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Top al-Qaida official killed in Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- One of al-Qaida's top figures, Abu Laith al-Libi, has been killed in Pakistan, an Islamist Web site announced yesterday. Pakistani officials and residents said a dozen people, including seven Arabs, died in a missile strike in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border. Al-Libi was believed to be the key link between the Taliban and al-Qaida and was blamed for masterminding the bombing of an American base while Vice President Dick Cheney was visiting Afghanistan last year. He was listed among the Americans' 12 most-wanted men, with a bounty of $200,000 on his head. A Web site that often carries announcements from militant groups said al-Libi had been "martyred with a group of his brothers in the land of Muslim Pakistan," but gave no details.

Domestic budget freezes most funding

WASHINGTON --President Bush's 2009 budget will virtually freeze most domestic programs and seek nearly $200 billion in savings from federal health care programs, a senior administration official said yesterday. The Bush budget also will likely exceed $3 trillion, this official said. Bush on Monday will present his proposed budget for the new fiscal year to Congress. The official, whose spoke on condition of anonymity because the budget has not been released, said the budget for domestic programs would look like last year's. "It's a very small increase," he said. "Very small."

U.S. troops likely to remain in Iraq

LAS VEGAS --President Bush said yesterday he will not jeopardize security gains in Iraq by withdrawing U.S. forces too fast, another signal that troop reductions could slow or stop altogether this summer. The president said he would resist any temptation to bring troops home to score political points with a war-weary public or compromise with Democrats in Congress seeking to wind down the war. The U.S. troop commitment is expected to be down to roughly 130,000 to 135,000 by July, the same number as before Bush sent in reinforcements a year ago.

Tougher ID rules at nation's borders

DETROIT --Tougher identification rules went into effect yesterday along the nation's borders, but there appeared to be little added delay as travelers unprepared for the change were in many cases allowed to cross with a warning. U.S. and Canadian citizens entering the country are no longer allowed to simply declare to immigration officers at border crossings that they are citizens. Instead, those 19 and older must show proof of citizenship, such as a passport or a "trusted traveler" card issued to frequent border crossers. Driver's licenses must be accompanied by proof of citizenship, such as a birth certificate.

Noriega extradition to France blocked

MIAMI --A federal judge ruled yesterday that former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega cannot be extradited to face French money-laundering charges until his appeals in U.S. courts are exhausted. Noriega deserves a chance to fully air his arguments that any French extradition is prohibited by the Geneva Conventions protections for prisoners of war and that Noriega instead should be repatriated to Panama, U.S. District Judge Paul Huck said.

Bloomberg won't join presidential race

NEW YORK --New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said in more certain terms that he won't get into the presidential race. In a visit to Google's offices in New York City, Bloomberg said he is not a presidential candidate and that he'll "stay that way," a slightly stronger indication that he does not intend to seek the presidency.

Troops requested for Pakistani election

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan --Pakistan's president came under increased pressure yesterday to take drastic steps to ensure fair elections next month, with the opposition demanding the army guard polling stations and influential retired military officers saying the deposed chief justice should become caretaker leader. The parliamentary elections are meant to usher in democracy after eight years of military rule under President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally whose popularity is waning while Taliban and al-Qaida militancy is rising. The party of slain opposition leader Benazir Bhutto sent a letter to the Election Commission asking that troops be deployed to polling stations during the Feb. 18 vote.

Arrests made in Algerian bombings

TUNIS, Tunisia --Algerian security services have dismantled the terror group behind a pair of suicide bombings that killed 37 people, including 17 U.N. workers, Algeria's interior minister said yesterday. The Dec. 11 bombings struck U.N. offices and a government building in the Algerian capital, Algiers. They were the most serious of a recent wave of attacks signaling that Islamic fighters are regrouping in the North African country. Interior Minister Noureddine Yazid Zerhouni told the Associated Press that two suspects in the suicide attacks were killed and another two arrested. He did not give details.

Details uncovered in Holloway case

ORANJESTAD, Aruba --Aruban prosecutors said yesterday that authorities are investigating new information in the Natalee Holloway case provided by a Dutch crime reporter. Information from reporter Peter R. de Vries "may help considerably" in resolving what happened to the American, who vanished during a May 2005 school vacation to the Dutch Caribbean island, the prosecutor's office said in a statement. The statement did not specify the new material, but said it "may shed a new light on the mode" in which Holloway died and the "method by which her body disappeared."

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