North Korea declares its long-range rocket launch a success; neighbors protest
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket Wednesday, the second launch under its new leader and a clear sign Pyongyang is pushing forward with its quest to develop the technology needed to deliver a nuclear warhead.
Pyongyang's state media quickly claimed that the country had successfully put a peaceful satellite into orbit with its long-range Unha-3 rocket -- the North's stated goal of the launch. But South Korea and Japan said they couldn't immediately confirm that. The launch was something of a surprise, as North Korea had indicated technical problems with the rocket and recently extended its launch window to Dec. 29.
A rocket expert said North Korea's rocket appeared to have improved on an April launch, which broke apart shortly after liftoff, but that it might be a day before U.S. officials could determine whether a North Korean satellite was circling the Earth.
The United Nations, Washington, Seoul and others see the launch as a cover for a test of technology for missiles that could be used to strike the United States.
South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok told a nationally televised news conference that a South Korean Aegis-equipped destroyer detected the launch at 9:51 a.m., local time, and the first stage fell into the Yellow Sea about a minute later; the rocket then flew over a South Korean island near the border with North Korea a minute after that. The rocket was seen flying west of Okinawa at 9:58 a.m., and then disappeared from South Korean radars, Kim said.
3 people dead, including gunman, in shooting at Portland, Ore.-area shopping mall
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- A gunman opened fire in a suburban Portland shopping mall Tuesday, killing two people and wounding another as people were doing their Christmas shopping, authorities said.
Witnesses described a scene of chaos and disbelief as a gunman wearing some sort of camouflage outfit and what looked like a hockey mask fired rounds fire from a military-style rifle near the food court at Clackamas Town Center.
Parents with children joined other shoppers rushing to stores' backrooms for safety as teams of police officers began entering the mall to find the shooter.
Clackamas County sheriff's Lt. James Rhodes said later that the gunman was dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. A shopper told KATU-TV he saw a man lying on the floor with a gun next to him.
Authorities went store-to-store to confirm that there was only one shooter and to escort hiding shoppers outside, Rhodes said.
10 Things to Know for Wednesday
Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and stories that will be talked about Wednesday:
1. AN ACT OF DEFIANCE FROM NORTH KOREA
The pariah nation launches a long-range rocket, ignoring warnings from the U.N. and the U.S.
'Cliff' movement? Boehner and Obama exchange proposals, talk on phone as deadline approaches
WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a test of divided government, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner sought an elusive compromise Tuesday to prevent economy-damaging tax increases on the middle class at year's end, conferring by phone after a secretive exchange of proposals.
Details were sparse and evidence of significant progress scarcer still, although officials said the president had offered to reduce his initial demand for $1.6 trillion in higher tax revenue over a decade to $1.4 trillion.
There was no indication he was relenting on his insistence -- strongly opposed by most Republicans -- that tax rates rise at upper incomes.
Boehner sounded unimpressed in remarks on the House floor at midday.
"The longer the White House slow-walks this process, the closer our economy gets to the fiscal cliff," he said, declaring that Obama had yet to identify specific cuts to government benefit programs that as part of an agreement that also would raise federal tax revenue.
Venezuelan vice president says Hugo Chavez recovering after cancer operation in Cuba
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was recovering in Cuba on Tuesday after an operation targeting an aggressive cancer that has defied multiple treatments and has prompted the socialist leader to name a political successor.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro spoke on Venezuelan television after the surgery, saying the operation was "complex" but was completed "correctly and successfully."
Maduro made the announcement flanked by other Chavez aides and military commanders. He then led an outdoor vigil where the president's supporters joined hands in prayer and sang along with a recording of Chavez singing the national anthem.
Addressing Chavez on television, Maduro said: "We're waiting for you here."
It was the fourth cancer-related operation that Chavez has undergone since June 2011.
Over protesters' angry chants, Michigan lawmakers give final approval to right-to-work bills
LANSING, Mich. (AP) -- Over the chants of thousands of angry protesters, Republican lawmakers made Michigan a right-to-work state Tuesday, dealing a devastating and once-unthinkable defeat to organized labor in a place that has been a bastion of the movement for generations.
The GOP-dominated House ignored Democrats' pleas to delay the final passage and instead approved two bills with the same ruthless efficiency that the Senate showed last week. One measure dealt with private-sector workers, the other with government employees. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed them both within hours, calling them "pro-worker and pro-Michigan."
"This is about freedom, fairness and equality," House Speaker Jase Bolger said during the floor debate. "These are basic American rights -- rights that should unite us."
After the vote, he said, Michigan's future "has never been brighter, because workers are free."
The state where the United Auto Workers was founded and labor has long been a political titan will join 23 others with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.
Egypt judges say most will not oversee vote as crisis forces delay in key IMF loan
CAIRO (AP) -- Most Egyptian judges rejected any role Tuesday in overseeing the country's constitutional referendum, a move likely to cast further doubt on the legitimacy of the disputed charter.
The nation's worst crisis since Hosni Mubarak's ouster nearly two years ago also forced the government to put off a crucial deal with the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8 billion loan, shattering any hope for recovery of the country's ailing economy anytime soon.
On one side of the divide is President Mohammed Morsi, his Muslim Brotherhood and their ultra-conservative Islamist allies, against an opposition camp of liberals, leftists and Christians who contend the draft charter restricts freedoms and gives Islamists vast influence over the running of the country.
An unexpected twist came when the defense minister, a Morsi appointee, invited the opposition, along with judges, media leaders and Muslim and Christian clerics to an informal gathering Wednesday, saying he was doing so in his personal -- not an official -- capacity.
It was the second time this week that the nation's powerful military has addressed the crisis, signaling its return to the political fray after handing over power in June to Morsi, Egypt's first civilian president.
Parents fight for release of ex-Marine jailed in Mexico for carrying gun across border
MIAMI (AP) -- A South Florida family is fighting to get their son, a Marine veteran, released from a prison in a dangerous area in Mexico while facing charges that he carried across the border a shotgun with a barrel that's an inch too short.
Jon Hammar and his friend were on their way to Costa Rica in August and planned to drive across the Mexican border near Matamoros in a Winnebago filled with surfboards and camping gear. Hammar, 27, asked U.S. border agents what to do with the unloaded shotgun, which his family said belonged to his great-grandfather.
"They examined it, they weighed it, they said you have to fill out this form," his father, Jon Hammar, told The Associated Press in a phone interview Tuesday from his home near Miami.
But when the pair crossed the border and handed the paperwork to Mexican officials, they impounded the RV and jailed the men, saying it was illegal to carry that type of gun. Hammar's friend was later released because the gun did not belong to him.
The family's attorney said Mexican law prohibits civilians from carrying certain types of guns, like sawed-off shotguns, which can be more easily concealed. Mexican law prohibits shotguns with a barrel of less than 25 inches (63.5 centimeters). Family attorney Eddie Varon-Levy said Mexican officials measured the barrel on Hammar's shotgun as 24 inches (61 centimeters). It has not been sawed off.
Mexican official: Rivera plane plummeted almost straight down at more than 600 mph
MEXICO CITY (AP) -- The plane carrying Mexican-American music superstar Jenni Rivera plunged almost vertically from more than 28,000 feet and hit the ground in a nose-dive at a speed that may have exceeded 600 miles per hour, Mexico's top transportation official said Tuesday.
In the first detailed account of the moments leading up to the crash that killed Rivera and six other people, Secretary of Communications and Transportation Gerardo Ruiz Esparza told Radio Formula that the twin-engine turbojet hit the ground 1.2 miles from where it began falling.
"The plane practically nose-dived," he said. "The impact must have been terrible."
Ruiz did not offer any explanation of what may have caused the plane to plummet, saying only that "The plane fell from an altitude of 28,000 feet ... It may have hit a speed higher than 1,000 kph (621 mph)."
Ruiz said the pilot of the plane, Miguel Perez Soto, had a valid Mexican pilot's license that would have expired in January. Photos of a temporary pilot's certificate issued by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration and found amid the wreckage said that Perez was 78.
Suspensions for Saints players overturned on appeal in NFL bounty case
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Finding fault with nearly everyone tied to the New Orleans Saints' bounty case, from the coaches to Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue tossed out the suspensions of four players Tuesday and condemned the team for obstructing the investigation.
In a surprising rejection of his successor's overreaching punishments, Tagliabue wrote that he would "now vacate all discipline to be imposed upon" two current Saints, linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, and two players no longer with the club, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.
Tagliabue essentially absolved Fujita, but did agree with Goodell's finding that the other three players "engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football."
It was a ruling that allowed both sides to claim victory more than nine months after the league first made "Saints bounties" a household phrase: The NFL pointed to the determination that Goodell's facts were right; the NFL Players Association issued a statement noting that Tagliabue said "previously issued discipline was inappropriate."
Vilma, suspended by Goodell for the entire current season, and Smith, suspended four games, have been playing for the Saints while their appeals were pending. Fujita is on injured reserve; Hargrove is not with a team.