Senate confirms Hagel as new defense secretary

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The U.S. Senate confirmed former Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel as the country's new defense secretary.

Hagel, who was nominated by President Barack Obama in early January, was approved by a vote of 58-41 after a difficult confirmation process.

The Nebraskan met stiff opposition during the confirmation hearings from former colleagues in his party who on Feb. 14 prevented his nomination from coming to a final vote as a way to exert pressure on the Obama administration.

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Obama warns economy will suffer if spending cuts take effect

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President Barack Obama said that the U.S. economy and national security will suffer if a set of automatic spending cuts takes effect later this week.

Obama selected a shipyard in Newport News as the site where he once again urged Congress to avoid the $85 billion in cuts poised to kick in on Friday as part of the so-called sequester.

"(T)he longer these cuts are in place, the greater the damage," the president said in rejecting the plan proposed by the Republicans, who are intending to leave the sequester intact while giving more flexibility to the government to decide where and how to implement the reductions.

The Defense Department will be one of those affected if the cuts take effect and the state of Virginia, which is very dependent on the military industry, could lose hundreds of thousands of jobs, according to what the president said Tuesday.

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Benedict XVI to have the title of "pope emeritus"

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Pope Benedict XVI will continue to be addressed as Your Holiness, will acquire the title of pope emeritus and will dress in public in a white papal cassock after he steps down at the end of this month, the Vatican said.

The decision on how Joseph Ratzinger will be addressed was made "mainly" by the pope himself after consulting with Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who is in charge of managing the Catholic Church until a new pontiff is chosen, and other senior clerics, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

Lombardi also said that Benedict XVI will leave the Vatican's Pontifical Palace at 4:55 p.m. Thursday and then board a helicopter for the trip to Castel Gandolfo, about 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Rome.

The most probable scenario is that the first meeting of cardinals to choose a new pope will be held starting on March 4.

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18 Dead in Egypt after balloon catches fire

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At least 18 people died and another three were injured when a balloon packed with tourists caught fire in the southern city of Luxor, Egypt's health ministry told Efe.

The head of the ministry's office in Luxor, Mohammed Rabia, said the fatalities included one Egyptian and 17 foreigners including tourists from Britain, France, China and Japan.

The injured are two British tourists and an Egyptian, the official said, citing information from Sky Cruise, the company that organized the balloon excursion.

Rabia said that all the bodies were charred, which made their identification difficult, so authorities are studying whether to bring a DNA expert from Cairo or send the burned bodies to the capital for analysis.

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Armed men spring inmates from Mexican prison

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Armed assailants burst into a prison in the northern border town of Miguel Aleman and helped a dozen inmates escape, Mexican authorities said.

The incident occurred around 2:00 a.m. and two of the escapees were convicted murderers, the Tamaulipas state Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

Fifteen armed men drove up in several vehicles and overpowered the guard at the access door, overcame the commander on duty, stole the keys to the cells and set the prisoners free, the AG's office said.

Federal, state and municipal authorities have joined forces to hunt down the fugitives, the statement said.

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FAA approves controversial airport deal in Puerto Rico

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The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration approved a contract that gives a private firm a 40-year concession to operate San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport, the Puerto Rico Ports Authority said.

Aerostar Airport Holdings is capable of operating the terminal in accord with all relevant regulations, the FAA concluded.

In a brief statement noting the FAA finding, the Ports Authority said that the final decision about the contract is subject to a series of conditions, and that the finance team of Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla must study the document to present him with its recommendation.

Puerto Rico has seen wide opposition to the airport deal, which is a legacy of the administration of Gov. Luis Fortuño, who lost his bid for a second term in last November's elections.

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Krzyzewski will not continue at helm of USA Basketball

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Duke University Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski will not continue at the helm of the U.S. national basketball team, he said.

Krzyzewski, 66, announced his resignation from the coaching position after seven years heading USA Basketball during a telephone interview with ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning."

The coach of the Blue Devils, who have a 24-3 record, said that after the current college season concludes his plan is to rest.

Krzyzewski's resignation forces USA Basketball to name a successor to work with the team with an eye toward the 2014 world championships in Madrid.

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Police kill 4 gunmen in northern Mexico

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Police killed four gunmen in a shootout in Coahuila, a state in northern Mexico, prosecutors said.

The shootout occurred around 3:20 p.m. Monday in the city of Acuña, where Coahuila Attorney General's Office special weapons and tactics unit officers were on patrol.

Four gunmen riding in a vehicle opened fire on the officers, who engaged them in a shootout, the Coahuila Attorney General's Office said in a statement.

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EFE