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Posted: Jan 30, 2013 4:52 AM

Updated: Jan 30, 2013 4:53 AM

WINTER WEATHER

Storms rip through central US and South

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) A winter storm has been ripping through the nation's midsection, with thunderstorms, damaging winds and possible tornadoes.

One person was struck by lightning and injured in Arkansas, where there are downed trees and scattered power outages. Entergy Arkansas says at least 9,000 homes and businesses lost electricity in several communities, including in and around Little Rock.

Forecasters say they're checking reports of possible twisters in the state one near Little Rock and two in northwestern Arkansas.

Tennessee and Mississippi emergency officials also warned residents about severe weather overnight.

GUN CONTROL-CONGRESS

UPDATE: Senate hearing pits NRA, gun-control supporters

WASHINGTON (AP) The Senate Judiciary Committee holds its first hearing on curbing gun violence since the massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month.

In prepared testimony for today, the National Rifle Association's Wayne LaPierre says, "Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals." But Sen. Dianne Feinstein says it's time to "change course" and "make people safe."

US-IRAN-TERROR

Report: Iran, Hezbollah terror threat rising

WASHINGTON (AP) A new report warns that Iran's elite Quds Force and Hezbollah militants are learning from botched terror attacks over the past two years and pose a growing threat to the U.S. and other Western targets as well as Israel.

The report says the militant groups, operating both independently and together, are escalating their activities, fueling worries that they will soon be able and willing to attack the U.S.

The report by counterterrorism expert Matthew Levitt, at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, points to two plots last year a successful one in Bulgaria and a failure in Washington as indications that militants are adapting and are determined to take revenge on the West for efforts to disrupt Tehran's nuclear program and other perceived offenses.

EGYPT

NEW: Egypt opposition leader wants national dialogue

CAIRO (AP) Egypt's liberal opposition leader has called for a broad national dialogue with the Islamist government, all political factions and the powerful military after the latest eruption of political violence left 60 dead over the past week.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei made the appeal today, a day after the military warned the country could collapse under the weight of this turmoil.

President Mohammed Morsi, who was making a brief visit to Germany on Wednesday despite the crisis at home, has declared a state of emergency and night curfew in three restive provinces along the Suez Canal. But residents have defied the curfew since it took effect.

Morsi authorized governors of the three provinces to either cancel or limit curfew hours in an attempt to assuage public anger.

ECONOMY-GDP

UPDATE: Slow US economic growth in Q4 may hide strength

WASHINGTON (AP) The Commerce Department releases a snapshot of fourth quarter economic growth Wednesday morning, and most economists are saying it's not going to look very good.

Most economists surveyed by FactSet believe economic growth slowed sharply in the last quarter of 2012 to an annual rate of 1.2 percent, the slowest rate in nearly two years.

VIETNAM-AMERICAN RELEASED

NEW: Vietnam frees American activist after 9 months

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) Vietnamese authorities have released and deported a Vietnamese-American activist detained since April on accusations of conspiring to overthrow the government.

A Foreign Ministry statement says Nguyen Quoc Quan had "confessed to his crime" and asked for leniency to be reunited with his family. He was arrested in April and released today. Authorities originally accused him of terrorism but later downgraded the charges to subversion.

The United States has been calling on Vietnam to release the 59-year-old, who supporters say is a nonviolent advocate of democratic reforms in Vietnam.

MALI FIGHTING

French troops control key airport in north Mali

SEGOU, Mali (AP) France's military spokesman said troops now are in control of the Kidal airport in northern Mali, seizing a key position in one of three provincial capitals the Islamist militants took over last year. French and Malian troops have recaptured two of the other cities, Timbuktu and Gao, in recent days.

French army Col. Thierry Burkhard said the airport was taken overnight and described the operation in Kidal itself as "ongoing."

Haminy Maiga, the interim president of the Kidal regional assembly, said French forces met no resistance when they entered the town on Tuesday . He said French troops and helicopters were in the city on Wednesday.

The loss of Kidal would mean the Islamists no longer control any of the northern provincial capitals that they had seized last April.

PHILIPPINES-US-SHIP AGROUND

NEW: US Navy to dismantle ship stuck on Philippine reef

MANILA, Philippines (AP) The U.S. Navy says it will dismantle a damaged minesweeper that ran aground on a coral reef in the Philippines after carefully studying all options on how to salvage the ship.

A Navy spokesman says dismantling the USS Guardian was determined to be the best solution and would involve the least damage to the reef, a protected marine sanctuary where the ship got stuck Jan. 17.

He says the Philippine coast guard is reviewing the plan.

The grounding caused no casualties to the ship's 79 crew and officers, who were taken off the vessel after it crashed into the reef.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has said the U.S. Navy must explain how the ship got off its course.

ITALY-SHIP AGROUND

NEW: Captain of wrecked Costa ship contests firing

ROME (AP) The captain of the shipwrecked Costa Concordia is in an Italian court today to contest his firing.

Francesco Schettino is challenging Costa Crociere SpA's decision to fire him after the Concordia ran aground off Tuscany Jan. 13, 2012, and capsized, killing 32 people. Court-appointed experts have blamed Schettino for the disaster, saying he took the ship off course in a stunt.

Schettino insists his skilled steering saved lives and that the reef the ship hit wasn't on his charts.

As Schettino arrived for today's closed-door hearing near Naples, he was asked if he thought he'd command a ship again. He said, "Yes, certainly."

A separate court will decide whether to indict Schettino on manslaughter and other charges.

NETHERLANDS-SHELL SUED

NEW: Dutch court rejects most of Shell spill case

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) Dutch judges have rejected most of a landmark case brought by Nigerian farmers against Royal Dutch Shell for poisoning their fish ponds and farmland with leaking pipelines.

The Hague Civil Court rejected all cases against the Netherlands-based company. However, in one case it ordered a subsidiary, Shell Nigeria, to compensate a farmer for breach of duty of care by making it too easy for saboteurs to open an oil pipe.

The level of damages in that case will be established at a later hearing.

The court rejected other claims, saying they were caused by saboteurs and, under Nigerian law, oil companies are not responsible unless they breach their duty of care.

Both sides have three months to appeal.

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