with Larry McCoy at the plate.


"Earl tells us, 'Now I'm gonna show you how stupid you all are.' Earl goes down to first base and ejects the first base umpire. Then he goes to second base and ejects the second base umpire. I'm working third base and now he comes down and ejects me," Denkinger said.


Musial was a quieter type who spent his career far removed from the bright lights of places like New York and Boston. But his hitting exploits were certainly on par with contemporaries Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams.


"I knew Stan very well. He used to take care of me at All-Star games, 24 of them," Hall of Famer Willie Mays said. "He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could. Again, a true gentleman on and off the field — I never heard anybody say a bad word about him, ever."


Dave Anderson of The New York Times recalled growing up in Brooklyn, rooting for Musial. Those Dodgers crowds helped give Musial his nickname, Stan the Man.


"I thought he was going to knock the fence down in Brooklyn, he'd hit it so often," Anderson said.


Musial did it despite an odd left-handed stance — with his legs and knees close together, he would cock the bat near his ear and twist his body away from the pitcher before uncoiling when the ball came.


If that was a lasting snapshot of Musial, the images of Weaver will stay just as fresh — the feisty manager, perhaps with his hat turned backward, looking up at an umpire and screaming at him before kicking dirt somewhere and finally leaving the field.


None of those histrionics should obscure the fact that in the end, Weaver often had the last laugh — to the tune of a .583 career winning percentage.


"When you discuss our game's motivational masters, Earl is a part of that conversation," Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson said. "He was a proven leader in the dugout and loved being a Hall of Famer. Though small in stature, he was a giant as a manager."


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Latest Inaugural Forecast: Bit Warmer Than in 2009






Consider it the first fact check of a Barack Obama campaign pledge for his second term: Will he, or Mother Nature, deliver on promised warmer Inauguration Day weather?


It’s shaping up as a close call.






In September, while campaigning in Colorado, Obama was talking to a potential voter who mentioned he had been one of the hundreds of thousands of people outdoors at Obama‘s bone-chilling first inaugural in 2009, when the noontime temperature was 28 degrees. Obama promised: “This one is going to be warmer.”


Scientifically, the president doesn’t have control of day-to-day weather. While his policies can lessen or worsen future projected global warming on a large scale, they cannot do anything about Washington‘s daily temperature on Jan. 21.


Still, it’s a promise that for a long time looked close to a sure thing. The history of local weather was on Obama’s side.


On average, the normal high is 43 degrees and the normal low is 28, but that’s just around dawn. There have been 19 traditional January inaugurations and only two were colder. Ronald Reagan‘s second in 1985 was a frigid 7 with subzero wind chills and John F. Kennedy‘s in 1961 was a snow-covered 22. Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration also was 28.


Then there was the general warming trend Washington had been stuck in. The last time the nation’s capital stayed below freezing all day was Jan. 22, 2011. The city has gone a record 700-plus days since it had 2 inches or more of snow.


An Arctic cold front looks to be racing toward the mid-Atlantic, so it will be cooler than normal on Monday, but probably not cooler than 2009, said Nikole Listemaa, a senior forecaster at the National Weather Service office in Sterling, Va., that oversees forecasts for the capital area.


Look for highs around 40 degrees with noon temperatures in the mid- to upper 30s, Listemaa said Saturday. That would keep Obama’s pledge.


There’s also a 30 percent chance of light snow showers for Monday. But the Arctic cold front won’t arrive until Monday night into Tuesday, Listemaa added.


Extreme cold on Inauguration Day, folklore says, can be a killer.


In 1841, newly elected president William Henry Harrison stood outside without a coat or hat as he spoke for an hour and 40 minutes. He caught a cold that day and it became pneumonia and he died one month after being sworn in.


Twelve years later, outgoing first lady Abigail Fillmore got sick from sitting outside on a cold wet platform as Franklin Pierce was inaugurated and she died of pneumonia at the end of the month. Doctors now know that pneumonia is caused by germs, but prolonged exposure to extreme cold weather may hurt the airways and make someone more susceptible to getting sick.


There’s one thing Washington‘s history shows. Bad weather generally creates bad traffic jams.


Kennedy found that out in his 1961 inauguration when 8 inches of snow fell overnight and crippled the city for what at that time was Washington‘s worst traffic jam. Thousands of cars were abandoned in the snow.


———


Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears


Also Read
Weather News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Why conservatives call MLK their hero




A growing number of conservatives say MLK was a conservative. Many cite five words from King's "I Have a Dream" speech.




STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • Conservatives claim that MLK's conservative legacy is ignored

  • MLK opposed affirmative action, they say

  • His self-help message was conservative, one historian says

  • MLK aide: They are trying to "hoodwink" people




(CNN) -- The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was called a communist, an outside agitator and a drum major for righteousness.


But now a growing number of people are calling King something else: A conservative icon.


As the nation celebrates King's national holiday Monday, a new battle has erupted over his legacy. Some conservatives are saying it's time for them to reclaim the legacy of King, whose message of self-help, patriotism and a colorblind America, they say, was "fundamentally conservative."


But those who marched with King and studied his work say that notion is absurd. The political class that once opposed King, they argue, is now trying to distort his message.


King's most famous words are the crux of the disagreement.


"He was against all policies based on race," says Peter Schramm, a conservative historian. "The basis of his attack on segregation was 'judge us by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.' That's a profound moral argument."


Taylor Branch, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of a trilogy on King, says some conservatives are invoking a phantom version of King to avoid dealing with contemporary racial issues.



He was against all policies based on race. The basis of his attack on segregation was to judge us by the content of our character, not by the color of our skin.
Peter Schramm, a conservative historian and former Reagan Administration official



"They want to claim they understand Dr. King better than Dr. King did," says Branch, author of "Parting the Waters."


A quick look at King's books and speeches, Branch and others argue, reveals that his message was not conservative but radical.


A life celebrated through service


The man who started calling King a conservative


Even when King was alive, his opponents distorted his words, Branch says. They would publicly agree with some of his message while undercutting the parts they didn't like.


"Most people who were uncomfortable with his message did not take it head-on and say Dr. King was wrong because his message was so powerful, and near the heart of patriotism. They would say, 'I agree with you except you shouldn't break the law,' or 'you shouldn't mix church and state' or 'stop corrupting the lives of youth,' " says Branch, who just released "The King Years," a book that looks at 18 pivotal events in the civil rights movement.


One of the first leaders to invoke King's message in support of conservative ideas was Ronald Reagan, according to Stephen Prothero, who spotlights that moment in his book "The American Bible," which examines the most famous speeches and texts in American history.


In June of 1985, Reagan cited King's "content of our character" line from the "I Have a Dream" speech to argue in a speech opposing affirmative action that King's vision of a colorblind society would not include racial hiring quotas.


Reagan, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, said in a radio address on civil rights:




Ronald Reagan was one of the first conservatives to invoke the words of MLK to support conservative policies.



"The truth is, quotas deny jobs to many who would have gotten them otherwise but who weren't born a specified race or sex. That's discrimination pure and simple and is exactly what the civil rights laws were designed to stop."


Prothero says King's "I Have a Dream" speech has since been invoked by conservative leaders such as William Bennett and Rush Limbaugh to argue that affirmative action equals reverse discrimination.


Recommitting to Dr. King's nonviolent teachings


King a defender of traditional values?


The arguments for King's conservative legacy, however, have acquired deeper layers over the years.


In a 2006 essay entitled "Martin Luther King's Conservative Legacy," Carolyn. G. Raney argues that King's message was "fundamentally conservative" on other levels.


In that essay, published by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think-tank, she writes: "King's primary aim was not to change laws, but to change people, to make neighbors of enemies and a nation out of divided races. King led with love, not racial hatred."


Raney says King's message was conservative because he believed in a fixed moral law. She quotes from King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," in which King says a just law was "a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God."


"Conservatives tend to be more deeply religious, to hold to fundamental truths appealing to higher principles and appealing to the founding of America," Raney says in an interview. "More liberals seem to embrace the idea of moral relativism."


Those who argue for King's conservative credentials include a member of the civil rights leader's family.



They want to claim they understand Dr. King better than Dr. King did.
Taylor Branch, Pulitzer Prize winning author of "Parting the Waters."



Alveda King, a niece of King, is an author and activist who has talked often about her uncle's message at conservative rallies. She says he was a believer in traditional values who went on record criticizing homosexuality, defending the traditional family and opposing abortion.


Memphis finally names street after King


"Martin Luther king Jr. was a preacher and a liberator," she says. "It's natural for what's called conservative values to align with who he was because he was a pastor. He was not so much a fiscal conservative, but more so a moral conservative."


King's original civil rights message was also conservative because he preached self-help to beleaguered black communities, argues Joel Schwartz, an author of an essay entitled "Where Dr. King Went Wrong."


Schwartz says King grew up in a household where his father taught hard work and self-discipline. King championed these virtues, he says. He even criticized black schoolteachers who couldn't speak proper English.


In his last book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community," King said if blacks practiced thrift and wise investment, "the Negro will be doing his share to grapple with his problem of economic deprivation."


King preached self-help so much because blacks didn't have other options in the early stages of the movement, says Schwartz, author of "Fighting Poverty with Virtue: Moral Reform and America's Urban Poor, 1825-2000."


"He was not in a position to say to blacks, 'Vote the scoundrels out of office, and elect people who benefit you' because blacks couldn't vote," Schwartz says. "The only thing they could possibly control was their own behavior and the ability to take advantage of the opportunities available to them."


King "went wrong" when he abandoned his self-help message during the last years of his life as he took the civil rights movement North, Schwartz says. He and some of his aides were so disheartened by the dysfunction of the black underclass in the North that they had to look for another solution.


"How could self-help be the road to success for people who," King and his aides had concluded, "seemed bent on destroying themselves," Schwartz writes.


"The only answer the later King could see to these economic and social problems was for government to step in and make things better."


What did MLK think about gay people?


King talks about redistribution of wealth


King took the movement to the North starting in 1966 when he led a campaign against urban poverty in Chicago. The evolution of his message is evident in his books and speeches.


Most historians think King was getting more radical, not conservative, at the end of his life.


King concluded that racism wasn't the only problem: War and poverty were the others. He came out against the Vietnam War. He called for the nationalization of some industries and a guaranteed annual wage.


His most audacious plan was a forerunner of today's Occupy Movement. By 1968, King was preparing to lead a "Poor People's Campaign" to Washington. A coalition of poor blacks, Native Americas, Latinos and whites from Appalachia would occupy Washington and force the government to take money spent on Vietnam and use it instead to combat poverty. The campaign muddled on after King's assassination, but quickly fell apart without his leadership.


In a documentary entitled "Citizen King," the leader is shown speaking to a church audience, as he prepared his nonviolent army of poor people for Washington.



Martin Luther King Jr. was a preacher and a liberator. It's natural for what's called conservative values to align with who he was because he was a pastor.
Alveda King, niece of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.



"It didn't cost the nation a penny to open lunch counters. It didn't cost the nation a penny to give us the right to vote," he said. "But it will cost the nation billions to feed and house all of its citizens. The country needs a radical redistribution of wealth."


Opinion: 48 years after MLK march, voting rights still vulnerable


King's aides defend leader's record


Some of King's closest aides are baffled at the argument that King opposed affirmative action policies. They say the public record is clear: King openly supported such policies.


The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the group he led, created a program called Operation Breadbasket that called for companies to hire a certain number of blacks. In King's book "Why We Can't Wait," he recounts his travels to India where he expressed approval for that government's attempts to remedy the historical discrimination of "the untouchables" through compensatory programs.


King also argued that just as the nation had given preferential treatment to soldiers returning from World War II through the GI Bill, it should do the same for blacks in the realms of jobs and education.


"A society that has done something special against the Negro for hundreds of years must now do something special for the Negro," King wrote in "Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community."


Conservatives don't like to talk about that version of King, say those who knew the civil rights leader.


"This is just an attempt to hoodwink people about who Martin Luther King Jr. was," says the Rev. Joseph Lowery, part of King's inner-circle at the SCLC.


"He would have never advocated that people should be judged by their color," Lowery says. "He never advocated that. What he advocated was that people should not be discriminated against because of their color. That's entirely different."


The notion that self-help and liberal politics can't co-exist is wrong as well, Lowery says. They've existed for years in the black church, the institution that spawned King.


"We always encouraged folks to help themselves," Lowery says of black pastors. "The more we help ourselves, the more we prove our worth. The church said the Lord helps those who help themselves. I've heard that all my life."


Clarence Jones, who was a speechwriter and attorney for King, says King's position on affirmative action would have evolved. He says he believes that King would support affirmative action policies that help poor people, not one particular race.


He was already headed that way with the "Poor People's Campaign," says Jones, author of "Behind the Dream," which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of King's dream speech.


King had already decided during the last year of his life to push for the congressional passage of an economic bill of rights for the poor, Jones says. The SCLC debated whether to include nonblacks in the bills of rights but King insisted that they do so.


"We came to the conclusion that the economic circumstances of poor people transcended the issue of color and race," Jones says.


Conservatives who insist that King's primary aim was to change people, not laws, don't understand King or American history, others say.


If King's primary aim was to change hearts, not laws, the movement would not have had as many victories, says Clayborne Carson, who was chosen by King's widow, Coretta Scott King, to edit her husband's papers.




Conservatives say MLK's primary goal was to change hearts, not law. Here King shakes hands with President Lyndon Johnson after the signing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.



"People who gain privileges because of race or status don't readily give up those privileges and they don't see them as wrong," Carson says. "We know for a fact that the South would have never voted out slavery or Jim Crow."


Rare MLk interview tape found


Two visions of King


Carson says those who distort King's legacy aren't confined to conservatives. Some of King's biggest supporters subtract vital parts of King's message.


"At the King Memorial in Washington, you won't see a single quote about poverty," says Carson, author of "Martin's Dream." "You have a lot of quotes about love and abstract ideas, but translating love to let's take care of the poor, that's a step that most people aren't willing to take."


What's happening to King's message is part of a larger trend in American history: a deliberate attempt to "misremember" race, says Branch, the civil rights author.


"That is the temptation of American history, to say we don't need to deal with race anymore. We misremembered the Civil War for a 100 years, thinking that it had nothing to do with slavery and that the glorious old wonderful South was like 'Gone with the Wind,' " Branch says.


What Branch calls "misremembering" others call recapturing King's conservative legacy.


Raney, who wrote the Heritage Foundation article about King's conservative values, says she did so because she wanted to "reclaim" King for conservatives.


Still, she says as much as she's read about King, he remains elusive.


"It seems like there are almost two Kings, the earlier one and the later one," she says.


Both versions of King will be on display this Monday. Forty-five years after his death, one thing has not changed: King's message is still dividing America.


Opinion: MLK, born at just the right time







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Local volunteers answer call for National Day of Service









Lillie Council and Leah Gipson sat at a small table at Navy Pier's USO office Saturday with stacks of blank postcards and stationery piled between them.

They put pen to paper and wrote notes, one by one, to American troops serving overseas, doing their part to honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. by participating in the National Day of Service that precedes the federal holiday recognizing him Monday.

"Sometimes when you're away from home, you just need that little bit of comfort from home, even if it's from a stranger," said Council, who said she served in the Army for six years in the 1980s.

"I think it just makes someone's day to know they're appreciated and they're thought of," she said.

Council and Gipson joined volunteers across the country Saturday — including President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama — who donated their time and effort to more than 2,000 public service projects as part of the National Day of Service.

The King holiday has long included a call for Americans to volunteer. But Obama gave the movement new life before his first inauguration four years ago, when he encouraged Americans to honor King's legacy through service.

He and his wife renewed that call this year as they prepared for Obama's public inauguration ceremony Monday.

More than 60 volunteer events were scheduled in the Chicago area Saturday, from the USO letter-writing campaign to a blood drive in Bolingbrook and a project in Grayslake to gather laundry detergent and bagged lunches for people staying at a Lake County homeless shelter.

At the USO event, donated candy, granola bars and trail mix filled a table. More than 100 people were expected to donate goods or write letters to troops by the end of the day, said Chris Miller, director of center operations and volunteer services for the USO of Illinois.

Gipson said she decided to write letters to troops after reflecting on the sacrifices her relatives made. Her father served in the Army in Vietnam, and her brother served in the Marine Corps in Iraq, she said.

"When I'm writing these letters, I picture my dad, I picture my brother, and I think about what they would have needed to hear while they were away from their families and away from home," Gipson said.

In the South Loop neighborhood, about two dozen volunteers scrubbed doors, door frames and window sills at The Studios, a 170-unit affordable housing building at East 18th Street and South Wabash Avenue.

The volunteers cleaned every door in the building so quickly that they soon began spreading out in search of other areas that needed sprucing up.

"I love it," said Maggie McGuire, a member of Chicago's Fourth Presbyterian Church who helped organize the project. "I'm doing it because I believe that decent, affordable housing is a basic right."

Laura Shiplet, another church member, said that volunteering at The Studios made her feel like she's keeping King's legacy alive.

"I want to be part of his dream, especially this weekend," Shiplet said, a bucket of soapy water at her feet. "It's like a big celebration of Martin Luther King's life."

rhaggerty@tribune.com

Twitter @RyanTHaggerty



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Algeria ends desert siege with 23 hostages dead


ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - Algerian troops ended a siege by Islamist militants at a gas plant in the Sahara desert where 23 hostages died, with a final assault which killed all the remaining hostage-takers.


Believed to be among the 32 dead militants was their leader, Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, a Nigerien close to al Qaeda-linked commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar, presumed mastermind of the raid.


An Algerian interior ministry statement on the death toll gave no breakdown of the number of foreigners among hostages killed since the plant was seized before dawn on Wednesday.


Details are only slowly emerging on what happened during the siege, which marked a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces are ratcheting up a war against Islamist militants in neighboring Mali.


Algeria's interior ministry said on Saturday that 107 foreign hostages and 685 Algerian hostages had survived, but did not give a detailed breakdown of those who died.


"We feel a deep and growing unease ... we fear that over the next few days we will receive bad news," said Helge Lund, Chief Executive of Norway's Statoil, which ran the plant along with Britain's BP and Algeria's state oil company.


"People we have spoken to describe unbelievable, horrible experiences," he said.


British Prime Minister David Cameron said he feared for the lives of five British citizens unaccounted for at the gas plant near the town of In Amenas, which was also home to expatriate workers from Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp and others.


One American and one British citizen have been confirmed dead. Statoil said five of its workers, all Norwegian nationals, were still missing. Japanese and American workers are also unaccounted for.


The Islamists' attack has tested Algeria's relations with the outside world, exposed the vulnerability of multinational oil operations in the Sahara and pushed Islamist radicalism in northern Africa to center stage.


Some Western governments expressed frustration at not being informed of the Algerian authorities' plans to storm the complex. Algeria, scarred by a civil war with Islamist insurgents in the 1990s which claimed 200,000 lives, had insisted there would be no negotiation in the face of terrorism.


President Barack Obama said on Saturday the United States was seeking from Algerian authorities a fuller understanding of what took place, but said "the blame for this tragedy rests with the terrorists who carried it out."


Official sources had no immediate confirmation of newspaper reports suggesting some of the hostages may have been executed by their captors as the Algerian army closed in for the final assault on Saturday.


One source close to the crisis said 16 foreign hostages were freed, including two Americans and one Portuguese.


BP's chief executive Bob Dudley said on Saturday four of its 18 workers at the site were missing. The remaining 14 were safe.


PLANNED BEFORE FRENCH LANDED IN MALI


The attack on the heavily fortified gas compound was one of the most audacious in recent years and almost certainly planned long before French troops launched a military operation in Mali this month to stem an advance by Islamist fighters.


Hundreds of hostages escaped on Thursday when the army launched a rescue operation, but many hostages were killed.


Before the interior ministry released its provisional death toll, an Algerian security source said eight Algerians and at least seven foreigners were among the victims, including two Japanese, two Britons and a French national. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.


The U.S. State Department said on Friday one American, Frederick Buttaccio, had died but gave no further details.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said nobody was going to attack the United States and get away with it.


"We have made a commitment that we're going to go after al Qaeda wherever they are and wherever they try to hide," he said during a visit to London. "We have done that obviously in Afghanistan, Pakistan, we've done it in Somalia, in Yemen and we will do it in North Africa as well."


Earlier on Saturday, Algerian special forces found 15 unidentified burned bodies at the plant, a source told Reuters.


Mauritanian news agencies identified the field commander of the group that attacked the plant as Nigeri, a fighter from one of the Arab tribes in Niger who had joined the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC) in early-2005.


That group eventually joined up with al Qaeda to become Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It and allied groups are the targets of the French military operation in Mali.


The news agencies described him as "one of the closest people" to Belmokhtar, who fought in Afghanistan and then in Algeria's civil war of the 1990s. Nigeri was known as a man for "difficult missions", having carried out attacks in Mauritania, Mali and Niger.


NO NEGOTIATION


Britain, Japan and other countries have expressed irritation that the Algerian army assault was ordered without consultation.


But French President Francois Hollande said the Algerian military's response seemed to have been the best option given that negotiation was not possible.


"When you have people taken hostage in such large number by terrorists with such cold determination and ready to kill those hostages - as they did - Algeria has an approach which to me, as I see it, is the most appropriate because there could be no negotiation," Hollande said.


The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the country's outwardly tough security measures.


Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site.


Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a preoccupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.


The most powerful Islamist groups operating in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in the civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.


(Additional reporting by Balazs Koranyi in Oslo, Estelle Shirbon and David Alexander in London, Brian Love in Paris; Writing by Giles Elgood and Myra MacDonald)



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Wall Street Week Ahead: Earnings, money flows to push stocks higher

NEW YORK (Reuters) - With earnings momentum on the rise, the S&P 500 seems to have few hurdles ahead as it continues to power higher, its all-time high a not-so-distant goal.


The U.S. equity benchmark closed the week at a fresh five-year high on strong housing and labor market data and a string of earnings that beat lowered expectations.


Sector indexes in transportation <.djt>, banks <.bkx> and housing <.hgx> this week hit historic or multiyear highs as well.


Michael Yoshikami, chief executive at Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, California, said the key earnings to watch for next week will come from cyclical companies. United Technologies reports on Wednesday while Honeywell is due to report Friday.


"Those kind of numbers will tell you the trajectory the economy is taking," Yoshikami said.


Major technology companies also report next week, but the bar for the sector has been lowered even further.


Chipmakers like Advanced Micro Devices , which is due Tuesday, are expected to underperform as PC sales shrink. AMD shares fell more than 10 percent Friday after disappointing results from its larger competitor, Intel . Still, a chipmaker sector index <.sox> posted its highest weekly close since last April.


Following a recent underperformance, an upside surprise from Apple on Wednesday could trigger a return to the stock from many investors who had abandoned ship.


Other major companies reporting next week include Google , IBM , Johnson & Johnson and DuPont on Tuesday, Microsoft and 3M on Thursday and Procter & Gamble on Friday.


CASH POURING IN, HOUSING DATA COULD HELP


Perhaps the strongest support for equities will come from the flow of cash from fixed income funds to stocks.


The recent piling into stock funds -- $11.3 billion in the past two weeks, the most since 2000 -- indicates a riskier approach to investing from retail investors looking for yield.


"From a yield perspective, a lot of stocks still yield a great deal of money and so it is very easy to see why money is pouring into the stock market," said Stephen Massocca, managing director at Wedbush Morgan in San Francisco.


"You are just not going to see people put a lot of money to work in a 10-year Treasury that yields 1.8 percent."


Housing stocks <.hgx>, already at a 5-1/2 year high, could get a further bump next week as investors eye data expected to support the market's perception that housing is the sluggish U.S. economy's bright spot.


Home resales are expected to have risen 0.6 percent in December, data is expected to show on Tuesday. Pending home sales contracts, which lead actual sales by a month or two, hit a 2-1/2 year high in November.


The new home sales report on Friday is expected to show a 2.1 percent increase.


The federal debt ceiling negotiations, a nagging worry for investors, seemed to be stuck on the back burner after House Republicans signaled they might support a short-term extension.


Equity markets, which tumbled in 2011 after the last round of talks pushed the United States close to a default, seem not to care much this time around.


The CBOE volatility index <.vix>, a gauge of market anxiety, closed Friday at its lowest since April 2007.


"I think the market is getting somewhat desensitized from political drama given, this seems to be happening over and over," said Destination Wealth Management's Yoshikami.


"It's something to keep in mind, but I don't think it's what you want to base your investing decisions on."


(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos, additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak and Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)



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Armstrong turns emotional in 2nd part of interview


CHICAGO (AP) — Lance Armstrong finally cracked.


Not while expressing deep remorse or regrets, though there was plenty of that in Friday night's second part of Armstrong's interview with Oprah Winfrey.


It wasn't over the $75 million in sponsorship deals that evaporated over the course of two days, or having to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded and called his "sixth child." It wasn't even about his lifetime ban from competition, though he said that was more than he deserved.


It was another bit of collateral damage that Armstrong said he wasn't prepared to deal with.


"I saw my son defending me and saying, 'That's not true. What you're saying about my dad is not true,'" Armstrong recalled.


"That's when I knew I had to tell him."


Armstrong was near tears at that point, referring to 13-year-old Luke, the oldest of his five children. He blinked, looked away from Winfrey, and with his lip trembling, struggled to compose himself.


It came just past the midpoint of the hourlong program on Winfrey's OWN network. In the first part, broadcast Thursday, the disgraced cycling champion admitted using performance-enhancing drugs when he won seven straight Tour de France titles.


Critics said he hadn't been contrite enough in the first half of the interview, which was taped Monday in Austin, but Armstrong seemed to lose his composure when Winfrey zeroed in on the emotional drama involving his personal life.


"What did you say?" Winfrey asked.


"I said, 'Listen, there's been a lot of questions about your dad. My career. Whether I doped or did not dope. I've always denied that and I've always been ruthless and defiant about that. You guys have seen that. That's probably why you trusted me on it.' Which makes it even sicker," Armstrong said.


"And uh, I told Luke, I said," and here Armstrong paused for a long time to collect himself, "I said, 'Don't defend me anymore. Don't.'


"He said OK. He just said, 'Look, I love you. You're my dad. This won't change that."


Winfrey also drew Armstrong out on his ex-wife, Kristin, whom he claimed knew just enough about both the doping and lying to ask him to stop. He credited her with making him promise that his comeback in 2009 would be drug-free.


"She said to me, 'You can do it under one condition: That you never cross that line again,'" Armstrong recalled.


"The line of drugs?" Winfrey asked.


"Yes. And I said, 'You've got a deal,'" he replied. "And I never would have betrayed that with her."


A U.S. Anti-Doping Agency report that exposed Armstrong as the leader of an elaborate doping scheme on his U.S. Postal Service cycling team included witness statements from at least three former teammates who said Kristin Armstrong participated in or at least knew about doping on the teams and knew team code names for EPO kept in her refrigerator. Postal rider Jonathan Vaughters testified that she handed riders cortisone pills wrapped in foil.


Armstrong said in the first part of the interview that he had stayed clean in the comeback, a claim that runs counter to the USADA report.


And that wasn't the only portion of the interview likely to rile anti-doping officials.


Winfrey asked Armstrong about a "60 Minutes Sports" interview in which USADA chief executive Travis Tygart said a representative of the cyclist had offered a donation that the agency turned down.


"Were you trying to pay off USADA?" she asked.


"No, that's not true," he replied, repeating, "That is not true."


Winfrey asks the question three more times, in different forms.


"That is not true," he insisted.


USADA spokeswoman Annie Skinner replied in a statement: "We stand by the facts both in the reasoned decision and in the '60 Minutes' interview."


Armstrong has talked with USADA officials, and a meeting with Tygart near the Denver airport reportedly ended in an argument over the possibility of modifying the lifetime ban. A person familiar with those conversations said Armstrong could provide information that might get his ban reduced to eight years. By then, he would be 49. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because he was discussing a confidential matter.


After retiring from cycling in 2011, Armstrong returned to triathlons, where he began his professional career as a teenager, and he has told people he's desperate to get back.


Winfrey asked if that was why he agreed to the interview.


"If you're asking me, do I want to compete again ... the answer is hell, yes," Armstrong said. "I'm a competitor. It's what I've done my whole life. I love to train. I love to race. I love to toe the line — and I don't expect it to happen."


Yet just three questions later, a flash of the old Armstrong emerged.


"Frankly," he said, "this may not be the most popular answer, but I think I deserve it. Maybe not right now ... (but) if I could go back to that time and say, 'OK, you're trading my story for a six-month suspension?' Because that's what people got."


"What other people got?" Winfrey asked.


"What everybody got," he replied.


Eleven former Armstrong teammates, including several who previously tested positive for PEDs, testified about the USPS team's doping scheme in exchange for more lenient punishments. Armstrong said in the first part of the interview that he knew his "fate was sealed" when his most trusted lieutenant, George Hincapie, who was alongside him for all seven Tour wins between 1999-2005, was forced to give Armstrong up to anti-doping authorities,


"So I got a death penalty and they got ... six months," Armstrong resumed. "I'm not saying that that's unfair, necessarily, but I'm saying it's different."


Armstrong said the most "humbling" moment in the aftermath of the USADA report was leaving Livestrong lest his association damage the foundation's ability to raise money and continue its advocacy programs on behalf of cancer victims.


Originally called the Lance Armstrong Foundation, the cyclist created it the year after he was diagnosed with a form of testicular cancer that had spread to his brain and lungs. Doctors gave him 50-50 odds of surviving.


"I wouldn't at all say forced out, told to leave," he said of Livestrong. "I was aware of the pressure. But it hurt like hell. ...


"That was the lowest," Armstrong said. "The lowest."


Armstrong's personal fortune had sustained a big hit days earlier. One by one, his sponsors called to end their associations with him: Nike; Trek Bicycles; Giro, which manufactures cycling helmets and other accessories; Anheuser-Busch.


"That was a $75 million day," Armstrong said.


"That just went out of your life," Winfrey said.


"Gone."


"Gone?" Winfrey repeated.


"Gone," he replied, "and probably never coming back."


So was there a moral to his story?


"I can look at what I did," he said. "Cheating to win bike races, lying about it, bullying people. Of course, you're not supposed to do those things. That's what we teach our children."


Armstrong paused to compose himself before a final mea culpa.


"I just think it was about the ride and losing myself, getting caught up in that, and doing all those things along the way that enabled that," he said. "The ultimate crime is, uh, is the betrayal of those people that supported me and believed in me.


"They got lied to."


___


AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, and National Writer Eddie Pells in Denver contributed to this report.


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NASA’s ‘Mohawk Guy’ to March in Obama’s Inaugural Parade






When President Barack Obama takes his oath of office to begin his second term Monday, NASA will be there.


NASA’s famed “Mohawk Guy” Bobak Ferdowsi will march in Monday’s Presidential Inaugural Parade on Monday (Jan. 21) along with life-size replicas of the space agency’s Mars rover Curiosity and Orion space capsule.






Ferdowsi is a flight director at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory whose unique hairdo catapulted him to Internet fame after the spectacular Mars rover Curiosity landing last year.


“The things we do, the exploration we do, is not just about learning about other planets. It’s about understanding our own. NASA gives us a chance to travel outside our world as a way to look back and learn about ourselves as a species — as people. There’s nowhere else in the world where you get to do that,” Ferdowsi said in a statement.


Ferdowsi will march in the inaugural parade alongside Curiosity, the Orion spacecraft and other NASA scientists as part of the agency’s official Presidential Inaugural Weekend. The $ 2.5 billion Curiosity rover landed on Mars on Aug. 5 to begin a two-year mission aimed at determining if the planet could have ever supported microbial life. [Obama and NASA: A Presidential Gallery]


NASA’s Orion deep-space capsule — the agency’s first new spaceship designed by NASA since the space shuttle in the 1970s — is designed to send humans farther into space than ever before. The space agency hopes the capsule will be the vessel for manned missions to asteroids, the moon and even Mars.


NASA is also hosting an open house for the agency’s social media participants today (Jan. 18) in honor of the inauguration as well. The open house is available to the public without a reservation, but 75 specially chosen guests will get a “reserved seat” that gives them special access to various events throughout the day.


The open house will also include panel discussions with NASA astronauts and displays showing off some of the agency’s accomplishments.


Telescopes will be set up outside the David M. Brown Planetarium in Arlington, Va., for a “Star Party” tomorrow (Jan. 19). Experts with NASA will speak about the future of space exploration and missions the agency already has in the works.


For NASA’s full schedule of Inaugural Weekend events, click here.


You can follow SPACE.com staff writer Miriam Kramer on Twitter @mirikramer. Follow SPACE.com on Twitter @Spacedotcom. We’re also on Facebook & Google+


Copyright 2013 SPACE.com, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
Space and Astronomy News Headlines – Yahoo! News





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Why Africa backs French in Mali





























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STORY HIGHLIGHTS


  • French intervention in Mali could be turning point in relationship with Africa, writes Lansana Gberie

  • France's meddling to bolster puppet regimes in the past has outraged Africans, he argues

  • He says few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as 'neo-colonial mission creep'

  • Lansana: 'Africa's weakness has been exposed by the might of a foreign power'




Editor's note: Dr. Lansana Gberie is a specialist on African peace and security issues. He is the author of "A Dirty War in West Africa: The RUF and the Destruction of Sierra Leone." He is from Sierra Leone and lives in New York.


(CNN) -- Operation Serval, France's swift military intervention to roll back advances made by Jihadist elements who had hijacked a separatist movement in northern Mali, could be a turning point in the ex-colonialist's relationship with Africa.


It is not, after all, every day that you hear a senior official of the African Union (AU) refer to a former European colonial power in Africa as "a brotherly nation," as Ambroise Niyonsaba, the African Union's special representative in Ivory Coast, described France on 14 January, while hailing the European nation's military strikes in Mali.


France's persistent meddling to bolster puppet regimes or unseat inconvenient ones was often the cause of much outrage among African leaders and intellectuals. But by robustly taking on the Islamist forces that for many months now have imposed a regime of terror in northern Mali, France is doing exactly what African governments would like to have done.



Lansana Gberie

Lansana Gberie



This is because the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), Ansar Dine and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are a far greater threat to many African states than they ever would be to France or Europe.


See also: What's behind Mali instability?


Moreover, the main underlying issues that led to this situation -- the separatist rebellion by Mali's Tuareg, under the banner of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), who seized the northern half of the country and declared it independent of Mali shortly after a most ill-timed military coup on 22 March 2012 -- is anathema to the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).


Successful separatism by an ethnic minority, it is believed, would only encourage the emergence of more separatist movements in a continent where many of the countries were cobbled together from disparate groups by Europeans not so long ago.










But the foreign Islamists who had been allies to the Tuaregs at the start of their rebellion had effectively sidelined the MNLA by July last year, and have since been exercising tomcatting powers over the peasants in the area, to whom the puritanical brand of Islam being promoted by the Islamists is alien.


ECOWAS, which is dominated by Nigeria -- formerly France's chief hegemonic foe in West Africa -- in August last year submitted a note verbale with a "strategic concept" to the U.N. Security Council, detailing plans for an intervention force to defeat the Islamists in Mali and reunify the country.


ECOWAS wanted the U.N. to bankroll the operation, which would include the deployment a 3,245-strong force -- to which Nigeria (694), Togo (581), Niger (541) and Senegal (350) would be the biggest contributors -- at a cost of $410 million a year. The note stated that the objective of the Islamists in northern Mali was to "create a safe haven" in that country from which to coordinate "continental terrorist networks, including AQIM, MUJAO, Boko Haram [in Nigeria] and Al-Shabaab [in Somalia]."


Despite compelling evidence of the threat the Islamists pose to international peace and security, the U.N. has not been able to agree on funding what essentially would be a military offensive. U.N. Security Council resolution 2085, passed on 20 December last year, only agreed to a voluntary contribution and the setting up of a trust fund, and requested the secretary-general "develop and refine options within 30 days" in this regard. The deadline should be 20 January.


See also: Six reasons events in Mali matter


It is partly because of this U.N. inaction that few in Africa would label the French action in Mali as another neo-colonial mission creep.


If the Islamists had been allowed to capture the very strategic town of Sevaré, as they seemed intent on doing, they would have captured the only airstrip in Mali (apart from the airport in Bamako) capable of handling heavy cargo planes, and they would have been poised to attack the more populated south of the country.



Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.
Lansana Gberie



Those Africans who would be critical of the French are probably stunned to embarrassment: Africa's weakness has, once again, been exposed by the might of a foreign power.


Watch video: French troops welcomed in Mali


Africans, however, can perhaps take consolation in the fact that the current situation in Mali was partially created by the NATO action in Libya in 2010, which France spearheaded. A large number of the well-armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists had fought in the forces of former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, and then left to join the MNLA in northern Mali after Gadhafi fell.


They brought with them advanced weapons, including shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles from Libya; and two new Jihadist terrorist groups active in northern Mali right now, Ansar Dine and MUJAO, were formed out of these forces.


Many African states had an ambivalent attitude towards Gadhafi, but few rejoiced when he was ousted and killed in the most squalid condition.


A number of African countries, Nigeria included, have started to deploy troops in Mali alongside the French, and ECOWAS has stated the objective as the complete liberation of the north from the Islamists.


The Islamists are clearly not a pushover; though they number between 2,000 and 3,000 they are battle-hardened and fanatically driven, and will likely hold on for some time to come.


The question now is: what happens after, as is almost certain, France begins to wind down its forces, leaving the African troops in Mali?


Nigeria, which almost single-handedly funded previous ECOWAS interventions (in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, costing billions of dollars and hundreds of Nigerian troops), has been reluctant to fund such expensive missions since it became democratic.


See also: Nigerians waiting for 'African Spring'


Its civilian regimes have to be more accountable to their citizens than the military regimes of the 1990s, and Nigeria has pressing domestic challenges. Foreign military intervention is no longer popular in the country, though the links between the northern Mali Islamists and the destructive Boko Haram could be used as a strategic justification for intervention in Mali.


The funding issue, however, will become more and more urgent in the coming weeks and months, and the U.N. must find a sustainable solution beyond a call for voluntary contributions by member states.


The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lansana Gberie.






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Notre Dame's Te'o: 'There is no way that I could be part of this'









Manti Te'o broke his silence late Friday and denied any involvement in the dead girlfriend hoax that has consumed the former Notre Dame All-American for days, while saying the man behind the ruse called two days ago to apologize for it.

"I wasn't faking it," Te'o told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap in an off-camera interview. "I wasn't part of this."

A 22-year-old named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo allegedly preyed upon Te'o in creating a bogus woman named Lennay Kekua who began an online- and telephone-only relationship with Te'o, Notre Dame's bellwether linebacker, only to die in September of leukemia and create a personal back story that propelled Te'o to national renown but ultimately crumbled this week.


Schaap reported after a two and a half hour interview with Te'o that the player wasn't completely sure Kekua did not exist until two days ago -- when Tuiasosopo called Te'o to admit he was behind the hoax and apologize for it.


As for at least one glaring inconsistency -- the story of how Te'o and Kekua met -- the former Irish star admitted to a lie. The relationship, such as it was, began during Te'o's sophomore year at Notre Dame via Facebook, he told ESPN. He attempted to contact Kekua via Skype and Facetime but never saw a face on the other end, Te'o said.





And as for the story of meeting Kekua on the field at Stanford in 2009, a tale retold by his father in October, Te'o said: "I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away."


ESPN reported Friday that Tuiasosopo called a friend from church in early December and admitted he duped Te'o, without the Notre Dame linebacker playing a part in the deception. Deadspin.com, which broke the girlfriend hoax story Wednesday, reported that Te'o might have played a role in the fraud.

Te'o denied that he used the situation to enhance his Heisman Trophy candidacy. He finished second in the voting to Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel.

"When (people) hear the facts, they'll know," Te'o told ESPN. "They'll know that there is no way that I could be part of this."

Te'o did say the ordeal weighed on him during Notre Dame's 42-14 loss to Alabama in the BCS title game, in which he played arguably one of the worst games of his career.


"It affected me," Te'o said. "When you're stuck in big game like that... people depend on you. You need to perform."

bchamilton@tribune.com

Twitter @ChiTribHamilton





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Foreigners still trapped in Sahara hostage crisis


ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - More than 20 foreigners were captive or missing inside a desert gas plant on Saturday, nearly two days after the Algerian army launched an assault to free them that saw many hostages killed.


The standoff between the Algerian army and al Qaeda-linked gunmen - one of the biggest international hostage crises in decades - entered its fourth day, having thrust Saharan militancy to the top of the global agenda.


The number and fate of victims has yet to be confirmed, with the Algerian government keeping officials from Western countries far from the site where their countrymen were in peril.


Reports put the number of hostages killed at between 12 to 30, with possibly dozens of foreigners still unaccounted for - among them Norwegians, Japanese, Britons, Americans and others.


State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland confirmed on Friday the death of one American, Frederick Buttaccio, in the hostage situation, but gave no further details.


Two Japanese, two Britons and a French national were among the seven foreigners confirmed dead in the army's storming, the Algerian security source told Reuters. One British citizen was killed when the gunmen seized the hostages on Wednesday.


A U.S. official said on Friday that a U.S. Medevac flight carrying wounded of multiple nationalities had left Algeria.


By nightfall on Friday, the Algerian military was holding the vast residential barracks at the In Amenas gas processing plant, while gunmen were holed up in the industrial plant itself with an undisclosed number of hostages.


Scores of Westerners and hundreds of Algerian workers were inside the heavily fortified compound when it was seized before dawn on Wednesday by Islamist fighters who said they wanted a halt to a French military operation in neighboring Mali.


Hundreds escaped on Thursday when the army launched an operation, but many hostages were killed in the assault. Algerian forces destroyed four trucks holding hostages, according to the family of a Northern Irish engineer who escaped from a fifth truck and survived.


Leaders of Britain, Japan and other countries have expressed frustration that the assault was ordered without consultation and officials have grumbled at the lack of information. Many countries also withheld details about their missing citizens to avoid releasing information that might aid the captors.


An Algerian security source said 30 hostages, including at least seven Westerners, had been killed during Thursday's assault, along with at least 18 of their captors. Eight of the dead hostages were Algerian, with the nationalities of the rest of the dead still unclear, he said.


Algeria's state news agency APS put the total number of dead hostages at 12, including both foreigners and locals.


The base was home to foreign workers from Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil and Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp and others.


Norway says eight Norwegians are still missing. JGC said it was missing 10 staff. Britain and the United States have said they have citizens unaccounted for but have not said how many.


The Algerian security source said 100 foreigners had been freed but 32 were still unaccounted for.


"We must be prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.


The attack has plunged international capitals into crisis mode and is a serious escalation of unrest in northwestern Africa, where French forces have been in Mali since last week fighting an Islamist takeover of Timbuktu and other towns.


"We are still dealing with a fluid and dangerous situation where a part of the terrorist threat has been eliminated in one part of the site, but there still remains a threat in another part," British Prime Minister David Cameron told his parliament.


"(The army) is still trying to achieve a ‘peaceful outcome' before neutralizing the terrorist group that is holed up in the (facility) and freeing a group of hostages that is still being held," Algeria's state news agency said on Friday, quoting a security source.


MULTINATIONAL INSURGENCY


Algerian commanders said they moved in on Thursday about 30 hours after the siege began, because the gunmen had demanded to be allowed to take their captives abroad.


A French hostage employed by a French catering company said he had hidden in his room for 40 hours under the bed before he was rescued by Algerian troops, relying on Algerian employees to smuggle him food with a password.


"I put boards up pretty much all round," Alexandre Berceaux told Europe 1 radio. "I didn't know how long I was going to stay there ... I was afraid. I could see myself already ending up in a pine box."


The captors said their attack was a response to the French military offensive in neighboring Mali. However, some U.S. and European officials say the elaborate raid probably required too much planning to have been organized from scratch in the single week since France first launched its strikes.


Paris says the incident proves its decision to fight Islamists in neighboring Mali was necessary.


Security in the half-dozen countries around the Sahara desert has long been a preoccupation of the West. Smugglers and militants have earned millions in ransom from kidnappings.


The most powerful Islamist groups operating in the Sahara were severely weakened by Algeria's secularist military in a civil war in the 1990s. But in the past two years the regional wing of Al Qaeda gained fighters and arms as a result of the civil war in Libya, when arsenals were looted from Muammar Gaddafi's army.


Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and Libya, took control of northern Mali last year, prompting the French intervention in that poor African former colony.


The apparent ease with which the fighters swooped in from the dunes to take control of an important energy facility, which produces some 10 percent of the natural gas on which Algeria depends for its export income, has raised questions over the value of outwardly tough Algerian security measures.


Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site.


U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said those responsible would be hunted down: "Terrorists should be on notice that they will find no sanctuary, no refuge, not in Algeria, not in North Africa, not anywhere. ... Those who would wantonly attack our country and our people will have no place to hide."


(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti in Cairo, Eamonn Mallie in Belfast, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Mohammed Abbas in London, Padraic Halpin and Conor Humphries in Dublin, Andrew Quinn and David Alexander in Washington; Writing by Philippa Fletcher and Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche, Tom Pfeiffer and Jackie Frank)



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Housing, job data push S&P to five-year high; Intel down late

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stronger-than-expected data on housing starts and jobless claims lit a fire under stocks on Thursday, pushing the S&P 500 to a five-year high and its third day of gains.


A pair of economic reports lifted investors' sentiment. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week and housing starts jumped last month to the highest since June 2008.


Strength in the housing and labor markets is key to sustained growth and higher corporate profits, helping to bring out buyers even on a day when earnings reports were mixed.


Gains were tempered by weakness in the financial sector, with Bank of America down 4.2 percent to $11.28 and Citigroup off 2.9 percent to $41.24 after their results.


In other negative earnings news, shares of chipmaker Intel fell 5.2 percent to $21.49 in extended-hours trading after the company forecast quarterly revenue that fell short of analysts' expectations. Intel had ended the regular session up 2.6 percent at $22.68.


The S&P 500 ended at its highest since December 2007 and now sits just 5.6 percent from its all-time closing high of 1,565.15.


"Having consolidated really for the last two weeks, the fact that we broke out, I think that that is sucking in quite a bit of money," said James Dailey, portfolio manager of TEAM Asset Strategy Fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.


The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 84.79 points, or 0.63 percent, at 13,596.02. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 8.31 points, or 0.56 percent, at 1,480.94. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 18.46 points, or 0.59 percent, at 3,136.00.


Better-than-expected earnings and revenue reported by online marketplace eBay late Wednesday helped the stock gain 2.7 percent to $54.33.


In the housing sector, PulteGroup Inc shares gained 4.9 percent to $20.29 and Toll Brothers Inc advanced 3.1 percent to $35.99. The PHLX housing sector index <.hgx> climbed 2.4 percent, reaching its highest close since August 2007.


Semiconductor shares <.sox> rose 2 percent to the highest close in eight months.


Financials were the only S&P 500 sector to register a slight decline for the day.


Bank of America's fourth-quarter profit fell as it took more charges to clean up mortgage-related problems. Citigroup posted $2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and lawsuits.


Energy shares led gains on the Dow as U.S. crude oil prices jumped more than 1 percent. Shares of Exxon Mobil were up 0.8 percent at $90.20 while shares of Chevron were up 0.7 percent at $114.75.


S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter, Thomson Reuters data showed. Expectations for the quarter have fallen considerably since October when a 9.9 percent gain was estimated.


Volume was roughly 6.5 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the 2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.


Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by about 22 to 7 and on the Nasdaq by about 2 to 1.


(Additional reporting by Chuck Mikolajczak; Editing by Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)



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Armstrong admits doping: 'I'm a flawed character'


CHICAGO (AP) — He did it. He finally admitted it. Lance Armstrong doped.


He was light on the details and didn't name names. He mused that he might not have been caught if not for his comeback in 2009. And he was certain his "fate was sealed" when longtime friend, training partner and trusted lieutenant George Hincapie, who was along for the ride on all seven of Armstrong's Tour de France wins from 1999-2005, was forced to give him up to anti-doping authorities.


But right from the start and more than two dozen times during the first of a two-part interview Thursday night with Oprah Winfrey on her OWN network, the disgraced former cycling champion acknowledged what he had lied about repeatedly for years, and what had been one of the worst-kept secrets for the better part of a week: He was the ringleader of an elaborate doping scheme on a U.S. Postal Service team that swept him to the top of the podium at the Tour de France time after time.


"I'm a flawed character," he said.


Did it feel wrong?


"No," Armstrong replied. "Scary."


"Did you feel bad about it?" Winfrey pressed him.


"No," he said. "Even scarier."


"Did you feel in any way that you were cheating?"


"No," Armstrong paused. "Scariest."


"I went and looked up the definition of cheat," he added a moment later. "And the definition is to gain an advantage on a rival or foe. I didn't view it that way. I viewed it as a level playing field."


Wearing a blue blazer and open-neck shirt, Armstrong was direct and matter-of-fact, neither pained nor defensive. He looked straight ahead. There were no tears and very few laughs.


He dodged few questions and refused to implicate anyone else, even as he said it was humanly impossible to win seven straight Tours without doping.


"I'm not comfortable talking about other people," Armstrong said. "I don't want to accuse anybody."


Whether his televised confession will help or hurt Armstrong's bruised reputation and his already-tenuous defense in at least two pending lawsuits, and possibly a third, remains to be seen. Either way, a story that seemed too good to be true — cancer survivor returns to win one of sport's most grueling events seven times in a row — was revealed to be just that.


"This story was so perfect for so long. It's this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn't true," he said.


Winfrey got right to the point when the interview began, asking for yes-or-no answers to five questions.


Did Armstrong take banned substances? "Yes."


Did that include the blood-booster EPO? "Yes."


Did he do blood doping and use transfusions? "Yes."


Did he use testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone? "Yes."


Did he take banned substances or blood dope in all his Tour wins? "Yes."


In his climb to the top, Armstrong cast aside teammates who questioned his tactics, yet swore he raced clean and tried to silence anyone who said otherwise. Ruthless and rich enough to settle any score, no place seemed beyond his reach — courtrooms, the court of public opinion, even along the roads of his sport's most prestigious race.


That relentless pursuit was one of the things that Armstrong said he regretted most.


"I deserve this," he said twice.


"It's a major flaw, and it's a guy who expected to get whatever he wanted and to control every outcome. And it's inexcusable. And when I say there are people who will hear this and never forgive me, I understand that. I do. ...


"That defiance, that attitude, that arrogance, you cannot deny it."


Armstrong said he started doping in mid-1990s but didn't when he finished third in his comeback attempt.


Anti-doping officials have said nothing short of a confession under oath — "not talking to a talk-show host," is how World Anti-Doping Agency director general David Howman put it — could prompt a reconsideration of Armstrong's lifetime ban from sanctioned events.


He's also had discussions with officials at the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, whose 1,000-page report in October included testimony from nearly a dozen former teammates and led to stripping Armstrong of his Tour titles. Shortly after, he lost nearly all his endorsements, was forced to walk away from the Livestrong cancer charity he founded in 1997, and just this week was stripped of his bronze medal from the 2000 Olympics.


Armstrong could provide information that might get his ban reduced to eight years. By then, he would be 49. He returned to triathlons, where he began his professional career as a teenager, after retiring from cycling in 2011, and has told people he's desperate to get back.


Initial reaction from anti-doping officials ranged from hostile to cool.


WADA president John Fahey derided Armstrong's defense that he doped to create "a level playing field" as "a convenient way of justifying what he did — a fraud."


"He was wrong, he cheated and there was no excuse for what he did," Fahey said by telephone in Australia.


If Armstrong "was looking for redemption," Fahey added, "he didn't succeed in getting that."


USADA chief Travis Tygart, who pursued the case against Armstrong when others had stopped, said the cyclist's confession was just a start.


"Tonight, Lance Armstrong finally acknowledged that his cycling career was built on a powerful combination of doping and deceit," Tygart said. "His admission that he doped throughout his career is a small step in the right direction. But if he is sincere in his desire to correct his past mistakes, he will testify under oath about the full extent of his doping activities."


Livestrong issued a statement that said the charity was "disappointed by the news that Lance Armstrong misled people during and after his cycling career, including us."


"Earlier this week, Lance apologized to our staff and we accepted his apology in order to move on and chart a strong, independent course," it said.


The interview revealed very few details about Armstrong's performance-enhancing regimen that would surprise anti-doping officials.


What he called "my cocktail" contained the steroid testosterone and the blood-booster erythropoetein, or EPO, "but not a lot," Armstrong said. That was on top of blood-doping, which involved removing his own blood and weeks later re-injecting it into his system.


All of it was designed to build strength and endurance, but it became so routine that Armstrong described it as "like saying we have to have air in our tires or water in our bottles."


"That was, in my view, part of the job," he said.


Armstrong was evasive, or begged off entirely, when Winfrey tried to connect his use to others who aided or abetted the performance-enhancing scheme on the USPS team


When she asked him about Italian doctor Michele Ferrari, who was implicated in doping-related scrapes and has also been banned from cycling for life, Armstrong replied, "It's hard to talk about some of these things and not mention names. There are people in this story, they're good people and we've all made mistakes ... they're not monsters, not toxic and not evil, and I viewed Michele Ferrari as a good man and smart man and still do."


But that's nearly all Armstrong would say about the physician that some reports have suggested educated the cyclist about doping and looked after other aspects of his training program.


He was almost as reluctant to discuss claims by former teammates Tyler Hamilton and Floyd Landis that Armstrong told them, separately, that he tested positive during the 2001 Tour de Suisse and conspired with officials of the International Cycling Union officials to cover it up — in exchange for a donation.


"That story wasn't true. There was no positive test, no paying off of the labs. There was no secret meeting with the lab director," he said.


Winfrey pressed him again, asking if the money he donated wasn't part of a tit-for-tat agreement, "Why make it?"


"Because they asked me to," Armstrong began.


"This is impossible for me to answer and have anybody believe it," he said. "It was not in exchange for any cover-up. ... I have every incentive here to tell you yes."


Finally, he summed up the entire episode this way: "I was retired. ... They needed money."


Ultimately, though, it was Landis who did the most damage to Armstrong's story. Landis was stripped of the 2006 Tour title after testing positive and wound up on the sport's fringes looking for work. Armstrong said his former teammate threatened to release potentially destructive videos if he wasn't given a spot on the team. That was in 2009, when Armstrong returned to the Tour after four years off.


Winfrey asked whether Landis' decision to talk was "the tipping point."


"I'd agree with that. I might back it up a little and talk about the comeback. I think the comeback didn't sit well with Floyd," Armstrong recalled.


"Do you regret now coming back?"


"I do. We wouldn't be sitting here if I didn't come back," he said.


The closest Armstrong came to contrition was when Winfrey asked him about his apologies in recent days, notably to former teammate Frankie Andreu, who struggled to find work in cycling after Armstrong dropped him from the USPS team, as well as his wife, Betsy. Armstrong said she was jealous of his success, and invented stories about his doping as part of a long-running vendetta.


"Have you made peace?" Winfrey asked.


"No," Armstrong replied, "because they've been hurt too badly, and a 40-minute (phone) conversation isn't enough."


He also called London Sunday Times reporter David Walsh as well as Emma O'Reilly, who worked as a masseuse for the USPS team and later provided considerable material for a critical book Walsh wrote about Armstrong and his role in cycling's doping culture.


Armstrong subsequently sued for libel in Britain and won a $500,000 judgment against the newspaper, which is now suing to get the money back. Armstrong was, if anything, even more vicious in the way he went after O'Reilly. He intimated she was let go from the Postal team because she seemed more interested in personal relationships than professional ones.


"What do you want to say about Emma O'Reilly?" Winfrey asked.


"She, she's one of these people that I have to apologize to. She's one of these people that got run over, got bullied."


"You sued her?"


"To be honest, Oprah, we sued so many people I don't even," Armstrong said, then paused, "I'm sure we did."


Near the end of the first interview installment, Winfrey asked about a federal investigation of Armstrong that was dropped by the Justice Department without charges.


"When they dropped the case, did you think: 'Now, finally over, done, victory'?"


Armstrong looked up. He exhaled.


"It's hard to define victory," he said. "But I thought I was out of the woods."


___


AP Sports Writers Jim Vertuno in Austin, Texas, Eddie Pells in Denver and Dennis Passa in Melbourne contributed to this report.


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