Sen. Rubio to give Republican response to Obama's State of the Union address

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Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a rising star among conservatives, has been tapped by his party to deliver - in English and Spanish - the GOP response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address before Congress next week.

In a communique, the Florida lawmaker's office said that the senator was selected by the top GOP leaders in both houses of Congress, namely Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

According to his office, the 41-year-old Rubio is a "natural choice" to offer the important reply after the president's speech next Tuesday evening because - since he came to the Senate three years ago - he "has been a champion of growing the American middle class through limited government and free enterprise policies."

Rubio's mission in his televised prime-time speech, which he will deliver in English and in Spanish, will be to explain the Republican vision to help the country overcome its assorted economic challenges, the communique said.

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Growing number of Americans support Obama on immigration

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A growing number of Americans support President Barack Obama's stance on illegal immigration, and there is better support than in the past for the idea of offering citizenship to immigrants who meet certain requirements and for increasing border monitoring, according to a national survey released Wednesday.

The ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 49 percent of Americans approve of Obama's approach to the immigration problem.

The survey found that support for Obama's work on immigration had risen 11 percent from where it stood 11 months ago.

Regarding the specific points of the president's immigration plan, 83 percent approve of the establishment of stricter controls along the border with Mexico.

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Employees back to work at Pemex HQ a week after explosion

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Thousands of employees of Mexican state-owned oil monopoly Petroleos Mexicanos returned to work at the company's headquarters in this capital, where an explosion last week left 37 dead and more than 100 injured.

Pemex CEO Emilio Lozoya met in the morning with the workers, who observed a minute of silence in honor of the victims while a Mexican flag flew at half-mast.

Activities resumed at the office complex except for the B1 and B2 buildings, which were hit by a powerful explosion last Thursday that investigators said was caused by an accumulation of gas.

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Senate committee postpones vote on Hagel

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The Senate Armed Services Committee postponed the vote on confirming Chuck Hagel as U.S. defense secretary to allow more time for his nomination to be reviewed.

Committee chairman Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, said in a statement that "The committee's vote on Senator Hagel's nomination has not been scheduled," adding that "I had hoped to hold a vote on the nomination this week, but the committee's review of the nomination is not yet complete."

He went on to say that his intention is to schedule the vote as soon as possible.

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White House denies building 2nd Oval Office

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The White House denied building a second Oval Office for President Barack Obama to work in pending the completion of renovations at the executive mansion.

White House chief spokesman Jay Carney denied the report recently published by the Real Clear Politics Web site that said Obama was going to move into a "nearly identical replica" of the Oval Office because of the ongoing construction work.

"Reports about a replica Oval Office are false and no one is moving from the West Wing, certainly not - no decisions about that have been made and not on any time frame," Carney said.

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Independent experts to investigate Super Bowl power outage

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The cause of the 34-minute power outage in the Superdome during the Super Bowl in New Orleans remains under investigation and independent experts are being brought in to identify what caused the loss of electricity, officials said.

The power outage at the 38-year-old stadium interrupted play for 34 minutes in the 3rd quarter of Sunday's game, which was won by the Baltimore Ravens.

Outside experts will be hired to conduct the investigation, the Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District, or LSED, Mercedes-Benz Superdome manager SMG and electric utility Entergy New Orleans said.

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Pakistan says 5 killed in U.S. drone strike

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Five people died in an attack by a U.S. unmanned aircraft in northwest Pakistan, regional officials told EFE.

The drone strike took place shortly after midday in the tribal region of North Waziristan, near the Afghan border. The aircraft launched six missiles, a liaison official for the tribal regions told EFE from the nearby city of Peshawar.

It was at least the seventh U.S. drone attack this year in Pakistan and the cumulative death toll from the strikes has already topped 40.

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Colombian army says 2 car bombs exploded in strife-torn province

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Colombia's army said two car bombs - not one, as was initially reported - were used in attacks in the conflict-ridden province of Cauca that left two dead and two others wounded.

One of the explosives-laden vehicles detonated in a rural zone of the municipality of Caloto and the second near an aqueduct that supplies that area of southwestern Colombia.

The army attributed both of Tuesday's attacks to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, guerrilla group.

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Quake-spurred tsunami kills 5 in Solomon Islands

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At least five people were killed by a tsunami that destroyed three Solomon Islands villages after a magnitude-8.0 earthquake rocked the South Pacific archipelago, hospital officials said.

Killed were a boy of about 12 and four elderly people, according to the medical sources cited by Television New Zealand, or TVNZ.

But police officials on the islands, in statements to Australia's ABC network, only confirmed two dead and an undetermined number of missing and injured.

The earthquake, which struck just after midday, was centered to the east of the archipelago and mainly affected the southeastern province of Santa Cruz.

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Attacks on tourists will be punished, Mexican officials say

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The attacks on both Mexican and foreign tourists this week "will not go unpunished," the Guerrero state government said.

Gunmen raped six Spanish tourists on the outskirts of the Pacific resort city of Acapulco around 3:00 a.m. Monday.

The sexual assaults occurred in Playa Bonfil, located in the eastern section of Acapulco, one of Mexico's most popular tourist destinations.

Officials are "in constant contact with the victims and Spanish consular authorities in an effort to offer assistance and guarantee unconditional support," the state government said in a statement.

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Mexico denies U.S. vetoed defense secretary choice

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The United States did not veto the appointment of Gen. Moises Garcia Ochoa as defense secretary, the Mexican government said.

A story published by The New York Times earlier this week claimed that the United States lobbied against the general's appointment to the Cabinet post.

"The Obama administration had many concerns about the general, including the Drug Enforcement Administration's suspicion that he had links to drug traffickers and the Pentagon's anxiety that he had misused military supplies and skimmed money from multimillion-dollar defense contracts," The New York Times said.

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Queen Elizabeth II celebrates 61st anniversary on throne privately

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Queen Elizabeth II privately marked 61 years on the throne at the royal holiday estate in the southeastern English county of Norfolk, a subdued anniversary compared to the boisterous festivities that surrounded last year's Diamond Jubilee celebration.

The queen will honor tradition by remaining at Sandringham House, where her father - King George VI - died 61 years ago of lung cancer while the then-princess was on a trip to Kenya with her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

The 86-year-old monarch generally does not attend to official business on this date, although last year's 60th anniversary was an exception.

As in past years, a 41-gun royal salute was performed at midday Wednesday in Green Park, next to Buckingham Palace, in homage to the British head of state.

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EFE