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Sunday, January 8

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.

Suicide bombers strike Iraqi Police Day celebrations, kill at least 7

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- At least seven Iraqi police were killed and 35 others wounded when a pair of suicide bombers blew themselves up outside the main entrance of the Interior Ministry.

The midday (4 a.m. ET) attack came during Iraqi Police Day celebrations. (posted 4:50 a.m.)

Sharon breathes on own as doctors start to bring him out of coma

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon began to breathe on his own Monday as his doctors started the process of bringing him out of a medically-induced coma, according to Hadassah Hospital officials.

"At the first stage, Mr. Sharon started to breathe spontaneously," said hospital director Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef. "Of course, he's still connected to the ventilator, but this is a first sign of some sort of activity of his brain."

The decision to bring the prime minister out of the coma was made after his physicians met to review his vital signs and test data.

"The doctors finished their meeting ... and decided ... they will start to decrease the amount of anesthetic agents that are given to Prime Minister Sharon," hospital spokesman Ron Krumer said.

Sharon's condition remained critical, but stable as his medical team began the process of gradually returning him to consciousness.

In a brain scan performed Sunday, doctors saw progress.

"We continued to see an improvement in the brain of the prime minister," said Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef. "We saw a reduction of the fluid in the brain."

In addition, he said, Sharon's blood pressure and pulse were in the normal range, and he was not running a fever.

"This is what we've all been waiting for since Wednesday -- to know how the prime minister's brain is functioning,"

Mor-Yosef said. Sharon, 77, has been hospitalized since Wednesday, when he suffered a major stroke. He since has undergone several brain surgeries.

Awakening him is a critical step towards evaluating the extent of any brain damage. (posted 4:30 a.m.)

Military plane crashes in northwestern Iran

TEHRAN (CNN) -- A military plane with 11 passengers on board crashed in northwestern Iran Monday morning, killing a number of high-ranking officials in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.

According to IRNA, the plane went down near Aidinlou village about 7 miles (12 km) west of the provincial capital, Uromieh, in West Azarbaijan province.

A government spokesman said an investigation is being launched into the causes of the crash.

According to the semi-official FARS news agency, the Falcon jet was en route from Tehran to Uromieh went it went down around 10:15 a.m. (1:45 a.m. ET).

IRNA reported that the guard's Commander of Ground Forces, Ahmad Kazemi, along with the commander of the 27th Rassoulollah Army Division and the chief of intelligence, died in the accident. There was no immediate word on other casualties.

According to IRNA, the military aircraft was primarily carrying guard commanders and was the second air accident in the last five weeks.

An air force C-130 -- carrying more than 90 people -- crashed Dec. 6 after hitting a 10-story apartment building, killing at least 116 people. (posted 4:45 a.m.)

Firefighters hoping for calm winds in battling Colorado fire

(CNN) -- A wildfire in south-central Colorado, seven miles west of Aguilar, has scorched 6,000 acres and torched two homes, a spokeswoman for the Huerfano County Sheriff's Office said late Sunday.

Debby Bernal said the Mauricio Fire, which began as a controlled burn last week but flared up Saturday, was only 5 percent contained.

One official said firefighters could be on the job for several days.

"The wind just blew it out of control," said Pam Martinez, communications officer for the county Fire Department.

No injuries have been reported. (posted 11:45 p.m.)

Thai police: Fishermen admit raping, killing British tourist

BANGKOK (CNN) -- Thai police who arrested two fishermen early Monday said they confessed to raping and killing a British tourist, whose body was found a week ago, floating off a beach near the Koh Samui Island Resort.

The men, in their 20s, told police they were drunk when they spotted 21-year-old Katherine Horton walking alone on a beach, talking on her cell phone.

Police quoted the men as saying they beat the college student with a wooden club, raped her and threw her body in the sea.

Police Maj. Gen. Aswin Khanmuang, the officer in charge of the case, said the men were brought to Bangkok for DNA tests. (posted 11:15 p.m.)

Schwarzenegger and son receive minor injuries in traffic accident

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his son, Patrick, received minor injuries Sunday afternoon in a traffic accident near their home, the governor's press secretary said in a written statement.

According to Margita Thompson, the governor received 15 stitches to repair a cut lip -- both were treated for minor cuts and bruises, and were released from St. John's Hospital. The driver of the other vehicle was not injured.

"The accident occurred at around 3:15 p.m. when another driver backed into a street in front of Governor Schwarzenegger as he rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle," Thompson said. "The Governor was unable to avoid the vehicle in his path and collided with it at a low speed."

Patrick, 12, was a passenger in the motorcycle's sidecar. Both were wearing helmets at the time of the accident.

"The Governor is expected to keep previously scheduled appointments" on Monday, Thompson said. (posted 11:10 p.m.)

Report: Whiplash protection poor in most SUVs, pickups

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The seat and head restraints for four out of five SUVs and pickups are rated marginal or poor for protection against whiplash injuries in rear-end collisions, according to a study released Sunday night by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Rear-end collisions are frequent, and neck injuries are the most common serious injuries reported in vehicle crashes, the report says. They account for 2 million insurance claims each year, costing at least $8.5 billion.

Only six of the seat and head restraints in 44 current-model SUVs received good overall ratings for whiplash protection: Ford Freestyle, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Land Rover LR3, Subaru Forester and Volvo XC90.

Those earning poor ratings were the Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, and Toyota 4Runner SUVs; the Chevrolet Silverado pickup; and some seats in Ford F-150 and Dodge Dakota pickups. (posted 11:10 p.m.)

Lawmakers debate scandals' impact on mid-term elections

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- After a week in which Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty to numerous charges in a widespread scandal, and House Majority Leader Tom DeLay permanently gave up his leadership post amid felony charges, lawmakers Sunday saw the issue of corruption taking center stage in this year's re-election battle.

"It's going to play a great deal," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., on NBC's "Meet the Press." "When the Republican party took power in 1994, it was a party of change and the Democrats were regarded as the party of the status quo and involved in all these various little scandals. And now it seems to have flipped."

If DeLay runs for re-election -- as he has said he will -- he will become "part of a symbol of too much entrenched power and need for checks and balances and need for change," Schumer said. But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, cautioned that the nation should wait and see how DeLay's trial turns out and how far the corruption scandal reaches.

Doctors to operate Monday on Iraqi baby with spina bifida

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Baby Noor, the Iraqi infant born with a severe form of spina bifida, is slated to undergo surgery Monday in Atlanta to enclose her spinal column.

Dr. Roger Hudgins, chief of neurosurgery at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, said he and plastic surgeon Fernando Burstein should complete the morning operation in about three hours. The doctors and the hospital are donating their services.

Spina bifida, in which the vertebrae do not form completely around the spinal cord, is the most common of a group of birth defects called neural tube defects, affecting about one in 2,000 babies in the United States. Noor is at least 3 months old.

Hudgins said Sunday he plans to arrange the spinal cord down the center of Noor's back and cover it with muscle and tissue. The child's spinal cord is now covered by a large lesion. (Posted 8:40 p.m.)

Doctors: Miner breathing on his own as sedatives are halted

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (CNN) -- Randy McCloy Jr., the sole survivor of last week's Sago Mine disaster, began breathing on his own Sunday after sedatives were withdrawn. But he remained attached to a ventilator, in case he should need it.

Doctors at West Virginia University Hospitals said they hoped the 26-year-old miner would show signs of consciousness in the next couple of days, so they could assess his brain function. He remained in critical condition.

One lung collapsed after the Jan. 2 explosion that trapped him underground for 41 hours, and McCloy's suffered damage to major organs. He breathed in coal dust and the toxic gases carbon monoxide and methane. Twelve of his co-workers died, and their funerals began Sunday. (Posted 8:28 p.m.)

Tests suggest human bird flu spreading in Turkey

ANKARA (CNN) -- Preliminary tests show five new cases of the deadly H5N1 strain of bird flu among people in Turkey, Turkish officials said Sunday.

Three reported cases were in the capital, Ankara; two were in the eastern city of Van. Cases in Van had been reported previously. The new cases in Ankara suggested the illness could be spreading.

The figures announced by Turkish health officials went beyond those provided by the World Health Organization, which said Saturday that two new cases of H5N1 avian influenza virus have been confirmed in hospitalized children, ages 5 and 8, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to four. (Posted 8:24 p.m.)

Boehner, Blunt look to fill DeLay's shoes

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A day after embattled Rep. Tom DeLay announced he would not seek to resume his post as majority leader, two congressmen seeking to take over the role were racing for their colleagues' support.

Rep. John Boehner of Ohio announced his candidacy in a statement. Boehner was among the most powerful Republican congressmen a decade ago as chair of the House Republican Conference from 1994 to 1998.

Meanwhile, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., was reaching out to fellow House Republicans in hopes of winning their support. His spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger said Blunt was focusing on one-on-one conversations and was "very encouraged" at the support he was receiving.

Blunt has been serving temporarily as majority leader since DeLay stepped down in the fall after being indicted on felony charges in his home state of Texas involving campaign finance. (Posted 2:10 p.m.)

Peres won't run for PM, backs Olmert

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Shimon Peres, a former Israeli prime minister and major figure in the new Kadima Party, told CNN Sunday he will not seek to be prime minister following Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's massive stroke.

Peres said he will back Ehud Olmert, acting prime minister. Israel's political future is in question.

The 82-year-old Peres told CNN's "Late Edition" that he thought about his next move and decided that as prime minister he would have to spend too much time on issues "that are not necessarily connected to peace. I want to devote whatever time and energy I have for the peace process" with Palestinians. (Posted 11:53 a.m.)

The auto industry is actually in pretty good shape -- if you look past serious problems at GM, Ford

DETROIT (CNNMoney.com) -- If you ignore the severe problems plaguing the nation's two biggest automakers, you'll see that 2005 was a very good year for the auto industry.

U.S. sales edged up to just under 17 million vehicles, the best year since 2001. Most automakers saw improved U.S. sales, despite record gasoline prices.

The year ahead could be a good one, too, especially for the global industry. While most economists are calling for a cooling in the U.S. economy, continued solid growth is expected to keep U.S. sales above the 16 million mark that would have been a sales record as recently as 1998. (Posted 11:50 a.m.)

Democrats, Republicans square off for Alito hearings

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- On the eve of Judge Samuel Alito's confirmation hearings for the U.S. Supreme Court, key Democrats said they could not rule out the possibility of a filibuster to block his nomination.

One Democratic senator warned that if Alito refuses to answer certain key questions -- particularly about abortion -- the likelihood of a filibuster would increase.

Republicans disagreed. "Alito is not an ideologue," said Sen. Jon Cornyn of Texas. "This is a man of integrity." (Posted 11:48 a.m.)

Military chopper crashes; 12 dead

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed shortly before midnight, killing 12 people aboard, the military said in a statement released Sunday morning.

The helicopter was flying in support of Task Force Band of Brothers and was part of a two-craft flight between bases in northern Iraq when communications were lost. Eight passengers and four crew were aboard.

A search and rescue operation found the crash sight at about noon. The crash is under investigation. The names of the dead are being withheld pending notification of family. (Posted 10:21 a.m.)

Sharon rival says time to 'put politics aside'

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's chief rival in the March elections told CNN Sunday he is not campaigning or focusing on politics as Sharon lies in a medically induced coma following a severe stroke.

"This is one of the moments you have to put politics aside, however briefly. You do what is right and decent for the country," said former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his first interview since Sharon's stroke last week.

Netanyahu also denied reports that he has expressed support for a possible pre-emptive strike on Iran. Instead, he insisted he supports "diplomatic and other ways" to prevent Israel's neighbor from posing a nuclear threat that could endanger Israel's future. (Posted 10:19 a.m.)

6.7 quake rattles Greece

(CNN) -- A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck southern Greece early Sunday afternoon, rattling much of the country, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The European and Mediterranean Seismological Center put the quake's epicenter about 14 miles east of the island of Kithira, 120 miles south of Athens.

USGS said the center was 23 miles beneath the bottom of the sea. Witnesses in Athens said the quake, which was also felt on the island of Crete, rumbled for at least half a minute. (Updated 7:19 a.m.)

5 U.S. Marines killed in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Five U.S. Marines were killed in three different Iraqi towns Saturday and Sunday, the military said Sunday.

Three Marines assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) died from small arms fire during separate attacks in Falluja. The attacks occurred during combat operations, the military said.

Roadside bombs killed two Marines on Saturday, the military said. The first, assigned to the 2nd Marine Logistics Group, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) died near al-Karmah. The second, assigned to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), died near Ferris.

The Marines' names were withheld pending notification of relatives. Since the war began, 2,198 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. (Updated 7:20 a.m.)

Minister: Iran to remove IAEA seals at nuclear sites

(CNN) -- Iran plans on Monday to remove seals at some nuclear research and development sites and resume operations under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the country's foreign minister said Sunday.

"We will remove the seals and we have announced that we are ready to start research from tomorrow," said Hamid Reza Asefi, maintaining the country has a right to pursue research and development. "That is something very usual in the other parts of the world," Asefi said. "Iran should not be counted as exempted ... We believe the Western countries should not seek to 'double standard' in that respect."

The research and development facilities were not specified.

It would be the second time Iran has removed seals put in place by the IAEA. In August, the country unsealed equipment at its Isfahan plant and resumed uranium conversion activities there. Officials have said Iran will maintain a suspension at its uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. (Posted 6:43 a.m.)

Iraqi security forces arrest 36 suspected terrorists

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraq security forces arrested 36 suspected terrorists, including a senior figure in the Ba'ath party under former President Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi Council of Ministers said in a statement Sunday.

Atiyya Shindakh and three of his sons were among those arrested, the statement said. They are suspected of involvement in Kirkuk terrorist attacks. Shindakh was a high-ranking member of the Ba'ath party, although he was not on the U.S. military's list of the 55 most wanted Iraqis. Shindakh and his sons are members of the Tawheed and Jihad organizations, the statement said. Eight other members of those organizations in Falluja were also arrested.

Ten others were arrested, including a senior aide of the "so-called New Ba'ath party" based in Iraq's volatile Diyala province, the statement said. Security forces also arrested 14 members of the Ansarul Sunna organization, suspected of booby-trapping cars, placing roadside bombs and kidnapping people in the areas of Suwaira and Salman Pak, southeast of Baghdad. (Posted 4:24 a.m.)

Doctors to discuss timetable Sunday for easing Sharon out of coma

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Although Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's condition is still critical, doctors met Sunday at Hadassah Hospital to discuss when to begin reducing anesthesia so he can slowly awaken from a medically-induced coma.

Early Sunday, Ron Krumer, a hospital spokesman, said there had been no change in Sharon's condition overnight. In their meeting, doctors decided to have Sharon undergo a routine CT brain scan, then will continue their consultation, Krumer said.

Meanwhile, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert presided over the Sunday weekly Cabinet meeting, leaving Sharon's usual seat unoccupied.

"We are hoping and wishing that the prime minister will recover, strengthen and return to presiding over the Israeli government and leading the state of Israel," Olmert said as the meeting commenced. "In the meantime, we will continue to do what Arik would want -- running affairs as they should be."

At a Saturday news conference, hospital director Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef referred to Sharon's condition as "critical" and "serious," and said tests looking at such things as intracranial pressure, blood pressure, and pulse showed his condition was stabilizing. The 77-year-old suffered a severe stroke earlier this week. (Updated 5:36 a.m.)

Mine survivor returns to West Virginia hospital

PITTSBURGH (CNN) -- The sole survivor of this week's mine disaster is "doing exceptionally well" medically, and was transferred Saturday night from Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh to Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, where he can be closer to his family, a doctor said.

"Most of his organ systems are recovering but they are not yet normal," Dr. Richard Shannon, chairman of the Department of Medicine at Allegheny, told reporters.

Randy McCloy, Jr. was taken to Pittsburgh from Ruby hospital to receive treatment in a hyperbaric chamber that gave him pressurized oxygen to combat the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning and oxygen deprivation that occurred during his 41 hours trapped in the Sago Mine.

He remains in an induced coma and is in critical but stable condition. Twelve of McCloy's fellow miners died after an explosion early Monday morning in the mine near Tallmansville, W.Va. A top concern for McCloy is the level of brain damage he may have suffered. (Posted 11:13 p.m.)

Muslims converge on holy city of Mecca for Hajj

MECCA, Saudi Arabia (CNN) -- About 2 million Muslims from around the world were gathering under heavy security Sunday for the Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to the birthplace of the Prophet Mohammad.

Every able-bodied Muslim who can afford the trip is obliged to perform the Hajj to Mecca once in a lifetime. Making Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islamic faith.

Mecca is revered as the holiest site of Islam, and the Masjid al-Haram, or Grand Mosque, is the focal point of the proscribed rites observed. The six-day pilgrimage ends with a four-day feast called the Eid al-Adha. (Posted 10:43 p.m.)

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