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Wednesday, November 30

Editor's Note: CNN News Update is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents, producers and Wires.CNN editors.

U.S. Marines, soldier die in separate incidents in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Two U.S. Marines and a U.S. soldier died Wednesday in separate incidents in Iraq, the military said Thursday.

The first Marine was assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward). He died from wounds received from small arms fire during combat operations in Falluja, the military said.

The second Marine was assigned to the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), and died in what the military says was a "non-hostile" vehicle accident near Taqaddum, about 50 miles (80 km) northwest of Baghdad.

The soldier, assigned to Task Force Baghdad, died as a result of a gunshot wound north of Baghdad, the military said. The incident was under investigation.

The troops' names were withheld pending notification of relatives. Since the start of the war, 2,113 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. (Updated 3:25 a.m.)

Williams: 'I'm prepared for life and not death'

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- A former gang member who became an anti-gang crusader while on Death Row said Wednesday he is "prepared for life and not death."

Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the founder of the Crips street gang, spoke after the California Supreme Court refused 4-2 to block his Dec. 13 execution. He is set to die by lethal injection for four slayings.

"The fact of the matter is, I'm prepared for life and not death," Williams told a Los Angeles audience listening to readings of some of the children's books he has authored, speaking into a cell phone held up to a microphone by actor Jamie Foxx.

"My love goes out to all of you. And I know that you will continue to strive to not only help me, but help other people who are in trouble," he said.

After his imprisonment, Williams denounced gang violence and began writing children's books with an anti-gang message, donating the proceeds to anti-gang community groups.

"The only thing that I was doing was destroying my own kind," he said Wednesday. (Posted 12:05 a.m.) -- CNN's Rob Ade contributed to this report.

Poll: Most Americans don't think Bush has a plan for Iraq victory

(CNN) -- As the White House launches a new offensive in the public opinion battle over the Iraq war, a new CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Wednesday night finds that most Americans do not believe President Bush has a plan that will achieve victory in Iraq.

However, the poll also found that nearly six in 10 Americans believe U.S. troops should not be withdrawn from Iraq until certain goals are achieved, while just 35 percent want to set a specific timetable for their exit, as some Democratic critics of the war have suggested.

Wednesday, the White House unveiled a 35-page plan to achieve success in Iraq, and Bush used a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy to tout what he sees as progress in getting Iraqi security forces in place to protect their own country.

The poll does not directly reflect how Americans are reacting to Bush's speech, because only 10 percent of those polled had seen it live, and two-thirds had not even heard about it.

But it does indicate the scope of the battle ahead as Bush seeks to regain support for the war among an increasingly skeptical public. Among poll respondents, 55 percent said they did not believe Bush has a plan that will achieve victory for the United States in Iraq; only 41 percent thought he did. (Posted 11:25 p.m.)

Medical center will pay $73 million to settle fraud case

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Beth Israel Medical Center has agreed to pay $72.9 million to resolve charges that it defrauded the federal government by falsifying costs to get inflated reimbursements from Medicare, U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia said Wednesday.

In agreeing to the settlement, Beth Israel admitted no wrongdoing or liability.

The civil complaint alleges that from 1995 through 1999 Beth Israel submitted several unreimbursable expenses for items such as salaries, fundraising, marketing, supplies, equipment, administrative overhead, employee housing and parking.

The U.S. Attorney's Office said the alleged offenses were committed by the hospital's Kings Highway Division in Brooklyn. (Posted 11:21 p.m.)

California high court won't block gang founder's execution

SAN FRANCISCO (CNN) -- The California Supreme Court on Wednesday refused to stop the Dec. 13 execution of convicted killer Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the founder of the Crips street gang who became an anti-gang crusader while on death row.

Williams' attorney, Jonathan Harris, told CNN he was disappointed by the court's 4-2 decision, but planned to make a compelling case before Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger or his staff at a Dec. 8 clemency hearing to commute his client's sentence to life in prison without parole.

The defense petitioned the high court Nov. 10 to reopen the case, alleging there was faulty testing of shell casings found near the scene of a triple slaying at a motel in 1979, said Natasha Minsker, director of Death Penalty Policy for the ACLU. The defense also sought to reexamine other evidence.

Williams, who is scheduled to die by lethal injection, was charged with killing a 17-year-old Los Angeles convenience store clerk in 1979. That same year, Williams was accused of slaying an immigrant Chinese couple and their daughter while stealing petty cash from their motel. Williams -- who turns 52 on Dec. 29 -- was sentenced to death in 1981. (Updated 12:05 a.m.)

Pelosi backs Murtha's call for Iraq pullout

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Democratic leader in the House of Representatives on Wednesday endorsed a colleague's recent call for a quick American withdrawal from Iraq, but said the party's members should make their own decisions on the issue.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said Rep. John Murtha "is way ahead of the rest of us" on the issue of the war in Iraq. Murtha, the ranking Democrat on the defense appropriations subcommittee and a retired Marine colonel, has sponsored a measure calling for a withdrawal from Iraq "at the earliest practicable date."

"I think many members will now follow his lead, and I will count myself among them," said Pelosi, who had said earlier that Murtha was speaking for himself. (Posted 7:45 p.m.)

U.S. to respond to allegations of secret CIA prisons

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Amid growing European outrage over allegations the CIA is running secret prisons for terror suspects in Europe, the United States is prepared to respond to formal requests from the European Union for clarification, the State Department said Wednesday.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received a two-paragraph letter from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw seeking clarification about reports the CIA has detained and interrogated terrorist suspects in secret Soviet-style prisons in Eastern Europe and flown terror suspects in European airspace. Britain currently holds the rotating EU presidency.

Europe has stepped up the pressure on the Bush administration about the allegations, first reported by the Washington Post earlier this month. On Tuesday, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier pressed Rice for answers, saying the issue was causing a lot of concern among European citizens and parliaments.

So far the Bush administration has refused to confirm or deny the allegations about secret prisons. But as a result of the increased pressure, the United States will "endeavor to respond to this letter to the best of our ability, in a timely and forthright manner," McCormack said. --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott (Posted 6:33 p.m.)

Defense offers more detailed questionnaire for death penalty jurors

(CNN) -- Attorneys representing admitted al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui want potential jurors to answer more than 300 questions when they are initially screened to sit on the panel that decides whether Moussaoui, the only person convicted in the United States in connection with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, should be sentenced to death.

The proposed defense questionnaire submitted to the trial judge in Alexandria, Va., Wednesday contains triple the number of questions prosecutors submitted on Monday and probes much deeper into personal subject areas.

Moussaoui, 37, who pleaded guilty to all terrorism charges against him in April, is scheduled to have a March trial to determine his sentence. The jury will have only two choices -- life in prison without the possibility of parole or execution by lethal injection, the only form of capital punishment in the federal system. --From CNN Senior Producer Phil Hirschkorn (Posted 3:18 p.m.)

Peres announces he is quitting Labor, will back Sharon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres resigned Wednesday from the Labor Party and endorsed his former rival, Ariel Sharon, in the upcoming race for prime minister.

While supporting Sharon, Peres will not run for another term in the Knesset, Israel's parliament.

At a news conference, Peres said he had talked with Sharon about the peace process and economic development of a triangle that includes Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians.

Peres, 82, was recently defeated by Amir Peretz in elections for Labor Party chairman. He has been a pillar of Labor for decades. During that time he and Sharon have been political rivals but personal friends. (Posted 1:27 p.m.)

DEA: Smugglers used artwork, furniture, clothing to move heroin into U.S.

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Drug Enforcement Administration announced Wednesday that more than 78 people have been arrested and more than 75 kilos of heroin have been seized as part of a investigation aimed at a Colombian heroin ring that DEA says used artwork, furniture and clothing to smuggle drugs into the United States.

The year-long effort was called Operation High Step because some drugs were found in dancing shoes. Arrests took place in both Colombia and the United States, the DEA said.

A DEA press release said the alleged traffickers employed sophisticated means to get their heroin into the United States. Heroin bricks were hidden inside the frames of paintings, secreted in furniture, and sewn into clothing and shoes. One official said the ring sometimes put a heroin-laced coating on furniture and paintings. Once the items arrived in the United States, others in the ring would retrieve the heroin from that coating. --From CNN Senior Producer Carol Cratty (Posted 12:10 p.m.)

George Washington portraits sells for $8 million

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A portrait of George Washington that was commissioned as a gift for Alexander Hamilton sold at Sotheby's on Wednesday for $8.1 million, less than the auction house had predicted.

The painting by renowned artist Gilbert Stuart (1755-1828) depicts the first American president during his final year in office. Washington is seated in a black velvet suit jacket with a sword resting across his lap and holding a document that he has signed.

Sotheby's had estimated the painting would sell for $10 million to $15 million. --From CNN's Phil Hirschkorn (Posted 12:01 p.m.)

Bush: Iraq war 'will take time and patience'

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (CNN) -- Addressing criticism that the United States has no clear plan for winning the war in Iraq, President Bush Wednesday offered details on the U.S. military's training program for Iraqi troops and reiterated his pledge not to withdraw forces until victory is achieved.

"These decisions about troop levels will be driven by the conditions on the ground in Iraq and the good judgment of our commanders, not by artificial timetables set by politicians in Washington," Bush said. He also asked for "the continued determination and resolve of the American people."

"Our goal is to train enough Iraqi forces so they can carry the fight, and this will take time and patience," he said.

Standing in front of "Plan for Victory" posters, Bush addressed a U.S. Naval Academy audience in what the White House billed as a major speech, the first of a series of addresses aimed at bolstering public support for the increasingly unpopular conflict.

Democrats voiced disappointment about Bush's speech, in a news conference shortly after the address. Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island said Bush failed to lay out a "coherent, detailed plan" to stabilize Iraq in a "reasonable time" (Posted 11:29 a.m.)

French doctors claim first partial face transplant

(CNN) -- Doctors in France announced Wednesday they had performed the first partial face transplant, a procedure conducted on a woman who had suffered extensive injuries in a dog attack.

A joint statement from Hopitaux de Lyon and Centre Hospitalo-Universitaire Amiens said the surgery took place Sunday in Amiens on a 38-year-old woman, replacing her nose, lips and chin.

The grafted tissue came from another woman who had been declared brain-dead, with the consent of her family, the statement said. (Posted 11:32 a.m.)

New outbreak of bird flu reported among birds in China

BEIJING (CNN) -- A new outbreak of bird flu has been reported among birds in China's Xinjiang region, the country's ministry of agriculture confirmed Wednesday.

On its Web site, the ministry reported that 300 birds found dead in Xinyuan county on Nov. 24 were infected with the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza. The ministry said more than 118,000 birds in a 3 km (1.8 mile) radius will be killed to try to stop the outbreak.

Three cases of bird flu in humans have been reported in China. Two of those people died, according to the World Health Organization. As of Nov. 29, 133 cases of bird flu in humans have been reported worldwide, mostly in Asia. Sixty-eight of those people have died, according to the WHO Web site. --From CNN Producer Judy Kwon (Posted 9:39 a.m.)

Mine blast death toll rises to 161 in northeast China

BEIJING (CNN) -- The death toll from a weekend coal mine explosion in northeast China climbed to 161 Wednesday, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. One miner remains missing.

At least 221 miners were inside the mine in Heilongjiang Province when the explosion happened Sunday evening. Two miners who were above ground died in the blast. Seventy-two of the miners are known to have survived.

The mine is owned by the Qitaihe Branch of the Dragon Coal Group, Xinhua said. (Posted 9:23 a.m.)

Survey: Young U.S. Muslims appear less alienated than their European counterparts

(CNN) -- Young American Muslims apparently don't isolate themselves according to race or religion, a new survey says, an attitude that contrasts with their European counterparts who feel alienated based on their ethnicity and religion.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) -- a public policy agency for the American-Muslim community -- released the survey Wednesday. The survey, buttressed by a report, comes amid great concern among Muslims about the July 7 London bombings on the city's transportation system "which were carried out by young 'homegrown' British Muslim men."

MPAC cautioned however that the "sample cannot be considered representative of the national young American Muslim population." The group still believes the "findings outlined here are significant" and the survey provides insights into the thinking in the U.S. Muslim community

"Just more than half (54 percent) report experiencing no conflict between their American identity and their Muslim identity. Given the post-9/11 increase in hostility toward Islam and Muslims, the fact that more than half of respondents felt equally American and Muslim demonstrates the high rate of integration among this primarily first-generation American population.

"This appears as a stark contrast to the reality of British Muslims, who have not laid claim to a 'British Muslim identity.' The reasons for this may have something to do with educational opportunities. American Muslims are far more educated than their British counterparts. More than 42 percent are college-educated, according to an April 2002 Cornell University study." (Posted 8:34 a.m.)

TSA will announce it is easing restrictions on some sharp objects banned from aircraft

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Transportation Security Administration will announce Friday that it will ease restrictions on some sharp objects currently banned from being carried on board airlines, according to a Homeland Security official.

The change in rules, expected to go into place on December 20, will allow for some scissors less than 4 inches long and some tools less than 7 inches long. Currently items such as sharp nail scissors and screw drivers are not allowed on planes.

One reason for the change is that it takes a "good amount" of screener time to look for those items, according to the source. The changes are being made to put the focus on the "risk of greatest consequence" -- explosives -- according to the source. Explosives can be detected by "puffer machines" which have been deployed to some airports. --From CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve (Posted 7:55 a.m.)

Declassified documents map out national strategy in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- In an effort to address criticism that the United States has no clear plan for winning the war in Iraq, the White House Wednesday released a 35-page declassified document mapping out the national plan for achieving victory.

"National Strategy for Victory in Iraq," a National Security Council document, attempts to define what victory in Iraq means in the short term, the "medium term" and the long term. The strategy for victory is to pursue it along three tracks: Political, security and economic, the report said.

"With resolve, victory will be achieved, although not by a date certain," the report said. "No war has ever been won on a timetable and neither will this one."

"We expect, but cannot guarantee, that our force posture will change over the next year, as the political process advances and Iraqi security forces grow and gain experience," the report said. "Our mission in Iraq is to win the war. Our troops will return home when that mission is complete."

The declassified version is part of a much longer and more comprehensive report. (Posted 7:30 a.m.)

Iraqi, U.S. troops launch Operation Iron Hammer near Hit

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- About 500 Iraqi Army soldiers and 2,000 U.S. troops on Wednesday launched Operation Iron Hammer near Hit in the Hai al Becker region of western Iraq, the U.S. military said.

The operation is aimed at clearing suspected insurgents from the region and stabilizing it prior to the upcoming Dec. 15 elections. The Iraqi soldiers are from the 2nd Brigade, 7th Iraqi Army Division, and the U.S. troops include 1,500 Marines and sailors from the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit and 500 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, 114th Field Artillery Regiment.

The operation was ongoing east of Hit, about 170 kilometers (106 miles) northwest of Baghdad. The Hai al Becker region is believed to be an al Qaeda in Iraq safe area and a base of operations for the manufacture of car and roadside bombs. It also is believed to be a stopping point for insurgents traveling down the Euphrates River from Syria into Iraq. (Posted 6:24 a.m.)

Israelis conduct raid in West Bank town of Nablus

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli forces said Wednesday they arrested a wanted person in the West Bank city of Nablus.

Palestinian security sources said about 40 Israeli Army jeeps entered Nablus at about 5 a.m. Wednesday and surrounded a number of houses. Eleven Palestinians were injured from bullets and rubber bullets, the security sources said. Both sides said the operation was ongoing. (Posted 4:50 a.m.)

Indonesian woman tests positive for bird flu, dies

JAKARTA (CNN) -- A 25-year-old Indonesian woman has died from what health officials believe was bird flu, authorities said Wednesday.

The woman died Tuesday at a government hospital, and had tested positive for the lethal H5N1 strain of avian influenza, said Dr. Runizar Roesin of Indonesia's Ministry of Health. Her blood samples have been sent for testing at the World Health Organization facility in Hong Kong, he said.

If confirmed by the WHO, the woman's death would be the eighth in Indonesia from bird flu. Overall, 133 people have been sicked by the H5N1 strain in Indonesia, Vietnam, China, Thailand and Cambodia according to the WHO; 68 have died. --From CNN's Taffy Santiago (Posted 3:30 a.m.)

New Orleans coroner: State has not signed contract for DNA testing to ID bodies

NEW ORLEANS (CNN) -- New Orleans' coroner expressed outrage Tuesday that the process of using DNA to identify about 200 bodies left from Hurricane Katrina has not begun, because the state of Louisiana has not signed a contract with a firm that would do the testing.

"It's extremely frustrating," said Dr. Frank Minyard, given that so many dentists' offices were wiped out in the flood along with their dental records, which are commonly used in the identification process. "We have to rely on DNA and it should have been done, at least started, a month ago."

Three months after the storm ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, the bodies discovered in Louisiana remain at a makeshift morgue. At one point Louisiana and the Federal Emergency Management Agency locked horns over who should pick up the tab, but FEMA secured funding for DNA testing as part of a $12.8 million appropriations bill passed by Congress. According to FEMA, it's up to Louisiana to contract with a DNA testing firm to begin the identification process. The family members of missing persons have already provided DNA samples.

Attempts to contact Louisiana officials Tuesday night were unsuccessful.(Posted 3:27 a.m.)

NTSB: Trains carrying hazardous materials should slow down in populated areas

(CNN) -- Trains carrying hazardous materials should be required to slow down in populated areas, the National Transportation Safety Board said Tuesday in a report issued on a deadly train collision in South Carolina.

The Jan. 6 crash in Graniteville, S.C., in which a train rear-ended a second train because a crew failed to switch a railroad track, caused a deadly cloud of chlorine gas after a tanker car was punctured. Nine people died and about 5,400 were forced from their homes for nearly a week.

The NTSB said the speed the train was traveling as it entered Graniteville -- about 47 mph -- did not leave it enough distance to stop even if the crew had realized the tracks were misaligned.

The NTSB recommended that railroads implement operating measures including positioning tank cars further toward the rear of trains and reducing speeds through populated areas. In addition, the report said, in the absence of a switch-position indicator and in non-signaled territory, railroads should require that trains be operated "at speeds that will allow them to be safely stopped in advance of misaligned switches." (Posted 3:25 a.m.)

Iraqi construction workers killed in minibus attack

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Eight construction workers were killed Wednesday when gunmen opened fire on a minibus in the Iraqi town of Abu Sayda, just northeast of Baquba, Iraqi police said.

The attack occurred about 7:15 a.m. (11:15 p.m. ET). All of the victims were Shia, according to local residents. (Posted 1:47 a.m.)

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