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.


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's enemies find vindication, sadness

First shunned, then vilified by Lance Armstrong, Mike Anderson had to move to the other side of the world to get his life back.

Now running a bike shop outside of Wellington, New Zealand, Armstrong's former assistant watched news reports about his former boss confessing to performance-enhancing drug use with only mild interest. If Anderson never hears Armstrong's voice again, it would be too soon.

"He gave me the firm, hard push and a shove," Anderson said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Made my life very, very unpleasant. It was an embarrassment for me and my family to be portrayed as liars, to be called a disgruntled employee, implying there was some impropriety on my part. It just hurt. It was completely uncalled for."

Anderson is among the dozens, maybe hundreds, of former teammates, opponents and associates to receive the Armstrong treatment, presumably for not going along with the party line — that the now-disgraced, seven-time Tour de France cyclist didn't need to cheat to win.

The penalties for failing to play along were punitive, often humiliating, and now that Armstrong has admitted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he's a doper, a liar and a bully, many of those who saw their lives changed, sometime ruined, are going through a gamut of emotions.

Some feel vindicated, others remain vengeful. Some are sad, while many others are simply wrung out.

"He's damaged a lot of people's lives," said Betsy Andreu, whose husband, Frankie, was culled from Armstrong's team for not agreeing to dope. "He has damaged the sport of cycling. Frankie was fired for not getting on the program. I never thought this day would come but it's so incredibly sad."

Before his interview with Winfrey aired, Armstrong reached out to the Andreus to apologize but the planned reconciliation did not work. In fact, Armstrong's interview only made things worse, when he refused to confirm what the Andreus testified to under oath — that they had heard the cyclist admit to doping while meeting with doctors treating him for cancer at an Indiana hospital in 1996.

Regardless of whether Armstrong says more about that, there's no denying that life for the Andreus changed when they refused to go along.

"Frankie's career was definitely cut short. His career was ruined early," Betsy Andreu said. "You have riders out there whose careers never happened" because of Armstrong.

And some whose careers were cut short.

Filippo Simeoni was a talented, young rider who dared admit to doping and told authorities he received his instructions from physician Michele Ferrari, who also advised Armstrong during his career. After that 2002 testimony, Armstrong branded Simeoni a liar. He went so far as to humiliate Simeoni at the 2004 Tour de France, when he chased down the Italian rider during a breakaway and more or less ordered him to fall back in line. Later in the race, and with a TV camera in his face, Armstrong put his finger to his lips in a "silence" gesture. After the stage, he said he was simply protecting the interests of the peloton.

Simeoni received a different message.

"When a rider like me brushed up against a cyclist of his caliber, his fame and his worth — when I clashed with the boss — all doors were closed to me," Simeoni said. "I was humiliated, offended, and marginalized for the rest of my career. Only I know what that feels like. It's difficult to explain."

Anderson certainly can.

In a story he wrote for Outside Magazine last August, Anderson detailed a business relationship with Armstrong that began in 2002 with an email from Armstrong promising he would finance Anderson's bike shop when their work together was done. Anderson, a bike mechanic working in Armstrong's hometown of Austin, Texas, essentially became the cyclist's personal assistant, his responsibilities growing as the years passed. One of his tasks was making advance trips to Armstrong's apartment in Spain to prepare it for his arrival.

Anderson says the relationship began to sour after he came upon a box in Armstrong's bathroom labeled "Androstenedione," the banned substance most famously linked to Mark McGwire. The box, Anderson wrote, was mysteriously gone the next time he entered the apartment.

Time passed. Anderson bore witness to more and more things that didn't feel right. Armstrong, sensing his employee's discomfort, became more and more distant. Finally, Anderson wrote, Armstrong severed ties, asking Anderson to sign a nondisclosure agreement "that would have made me liable for a large sum of money if I even mentioned ever having worked for Armstrong."

Anderson's refusal to do that led to lawyers and lawsuits — with Armstrong accusing Anderson of extortion and Anderson accusing Armstrong of wrongful dismissal, breach of contract, and defamation. The cases were eventually settled for undisclosed terms.

But Anderson took his share of hits along the way.

"Austin was not a comfortable place for me after that," he said. "It had been my home for some years. I had enjoyed a very good reputation. I couldn't get a job in the bicycle business, certainly not one that was a fair placement for my skill and experience."

He ended up in New Zealand, where his wife's brother has roots, and is doing fine, now.

"I got a fair shake from some local investors who believe in me and we've been at it for four years," Anderson said. "The kids are clothed and fed and I don't really have any complaints."

Stories such as these — about the havoc Armstrong unleashed on people's lives — come from seemingly every corner: bike mechanics, multimillionaire businessmen, trainers, masseuses, wives, cyclists both at the front and back of the peloton.

Tyler Hamilton was among Armstrong's key teammates during his first three Tour de France victories. His tell-all interview on "60 Minutes" in 2011, combined with his testimony and a book he wrote last year, played a key part in the unraveling of the Armstrong myth.

Hamilton watched Armstrong's confession with little emotion but with a modicum of hope.

"It's been a sad story for a lot of people," Hamilton said. "But I think we'll look back on this period and, hopefully not too far down the road, we can say it was, in the end, a good thing for the sport of cycling."


AP Sports Writer Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.

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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

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Why Africa backs French in Mali

French-led Mali offensive

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  • 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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Ricketts asks for easing of landmark restrictions on Wrigley

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts discusses Sammy Sosa and the renovation of Wrigley Field.

Cubs Chairman Tom Ricketts said the team is willing to pay for a ambitious $300 million, five-year renovation plan if the city will ease some of the restrictions surrounding Wrigley Field.

“The fact is that when you look at all of the limitations that we have, whether that’s signage in the outfield, which we are not allowed to do, or what kind of stuff we do in the park or around the park, I think we’d just like a little more flexibility to have some options on that stuff,” Ricketts said after a question-and-answers session with fans at the Cubs Convention.

“We have an opportunity cost there that’s tremendous. Just give us some relief on some of these restrictions, and we’ll take care of (renovating) Wrigley Field.”

Among the proposed improvements are larger concourses, restaurants, more bathroom and concession areas, expanded suites and amenities for the players, including a larger home clubhouse, batting cages and additional training facilities. A new roof would replace the wooden roof, new seats would be installed and the façade would return to its 1930s-era luster.

The project would be done during off-seasons over a five-year period, in what business president Crane Kenney termed “the greatest (stadium) restoration project ever.”

The Cubs hope the city will ease what they believe are unfair restrictions on the team by allowing more signage, an increased schedule of night games-- including Saturday night games-- concerts and the use of Sheffield Avenue for street-fests during games.

Kenney said the improvements would not lead to personal seat licenses for season ticket holders.

Ricketts said the team is looking at “other alternatives” to fund the renovations after a proposal to try and use future revenues from their amusement tax contributions fell flat.

“We’re not talking about (the plan) right now,’ he said.  “We’re looking at other things instead. One of the ways we look at it is ‘treat us like a private institution and let us go about doing our business and then we’ll take care of ourselves.”

Due to a landmarking ordinance, the Cubs have to ask for city approval for signage, which was granted for the Toyota sign in the left field bleachers.

Asked if he was aware of the landmarking restrictions when he bought the team, Ricketts replied: “When we bought the team we kind of understood some of the restrictions. What I didn’t understand was we were the only team in baseball to have these restrictions.”

Ricketts said the team has been in discussions with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and feels they’re close to an agreement after talks stalled last year. Emanuel reportedly wouldn’t return Ricketts’ calls after a New York Times report that a PAC run by family patriarch Joe Ricketts considered funding an inflammatory ad campaign against President Obama.

“I hope (we’re close),” Tom Ricketts said. “I think everyone has an incentive. We lost a year this year. We want to get the project rolling. It’s a big economic development for the city. It’s a lot of jobs. It’s something everyone should have incentive to want to get done.”

Kenney said the Cubs understand Emanuel “wants to save the taxpayers.”

“This can not have a negative impact on taxpayers, and it has to create substantial jobs,” he said.   

Ricketts told fans the Cubs pay the second-highest taxes among major league teams, suggetsing an easing of restrictions would be only fair.

“Just let us run out own business,” he said. “We’re not a museum.”

Ricketts said they’d like to open up Sheffield Avenue to a street-fest before games, as the Red Sox have with Yawkey Way outside Fenway Park.

“We think it’s a good idea,” he said. “We think it can really add to the fan experience. We’ve been to Yawkey Way and we think we can do something comparable. (Sheffield) is already closed. Why can’t we put something on it that’s nice for families or for fans coming to games?”

In another shift, the much-hyped triangle building plan has been shelved for an open area that can be used for things like movies, an ice rink, and a farmer’s market. The plan to add parking was also shelved, since polls told the Cubs they didn’t want more congestion next to the ballpark.

Kenney said the Cubs wouldn’t need to remove the landmark status for the proposed changes, adding “the marquee, the ivy, the scoreboard, we’d be the last ones who would want to touch those. The landmark ordinance really isn’t our problem. It’s just the ability to add some of the marketing elements we need and to host games when we feel like it.”

The Cubs are limited to 30 night games under the city ordinance. They would like to have at least a 40-game night schedule, sources said, including occasional Saturday night games, which are currently prohibited unless it’s a nationally televised game.

While a Jumbotron is not in the works yet, the Cubs are open to the possibility, while maintaining the hand-operated scoreboard. Kenney said polls show Cubs fans will support a Jumbotron, a shift in attitude from what they used to say.

“All of our focus groups have swung the other way, if it’s done right,” Kenney said, adding “the key question for them is where, how big, and whether the programming is right.”

In other words, no Kiss Cam.

The Cubs are taking LED board off the centerfield scoreboard because fan surveys suggested “it’s not fitting” with the old one, Kenney said.

All the renovation proposals need city approval, which the Cubs believe should be forthcoming due to the economic impact of the project.

“We need the city’s support to get this off the ground,” Kenney said. “Thousands of jobs are waiting. We expect to get a lot of support from the city because certainly we could all use a little more employment in the city.”


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Algerian army stages "final assault" on gas plant

ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - The Algerian army carried out a dramatic final assault to end a siege by Islamist militants at a desert gas plant on Saturday in which 23 hostages were killed, many of them believed to be foreigners, the interior ministry said.

Thirty-two al Qaeda-linked militants were killed in the army operation to recapture the complex, according to a provisional toll from the ministry. A statement said 107 foreign hostages and 685 Algerian hostages had survived.

Militants seized the remote compound in the Sahara desert before dawn on Wednesday, taking a large number of hostages, including foreigner workers, and booby-trapped the compound with explosives.

The crisis marked 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.

The gas plant near the town of In Amenas was home to expatriate workers from Britain's BP, Norway's Statoil, Japanese engineering firm JGC Corp and others. One American and one British citizen have been confirmed dead.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Saturday he feared for the lives of five British citizens still unaccounted for. Statoil said five of its workers, all Norwegian nationals, were still missing. Japanese and American workers are also unaccounted for.

"We feel a deep and growing unease ... we fear that over the next few days we will receive bad news," Statoil Chief Executive Helge Lund said on Saturday. "People we have spoken to describe unbelievable, horrible experiences."

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 centre stage.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed that Algerian military operations at the plant had been concluded.

"We understand that the site is not yet fully safe because of hazards such as booby traps and so they are still working on that," Hague said.

Some Western governments expressed frustration at not being informed of the Algerian authorities' plans to storm the complex. Algeria's response to the raid will have been conditioned by the legacy of a civil war against insurgents in the 1990s which claimed 200,000 lives.


As the army closed in, 16 foreign hostages were freed, a source close to the crisis said. They included 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.

The captors said their attack on the Algerian gas plant was a response to the French offensive in Mali. However, officials say the elaborate raid would have been planned well before France launched its strikes.

Scores of Westerners and hundreds of Algerian workers were inside the heavily fortified gas compound when it was seized on Wednesday.

Hundreds 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.

The field commander of the group that attacked the plant is a fighter from Niger called Abdul Rahman al-Nigeri, according to Mauritanian news agencies. His boss, Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a veteran of fighting in Afghanistan and Algeria's civil war of the 1990s, appears not to have joined the raid.

Britain, Japan and other countries have expressed irritation that the army assault was ordered without consultation and officials grumbled at the lack of information.

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 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.

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.

France says the hostage incident proves its decision to fight Islamists in neighboring Mali was necessary. Al Qaeda-linked fighters, many with roots in Algeria and Libya, took control of northern Mali last year.

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

(This story was refiled to correct Algerian hostages)

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Dow, S&P 500 end at five-year highs on early earnings beats

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Dow and S&P 500 closed at five-year highs on Friday as the market registered a third straight week of gains on a solid start to the quarterly earnings season.

Morgan Stanley was the latest Wall Street bank to report strong results. Its better-than-expected earnings followed similar report cards from Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase earlier in the week.

Shares of Morgan Stanley shot up 7.9 percent to $22.38. It reported a fourth-quarter profit after a year-earlier loss, helped by higher revenue at the bank's institutional securities business.

But Friday's rise was held back by shares of Intel Corp , which slumped 6.3 percent to $21.25 a day after it forecast quarterly revenue below analysts' estimates and announced plans for increased capital spending amid slow demand for personal computers.

Another factor that has been weighing on the market before a three-day weekend is uncertainty about the federal debt limit and spending cuts that could hamper U.S. growth. U.S. markets will be closed on Monday for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

There were signs on Friday that the question of raising the U.S. debt limit would be put off for a while. House Republican leaders said they would seek to pass a three-month extension of federal borrowing authority next week to buy time for the Democratic-controlled Senate to pass a budget that shrinks deficits.

"It could be a big positive for the markets if we come up wih a plan of spending cuts that isn't too awfully hard on the economy," said Bryant Evans, investment adviser and portfolio manager at Cozad Asset Management, in Champaign, Illinois.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 53.68 points, or 0.39 percent, at 13,649.70. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 5.04 points, or 0.34 percent, at 1,485.98. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was down 1.30 points, or 0.04 percent, at 3,134.71.

The Dow and S&P 500 ended at their highest levels since December 2007. For the week, the Dow ended up 1.2 percent, the S&P 500 ended up 0.9 percent and the Nasdaq ended up 0.3 percent.

The CBOE Volatility index <.vix>, Wall Street's so-called fear gauge, fell 8.2 percent. The VIX usually moves inversely to the S&P 500 as it is used as a hedge against further market decline.

Also reporting stronger-than-expected earnings on Friday was General Electric , whose shares rose 3.5 percent to $22.04.

Overall, S&P 500 fourth-quarter earnings are forecast to have risen 2.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data. [ID:nL1E9CI581] That estimate is above the 1.9 percent forecast from a week ago but well below the 9.9 percent fourth-quarter earnings forecast from October 1, the data showed.

Economic data from China also provided some support to the market, though the focus remained on U.S. corporate earnings. China's economy grew at a modestly faster-than-expected 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter, the latest sign the world's second-biggest economy was pulling out of a post-global financial crisis slowdown which saw it grow in 2012 at its weakest pace since 1999.

Despite the gains by Morgan Stanley, financial stocks sagged as Capital One Financial reported disappointing profit. Capital One slumped 7.5 percent to $56.99, while the KBW bank index <.bkx> slipped 0.3 percent.

Volume was roughly 6.6 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 nearly 2 to 1 and on the Nasdaq by about 13 to 11.

(Additional reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Kenneth Barry and Nick Zieminski)

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Anti-doping officials say Armstrong must say more

For anti-doping officials, Lance Armstrong's admission of cheating was only a start. Now they want him to give details — lots of them — to clean up his sport.

Armstrong's much-awaited confession to Oprah Winfrey made for riveting television, but if the disgraced cyclist wants to take things further, it will involve several long days in meetings with anti-doping officials who have very specific questions: Who ran the doping programs, how were they run and who looked the other way.

"He didn't name names," World Anti-Doping Agency President John Fahey told The Associated Press in Australia. "He didn't say who supplied him, what officials were involved."

In the 90-minute interview Thursday night with Winfrey — the first of two parts broadcast on her OWN network — Armstrong said he started doping in the mid-1990s, using the blood booster EPO, testosterone, cortisone and human growth hormone, as well as engaging in outlawed blood doping and transfusions. The doping regimen, he said, helped him in all seven of his Tour de France wins.

His openness about his own transgressions, however, did not extend to allegations about other people. "I don't want to accuse anybody," he said.

But he might have to name names if he wants to gain anything from his confession, at least from anti-doping authorities.

Armstrong has been stripped of all his Tour de France titles and banned for life. A reduction of the ban, perhaps to eight years, could allow him to compete in triathlons in 2020, when he's 49.

Almost to a person, those in cycling and anti-doping circles believe it will take nothing short of Armstrong turning over everything he knows to stand any chance of cutting a deal to reduce his ban.

"We're left wanting more. We have to know more about the system," Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme told the AP. "He couldn't have done it alone. We have to know who in his entourage helped him to do this."

U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart, who will have the biggest say about whether Armstrong can return to competition, also called his confession 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," he said.

Pierre Bordry, the head of the French Anti-Doping Agency from 2005-10, said there was nothing to guarantee that Armstrong isn't still lying and protecting others.

"He's going in the right direction, but with really small steps," Bordry said. "He needs to bring his testimony about the environment and the people who helped him. He should do it before an independent commission or before USADA and that would no doubt help the future of cycling."

It's doubtful Armstrong could get the same kind of leniency today as he might have had he chosen to cooperate with USADA during its investigation. But in an attempt to rid cycling of the doping taint it has carried for decades, USADA, WADA and the sport's governing body aren't satisfied with simply stopping at its biggest star. They still seek information about doctors, team managers and high-ranking executives.

Tyler Hamilton, whose testimony helped lead to Armstrong's downfall, says if Armstrong is willing to provide information to clean up the sport, a reduction in the sanctions would be appropriate, even if it might be hard to stomach after watching USADA's years of relentless pursuit of the seven-time Tour de France winner.

"The public should accept that," Hamilton said. "I'm all for getting people to come clean and tell the truth. I'm all for doctors, general managers and everyone else coming forward and telling the truth. I'm all for anyone who crossed the line coming forward and telling the truth. No. 1, they'll feel better personally. The truth will set you free."

The International Cycling Union (UCI) has been accused of protecting Armstrong and covering up positive tests, something Armstrong denied to Winfrey.

"I am pleased that after years of accusations being made against me, the conspiracy theories have been shown to be nothing more than that," said Hein Verbruggen, the president of the UCI from 1991-2005. "I have no doubt that the peddlers of such accusations and conspiracies will be disappointed by this outcome."

But Verbruggen was among the few who felt some closure after the first part of Armstrong's interview with Winfrey. The second was set for Friday night.

Most of the comments either urged him to disclose more, or felt it was too little, too late.

"There's always a portion of lies in what he says, in my opinion," retired cyclist and longtime Armstrong critic Christophe Bassons said. "He stayed the way I thought he would: cold, hard. He didn't let any sentiment show, even when he spoke of regrets. Well, that's Lance Armstrong. He's not totally honest even in his so-called confession. I think he admits some of it to avoid saying the rest."


AP Sports Writers Jerome Pugmire in Paris, Dennis Passa, John Pye and Neil Frankland in Melbourne; Stephen Wilson in London; Steve McMorran in Wellington, New Zealand; Nesha Starcevic in Frankfurt, Germany; and Andrew Dampf in Cortina, Italy, contributed to this report.

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Best Beach Resorts Could Vanish

Whether they’re playgrounds for the rich and famous or havens for retirees, the world’s best beach resorts may disappear despite efforts to protect them against sea level rise.

That’s the prediction of coastal expert Andrew Cooper, a professor at the University of Ulster in Ireland, who said that the usual way of replenishing a beach, by adding sand to it, will not keep up with the sea’s rapid rise.

“A key attractor in most of the world’s examples of coastal resort cities has been the presence of an adjacent beach,” Cooper said in a statement. “Some well-known examples are Benidorm, Torremolinos (Spain); Cannes (France); West Palm Beach, Fla.; Atlantic City, N.J, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Virginia Beach, Va.; Cancun (Mexico); and the most rapidly developed of all coastal resort cities, Dubai (United Arab Emirates). In all of these resorts the challenge is to preserve the real estate behind the beach and still save the beaches, which are being pushed landwards by rising sea level.” 

Cooper said most resorts combat ongoing sea level rise with beach nourishment — adding sand to replace that eroded by the encroaching ocean. But holding the world’s best beaches stationary during an expected 3-foot (1 meter) sea level rise in the next 100 years would require massive inputs of sand, Cooper said.

“Beach resort cities are mostly artificial creations on the shoreline that rely on beach nourishment to sustain them and on their reputation for a clean and safe environment. To maintain this during rapid sea level rise will be near impossible,” he said.

Erecting protective concrete walls won’t give the beaches room to move inland and will ultimately lead to beaches getting squeezed out as sea level rises, he said. When the rising water reaches a protective wall between the beach and the developed land behind it, the beach is drowned.

“There are a lot of issues with beach nourishment — not least the cost — but beach nourishment would not be needed if developments were properly planned in the first place, to give beaches room to move,” Cooper said.  

Based on a recent study of Australia’s Gold Coast, the problem involves a lack of planning and poor short-term fixes, Cooper said. Uncertainty regarding how high the sea will rise compounds the problem, as do climate change skeptics and the lack of political will to plan for future climate scenarios, he said.

The study appears in the August 2012 issue of the journal Ocean & Coastal Management.

Reach Becky Oskin at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @beckyoskin. Follow OurAmazingPlanet on Twitter @OAPlanet. We’re also on Facebook and Google+.

Copyright 2013 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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U.S. 'needs tougher child labor rules'

Cristina Traina says in his second term, Obama must address weaknesses in child farm labor standards


  • Cristina Traina: Obama should strengthen child farm labor standards

  • She says Labor Dept. rules allow kids to work long hours for little pay on commercial farms

  • She says Obama administration scrapped Labor Dept. chief's proposal for tightening rules

  • She says Labor Dept. must fix lax standards for kid labor on farmers; OSHA must enforce them

Editor's note: Cristina L.H. Traina is a Public Voices Op Ed fellow and professor at Northwestern University, where she is a scholar of social ethics.

(CNN) -- President Barack Obama should use the breathing space provided by the fiscal-cliff compromise to address some of the issues that he shelved during his last term. One of the most urgent is child farm labor. Perhaps the least protected, underpaid work force in American labor, children are often the go-to workers for farms looking to cut costs.

It's easy to see why. The Department of Labor permits farms to pay employees under 20 as little as $4.25 per hour. (By comparison, the federal minimum wage is $7.25.) And unlike their counterparts in retail and service, child farm laborers can legally work unlimited hours at any hour of day or night.

The numbers are hard to estimate, but between direct hiring, hiring through labor contractors, and off-the-books work beside parents or for cash, perhaps 400,000 children, some as young as 6, weed and harvest for commercial farms. A Human Rights Watch 2010 study shows that children laboring for hire on farms routinely work more than 10 hours per day.

As if this were not bad enough, few labor safety regulations apply. Children 14 and older can work long hours at all but the most dangerous farm jobs without their parents' consent, if they do not miss school. Children 12 and older can too, as long as their parents agree. Unlike teen retail and service workers, agricultural laborers 16 and older are permitted to operate hazardous machinery and to work even during school hours.

In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that child farm laborers are exposed to dangerous pesticides; have inadequate access to water and bathrooms; fall ill from heat stroke; suffer sexual harassment; experience repetitive-motion injuries; rarely receive protective equipment like gloves and boots; and usually earn less than the minimum wage. Sometimes they earn nothing.

Little is being done to guarantee their safety. In 2011 Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis proposed more stringent agricultural labor rules for children under 16, but Obama scrapped them just eight months later.

Adoption of the new rules would be no guarantee of enforcement, however. According to the 2010 Human Rights Watch report, the Department of Labor employees were spread so thin that, despite widespread reports of infractions they found only 36 child labor violations and two child hazardous order violations in agriculture nationwide.

This lack of oversight has dire, sometimes fatal, consequences. Last July, for instance, 15-year-old Curvin Kropf, an employee at a small family farm near Deer Grove, Illinois, died when he fell off the piece of heavy farm equipment he was operating, and it crushed him. According to the Bureau County Republican, he was the fifth child in fewer than two years to die at work on Sauk Valley farms.

If this year follows trends, Curvin will be only one of at least 100 children below the age of 18 killed on American farms, not to mention the 23,000 who will be injured badly enough to require hospital admission. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics, agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries. It is the most dangerous for children, accounting for about half of child worker deaths annually.

The United States has a long tradition of training children in the craft of farming on family farms. At least 500,000 children help to work their families' farms today.

Farm parents, their children, and the American Farm Bureau objected strenuously to the proposed new rules. Although children working on their parents' farms would specifically have been exempted from them, it was partly in response to worries about government interference in families and loss of opportunities for children to learn agricultural skills that the Obama administration shelved them.

Whatever you think of family farms, however, many child agricultural workers don't work for their parents or acquaintances. Despite exposure to all the hazards, these children never learn the craft of farming, nor do most of them have the legal right to the minimum wage. And until the economy stabilizes, the savings farms realize by hiring children makes it likely that even more of them will be subject to the dangers of farm work.

We have a responsibility for their safety. As one of the first acts of his new term, Obama should reopen the child agricultural labor proposal he shelved in spring of 2012. Surely, farm labor standards for children can be strengthened without killing off 4-H or Future Farmers of America.

Second, the Department of Labor must institute age, wage, hour and safety regulations that meet the standards set by retail and service industry rules. Children in agriculture should not be exposed to more risks, longer hours, and lower wages at younger ages than children in other jobs.

Finally, the Department of Labor and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration must allocate the funds necessary for meaningful enforcement of child labor violations. Unenforced rules won't protect the nearly million other children who work on farms.

Agriculture is a great American tradition. Let's make sure it's not one our children have to die for.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cristina Traina.

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Autopsy today for lottery winner poisoned by cyanide

The body of poisoned lottery winner, Urooj Khan, is exhumed at Rosehill Cemetery in Chicago on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. (John J. Kim, Chicago Tribune)

Chief Cook County Medical Examiner Stephen J. Cina said this afternoon that the body of lottery winner Urooj Khan, exhumed as part of a homicide investigation, was in an advanced state of decomposition but pathologists were able to take samples for toxicological analysis during an autopsy.

It could take several weeks before the test results are available, Cina said.

"I can't really predict how the results are going to turn out. Cyanide over the postmortem period actually can essentially evaporate and leave the tissue," Cina told reporters in the lobby of the medical examiner's office on the Near West Side. "It is possible that cyanide that was in the tissues is no longer in the tissues after several months. We'll just have to see how the results play out."

Cina said it took a few hours to complete the autopsy following the exhumation of Khan’s body from Rosehill Cemetery this morning.

The medical examiner’s office initially ruled that Khan’s July 20 death was from natural causes, but after a relative raised questions, comprehensive toxicological tests of blood showed that he died of cyanide poisoning. He had won a million-dollar lottery prize a few weeks before his death but had not collected the winnings – a lump-sum payment of about $425,000 after taxes.

Earlier today, a hearse was opened in front of a green tent set up at the grave site just north of Peterson Avenue and Khan's body was loaded into it. An evidence technician snapped a photo of it before the hearse's rear doors were closed up and the vehicle was driven away across the grass on the cemetery, escorted by a Chicago police evidence technician squad car and several other marked and unmarked police vehicles. They exited west onto Peterson Avenue.

The whole exhumation process lasted about two hours.

Khan's body was not frozen, officials said. A medical examiner's office spokeswoman, Mary Paleologos, said Khan's body will be buried again on Monday.

Dr. Marta Helenowski, the forensic pathologist who originally handled Khan's case, was to take samples of Khan's lungs, liver and spleen for further testing, along with taking a look at the contents of Khan's stomach and intestines and taking bone, nail and hair samples, all for further examination, according Paleologos.

"Depending on the condition of the body and the quality of the samples, (the medical examiner's office) will hopefully be able to determine how the cyanide entered his body," Paleologos said.

It'll be two or three weeks before the medical examiner's office knows how the cyanide got into Khan's system. The office will also have to wait for independent lab test results.

Helenowski and a few medical examiner's office personnel were on hand for the exhumation. An imam also was present to say prayers at the grave site as the exhumation went on.

Several helicopters hovered over Rosehill Cemetery and a backhoe and three or four pickup trucks were stationed at the grave site in the middle of the cemetery's northern section, where a beam of light could be seen shining over Khan's headstone. The backhoe soon began its work digging into the ground at the grave site. In addition to the backhoe, one or two workers were seen helping dig up the body with shovels.

A large tent was set up at the site where some two dozen police officers were gathered. Among the officers are two Chicago police evidence technicians, Paleologos said. One was taking still photos of the exhumation, while the other was shooting video.

An unmarked police car and two blue barricades blocked off the Peterson Avenue gate to Rosehill, the only entrance and exit in the northern section of the cemetery.

Four TV trucks sat parked along the fence about 100 yards west of the grave site along Oakley Avenue, the designated staging area for the media. A group of about a dozen photographers, a videographer and TV reporters stood along the Peterson Avenue fence, next to where traffic moved along the busy thoroughfare like any normal morning rush hour.

A few passersby gazed at the police activity at the grave site from Oakley Avenue. One, curious about large presence inside the cemetery, was surprised to learned from a Tribune reporter that it was Khan's body being dug up. Another thought someone was having a funeral.

The exhumation of Khan's remains came about six months after the West Rogers Park man was buried at Rosehill. In court papers last week, Cina said it was important to exhume the remains "as expeditiously as possible" since Khan's body was not embalmed.

In court papers, Cina said it was necessary to perform a full autopsy to "further confirm the results of the blood analysis as well as to rule out any other natural causes that might have contributed to or caused Mr. Khan's death."

The exhumation comes after the Tribune broke the story on Jan. 7 about Khan's mysterious death, sparking international media interest in the case.

The medical examiner's office initially ruled Khan's July 20 death was from hardening of the arteries when there were no signs of trauma on the body and a preliminary blood test didn't raise any questions. But the investigation was reopened about a week later after a relative suggested to authorities that Khan's death "may have been the result of poisoning," prosecutors said in a court filing seeking the exhumation.

The medical examiner's office contacted Chicago police Sept. 11 after tests showed cyanide in Khan's blood. By late November, more comprehensive toxicological tests showed lethal levels of the toxic chemical and the medical examiner's office declared his death a homicide.

Khan's widow, Shabana Ansari, who has hired a criminal-defense lawyer, told the Tribune last week that she had been questioned for more than four hours by detectives and had fully cooperated.  She said the detectives had asked her about ingredients she used to prepare his last meal of lamb curry, shared by Ansari, her father-in-law Fareedun Ansari and Khan's daughter from a previous marriage, Jasmeen, 17.

While a motive has not been determined, police have not ruled out that Khan was killed because of his lottery win, a law enforcement source has told the Tribune.

According to court records obtained by the Tribune, Khan's brother has squabbled with Shabana Ansari over the lottery winnings in probate court. The brother, ImTiaz Khan, raised concern that since Khan left no will, Jasmeen Khan would not get "her fair share" of her father's estate.

Khan and Ansari did not have children together. Since her father's death, Jasmeen Khan has been living with Khan's siblings.

An attorney for Ansari in the probate case said the money was all accounted for and the estate was in the process of being divided up by the court. Under state law, the estate typically would be split evenly between the spouse and Khan's only child, he said.

In addition, almost two years ago, the Internal Revenue Service placed liens on Khan's residence on West Pratt Boulevard in an effort to collect more than $120,000 in back taxes from his father-in-law,  Fareedun Ansari, who still lives at the home with his daughter.

Fareedun and Shabana Ansari have denied involvement in Khan's death.


Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Foreigners still caught in Sahara hostage crisis

ALGIERS/IN AMENAS, Algeria (Reuters) - More than 20 foreigners were still either being held hostage or missing inside a gas plant on Friday after Algerian forces stormed the desert complex to free hundreds of captives taken by Islamist militants.

More than a day after the Algerian army launched an assault to seize the remote desert compound, much was still unclear about the number and fate of the victims, leaving countries with citizens in harm's way struggling to find hard information.

Reports on the number of hostages killed ranged from 12 to 30, with anywhere from dozens to scores of foreigners still unaccounted for.

Norway's Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, eight of whose countrymen were missing, said fighters still controlled the gas treatment plant itself, while Algerian forces now held the nearby residential compound that housed hundreds of workers.

Leaders of Britain, Japan and other countries expressed frustration that the assault had been ordered without consultation. Many countries were also withholding information about their citizens to avoid helping the captors.

Night fell quietly on the village of In Amenas, the nearest settlement, some 50 km (30 miles) from the vast and remote desert plant. A military helicopter could be seen in the sky.

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.

Norway's Stoltenberg said some of those killed in vehicles blasted by the army could not be identified. "We must be prepared for bad news this weekend but we still have hope."

Northern Irish engineer Stephen McFaul, who survived, said he saw four trucks full of hostages blown up by Algerian troops.

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.

A local Algerian source said 100 of 132 foreign hostages had been freed from the facility. However, other estimates of the number of unaccounted-for foreigners were higher. Earlier the same source said 60 were still missing. Some may be held hostage; others may still be hiding in the sprawling compound.

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.

Those still unaccounted for on Friday included 10 from Japan and eight Norwegians, according to their employers, and a number of Britons which Cameron put at "significantly" less than 30

France said it had no information on two Frenchmen who may have been at the site and Washington has said a number of Americans were among the hostages, without giving details. The local source said a U.S. aircraft landed nearby on Friday.

The attackers had initially claimed to be holding 41 Western hostages. Some Westerners were able to evade capture by hiding.

They lived among hundreds of Algerian employees on the compound. The state news agency said the army had rescued 650 hostages in total, 573 of whom were Algerians.

"(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," it said, quoting a security source.


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, 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 a 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 that its decision to fight Islamists in neighboring Mali was necessary.

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

The most powerful Islamist groups 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 Algerian security source said only two of 11 militants whose bodies were found on Thursday were Algerian, including the squad's leader. The others comprised three Egyptians, two Tunisians, two Libyans, a Malian and a Frenchman, he said.

The plant was heavily fortified, with security, controlled access and an army camp with hundreds of armed personnel between the accommodation and processing plant, Andy Coward Honeywell, who worked there in 2009, told the BBC.

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 security measures.

Algerian officials said the attackers may have had inside help from among the hundreds of Algerians employed at the site. The attackers benefitted from bases and staging grounds across the nearby border in Libya's desert, Algerian officials said.

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."


The kidnappers threatened more attacks and warned Algerians to stay away from foreign companies' installations, according to Mauritania's news agency ANI, which maintained contact with the group during the siege.

Hundreds of workers from international oil companies were evacuated from Algeria on Thursday and many more will follow, said BP, which jointly ran the gas plant with Norway's Statoil and the Algerian state oil firm.

The overall commander of the kidnappers, Algerian officials said, was Mokhtar Belmokhtar, a one-eyed veteran of Afghanistan in the 1980s and Algeria's bloody civil war of the 1990s. He appears not to have been present.

Algerian security specialist Anis Rahmani, author of several books on terrorism and editor of Ennahar daily, told Reuters about 70 militants were involved from two groups, Belmokhtar's "Those who sign in blood", who traveled from Libya, and the lesser known "Movement of the Islamic Youth in the South".

Britain's Cameron, who warned people to prepare for bad news and who canceled a major policy speech on Friday to deal with the situation, said he would have liked Algeria to have consulted before the raid. Japan made similar complaints.

U.S. officials had no clear information on the fate of Americans. Washington, like its European allies, has endorsed France's military intervention in Mali.

(Additional reporting by Ali Abdelatti in Cairo, Eamonn Mallie in Belfast, Gwladys Fouche in Oslo, Mohammed Abbas in London and Padraic Halpin and Conor Humprhies in Dublin; Writing by Philippa Fletcher and Peter Graff; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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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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Manti Te'o girlfriend's death apparently a hoax

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Not long before Notre Dame played Michigan State last fall, word spread that Fighting Irish linebacker Manti Te'o had lost his grandmother and girlfriend within hours of each other.

Te'o never missed a practice and made a season-high 12 tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery in a 20-3 victory against the Spartans. His inspired play became a stirring story line for the Fighting Irish as they made a run to the national championship game behind their humble, charismatic star.

Te'o's grandmother did indeed die. His girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed.

In a shocking announcement, Notre Dame said Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose "death" from leukemia was faked by perpetrators of an elaborate hoax. The goal of the scam wasn't clear, though Notre Dame said it used an investigative firm to dig into the details after Te'o disclosed them three weeks ago.

The hoax was disclosed hours after Deadspin.com posted a lengthy story, saying it could find no record that Kekua ever existed. The story suggests a friend of Te'o may have carried out the hoax and that the football player may have been in on it — a stunning claim against a widely admired All-American who led the most famed program in college football back to the championship game for the first time since 1988.

"This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o said Wednesday night in a statement. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. "

However, he stopped short of saying he had ever met her in person or correcting reports that said he had, though he did on numerous occasions talk about how special the relationship was to him.

"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating," he said. "In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was."

Word of the hoax spread quickly and raised questions about whether the school somehow played a role in pushing the tale.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at a news conference that Te'o told coaches on Dec. 26 that he had received a call from Kekua's phone number while at an awards ceremony during the first week of December.

"When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same person he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead. Manti was very unnerved by that, as you might imagine," Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick said the school hired investigators and their report indicated those behind the hoax were in contact with each other, discussing what they were doing.

The investigators "were able to discover online chatter among the perpetrators that was certainly the ultimate proof of this, the joy they were taking," Swarbrick said. "The casualness among themselves they were talking about what they accomplished."

Te'o asked the woman he thought was his girlfriend to converse via Skype, where he could see her online, but she always found an excuse not to, Swarbrick said.

"As part of the hoax, several meetings were set up where Lennay never showed, including some in Hawaii," said Swarbrick, who offered only vague details of the scheme to dupe his player, and others.

"We know, for example, that these perpetrators didn't limit themselves to Manti in the targets," he said. "There are a remarkable number of characters involved. We don't know how many people they represent. There are male and female characters, brothers, cousins, mother, and we don't know if it's two people playing multiple characters or multiple people. But, again, it goes to the sophistication of this, that there are all these sort of independent pieces that reinforce elements of the story all the way through."

As for Te'o being gullible, Swarbrick said the linebacker was the "perfect mark."

"He was not a person who would have a second thought about offering his assistance and help in engaging fully," Swarbrick said.

For Te'o, "the pain was real," Swarbrick said. "The grief was real. The affection was real. That's the nature of this sad, cruel game."

Swarbrick said Notre Dame did not take the matter to the police, saying that the school left it up to Te'o and his family to do so. He added that Notre Dame did not plan to release the findings of its investigation.

"We had no idea of motive, and that was really significant to us. ... Was somebody trying to create an NCAA violation at the core of this? Was there somebody trying to impact the outcome of football games by manipulating the emotions of a key player? Was there an extortion request coming? When you match the lack of sort of detail we lacked until we got some help investigating it with the risk involved, it was clear to me until we knew more we had to just to continue to work to try to gather the facts," Swarbrick said.

The Deadspin report changed all that.

Friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told Deadspin they believe he created Kekua. The website said Te'o and Tuiasosopo knew each other. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Tuiasosopo by telephone were unsuccessful.

As for Kekua, Deadspin said she does not have a death certificate. Stanford, where she reportedly went to school, has no record of anybody by that name, the website said. Deadspin said a record search produced no obituary or funeral announcement. There is no record of her birth in the news.

There are a few Twitter and Instagram accounts registered to Lennay Kekua, but the website reported that photographs identified as Kekua online and in TV news reports are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua.

Te'o talked freely about their relationship after her supposed death and how much she meant to him.

In a story that appeared in The South Bend Tribune on Oct. 12, Manti's father, Brian, recounted an anecdote about how his son and Kekua met after Notre Dame had played at Stanford in 2009. Brian Te'o also told the newspaper that Kekua had visited Hawaii and met with his son. Brian Te'o told the AP in an interview in October that he and his wife had never met Manti's girlfriend but they had hoped to at the Wake Forest game in November. The father said he believed the relationship was just beginning to get serious when she died.

The Tribune released a statement saying: "At the Tribune, we are as stunned by these revelations as everyone else. Indeed, this season we reported the story of this fake girlfriend and her death as details were given to us by Te'o, members of his family and his coaches at Notre Dame."

The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters when asked that Te'o's grandmother and a friend had died. He said Kekua had told Te'o not to miss a game if she died. The linebacker turned in one of his best performances of the season and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish's undefeated regular season. He finished second in Heisman voting.

"It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life," Te'o said in his statement.

"I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been."

Te'o and the Irish lost the title game to Alabama, 42-14 on Jan. 7. He has graduated and was set to begin preparing for the NFL combine and draft at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this week.

"Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life," he said in his statement, "and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL draft."

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NYC Museum Launches New Space Shuttle Enterprise Exhibit

NEW YORK — A floating Manhattan museum unveiled a temporary new exhibition devoted to the space shuttle Enterprise today (Jan. 17) while the prototype orbiter — NASA’s first shuttle — is being restored after a devastating storm.

Called “Space Shuttle Enterprise: A Pioneer,” the exhibition debuted inside the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum in response to the closure of the Enterprise pavilion after Hurricane Sandy, displays some never-before-seen artifacts from the space shuttle‘s history. The shuttle Enterprise itself is parked on the flight deck of the Intrepid, which is a retired World War II aircraft carrier.

“The exhibition is really looking at Enterprise, celebrating its history,” Jessica Williams, curator of history at the museum said. “We’ll be getting a little bit of background about the science of the space shuttle and the origin of the space shuttle program, but focusing on Enterprise specifically, what Enterprise accomplished. Also, we’re taking a peek at some of the people involved with Enterprise and the pop culture connections as well.”

The space shuttle Enterprise was NASA’s first space shuttle, but never flew in space. The prototype orbiter was used for vital approach and landing tests that paved the way for the first orbital shuttle flight in 1981. The Enterprise was named after the fictional “Star Trek” starship of the same name in 1976 after a massive letter-writing campaign to the White House.

One case in the new Intrepid exhibition not only honors Enterprise, but also pays homage to the Intrepid. Former astronaut Richard Truly served as a pilot on the Intrepid during the early part of his career, but eventually joined NASA to do flight tests for the space shuttle. Both his helmet and flight jacket are featured prominently at the entrance to the exhibit. [See Photos of the Shuttle Enterprise Exhibit]

Although they aren’t the originals that flew aboard the Enterprise, NASA donated some cockpit instruments that were in use during the time the shuttle Enterprise flew in 1977. Because visitors to the Intrepid cannot see the interior of the space shuttle, the instruments and accompanying photo of Enterprise’s control panels are a good alternative, Williams added.

“During the time the pavilion was closed, we were fully aware that the public was still eager to hear stories and see material object related to the shuttle,” Elaine Charnov, vice president of exhibits told SPACE.com, “so obviously this is just another opportunity to provide the public with additional stories and content.”

The space shuttle arrived in New York and was delivered by barge to the Intrepid in July 2012.

Enterprise was damaged during Hurricane Sandy when the museum lost back up electricity due to high winds. The inflatable pavilion housing the space shuttle deflated, detaching part of the shuttle’s vertical stabilizer. The pavilion has been closed ever since, but it should be up and running again sometime in the spring, a museum spokesperson said.

While the Intrepid has no set plans to take down the exhibit anytime in the near future, the temporary exhibit was created on an incredibly accelerated time scale.

“This was probably about one-eighth of the design, development, building process that we normally would have,” said Christopher Malanson, the assistant vice president of exhibits at the Intrepid.

Exhibition curators are still on the lookout for new materials to add to the Enterprise display. They hope any members of the public with materials related to the Enterprise will contact the museum if they wish to donate.

The museum is also hoping the public will get involved in another way. A flat screen TV outside of the exhibition cycles through photos of Enterprise’s arrival in New York, and the curators hope that everyone will send photos to the museum once an email address to receive crowd-sourced submissions is set up next week. Anything related to the Enterprise is welcome, Williams said.

The Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum is located at Pier 86 (46th Street and 12th Avenue) in Manhattan. Any inquiries about donations or artifacts should be sent to: [email protected]

Follow Miriam Kramer on Twitter @mirikramer or SPACE.com @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.
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