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The CNN Wire: Tuesday, Oct. 30

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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. "Posted" times are Eastern Time.

Japanese fighter jet crashes, burns in Nagoya

Tokyo Japan (CNN) -- A Japanese fighter jet crashed during takeoff on a test flight Wednesday morning in central Japan, slightly injuring two crew members, an airport representative said.

The F-2 fighter caught on fire immediately after the crash at Nagoya Airport, but the flames were fully extinguished after about 15 minutes. The airport was shut down immediately after the crash.

Video from the scene showed the pilots jumping out of the burning wreckage, before being taken to a local hospital for treatment.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter had undergone regular maintenance by its manufacturer, Mitsubishi Heavy Industry Ltd., before crashing on the test flight, a Nagoya Airport official said. (Posted 12:40 a.m.)

Presidential debate tackles the extraterrestrial

PHILADELPHIA (CNN) -- So if there are space aliens, can they register to vote?

Perhaps Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich is courting their support in discussing a UFO sighting in Tuesday night's debate in Philadelphia.

During the debate, he confirmed an account in actress Shirley MacLaine's book that he saw a UFO while at her home in Washington state. Kucinich didn't address the rest of her description, that the alleged alien encounter "left a connection to your heart and heard direction in your mind."

Kucinich said to moderator Tim Russert's question, "It was an unidentified flying object, OK? It's, like, it's unidentified. I saw something."

To laugher, he said, "I'm also going to move my campaign office to Roswell, New Mexico, and other one in Exeter, New Hampshire, OK? And also, you have to keep in mind that ... Jimmy Carter saw a UFO and also that more people in this country have seen UFOs than I think approve of George Bush's presidency."

Roswell and Exeter are the locations of famous reported UFO sightings in the United States. (Posted 12:05 a.m.)

Quake with 5.6 preliminary magnitude hits Northern Calif.

(CNN) -- A moderate earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 struck Northern California Tuesday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake's epicenter was about five miles north-northeast of Alum Rock, Calif., and nine miles northeast of San Jose's city hall, the USGS said. It hit at 8:04 p.m. (11:04 p.m. ET).

There were no immediate reports of damage or casualties.

The earthquake's epicenter was 5.7 miles below the Earth's surface. Earthquakes centered closer to the surface produce stronger shaking and generally can cause more damage than those further underground.

Alum Rock is 50 miles southeast of San Francisco. (Posted 11:30 p.m.)

Quake with 5.6 preliminary magnitude hits Northern Calif.

(CNN) -- An earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 5.6 struck Northern California Tuesday night, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The quake's epicenter was about nine miles from San Jose's city hall, the USGS said. The quake hit at 8:04 p.m. (11:04 p.m. ET). (Posted 11:20 p.m.)

Police: Juvenile admits starting Calif. Buckweed fire

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- A juvenile admitted to police he started a Southern California wildfire that wound up scorching more than 38,000 acres and destroying 63 structures while playing with matches, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Tuesday.

The Buckweed Fire began about 2 p.m. (5 p.m. ET) Oct. 21 in the Agua Dulce community. Authorities immediately began an investigation, and on Oct. 22 identified the male juvenile as a suspect, according to a report issued by the sheriff's department.

"After talking with the suspect, he admitted playing with matches and starting the fire," the report said.

The boy, whose name and age were not given, was released to the custody of his parents, police said. The case will be presented to the Los Angeles County district attorney for possible charges.

According to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, the Buckweed Fire burned 38,526 acres. (Posted 11:15 p.m.)

Tropical storm Noel dumping heavy rain on Cuba, Hispaniola

(CNN) -- Tropical Storm Noel (prono: Nole) weakened over most of Cuba on Tuesday after lashing its northern coast, but heavy rains were dousing the Dominican Republic and portions of the Bahamas, forecasters said.

Meanwhile, forecasters warned the storm could strengthen after it moves back into the warm Caribbean waters.

Gen. Luis Luna Paulino, director of civil defense for the Dominican Republic, said at least 16 people have died and 16 are missing in his country from the storm. The rain has caused severe flooding and mud slides.

Outlying bands of the storm were expected to brush southeast Florida Wednesday night or Thursday before veering away from the U.S. coast. Forecasters said a tropical storm watch may be issued for that part of Florida on Wednesday. A storm watch means tropical storm conditions, including winds of at least 39 mph, are expected within 36 hours. (Posted 11:10 p.m.)

Entertainer Robert Goulet dead at 73

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Entertainer Robert Goulet has died at age 73 while awaiting a lung transplant for pulmonary fibrosis, his family announced Tuesday.

Goulet had been in intensive care at Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles since Oct. 14. His wife, Vera, and two sons were at his side when he died, according to a statement from the family.

The Massachusetts native won Emmy, Tony and Grammy awards during a career as a singer and actor that spanned five decades. (Posted 7:50 p.m.)

Former NYC official pleads guilty to stealing 9/11 funds

From CNN's Sarah B. Boxer

NEW YORK (CNN) -- A former New York City official admitted Tuesday to stealing millions of government dollars from 1999 to 2004, some of which were intended for lab analyses of human remains and other debris from the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Natarajan R. Venkataram pled guilty to embezzlement, money laundering and conspiracy charges before the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Michael J. Garcia.

According to Garcia's office, Venkataram served as a director of the city's Office of the Chief Medical Examiner (OCME) for 13 years. After Sept. 11, 2001, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provided OCME with more than $46 million to help identify victims through forensic tests on body parts and other evidence collected in downtown Manhattan.

Along with another OCME employee, Rosa Abreu, Venkataram steered millions of those dollars to frauduant companies. On Oct. 24, 2007, Abreu pled guilty to the same charges as Venkataram. (Posted 7:44 p.m.)

Police investigating alleged abuse at Winfrey's S. Africa school

(CNN) -- South African police are investigating abuse allegations at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, the talk-show host's $40 million school for disadvantaged girls near Johannesburg.

Investigators would not tell CNN whether the allegations involve physical or sexual abuse, but said no charges have been filed. The academy's CEO, John Samuel, said in a statement earlier this month that an internal inquiry was launched based on a claim of misconduct involving a dormitory parent.

According to an article in The Cape Argus, a Cape Town newspaper, the dorm parent allegedly grabbed a pupil by the throat and threw her against a wall, the girl claimed. Girls at the school also claimed that the matron swore and screamed at the girls, assaulted them and fondled at least one of them, the newspaper reported Saturday.

The newspaper said one of the pupils ran away from the school, blaming the alleged abuse.

In an emergency meeting with pupils and parents at the school, Winfrey apologized in connection with the incident. "I've disappointed you. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry," she said tearfully, according to numerous South African media reports. (Posted 7:36 p.m.)

Supreme Court blocks Mississippi execution

From CNN Supreme Court Producer Bill Mears

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Supreme Court has blocked Tuesday's scheduled execution of a 48-year-old Mississippi killer, who would have been only the second person put to death since the justices agreed a month ago to decide the larger constitutional issue of lethal injection.

The stay came about 15 minutes before Earl Wesley Berry was scheduled to die. Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito indicated they would have allowed the execution to go forward.

Besides Texas, every other state has postponed executions until a high court ruling is issued next year over whether the deadly chemical cocktail used nationwide by corrections officials is cruel and unusual punishment.

Tuesday's order offered no hints as to whether the justices were prepared to delay all pending executions while it prepares for a pair of Kentucky appeals on the question. But many states and federal courts may take this latest stay as an implied signal to delay the procedure. (Posted 7:34 p.m.)

California sheriff indicted in alleged corruption scheme

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- The sheriff of Orange County, Calif., was charged with accepting bribes in exchange for favors as part of a long-running corruption scheme in an indictment unsealed Tuesday, authorities said.

Michael S. Carona, the elected sheriff-coroner, is accused in the alleged scheme along with several close associates including his wife, the Department of Justice said in a written statement. The group is accused of conspiring to get Carona elected "and to corruptly use the office of sheriff to enrich themselves," including appointing an unqualified businessman to the position of assistant sheriff after the payment of a bribe, prosecutors said.

Named in the 10-count indictment unsealed Tuesday is Carona, his wife, Deborah, and attorney, Debra Victoria Hoffman. (Posted 6:02 p.m.)

Mukasey calls waterboarding 'repugnant' but offers no legal opinion

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's pick for attorney general, Judge Michael Mukasey, called the interrogation technique known as "waterboarding" a "repugnant" practice Tuesday, but again refused to say whether it violates U.S. laws banning torture.

As he did in his Oct. 18 confirmation hearing, Mukasey told Senate Judiciary Committee members that he has not received classified briefings on what techniques American interrogators are allowed to use and cannot make a legal judgment.

"Hypotheticals are different from real life, and in any legal opinion the actual facts and circumstances are critical," Mukasey said in a written answer to Democrats on the committee.

Human rights groups consider waterboarding -- in which prisoners are strapped down and either dunked in water or have water poured over them in order to produce the sensation of drowning -- a form of torture. It was specifically banned in a 2006 law passed by Congress.

Bush has admitted authorizing the use of "enhanced" interrogation techniques against suspected terrorists. His administration insists that it does not torture prisoners, but refuses to reveal which interrogation techniques may be used. (Posted 5:22 p.m.)

Sources: 3 suspected militants killed in airstrike

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Three suspected Hamas militants were killed Tuesday in an Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza, Palestinian medical sources and Hamas sources told CNN.

The airstrike apparently targeted a Hamas police unit in Khan Younis, the sources said.

An Israel Defense Forces spokesman said the airstrike was a retaliation for a recent rocket attack into Israel from southern Gaza. Hamas militants continue to fire rockets across the border into Israel, the IDF said, with the most recent rocket fired hours ago.

"Israel hit the Hamas terror post," the spokesman said. (Posted 5:20 p.m.)

Mukasey calls waterboarding 'repugnant' but offers no legal opinion

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush's pick for attorney general, Judge Michael Mukasey, called the interrogation technique known as "waterboarding" a "repugnant" practice Tuesday, but again refused to say whether it violates U.S. laws banning torture. (Posted 5:12 p.m.)

Democrats decry CPSC chief's rejection of more aid

(CNN) -- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Tuesday for President Bush to demand the resignation of the head of the Consumer Products Safety Commission after the agency's acting chairwoman sent a letter to a congressional committee asking it to reject a plan to give the agency more resources.

"I'm calling upon the president of the United States to ask for the resignation," Pelosi told reporters. "It is, after all, his administration, his policy, his appointee."

"Some of these toys have 200 times the legal limit for lead," Pelosi told reporters as she stood before a table holding a few of the millions of toys that have been recalled in recent months. "There are toys being sold in our stores now that are untested, and they are unsafe."

The California Democrat said the recent spate of toy recalls has forced parents to determine for themselves whether toys they buy for their children are safe. "Why should it be up to the moms and dads to be able to figure that out?" she asked reporters. "We have a consumer protection agency." (Posted 5:07 p.m.)

Justice Dept. Voting Rights chief apologizes for 'hurtful' remarks

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The head of the Voting Rights Section at the Justice Department publicly apologized Tuesday for what he acknowledged were "hurtful" and "clumsy" remarks on race and aging while defending a controversial voter ID law.

John Tanner, a veteran civil rights official, told a House Judiciary subcommittee he had privately expressed his regrets to a Latino group for saying to the group earlier this month that "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do. They die first."

Tanner insisted in his appearance before lawmakers that he had clumsily and insensitively tried to invoke the "sad fact" that the life expectancy of whites is longer than that of blacks.

"My explanation of the data came across in a hurtful way, which I deeply regret," Tanner said. "The reports of my comments do not in any way accurately reflect my career of devotion to enforcing federal laws designed to assure fair and equal access to the ballot." --From Justice Producer Terry Frieden (Posted 5:02 p.m.)

Sources: 3 suspected militants killed in airstrike

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Three suspected Hamas militants were killed Tuesday in an Israeli airstrike in southern Gaza, Palestinian medical sources and Hamas sources told CNN.

The airstrike apparently targeted a Hamas police unit in Khan Younis, the sources said.

There was no immediate comment from Israel Defense Forces. (Posted 4:25 p.m.)

Space station solar array wing tears during deployment

(CNN) -- NASA flight controllers are assessing their options after a solar array on the International Space Station tore while it was being extended Tuesday.

The problem comes as station program managers are troubleshooting a separate problem -- a balky rotary joint on another set of arrays on the other side of the station.

Neither problem poses any safety issues for the crew, but both will need to be fixed before the full complement of new modules and laboratories from the European and Japanese space agencies can be installed on the station next year. Right now, power generation on the station is sufficient to meet requirements, though neither set of solar arrays can rotate and track the sun as designed.

Astronauts relocated the "P6" solar array during spacewalks Sunday and early Tuesday from a temporary location on the top of the station to a permanent home on one end of the station's main girder. The wings of the arrays had been retracted for the move, and astronauts were in the process of re-extending them to make the array fully functional again. --From CNN Science and Technology Sr. Producer Kate Tobin (Posted 4:22 p.m.)

Rice, Gates back greater oversight of contractors in Iraq

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates agreed Tuesday that the American-led coalition in Iraq needs to have more oversight of private security contractors there.

That was also the recommendation of a working group led by top State and Defense officials in the aftermath of a shooting involving the private security firm Blackwater USA in Baghdad last month that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

"The keys to whatever they come to, ultimately, an agreement on must include a common set of standards, common rules for the use of force, and, perhaps above all, thorough coordination of all contractor movements well in advance," Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell said Tuesday, after Rice and Gates reached their agreement in a working lunch.

Once the details of the plan are worked out, Morrell said, the working group will present them to Gen. David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNF-I) and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker for their feedback. (Posted 3:50 p.m.)

North Korean crew recaptures hijacked vessel off chaotic Somalia

(CNN) -- The crew of a North Korean freighter regained control of their ship from pirates who hijacked it off chaotic Somalia, two days after a Japanese ship was seized in nearby waters, the U.S. Navy reported Tuesday.

The three wounded crew members from the cargo ship Dai Hong Dan were being treated aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS James E. Williams, and five captured pirates were being held aboard the North Korean vessel, according to a statement from the Navy.

Two pirates were killed during a battle with the freighter's crew, which kept control of the ship's steering gear and engines after the pirates seized the bridge, the Navy reported. The Koreans moved against the pirates after the Williams, responding to reports of the hijacking, ordered the pirates to give up their weapons, according to the Navy.

Another U.S. destroyer was shadowing the Japanese freighter Golden Mori after its seizure by pirates over the weekend, the Navy said Tuesday. The tanker is loaded with highly flammable benzene, a known human carcinogen used as a solvent and in the making of plastics and synthetic fabrics.

Four other ships are known to have been seized recently. The U.S. Maritime Administration says captured vessels are usually released after owners pay a ransom. (Posted 3:05 p.m.)

Tropical storm Noel weakens, not expected to become hurricane

(CNN) -- Tropical Storm Noel (prono: Nole) weakened over most of Cuba on Tuesday after lashing its northern coast, but heavy rains were dousing the Dominican Republic and portions of the Bahamas, forecasters said.

At 2 p.m. Tuesday, the National Hurricane Center maintained its prediction that there would be little change in strength for the storm in the next 24 hours.

Gen. Luis Luna Paulino, director of civil defense for the Dominican Republic, said at least 16 people have died and 16 are missing in his country from the storm. The rain has caused severe flooding and mud slides.

Outlying bands of the storm were expected to reach the southeast edge of Florida Wednesday night or Thursday morning, before veering away from the U.S. coast. Forecasters said a tropical storm watch may be issued for that part of Florida later in the day. (Posted 2:35 p.m.)

Obama, Clinton, Edwards to oppose Mukasey nomination

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The three leading Democratic presidential candidates announced Tuesday they will oppose Judge Michael Mukasey's nomination as attorney general to replace Alberto Gonzales, who stepped down last month amid controversy.

"After the dismal performance of the last attorney general, I had hoped that Judge Michael Mukasey would represent a badly needed change in direction for the Justice Department and the nation," Sen. Barack Obama said in a written statement. But he added, "We don't need another attorney general who believes that the president enjoys an unwritten right to secretly ignore any law (or) who looks the other way on issues as profound as torture."

On the heels of the Obama announcement, Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina made their own announcements saying they would vote against Mukasey because of the same issues.

In his Senate committee testimony,said that the president can overrule a federal statute when the nation's defense is at risk, and he refused to declare that waterboarding is a form of torture and that U.S. interrogators should not use it. (Posted 1:03 p.m.)

KRG president reiterates need for dialogue on border crisis, stresses right to self-defense when faced with any hostilities

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Massoud Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, Tuesday reiterated the entity's position that it wants to resolve all problems on the tense Iraq-Turkish border through dialogue but that it's "our right to defend ourselves" if there are any hostilities against the region.

He made the comments to reporters after an emergency session of the Kurdish parliament in Irbil about the border crisis. The United States and Iraq want the Kurdish region to do its part in dealing with Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, rebels based in northern Iraq who have launched attacks into Turkey, which has threatened a full-scale cross-border offensive against the fighters.

Barzani repeated his call for the PKK to use peaceful means to resolve the crisis and said the Kurdistan Regional Government favors such an outcome and "will not get dragged into a battle that is not our battle."

The leader of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, one of the top two movements in the Kurdish region, Barzani said there could be a meeting of Kurdish parties to work on a strategy to end the crisis. (Posted 12:58 p.m.)

U.S. intelligence budget tops $43 billion

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The United States spent $43.5 billion on its national intelligence programs in 2007, according to a newly declassified figure from the director of national intelligence.

In a prepared statement, DNI Mike McConnell said no additional information would be provided on specific budgets for the various intelligence agencies because "such disclosures could harm national security."

The budget figure represents the total amount spent for the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency and the intelligence programs of the FBI and the departments of State, Treasury and Homeland Security.

McConnell's statement did not include how much money was spent on intelligence for the individual military services. However, congressional sources indicated the total spy budget would top $50 billion if tactical military funding were included. --From National Security Producer Pam Benson (Posted 12:54 p.m.)

Family of dead Brooklyn boy sues New York City

NEW YORK (CNN) -- The family of a Brooklyn boy who died Oct. 14 from an antibiotic-resistant staph infection plans to file a $25 million lawsuit against the city of New York, their lawyer said Tuesday.

The family of Omar Rivera, 12, claims he was misdiagnosed at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn when he was brought in for treatment. He died at Brookdale Hospital.

"You can never put a price on a life," said Derek Sells, an attorney representing the family. "But one of the things that we are required to do is to put a figure in there." (Posted 12:53 p.m.)

State Dept. sources say no blanket immunity offered to Blackwater personnel on Iraq shootout

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- No blanket immunity deal was offered to Blackwater guards for their statements regarding a shootout in Iraq last month that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, two senior State Department officials told CNN Tuesday.

However, some kind of limited immunity was apparently offered by the State Department's Diplomatic Security investigators when they questioned the Blackwater personnel apparently involved in the shootings, the officials said.

CNN previously reported the guards were promised their statements would not be used against them in a criminal prosecution as long as the statements were true.

One of the senior State Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, said the Diplomatic Security branch does not have the right or ability to offer blanket immunity and did not do anything that would inhibit prosecutors if charges are to be pursued. (Posted 11:50 a.m.)

Obama to oppose Mukasey nomination

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Barack Obama announced Tuesday he will oppose Judge Michael Mukasey's nomination as attorney general to replace Alberto Gonzales, who stepped down last month amid controversy.

"After the dismal performance of the last attorney general, I had hoped that Judge Michael Mukasey would represent a badly needed change in direction for the Justice Department and the nation," the Democratic presidential nominee said in a written statement. "But his testimony before the Senate was stunning.

"While his legal credentials are strong, his views on two critical and related matters are, in my view, disqualifying," said the Illinois Democrat. (Posted 11:47 a.m.)

Verdicts expected for Madrid train bombing suspects

MADRID (CNN) -- A Madrid court is expected to deliver the verdict and sentence Wednesday for 28 defendants charged in the commuter train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800 more than three years ago.

Eight of the defendants are prime suspects in the bombings and charged with murder. If convicted, they would face sentences of nearly 39,000 years -- calculated at 30 years for each of the 191 people killed in the bombings and 18 years, for attempted murder, against each of the wounded.

Despite the huge potential sentences, none of the defendants would serve more than 40 years, the maximum allowed under Spanish law, which does not permit the death penalty.

The other defendants face smaller sentences if convicted on lesser charges like membership in or collaboration with a terrorist group. All defendants proclaimed their innocence in the opening days of the trial. (Posted 11:23 a.m.)

Sources: Peake to be nominated to lead Department of Veterans Affairs

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush will tap Lt. Gen. James B. Peake to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, two White House officials told CNN's Elaine Quijano and Ed Henry on Tuesday.

If confirmed as secretary of the department, the 66-year-old medical doctor would replace Jim Nicholson, who stepped down from the post more than three months ago. Since then, the department has been led by Acting Secretary Gordon Mansfield.

As secretary, Peake's job would be to serve as the primary advocate for veterans in the U.S. government.

He would direct the Department of Veterans Affairs, the federal government's second-largest Cabinet department, which runs a nationwide system of health-care services, benefits programs and national cemeteries for the country's veterans and their dependents. (Posted 11:08 a.m.)

Florida State Attorney: "Don't tase me bro' student apologizes, still under 18-month probation

MIAMI (CNN) -- A University of Florida student on whom campus police used a stun gun after he relentlessly questioned Sen. John Kerry last month has apologized for his actions but remains under probation for 18 months, Florida State Attorney Bill Cervone told CNN Tuesday.

Andrew Meyer was charged with resisting an officer without violence -- a felony -- and interfering with an educational institution function, a misdemeanor.

Prosecutors have agreed to defer prosecution if Meyer agrees to some specific terms, including apologizing for his actions.

Cervone said Meyer has written letters of apology to the university and the campus police department. (Posted 10:49 a.m.)

State Dept. source says no immunity offered to Blackwater personnel on Iraq shootout

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- No immunity deal was offered to Blackwater guards for their statements regarding a shootout in Iraq last month that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, a senior State Department official told CNN Tuesday.

The statement contradicts comments made Monday by U.S. officials familiar with the matter, who said the guards were promised their statements would not be used against them in any prosecution resulting from the Sept. 16 shootings in Baghdad.

The senior State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak on the matter, said the department's Diplomatic Security branch does not have the right or ability to offer any kind of immunity and did not do anything that would inhibit prosecutors if charges are to be pursued.

"We want to see anyone who violated laws or broke rules held accountable," the official said. "Nothing that was done prevents anyone from being prosecuted if they broke the law. (Posted 10:39 a.m.)

Military: 4 insurgents killed, 17 detained in raids

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Coalition forces killed four terrorists and detained 17 suspects in operations overnight "targeting al Qaeda networks in central and northern Iraq," the U.S. military said Tuesday.

The raids were south of Baghdad, in Mosul, northwest of Tarmiya, near Kirkuk and in Baiji.

"These operations demonstrate that we're not waiting for al Qaeda to strike; we're going after the terrorists where they hide," said Maj. Winfield Danielson, Multi-National Forces-Iraq spokesman. (Posted 10:34 a.m.)

Bush: Congress not getting its work done

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush blasted the Democratic-controlled Congress on Tuesday for having "the worst record in 20 years."

"Congress is not getting it's work done," Bush said, flanked by members of the Republican House leadership. "The House of Representatives has wasted valuable time on a constant stream of investigations, and the Senate has wasted valuable time on an endless series of failed votes to pull our troops out of Iraq."

He criticized Congress for not being able to send "a single appropriations bill" to him.

"They haven't seen a bill they could not solve without shoving a tax hike into it," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democratic leaders are expected to speak about "Republican obstructionism" later Tuesday morning. (Posted 10:30 a.m.)

Source: State Dept. says no immunity offered to Blackwater personnel on Iraq shootout

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- No immunity deal was offered to Blackwater guards for their statements regarding a shootout in Iraq last month that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, a senior State Department official told CNN Tuesday.

The statement contradicts comments made Monday by a U.S. government official who said the guards were promised their statements would not be used against them in any prosecution resulting from the Sept. 16 shootings in Baghdad. (Posted 10:23 a.m.)

Killings of soldiers, civilians dropping in Iraq

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- There have been 37 U.S. military deaths in Iraq so far this month -- the lowest monthly death toll since 2006, when American fatalities in March totaled 31.

Official Iraqi governmental figures provided to CNN show the number of civilians killed in Iraq dropping from a high of 1,990 in January to 844 in September.

The Iraqi Interior Ministry said the number of slain bodies found dumped in Baghdad has dropped dramatically this year -- with 428 in August, 301 in September, and 151 so far in October.

Despite this, cautious U.S. and Iraqi military officials believe it is too soon to proclaim a turning point in the conflict. They say such a silver lining will only be sustained if the government does a better job of promoting political reconciliation and compromise. (Posted 10:10 a.m.)

Noel could become Cat 1 hurricane by Wednesday

(CNN) -- Tropical Storm Noel moved inland over Cuba on Tuesday after lashing its northern coast and the central Bahamas, and causing at least 11 deaths in the Dominican Republic the day before.

Forecasters said a tropical storm watch could be issued for parts of southeastern Florida later in the day. Forecasters predict that the center of Noel will miss the U.S. coastline.

There were conflicting reports of the number of deaths in San Cristobal in the Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti. Emergency crews counted 11 deaths; provincial officials said 25.

Weather models show Noel reaching Category 1 Hurricane status, with top wind speeds between 74 to 95 mph, by Wednesday afternoon.

At 8 a.m. ET on Tuesday, Noel was centered about 35 miles west-northwest of Holguin, Cuba and about 275 miles south of Nassau in the Bahamas. It was moving west at nearly 12 mph. (Posted 9:28 mph)

Charity workers, journalists charged with kidnapping children in Chad

PARIS (CNN) -- Authorities in Chad have charged nine French nationals with kidnapping and grift for attempting to fly out of Chad more than 100 children the group claimed were orphans from Sudan.

The charges were confirmed by Leonard Vincent, who heads the Africa desk at Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. Three French journalists are among those charged. In addition, Vincent said, seven crew members of a Spanish charter company were charged with complicity.

The 16 were being held in the eastern Chadian city of Abeche and were expected to be transferred to the capital, N'Djamena, later in the week, Vincent said.

The group was arrested last week as they tried to put 103 children on a plane to France. The "rescue mission" was organized by L'Arche de Zoe (Zoe's Ark), a Paris-based charity which said the children were orphans from the Darfur crisis and were being taken to foster families in France.

The Chadian government disputed that, and a spokeswoman for the UNHCR said that based on preliminary interviews with the children, they "most probably" are from Chad. (Posted 9:20 a.m.)

Official: U.S. general wounded by Iranian-made explosive

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. military official said the blast that wounded a U.S. Army brigadier general in Baghdad was caused by an explosively formed penetrator -- an armor-piercing, explosive device that the U.S. military says comes from Iran.

Brig. Gen. Jeffrey Dorko is being treated in Germany for shrapnel wounds suffered after the device detonated near his vehicle in north Baghdad Monday morning, Pentagon sources told CNN.

Dorko took command of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division in Baghdad on Oct. 10, according to the Corps' Web site.

He is the highest-ranking military officer hit by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, and the second brigadier general to be wounded in the Iraq war.

Brig. Gen. David Blackledge was wounded twice in Iraq, once by small arms in 2004 and once in a hotel bombing in 2005, the army said. (Posted 8:47 a.m.)

Suspected suicide bomber kills 6 near Pakistani army HQ

LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- A suspected suicide bomber detonated Tuesday near Pakistan's army headquarters in Rawalpindi -- which houses President Pervez Musharraf's office -- killing six people and wounding 10 others, police there said.

Musharraf, who also serves as Pakistan's military chief, was inside his office at the time of the blast which occurred about a mile away, police said. He was not injured. The blast happened near the house of Pakistan's newly appointed chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, Gen. Tariq Majid.

It was unclear whether he was home, or was the target of the blast. (Posted 7:53 a.m.)

Top Iraqi Kurdish parties ready to work with U.S., Iraqi government for 'correct approach' in dealing with Iraqi-Turkish border problems

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The two top political parties in Iraq's Kurdish region said that they are primed to work with Iraq and the United States to "adopt a correct approach" toward Kurdish separatist rebels who have been launching attacks against Turkey.

It is the strongest statement so far from Iraqi Kurdish officials of involvement in dealing with the crisis and it comes amid pressure from the United States. (Posted 7:12 a.m.)

1 dead, 9 wounded in eastern Baghdad attacks

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- An Iraqi civilian was killed and nine others were wounded in attacks in eastern Baghdad on Tuesday, an Iraqi Interior Ministry official said.

Gunmen in a vehicle threw a hand grenade at civilians on Rubaie Street, killing one and wounding five others. At least four Iraqis were wounded when gunmen in a vehicle opened fire randomly on civilians in Rustumiya. (Posted 6:36 a.m.)

Deadly rainmaker Noel picks up steam, could grow to Cat 1 hurricane by Wednesday

(CNN) -- Gaining strength overnight, Tropical Storm Noel Tuesday lashed the northern coast of Cuba and the central Bahamas, prompting National Hurricane Center forecasters to warn southern Florida to keep an eye on the rainmaker.

At 5 a.m. ET, Noel was skimming Cuba's northern coast about 270 miles (435 km) south-southeast of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, the hurricane center reported. With top winds speeds of 60 mph, the storm became more powerful overnight, gaining 10 mph, as moved to the west at 12 mph. Forecasters project the storm's center will maintain its current strength and turn to the northwest, moving parallel to Cuba's northern coast, into the evening.

Although it's center is expected to miss the U.S. coastline, in its advisory, the weather center warned southeast Florida could be issued a tropical storm watch later in the day. (Posted 6:08 a.m.)

Coalition soldier killed in Afghan's troubled south

(CNN) -- A Coalition soldier was killed in combat near Sperwan Ghar in southern Afghanistan's restive Kandahar province on Tuesday, the U.S.-led coalition command said.

In addition, a coalition soldier and Afghan National Police officer were wounded and treated at a nearby medical facility.

The coalition did not specify the nationality or names of those involved, but Canadian, British, Dutch and American soldiers typically patrol in the country's southern regions. (Posted 4:26 a.m.)

Blast kills 6 in Pakistani city of Rawalpindi

LAHORE, Pakistan (CNN) -- An explosion inside a Pakistani army residential complex in Rawalpindi Tuesday killed six people and wounded 10 others, police there said.

The source of the blast was not immediately identified.

President Pervez Musharraf's army headquarters are located in Rawalpindi, which is adjacent to the capital, Islamabad.

Pakistani security forces have cordoned off the area, while an investigation is underway. (Posted 3:48 a.m.)

Rainmaker Noel picks up speed, inches closer to Bahamas

(CNN) -- Heavy rains began falling over the central and southeastern Bahamas early Tuesday as Tropical Storm Noel approached after crossing from the Dominican Republic, where heavy downpours triggered flooding and mudslides that left 11 people dead, a government spokesman said.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami had warned of "life-threatening flash floods and mud slides" in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as the storm moved across the island of Hispanola on Monday. Rafael Nunez, a spokesman for Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, said 11 deaths have been blamed on the storm and another four people were unaccounted for Monday evening. (Posted 3:16 am.)

Japanese minister: 'friend of a friend' knew al Qaeda member, who sneaked into the country

TOKYO (CNN) -- Japan's justice minister said "a friend of a friend ... is a member of al Qaeda" and had entered the country several times, using various passports, an officer of the Justice Ministry told CNN.

Justice Minister Kumio Hatoyama's comments came during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Monday when he was explaining Japan's new, tougher immigration procedures, which will require foreigners to provide finger prints and photographs upon entering the county.

"A friend of a friend of mine is a member of al Qaeda involved in a bombing in Bali," Hatoyama said, adding the alleged member of the terrorist network had gone in and out of Japan a number of times two or three years ago.

Later on Monday, Hatoyama held another news conference and tried to clarify his comments, saying, "I am not a friend of the terrorist and I do not know him personally." (Posted 1:30 a.m.)

Fed interest rate cuts could inflate oil prices

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- If you think oil prices are high now, wait 'till Wednesday -- that's when the Federal Reserve is set to announce its decision on interest rates. Most say a cut is coming.

"If the Fed cuts rates, it will probably push oil prices higher," said Adam Sieminski, chief energy economist at Deutsche Bank.

There are a couple of reasons lower interest rates usually cause higher oil prices. The first is lower interest rates are designed to spur economic growth by making money for investment cheaper to borrow. Stronger economic growth usually entails using more energy, so traders bid up oil prices on the expectation of higher demand.

Second, lower interest rates usually cause the dollar to fall, as they make dollar-denominated investments like Treasurys less attractive for foreign investors. (Posted 1:25 a.m.)

Tropical Storm Noel leaves 11 dead in Dominican Republic

(CNN) -- Heavy rains began falling over the southeastern Bahamas late Monday as Tropical Storm Noel approached after crossing from the Dominican Republic, where heavy downpours triggered flooding and mudslides that left 11 people dead, a government spokesman said.

Forecasters at the National Hurricane Center in Miami had warned of "life-threatening flash floods and mud slides" in Haiti and the Dominican Republic as the storm moved across the island of Hispanola early Monday. Rafael Nunez, a spokesman for Dominican President Leonel Fernandez, said 11 deaths have been blamed on the storm and another four people were unaccounted for Monday evening.

As the storm moved toward the Bahamas, heavy rains continued over the island of Hispaniola, which includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

At 11 p.m. ET, Noel was centered about 305 miles (490 km) south-southeast of Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, the hurricane center reported. The storm had top winds of 50 mph and was moving to the northwest at about 13 mph (20 km/h).

Tropical storm-force winds of 40 mph or more stretched more than 175 miles from the eye.

Forecasters project the storm will move across the northwestern Bahamas over the next two days before turning away from the United States. (Posted 11:05 p.m.)

Beach house owner 'numb, confused' after fatal fire

(CNN) -- The owner of a North Carolina beach house where seven college students died in a weekend fire said Monday that his family's "lives were just changed forever" by the tragedy.

Chip Auman said his 18-year-old daughter survived the fire but was hospitalized and in stable condition because of complications from smoke inhalation.

"The thought of losing a child is unimaginable to me and as a father my heart goes out to the families that lost a loved one in this situation," he said.

Six University of South Carolina students and a Clemson University student died the fire early Sunday morning in Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.(Posted 11 p.m.)

DNI: No automatic release of NIE summaries

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The U.S. government won't be declassifying and releasing summaries of National Intelligence Estimates as a matter of course, the nation's national intelligence director said in a memo to the intelligence community last week.

Director Mike McConnell said that it was his policy that summaries of the NIEs -- the coordinated judgments of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies on a particular subject -- should not be declassified and would be released only if certain conditions apply. Even then, he said, declassification would not be automatic.

To qualify for declassification, McConnell said, source and methods protection must be assured and a compelling reason must exist to notify police or other first responders of "threats that could affect their safety directly and rapidly."

Additionally, McConnell said, declassification won't happen if doing so would jeopardize military or diplomatic efforts such as "by revealing negative assessments of leaders or countries whose cooperation is essential for the attainment of policy objective." (Posted 11 p.m.) E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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