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Wednesday, February 8

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

Three die in fiery crash of helicopter, small plane near San Diego

(CNN) -- Three people died when a small plane and a helicopter collided and burst into flames late Wednesday afternoon between El Cajon and La Mesa, east of San Diego, strewing debris over several residential blocks, authorities said.

El Cajon Fire Chief Mike Scott said two bodies were discovered where the helicopter crashed in a park, and a third was found at a house where the plane crashed through the roof, starting a fire in the attic. Scott said the fire was extinguished in about 15 minutes. No one was inside the house at the time.

The aircraft landed less than a half-mile apart, he said. The crash occurred about 4:40 p.m. (7:40 p.m. ET). There was no immediate information on whether all the victims were from the two aircraft. (Updated 9:58 p.m.)

No nerve gas found in Senate building

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- About a dozen senators and 200 staffers spent three hours in a Capitol Hill parking garage Wednesday evening, after an alarm mistakenly showed nerve gas in the attic of the Russell Senate Office Building.

Follow-up tests were all negative for nerve gas, and the building was given an all-clear about 9:40 p.m., U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer said. People evacuated from the building were told to contact their doctors if they developed any unusual symptoms, he said.

The incident began about 6:30 p.m., when a sensor in the attic of the building indicated the presence of nerve gas, said Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a police spokeswoman. The building was evacuated, and those inside were taken to a nearby parking garage. Tests performed at the scene were negative, Schneider said. -- CNN Correspondents Ed Henry and Kelli Arena contributed to this report.

Study exposed FEMA weaknesses months before Katrina

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Months before Hurricane Katrina exposed managerial and logistical weaknesses within the Federal Emergency Management Agency, an independent study of the agency warned of some of the same flaws.

The 2005 study by the Mitre Corp., obtained by CNN, warned of unclear lines of communication within FEMA, a dearth of top-level emergency management expertise, low morale and a lack of manpower, training and money.

Then-FEMA Director Mike Brown commissioned the study because, he recently told Senate investigators, he recognized the agency had problems responding to the 2004 hurricanes in Florida, even though FEMA was generally praised for its work. "I wanted to find out what was causing those glitches and those problems so we could fix it, so that we really could live up to the reputation that we had, because behind the curtain, it wasn't all that pretty," Brown told Senate investigators. -- From CNN Correspondent Jeanne Meserve and Producer Mike M. Ahlers (Posted 7:45 p.m.)

White House provides House committee with classified briefing on NSA program

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The White House reversed course Wednesday and provided the House Intelligence Committee with a classified briefing on the controversial National Security Agency surveillance of calls to and from the United States authorized by President Bush.

The shift came after Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., who chairs a subcommittee that oversees the NSA, broke with the Bush administration and called for a congressional inquiry into the program, with an eye toward revising a 1978 law critics say the program violates.

The closed-door briefing was conducted by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Gen. Michael Hayden, deputy director of national intelligence and a former NSA director. Lawmakers said the briefing covered some highly sensitive details, although the briefers were not willing to answer all questions.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Jane Harman of California, called the briefing "a welcome start." (Updated 8:28 p.m.)

Danish newspaper won't publish Iranian Holocaust cartoons

(CNN) -- The Danish newspaper at the heart of the cartoon controversy over the caricatures of the prophet Mohammed said Wednesday it would not publish Holocaust cartoons being submitted for a contest for an Iranian newspaper.

Carsten Juste, the editor-in-chief of Jyllands-Posten (prono: YOU-lins POST-ehn), made the announcement hours after one of the paper's editors told CNN the paper would print the Holocaust cartoons.

"I can tell you that my newspaper is trying to establish a contact with that Iranian newspaper, and we will run these cartoons the same day as they will publish them," Flemming Rose, the paper's culture editor, told CNN's "American Morning."

But late Wednesday, the statement from Juste appeared on the paper's Web site, saying his paper "in no circumstances will publish Holocaust cartoons from an Iranian newspaper." (Posted 6:45 p.m.)

McCain, Obama make nice at Senate hearing

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- With broad smiles, a hearty handshake and expressions of mutual esteem, Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama tried to put their very public verbal spat behind them when they came face-to-face Wednesday afternoon at a Senate committee hearing.

As he walked into the hearing room where McCain was already seated, Obama greeted him and shook his hand, then jokingly balled up his other hand into a cocked fist before draping it across McCain's shoulder.

Both men smiled throughout their encounter, which came two days after McCain fired off a letter to Obama accusing him of "disingenuousness" and "self-interested partisan posturing."

"Well, we all got the moment we wanted to see," said Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., who was presiding over the hearing of the Senate Rules Committee. "If the witnesses will behave themselves and restrain themselves, we will proceed." (Posted 5:49 p.m.)

Lakawanna associate among Yemeni escapees

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A second suspected terrorist wanted in the United States is among those who escaped from a prison in Yemen last week, the FBI announced late Wednesday.

Jaber Elbaneh, who is charged with providing material support to terrorists and is a known associate of the Lakawanna, New York, cell, was among those who escaped from Yemeni custody through a tunnel from the prison to a nearby mosque, the bureau said.

"Elbaneh is considered dangerous and is a threat to the U.S. and its interests. The FBI will work with its domestic and international partners to locate and arrest Jaber Elbaneh," said FBI spokesman Richard Kolko.

Earlier, the reputed mastermind of the USS Cole bombing, Gamal Ahmed Badawi, was identified as among the 23 prison escapees. --From CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr and Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 5:45 p.m.)

U.S. AIDS relief report says 42 million people helped

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. plan to fight AIDS around the world is helping more than 42 million people, the State Department said in its annual report to Congress.

"In much of the developing world, hope for the future has been a victim of this scourge," the report said. "At last, however, hope has begun to be reborn."

When President Bush launched his Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief in 2003 to combat the disease in 120 countries, only 50,000 people in sub-Saharan Africa, a region hit particularly hard by the disease, were receiving HIV/AIDS drugs.

The latest report said about 400,000 people in 12 in sub-Saharan countries are now receiving treatment funded by the United States. Another 70,000 people worldwide are getting U.S.-supported treatment. --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott (Posted 5:29 p.m.)

U.S. military reports 3 more deaths

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Three more U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq -- two of them killed when roadside bombs went off as their vehicles went by, the U.S. military said Wednesday. The deaths bring the U.S. death toll in Iraq to 2,263. (Posted 5:11 p.m.)

Bush signs $39 billion in spending cuts; student loans, Medicaid among targets

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Just days after delivering a nearly $2.8 trillion budget to Congress, President Bush on Wednesday touted efforts to cut back a federal deficit now expected to top $400 billion this year.

Bush signed a Deficit Reduction Act that would cut $39 billion in federal spending over the next five years and $99 billion over the next 10, largely by cutting back on student loans, Medicare and Medicaid.

"This important piece of legislation restrains federal spending and it will leave more money of those who know how to use it best, the American people," he said at a Washington ceremony with Republican congressional leaders.

The biggest cuts in the legislation are in federal student loan programs, which would face net cuts of nearly $12 billion through 2010, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. Bush said the cuts will eliminate "excess government subsidies" to lenders. (Posted 5:09 p.m.)

Canadian indicted on charges he procured weapons for al Qaeda use

BOSTON (CNN) -- A Canadian national whose family was closely associated with Osama bin Laden was indicted Wednesday on charges he procured weapons for al Qaeda to use in attacking Americans and U.S. property in Afghanistan, federal prosecutors said.

Abdullah Khadr, 24, was arrested in Canada on Dec. 17 and has been in custody since then, awaiting extradition to the United States, said Michael J. Sullivan, U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, in a written statement.

A federal grand jury Wednesday indicted him on four charges (Posted 3:45 p.m.)

Rice accuses Iran, Syria of inciting Muslim anger

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Wednesday accused Iran and Syria of inciting Muslim anger and violent protests over cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed -- comments that drew the ire of a top Syrian diplomat.

"Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and to use this to their own purposes, and the world ought to call them on it," Rice said at a joint news conference with Israel's foreign minister, Tzipi Livni.

Rice said there is no excuse for the violence that has followed the publishing of the cartoons and said "all responsible people ought to say that there is no excuse for violence."

Syria's ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, denied the accusations and told CNN: "We in Syria believe anti-Western sentiments are being fueled by two major things -- the situation in Iraq and the situation in the occupied territories, the West Bank and Gaza." --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott and Correspondent Andrea Koppel (Posted 2:44 p.m.)

Bush sells his budget on the road

MANCHESTER, N.H. (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday talked up his budget on a trip to New Hampshire, hours before he's due to sign the plan he says will cut the nation's deficit in half by 2009.

The president said his fiscal year 2007 budget will promote economic growth by keeping taxes low, will restrain government spending and will eliminate federal programs that don't produce results.

"I look behind the numbers and see the quality-of-life issues," Bush told a gathering of the Business and Industry Association. "Those of us who put it together really did see the human dimension behind the budgeting," he added.

Bush touted some high numbers he said indicate the health of the nation's economy, including 3.5 percent economic growth last year, the highest rate of home ownership in history, and an addition of 4.7 million jobs in the past two years. (Posted 1:54 p.m.)

Israeli foreign minister warns Palestinian government could be labeled terrorist state

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Israel's foreign minister said Wednesday a Palestinian government led by Hamas could be designated a terrorist state, subject to sanctions, if it refuses to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism.

"When an entity, a state is being led by terrorists, the meaning is that this entity, this authority, this state is going to transfer into a terror state," Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said to reporters after a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Livni said that the international community "has their own sanctions and measures when it comes to an entity which transfers into a terror entity."

Rice declined to answer a question on whether the United States agreed a Hamas-led government could constitute a terrorist state subject to U.S. sanctions. --From CNN State Department Producer Elise Labott (Posted 1:35 p.m.)

Haiti counts the vote; Annan praises election as 'significant step forward'

GONAIVES, Haiti (CNN) -- Election workers in Haiti on Wednesday were counting ballots in Tuesday's national poll for a new president and parliament, an exercise that attracted a large, relatively peaceful turnout in the impoverished Caribbean nation and drew praise from the U.N. secretary-general, who called the vote "a significant step forward."

"I am pleased that, compared to previous elections, yesterday was remarkably free from violence and I applaud the Haitian people for their commitment to restore democracy," Kofi Annan said in a statement issued Wednesday.

Four people died in election-related incidents, U.N. officials said. A police officer shot into a crowd and killed a person. The crowd retaliated by lynching the police officer. Two others died in crowd crushes.

There were logistical hitches in opening polling stations, causing delays, but election officials kept polling stations open past the scheduled late afternoon closing time in order to accommodate throngs of voters. (Posted 1:13 p.m.)

More than 7,000 acres scorched in Sierra Fire

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Firefighters battling the Sierra Fire east of Los Angeles Wednesday will attack mostly from the air to try to calm the blaze, which has scorched 7,179 acres since it began a week ago, officials said.

The fire is 18 percent contained, said Dennis Shell with the Orange County Fire Authority, in a phone interview with CNN.

Shell said 10 helicopters and five fixed-wing aircraft will drop water on the flames, and more than 1,000 firefighting personnel will fan out in residential neighborhoods to try to protect homes.

"The temperatures are rising and humidity is falling and we've got erratic wind conditions," he said. "The weather is going to be an important factor in fighting the fires today." (Posted 11:19 a.m.)

Bush calls on governments to stop violence in cartoon protests

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush on Wednesday called on governments around the world to help put an end to the violence that has been sparked by angry protests over publication of cartoons that depict the Islamic prophet Mohammed.

"I call upon the governments around the world to stop the violence, to be respectful, to protect property and protect the lives of innocent diplomats who are serving their countries overseas," Bush said, referring to the attacks on Danish and other European embassies in several capitals.

As many as a dozen people have been killed in the demonstrations in several countries with large Muslim populations as angry crowds protested against the cartoons, which were first published in a Danish newspaper in September.

After meeting with King Abdullah II of Jordan at the White House, Bush said the issue of the cartoons requires "a lot of discussion and a lot of sensitive thought." (Posted 10:12 a.m.)

Investigators trying to determine if this week's Alabama church fires linked to last week's arson

BOLIGEE, Ala. (CNN) -- Federal and state investigators are sifting through evidence collected at the sites of four church fires in rural western Alabama, hoping to find any indication of who purposely set the fires.

Investigators are also trying determine if the fires are linked to five church fires last week in Alabama's Bibb County, south of Birmingham.

"We would not be surprised if all nine were linked together," the state's assistant insurance commissioner Ragan Ingram told CNN's "American Morning."

He said last week's church fires have been forensically linked and determined to be arson, but noted that the most recent fires could have been a copycat crime.(Posted 9:16 a.m.)

First case of deadly strain of avian flu found in African birds

LAGOS, Nigeria (CNN) -- A highly pathogenic strain of avian flu has reached the African continent, the World Organization for Animal Health and the World Health Organization said Wednesday.

The H5N1 strain was found in chickens in Nigeria -- the first cases of the deadly strain in Africa, the organizations said. No human cases have been reported.

Sixteen other countries have reported outbreaks of the H5N1 strain of avian flu in birds. Human cases of the deadly strain have been found in seven of those countries. About half of those infected -- 88 of 165 -- have died, according to the WHO.

"It is disappointing that the virus has spread this far," said WHO spokesman Dick Thompson. "This does not change our pandemic alert level. The virus is moving around, and it makes it more difficult to pry it out of the environment. This does not change the overall risk assessment in terms of a pandemic." (Posted 9:12 a.m.)

Danish PM defends his country; violent riots leave 5 dead in Afghanistan

COPENHAGEN, Denmark (CNN) -- Denmark's prime minister, saying the Muslim world had 'a false picture" of his country, defended it Wednesday in the midst of intensifying protests because a Danish newspaper published cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed.

At least 700 people demonstrated peacefully Wednesday morning in Baquba, Iraq, while in southern Afghanistan, five people died in violent riots over the cartoons.

The Iraqi demonstration, organized by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Al Sadr's office, demoanded an apology to all Muslims from the Danish government.

But Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said "everybody should realize that neither the Danish government nor the Danish people can be held responsible for what is published in a free and independent newspaper," he told CNN's Matthew Chance.

Anyone seeking redress should turn to the courts, he said. "We do have legislation which sets certain limitations on the freedom of expression." He cited "racist and blasphemous" expressions as among those not allowed. (Posted 7:46 a.m.)

Unmanned aerial vehicle goes down near Baghdad's Sadr City

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- An unmanned aerial vehicle helping to protect Muslims participating in Ashura observances went down Tuesday night near the Baghdad neighborhood of Sadr City.

The U.S. military said in a statement Wednesday that the incident took place Tuesday night.

"The unmanned aerial vehicle lost contact with air traffic controllers shortly after takeoff from an airfield in Taji," the military said, and later had a "controlled parachute landing." It did not say why the controlled landing occurred.

The military said the craft "was on a flight in support of Iraqi forces" protecting Muslims participating in Ashura. Sadr City civic officials returned the craft on Wednesday to coalition and Iraqi forces. (Posted 7:17 a.m.)

Witnesses say 5 dead on Afghan cartoon riots

KABUL, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Five people in southern Afghanistan were killed Wednesday during protests against the cartoon caricatures of Islam's Prophet Mohammed, witnesses said.

The casualties occurred in Qalat, the capital of Zabul province, and one of dead might be a police officer, the eyewitnesses said. The provincial capital of Qalat is currently closed to all traffic. Six hundred rioters tried to storm a police station and get into a U.S. base. (Posted 7:15 a.m.)

Bomb blasts kill 2, wound 7 in capital

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Three explosions within half an hour Wednesday killed two people and wounded seven others, Iraqi police said. (Posted: 3:19 a.m.)

Cargo fire leads UPS cargo plane to make emergency landing

(CNN) -- Fire aboard a UPS cargo plane led the pilot to make an emergency landing at Philadelphia International Airport shortly after midnight Wednesday.

Flames were seen coming from the cargo area of the DC-8 when it landed, Mark Pesce told CNN.

UPS Flight 1307 landed at 12:22 a.m. "after reporting a lower cargo and main deck smoke situation," the company said in a written statement. "All crewmembers were evacuated, and emergency responders are trying to extinguish the fire."

The plane's three crew members were taken to University of Pennsylvania Hospital. A fire department supervisor said the three were treated for smoke inhalation. (Posted 2:36 a.m.)

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