Obama: Automatic budget cuts threaten economy


President Barack Obama warned of danger for the U.S. economy if Congress doesn't act to stop the so-called budget sequester: a set of spending cuts set to take effect March 1.

"As I said in my State of the Union address last week, our top priority must be to do everything we can to grow the economy and create good, middle-class jobs," he said at a White House event.

"And that's why it's so troubling that just 10 days from now, Congress might allow a series of automatic, severe budget cuts to take place that will do the exact opposite," the president said.

Obama was accompanied by uniformed emergency workers, whom he gave as an example, together with others like teachers, FBI agents and air traffic controllers, of workers who could lose their jobs because of these budget cuts.

As a result of a decision by Congress in 2011, without an agreement on reducing the government deficit, immediate spending cuts of more than $85 billion will automatically go into effect.




U.S. gen'l named to head NATO retires from military


The general named by U.S. President Barack Obama as the next supreme commander of NATO relinquished his appointment and is retiring from the Armed Forces, the White House said.

Gen. John Allen, who was head of NATO troops in Afghanistan, met Tuesday with Obama, who announced that he accepted the request for retirement "so that he can address health issues within his family," the White House said in a statement.

"I told Gen. Allen that he has my deep, personal appreciation for his extraordinary service over the last 19 months in Afghanistan, as well as his decades of service in the United States Marine Corps," Obama said.

Allen was investigated for supposedly "inappropriate communications" with Jill Kelley, one of the women involved in the scandal that led to the resignation of retired Gen. David Petraeus as director of the CIA.




China said behind cyberattacks on U.S. firms


China's army is behind a series of cyberattacks on U.S. companies and institutions, according to a study by a U.S. computer security company.

A 60-page report released Tuesday by Mandiant says that a Shanghai-based group of hackers designated by the company as APT-1 "is likely government-sponsored and one of the most persistent of China's cyber threat actors."

APT-1 activities appear to coincide with those of People's Liberation Army Unit 61398, whose headquarters are in the Pudong district of Shanghai, Mandiant said.

Though the company has been unable to directly trace APT-1 hackers to the Unit 61398 building, it believes there can be no other explanation for why so many attacks are launched from the same, relatively small area.




Police chief missing, brothers murdered in Mexico


The police chief of the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo is missing and two of his brothers have been murdered, prosecutors said.

Roberto Alejandro Balmori Garza's whereabouts are not known and orders have been given to find the municipal police chief, the Tamaulipas state Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

Prosecutors, however, did not say what theories investigators had about the police chief's disappearance.

The bodies of Manuel and Jose Alberto Balmori Garza, two of the police chief's brothers, were found Monday in a vehicle parked on the highway that links Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo.

The two men had been shot to death, officials said.

Manuel Balmori Garza was a federal Attorney General's Office agent.




Mexican police detain 81 migrants


Federal police intercepted 81 undocumented immigrants from Central America, the Mexican government said.

The migrants were detained in separate operations in the southern states of Oaxaca and Chiapas and two suspected traffickers were taken into custody.

The 48 Guatemalans, 28 Salvadorans and five Hondurans were "apparently trying to reach the United States," according to an official statement.

The group included eight minors.




12 Killed in plane crash in Yemen


At least 12 people died and 11 were injured when a military airplane crashed in a central residential neighborhood in this capital, Yemen's official news agency Saba said.

The death toll, including three women and three children, could rise as rescue and recovery crews move through the zone and as the medical condition of the injured evolves.

On board the aircraft, which evidently crashed due to an unspecified technical failure, were the pilot and a companion, but - at present - it is not known if one or both of them are among the casualties.

The Russian-made Sukhoi plunged to earth near Al Taguir square, frequently the scene of protests, and a university campus, according to what Efe was able to ascertain.




Robbers disguised as cops steal $50 mn in diamonds in Belgium


The machine-gun-toting men who stole $50 million worth of diamonds from a Brink's armored truck at Brussels international airport were wearing police uniforms, Belgian prosecutors said.

The assailants pulled off the robbery in a scant five minutes and sped away in two vehicles fitted with sirens, the Brussels district attorney's office told the media.

The robbers pointed their guns at the Brink's driver, as well as at the pilots and copilots on the Swiss airliner onto which the gems were to be transferred and flown to Zurich.

One of the vehicles used in the robbery was found totally burned-out later in Zellick, northwest of Brussels.




Pistorius tells South African court he did not plan to kill girlfriend


Olympic track star Oscar Pistorius told a South African court that he did not plan to kill his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, as prosecutors allege.

"I deny the allegation in the strongest terms. Nothing can be further from the truth," Pistorius told the Pretoria court in an affidavit read by his attorney, Barry Roux.

Prosecutors are alleging premeditated murder in the case and the court will have to decide whether to grant bail.

The 26-year-old Pistorius was so distraught during the hearing that the judge urged him to maintain his composure.

Pistorius was charged on Valentine's Day with murdering his girlfriend, a model who was found dead of four gunshot wounds at his home in Pretoria.

The sprinter - famed for competing in the Olympic Games despite two leg amputations - claims he thought an intruder was in the bathroom and fired through the door, hitting Steenkamp.




Union leader protests by bringing trucks to Argentine Labor Ministry


The head of the Argentine truckers union, Hugo Moyano, a former ally of the government and currently one of its main opponents, brought several trucks to the doors of the Labor Ministry to protest a decision by that department against his union.

The protest paralyzed traffic on Tuesday morning along one of the main avenues in downtown Buenos Aires.

The truckers union is demanding that 1,000 of the 1,600 workers in the local Maxiconsumo wholesale supermarket chain - including employees such as cashiers, who are currently represented by the retail employees union - join the truckers union.

The attempt by the union Moyano heads to absorb the Maxiconsumo employees was denied by the Labor Ministry, whereupon the truckers on Monday blockaded supermarkets and distribution centers owned and/or operated by the chain and on Tuesday took their protest into the capital's downtown area.