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Gates accepts Iraq withdrawal timeline

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said he accepts President-elect Barack Obama's approach to scheduled troop reductions in Iraq, arguing yesterday that the hotly debated subject of timelines for withdrawal largely has been settled by a new U.S.-Iraq security agreement. "That bridge has been crossed," Gates said a day after he formally agreed to remain as Obama's defense secretary. "And so the question is: How do we do this in a responsible way?" The security agreement, approved last week by Iraqi officials, requires U.S. combat troops to leave Iraqi cities and towns by June 30 and to withdraw completely by the end of 2011. Obama wants combat troops out within 16 months but has indicated he would take security considerations and advice from commanders into account.

Martinez to relinquish Florida seat in Senate

ORLANDO, Fla.: Republican Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida, who has struggled to maintain public support because of his close ties to President George W. Bush, announced yesterday that he will not seek a second term in 2010, saying he wants to spend more time with his family. Martinez pushed an immigration reform bill that was unpopular with many in his party, and his seat was widely seen as vulnerable in two years. However, Martinez rejected hints that he faced difficult re-election prospects in a state won last month by Democrat Barack Obama. "My decision is not based on re-election prospects, but on what I want to do with the next eight years of my life," he said. Martinez, 62, was elected in 2004 after serving as the U.S. secretary for Housing and Urban Development during the Bush administration.

U.N. questions Iraq takeover of detainees

BAGHDAD: The United Nations expressed concern yesterday about overcrowding and "grave human rights violations" of detainees in Iraqi custody - in one case, 123 men crammed into a single cell. The warning comes as the U.S. prepares to turn over control to the Iraqis of thousands of security detainees in its custody under a new security pact. The U.N.'s 13th report on the human rights situation in Iraq casts doubt on whether the Iraqis will be ready to take custody of more detainees properly. U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura said of a detention facility in which 123 detainees were crammed into a 540-square-foot cell - about the size of a studio apartment: "That's obviously something that cannot be sustained."

Hudson in-law charged in killings of three

CHICAGO: Jennifer Hudson's estranged brother-in-law was charged yesterday with three counts of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of three of her family members. Prosecutors handed down formal charges against William Balfour in the deaths of Hudson's mother, brother and 7-year-old nephew, said Tandra Simonton, spokeswoman for the Cook County state's attorney's office. Balfour had been in custody on a parole violation since the bodies of Hudson's mother, Darnell Hudson Donerson, and brother, Jason Hudson, were discovered in their home Oct. 24. The body of young Julian King, Balfour's stepson, was found in a sport utility vehicle three days later. All three had been shot to death.

Calif. couple arrested in captivity of youth, 17

SAN FRANCISCO: A husband and wife were arrested after an emaciated, terrified and nearly naked 17-year-old showed up at a gym with a chain locked to his ankle, saying he had just fled his captors, authorities said yesterday. Police were also seeking the boy's aunt and had an outstanding felony warrant against her for an earlier alleged assault against the teen. Police arrested Kelly Layne Lau, 30, and Michael Schumacher, 34, late Monday on charges of torture, kidnapping and child abuse. They were set to appear in court today, according to online jail records. Police still were seeking Caren Ramirez, 43, the boy's aunt, on suspicion of participating in the alleged abuse, authorities said.

'Chemical Ali' gets second death sentence

BAGHDAD: Saddam Hussein's notorious cousin "Chemical Ali" Hassan al-Majid received a second death sentence yesterday - this time for crushing a Shiite uprising in the wake of Iraq's defeat in the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

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