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GOP CAMPAIGN

GOP focusing on Iowa

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — He was rejected by Iowa Republicans four years ago, but now Mitt Romney sees a victory in the state’s caucuses within reach.

His campaign schedule today included a morning appearance with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in West Des Moines. Conservatives courted Christie to join the race before he endorsed Romney.

Rick Santorum stopped in Coralville yesterday, urging voters to put conservative principles above everything else.

A Rick Perry TV ad criticizes Santorum and three other rivals, saying “The fox guarding the henhouse is like asking a congressman to fix Washington: bad idea.”

WALL STREET

UPDATE: Stocks open mixed on last trading day for 2011

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are opening mixed on the final trading day of the year.

Better news on the job market and home sales lifted stocks Thursday. On Friday Ford reported that its sales topped 2 million this year for the first time since 2007.

There were no major economic reports scheduled for Friday. Trading has been quiet this week with many investors away on vacation.

Markets will be closed Monday in observance of New Year’s Day.

SYRIA

UPDATE: Big demonstrations in Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria is seeing one of the largest protests in months.

Activists say hundreds of thousands of people have poured into the streets across the country today, shouting for the downfall of the regime. They say the demonstrators were invigorated by the presence of Arab League observers.

But despite that presence, they say Syrian forces killed at least 19 people today, most of them shot during anti-government protests.

The rebel Free Syrian Army says it has stopped its offensive against government targets during a month-long mission by Arab League monitors. The Free Syrian Army says it is made up of 15,000 army defectors who abandoned the regime during the uprising.

The government insists terrorists and gangs are driving the nine month crisis in Syria.

IRAQ

NEW: Iraqis celebrate departure of American forces

BAGHDAD (AP) — Hundreds of Iraqis have celebrated the withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. But in a sign of the sectarian divisions that have re-emerged, Shiite Muslims failed to join the event.

The celebration took place after Friday prayers near the main Sunni mosque in Baghdad, Abu Hanifa.

Men and children waved Iraqi flags and held banners praising the resistance. Women threw chocolate candy as a sign of joy.

The mosque preacher, Sheik Ahmed al-Taha, used his sermon to accuse the Americans of stirring what he called sectarian sedition among Iraqis and he called for unity.

Shiites who were also invited to join the prayer service and the celebration did not attend.

Tension has risen between Iraq’s minority Sunnis and the Shiite-led government in recent weeks.

RUSSIA-SUBMARINE FIRE

Russia: Nuclear sub fire finally out

MOSCOW (AP) — Firefighters have extinguished a massive fire aboard a docked Russian nuclear submarine. Officials say some crew members remained inside while the fire burned, but several were taken to the hospital after inhaling poisonous carbon monoxide fumes from the blaze.

The fire broke out Thursday at an Arctic shipyard outside the northwestern Russian city of Murmansk, where the sub was in dry-dock.

Orange flames shot high into the air through the night, but a Defense Ministry spokesman says there was never any danger of the fire spreading inside the sub and officials are assuring there was no radiation leak. They say the vessel’s nuclear-tipped missiles were not on board.

The fire was put out Friday afternoon, but firefighters continue to spray the vessel with water to cool it down.

WATER MAIN BREAK

Eastern Pa. sinkhole may force graves to be moved

ALLENTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania coroner may decide soon whether to move dozens of graves threatened by a sinkhole.

Lehigh County Deputy Coroner Paul Hoffman tells The Morning Call of Allentown that Coroner Scott Grim may decide Friday whether to move the graves in Allentown. Fire officials say 54 graves are threatened by the approaching water.

Hoffman says the coroner’s office asked the Union and West End Cemetery Association for documents related to the cemetery. Association officials say families own each individual plot and they aren’t sure where the graves could be moved.

Five homes have been declared structurally unsafe because of the sinkhole, which formed Thursday morning when authorities discovered a water main break. Officials aren’t sure which happened first, the water main break or the sinkhole.

No injuries were reported.

LOS ANGELES ARSON

Firefighters chase arsonist in Hollywood area

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Firefighters say they believe an arsonist has set nearly a dozen fires in the Hollywood area of Los Angeles.

The fires were all reported early Friday. In most of the blazes, parked cars were torched and the flames spread to nearby homes or apartment buildings.

Los Angeles police were put on tactical alert at 5 a.m. to help secure crimes scenes, protect evidence and boost patrols.

Police say at least 15 vehicles have been set ablaze. In some locations, more than one car burned.

A city spokesman says one firefighter was treated and released after being injured.

No one has been arrested for Friday’s fires. But the spokesman says a man picked up Thursday on allegations he set three fires in the same area is still in custody.

MD-ABORTION DOCTORS CHARGED

Maryland abortion doctors charged with murder

ELKTON, Md. (AP) — Authorities say two doctors accused of performing late-term abortions in Maryland have been arrested and charged with murder.

At least one case involved a woman who was critically injured during the procedure.

The Cecil Whig reports that police say Dr. Steven Brigham, of Voorhees, N.J., was arrested Wednesday night in New Jersey. Brigham remained in the Camden County Jail on Thursday, awaiting an extradition hearing (http://tinyurl.com/6oh6zpo).

Authorities also arrested Dr. Nicola Irene Riley, of Salt Lake City, Utah, on Wednesday night. Riley was being held the Salt Lake City Jail, where she too was awaiting an extradition hearing.

Police say Brigham and Riley face charges of first- and second-degree murder.

A Cecil County grand jury handed up indictments against Brigham and Riley earlier Wednesday, capping a 16-month-long investigation.

NYPD INTELLIGENCE

UPDATE: Mayor defends NYPD tactics

NEW YORK (AP) — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is defending his police department’s tactics as Muslim leaders show their displeasure by skipping his annual interfaith breakfast.

Bloomberg, speaking during his weekly appearance on WOR-AM, says the police department doesn’t target any ethnic groups. He says they “go where the potential threats are reported to be. ”

Friday’s morning’s breakfast is being held without 15 Muslim leaders. They are boycotting the event to protest Bloomberg’s support of the police department’s surveillance of Muslim communities.

They told the mayor in a letter that they disagree with his position following a series of articles by The Associated Press exposing the police department’s methods.

Police spokesman Paul Browne says allegations that police spy on communities are false.

BULLET WOUNDS PLUGGED

Marine says he plugged gunshot wounds with fingers

DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. (AP) — A U.S. Marine Corps officer who was shot during a robbery attempt says he used his fingers to plug his three bullet wounds.

Police say Lt. Col. Karl Trenker was shot while trying to sell a gold necklace that his fiancée had advertised on Craigslist. A Marine Corps spokesman said Thursday that Trenker is in stable condition and recovering well from the Dec. 21 shooting.

Trenker tells WSVN-TV that he can’t believe he was shot. He says he went to Iraq and Afghanistan multiple times and returned without being injured, only to be wounded in Deerfield Beach.

Two men have been charged with attempted murder in Trenker’s shooting.

SAMOA-DATELINE

Samoa and Tokelau cross international date line

APIA, Samoa (AP) — Sirens wailed and fireworks exploded in the skies over Samoa as the tiny South Pacific nation crossed westward over the international date line and jumped forward a day in time.

The change effectively erases Friday, Dec. 30, 2011, from the country’s calendar.

Samoans who had gathered around the main clock tower in the capital Apia cheered and clapped as the clock struck midnight on Thursday, Dec. 29 and time jumped forward 24 hours to Saturday, Dec. 31. The switch is also being observed by neighboring Tokelau and is meant to align the islands’ time with key trading partners in the Asia-Pacific region.

The time jump means that Samoa and Tokelau will now be among the first in the world to ring in the new year, rather than the last.

NUDE DRIVE-THRU

2 face indecency charges after nude McDonald’s run

GALESBURG, Ill. (AP) — Two people who pulled up at a McDonald’s drive-thru in western Illinois completely naked face public indecency charges.

Police in Galesburg say a 19-year-old El Paso man and a 21-year-old Galesburg woman have been released from Knox County Jail after being ordered to appear in court to face the charges.

WGIL Radio reports that the duo was still in the McDonald’s parking lot when officers arrived just before 2 a.m. Wednesday. Police say the man was crouched over in the driver’s seat trying to pull on a pair of pants while his passenger was covering up in a blanket.

WGIL reports that the pair told officers the late night fast-food run might not have been a great idea but that they both still thought it was funny.

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