Congressional committee approves Hagel for defense secretary


The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the nomination of former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as the country's new defense secretary.

The committee signed off on the nomination by a vote of 14-11, but now Hagel will have to be approved by the full Senate in a vote that has not yet been scheduled.

Hagel was nominated by President Barack Obama on Jan. 7 to succeed Leon Panetta as defense chief. Panetta soon will be retiring after 19 months in the post.

The committee's confirmation came after it had had to delay the vote because some lawmakers had asked for more time to review the nomination, which had met with opposition from some members of the ex-senator's own party.




Fugitive ex-cop shoots 2 deputies in California


Christopher Dorner, the former Los Angeles police officer being sought by police for murdering three people, opened fire on sheriff's deputies pursuing him near Big Bear Lake, California, wounding two of them, media outlets said.

Dorner is thought to be holed up in a cabin, the San Bernardino County sheriff's office said.

The shootings took place after the U.S. Navy and LAPD veteran forced his way into a home, tied up the couple living there and stole a white van, authorities said.




Activists urge Rubio to back citizenship for undocumented


Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio needs to endorse a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants when he offers the Republican response to President Barack Obama's State of the Union address, activists said.

"Sen. Rubio should make it clear which side he's on," Cesar Vargas, executive director of the Dream Action Coalition, said in a conference call with reporters.




Fire on Carnival float leaves 4 dead in Brazil


At least four people died and six were injured in the wee hours when a Carnival float caught fire during a samba school parade in the Brazilian city of Santos, paramedics said.

The fire broke out shortly before 1:30 a.m. when one of the floats of the Sangue Jovem samba school brushed against a power line causing a short circuit. Flames quickly consumed the vehicle and the exhibit it was carrying.




North Korea conducts 3rd nuclear test


North Korea has "successfully" conducted its third nuclear test, the official KCNA news agency said.

This nuclear test was "of a higher level" than the ones conducted in 2006 and 2009, North Korea said.

Scientists have managed to reduce the size and weight of the country's atomic bombs, allowing North Korea to move closer to its goal of having ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, KCNA said.




Stranded cruise ship to be towed to U.S. port


The cruise ship stranded in the Gulf of Mexico will be towed to Mobile, Alabama, instead of to the Yucatan Peninsula as had been planned originally, Mexican authorities said.

The Carnival Triumph will be taken to Mobile due to logistical considerations and because of the presence of strong winds in the area which have pushed the vessel to the north, Yucatan state officials said.

With the change in plans by Carnival, the largest cruise ship operator in the world, Yucatan authorities suspended the operation they had launched to attend to the 4,200 tourists and crewmembers on board the Triumph.




Turkey confirms that border blast was terrorist attack


A blast that killed 14 people on Turkey's southern border with strife-torn Syria was a terrorist attack, the Turkish interior minister said.

"Of course, it was a terrorist attack," Muammer Guler told a group of reporters in Ankara in response to a question about Monday's explosion.

The minister said that the vehicle that blew up was an automobile, not a van, as had been reported earlier, and that it exploded after entering Turkey and spending about 23 minutes parked in a zone located between Syrian soil and the Turkish border post.

The blast, which occurred shortly before 1300 GMT, killed 14 people - 10 Syrians and four Turks - and destroyed a score of vehicles.




18 Escape from Ecuadorian prison


At least 18 inmates escaped from a maximum-security prison in the coastal city of Guayaquil, Ecuadorian authorities said.

The Justice Ministry said on Twitter that the escape from the penitentiary known as La Roca "is being investigated."

"There are no dead or wounded in the jailbreak for which the alert was given today on #LaRoca. How many fugitives are at large will be announced in the next few hours," the ministry said, though several media outlets have warned that the number is likely to be between 18 and 20.




Penelope Cruz, pregnant with second child


Spanish actress Penelope Cruz is pregnant with her second child, her publicist confirmed to Efe.

Leonardo, the first child of Cruz, 38, and 43-year-old husband Javier Bardem, another Spanish big-screen star, was born in January 2011 at the Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

The pair of Oscar-winning performers married in July 2010 in The Bahamas.