G20 defuses talk of "currency war", no accord on debt

MOSCOW (Reuters) - The Group of 20 nations declared on Saturday there would be no 'currency war' and deferred plans to set new debt-cutting targets in an indication of concern about the fragile state of the world economy.

Japan's expansive policies, which have driven down the yen, escaped criticism in a statement agreed in Moscow by financial policymakers from the G20, which groups developed and emerging markets and accounts for 90 percent of the world economy.

After late-night talks, finance ministers and central bankers agreed on wording closer than expected to a joint statement issued last Tuesday by the Group of Seven rich nations backing market-determined exchange rates.

A draft communique seen by delegates on Friday had steered clear of the G7's call for fiscal and monetary policy not to be targeted at exchange rates but the final version included a G20 commitment to refrain from competitive devaluations and stated monetary policy would be directed at price stability and growth.

"The language has been strengthened since our discussions last night," Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty told reporters. "It's stronger than it was, but it was quite clear last night that everyone around the table wants to avoid any sort of currency disputes."

The communique, seen by Reuters ahead of publication, did not single out Japan for aggressive monetary and fiscal policies that have seen the yen drop 20 percent.

The statement reflected a substantial, but not complete, endorsement of Tuesday's statement by the G7 nations - the United States, Japan, Britain, Canada, France, Germany and Italy.

"We all agreed on the fact that we refuse to enter any currency war," French Finance Minister Pierre Moscovici told reporters.


The text also contained a commitment to credible medium-term fiscal strategy, but stopped short of setting specific goals.

A debt-cutting pact struck in Toronto in 2010 will expire this year if leaders fail to agree to extend it at a G20 summit of leaders in St Petersburg in September.

"Advanced economies will develop credible medium-term fiscal strategies ... by the St. Petersburg summit," the communique said.

The United States, which has resorted to massive monetary stimulus and higher government borrowing to drive growth and cut jobless queues, blocked a push from Europe to commit to reducing budget deficits.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said the G20 had failed to reach agreement on medium-term budget deficit levels.

"We expect by April countries will have made progress on reaching a balanced approach to establishing new budget indicators on both, deficit and the level of government debt," Siluanov said.

Russia, this year's chair of the G20, also expressed concern about ultra-loose policies that it and other big emerging economies say could store up trouble for later.

Siluanov said a rebalancing of global growth required more than an adjustment of exchange rates.

"Structural reforms in all countries, either with a positive or negative balance of payments, should play a bigger role," he said, adding that spillover effects of unconventional monetary policy, conducted by central banks in some countries, should be closely monitored.

The G20 put together a huge financial backstop to halt a market meltdown in 2009 but has failed to reach those heights since. At successive meetings, Germany has pressed the United States and others to do more to tackle their debts. Washington in turn has urged Berlin to do more to increase demand.

On currencies, the G20 text reiterated its commitment last November, to move towards "exchange rate flexibility to reflect underlying fundamentals and avoid persistent exchange rate misalignments".

"The G7 made a very clear statement this week. I think you'll see the G20 echo what was said, and say that currencies should not be used as a tool of competitive devaluation," Britain's finance minister, George Osborne, said in Moscow.

"Countries shouldn't make the mistake of the past of using currencies as a tool of economic warfare."

(Additional reporting by Randall Palmer, Lesley Wroughton, Tetsushi Kajimoto, Jan Strupczewski, Lidia Kelly and Jason Bush. Writing by Douglas Busvine. Editing by Timothy Heritage/Mike Peacock)

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Different looks for Heat, Lakers at All-Star break

HOUSTON (AP) — If Kobe Bryant's season seems tough, imagine what Dwyane Wade went through five years ago.

"I came to All-Star weekend one year, I think we had won nine games. Seriously," Wade said Friday. "I was looking for my 10th win at the All-Star game."

Things sure have changed for his Miami Heat.

Back where they first teamed up as All-Stars in 2006, Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh return as NBA champions who will start together for the Eastern Conference on Sunday night.

Now the misery belongs to Bryant, Dwight Howard and the Los Angeles Lakers, whose season has been so disappointing that Bryant was asked Friday if the All-Star weekend was a "retreat" for him.

"I don't know if it's a retreat, it's just more of an opportunity to get some rest, regroup, put the first half of the season behind us and move on," he said.

As Wade knows, the All-Star break can be just that — a break — from a forgettable season.

He arrived for the 2008 All-Star game with a 9-43 record after the Heat lost on Valentine's Day to the Chicago Bulls, on their way to a 15-win debacle just two years after they won the NBA title.

"I put all that aside though, and I came and I enjoyed the weekend, and when I went back to Miami, it was like, 'Oh my God, we're back in it,'" Wade said. "But All-Star weekend, you just enjoy being an All-Star. You enjoy being around the guys. You can kind of forget about that a little bit, unless you have the cameras and the microphones in front of you asking you questions about it, but besides that you try to enjoy it."

This time, the Heat celebrated Valentine's Day in Oklahoma City with a 110-100 victory over the Thunder, the team they beat in five games last summer for the title. They have won seven in a row, James is playing arguably the best basketball of his career, and they can relax and reminisce as they return to Houston.

"It's really indescribable," Bosh said, "just to not only win a championship with great guys, be in a great locker room, and just to have fun doing it, but just to be an All-Star every year, play with great teammates, I mean to play in front of a lot people in arenas every night. I don't take those things for granted."

James, Wade and Bosh were in their third NBA seasons when they were chosen for the 2006 game, which turned out like so many Heat games these days. James was voted MVP after scoring 29 points and leading a huge East comeback that was wrapped up when Wade made the go-ahead basket with 16 seconds left.

Think about that: James was already the best player that night, and he was nowhere near the player he is today.

"I'm a better player. At that point in time, I wasn't a complete basketball player. I couldn't shoot as well as I can now, I never posted up back then," James said. "More games, more playoff games, more knowledge. You continue to learn each and every day, it makes you a better player. That's what you want, to become a better player. That's what I want. I want to be the greatest of all-time. I try to do whatever it takes to get me in that position.

"Seven years, I've tried to improve each and every year."

He's gotten to the point now where he ran off an NBA-record six straight games with at least 30 points and 60 percent shooting from the field, and seems to be distancing himself from anyone else that can take the MVP award he won last year for the third time in four years.

"He's doing well," Bosh said in a Texas-sized understatement. "That's the best way to put it."

Bosh was chosen as a starter Friday by Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who will lead the East. He replaces Boston guard Rajon Rondo, who pulled out with a torn ACL.

Bryant and Howard are still here, away from a Los Angeles season that's been anything but a Hollywood story.

Considered a title contender after acquiring Howard and Steve Nash in the summer, the Lakers fell to 25-29 after they were blown out Wednesday by the rival Clippers, who opened a 13-game lead over them in the Pacific Division standings.

Smiling as he sat with his daughter, Natalia, Bryant laughed that he wished the All-Star break was a chance for the Lakers to "hit the reset button" on what he's said has been a most difficult season.

"Hopefully there's an easy button like in the commercial when we come back in the second half of the season and things are a little easier for us," he said.

Howard has battled injuries to his back and shoulder and has been nothing like the player who has been the NBA's dominant big man in recent years. He said at times he hasn't been having fun and has tried to ignore all the bad news around the team.

"You just try to stay away from the tube and do as much as I can to rehab my back and my shoulder and my mind, and really just get away from everything when I'm not playing basketball," he said.

If he's looking for a chance to enjoy himself this season, it may get no better than the next few days.

"It's a great weekend, it's an unbelievable weekend for the fans to be able to put all their favorite players together in one venue," James said. "We have a great time with it."


Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

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Meteor shows need to keep eye on sky

By Colin Stuart, special for CNN

February 15, 2013 -- Updated 1512 GMT (2312 HKT)

Meteor explodes over Russia

Meteor explodes over Russia

Meteor explodes over Russia

Meteor explodes over Russia

Meteor explodes over Russia

Meteor explodes over Russia

Meteor explodes over Russia

Meteor explodes over Russia


  • Meteor explosion above Russia left hundreds of people injured

  • Meteor came on day asteroid expected to pass 27,000 kilometers from Earth

  • Earth is sprinkled with around 170 craters also caused by debris falling from space

  • Stuart says unexpected meteor shows importance of monitoring space for potential threats

Editor's note: Colin Stuart is an astronomy and science writer, who also works as a Freelance Astronomer for the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London. His first book is due to be published by Carlton Books in September 2013. Follow @skyponderer on Twitter.

London (CNN) -- Reports coming from Russia suggest that hundreds of people have been injured by a meteor falling from space. The force of the fireball, which seems to have crashed into a lake near the town of Chebarkul in the Ural Mountains, roared through the sky early on Friday morning local time, blowing out windows and damaging buildings. This comes on the same day that astronomers and news reporters alike were turning their attention to a 40 meter asteroid -- known as 2012 DA14 -- which is due for a close approach with Earth on Friday evening. The asteroid will skirt around our planet, however, missing by some 27,000 kilometers (16,777 miles). Based on early reports, there is no reason to believe the two events are connected.

Read more: Russian meteor injures hundreds

Colin Stuart

Colin Stuart

And yet it just goes to show how much space debris exists up there above our heads. It is easy to think of a serene solar system, with the eight planets quietly orbiting around the Sun and only a few moons for company. The reality is that we also share our cosmic neighborhood with millions of other, much smaller bodies: asteroids. Made of rock and metal, they range in size from a few meters across, up to the largest -- Ceres -- which is 1000 kilometers wide. They are left over rubble from the chaotic birth of our solar system around 5000 million years ago and, for the most part, are found in a "belt" between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. But some are known to move away from this region, either due to collisions with other asteroids or the gravitational pull of a planet. And that can bring them into close proximity to the Earth.

Read more: Saving Earth from asteroids

Once a piece of space-rock enters our atmosphere, it becomes known as a meteor. Traveling through the sky at a few kilometers per second, friction with the air can cause the meteor to break up into several pieces. Eyewitnesses have described seeing a burst of light and hearing loud, thunderous noises. This, too, is due to the object tearing through the gases above our heads. If any of the fragments make it to the ground, only then are they called meteorites.

Such events are rare, but not unprecedented. An object entered Earth's atmosphere in 1908 before breaking up over Siberia. The force of the explosion laid waste to a dense area of forest covering more than 2000 square kilometers. It is not hard to imagine the devastation of such an event over a more highly populated region. The Earth is sprinkled with around 170 craters also caused by debris falling from space. The largest is found near the town of Vredefort in South Africa. The impact of a much larger asteroid -- perhaps as big as 15 kilometers across -- is famously thought to have finished off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

Opinion: Don't count 'doomsday asteroid' out yet

It is easy to see why, then, that astronomers are keen to discover the position and trajectory of as many asteroids as possible. That way they can work out where they are heading and when, if at all, they might pose a threat to us on Earth. It is precisely this sort of work that led to the discovery of asteroid 2012 DA14 last February by a team of Spanish astronomers. However, today's meteor strike shows that it is not currently possible to pick up everything.

A non-profit foundation, led by former NASA astronaut Ed Lu, wants to send a dedicated asteroid-hunting telescope into space that can scan the solar system for any potential threats. For now, astronomers will use Friday's fly-by to bounce radar beams off 2012 DA14's surface, hoping to learn more about its motion and structure. One day this information could be used to help move an asteroid out of an Earth-impacting orbit. This latest meteor over Russia just goes to show how important such work is and how crucial it is that we keep our eye on the sky.

Read more: NASA estimates 4,700 'potentially hazardous' asteroids

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Colin Stuart.

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1 dead, 3 wounded in 90 minutes Friday night

Chicago police were flagged down by a man on the street as they responded to a shots fired call Friday night and found a woman lying on the ground, bleeding from a gunshot wound to her upper body.

She and three others were wounded between about 5:55 p.m. and 7:20 p.m. on the South and West sides, according to Chicago police.

The woman, whose age wasn't available, was shot in the 1100 block of North Pulaski Road, just a bit south of Division Street in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood about 7:05 p.m. She was taken to Mount Sinai Hospital in critical condition and was pronounced dead there.

About 7:20 p.m., two people were shot in the 7800 block of South Merrill Avenue in the South Shore neighborhood. One was shot in the knee and the other suffered a graze wound. Police didn't have any other details about that incident.

About 5:55 p.m., a man sitting in his car near his home was shot in the leg by one of three guys who approached him on foot, police said. The 29-year-old was taken to Advocate Christ Medical Center, where his condition had stabilized.

Earlier Friday, a 17-year-old was shot in the hand in the 7800 block of South Morgan Street in the Gresham neighborhood.

Check back for more information.

Twitter: @peternickeas

Twitter: @ltaford

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Exclusive: North Korea tells China of preparations for fresh nuclear test - source

BEIJING (Reuters) - North Korea has told its key ally, China, that it is prepared to stage one or even two more nuclear tests this year in an effort to force the United States into diplomatic talks, said a source with direct knowledge of the message.

Further tests could also be accompanied this year by another rocket launch, said the source, who has direct access to the top levels of government in both Beijing and Pyongyang.

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on Tuesday, drawing global condemnation and a stern warning from the United States that it was a threat and a provocation.

"It's all ready. A fourth and fifth nuclear test and a rocket launch could be conducted soon, possibly this year," the source said, adding that the fourth nuclear test would be much larger than the third, at an equivalent of 10 kilotons of TNT.

The tests will be undertaken, the source said, unless Washington holds talks with North Korea and abandons its policy of what Pyongyang sees as attempts at regime change.

North Korea also reiterated its long-standing desire for the United States to sign a final peace agreement with it and establish diplomatic relations, he said. North Korea remains technically at war with both the United States and South Korea after the Korean war ended in 1953 with a truce.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland urged North Korea to "refrain from additional provocative actions that would violate its international obligations" under three different sets of U.N. Security Council resolutions that prohibit nuclear and missile tests.

North Korea "is not going to achieve anything in terms of the health, welfare, safety, future of its own people by these kinds of continued provocative actions. It's just going to lead to more isolation," Nuland told reporters.

The Pentagon also weighed in, calling North Korea's missile and nuclear programs "a threat to U.S. national security and to international peace and security."

"The United States remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and steadfast in our defense commitments to allies in the region," said Pentagon spokeswoman Major Catherine Wilkinson.

Initial estimates of this week's test from South Korea's military put its yield at the equivalent of 6-7 kilotons, although a final assessment of yield and what material was used in the explosion may be weeks away.

North Korea's latest test, its third since 2006, prompted warnings from Washington and others that more sanctions would be imposed on the isolated state. The U.N. Security Council has only just tightened sanctions on Pyongyang after it launched a long-range rocket in December.

Pyongyang is banned under U.N. sanctions from developing missile or nuclear technology after its 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

North Korea worked to ready its nuclear test site, about 100 km (60 miles) from its border with China, throughout last year, according to commercially available satellite imagery. The images show that it may have already prepared for at least one more test, beyond Tuesday's subterranean explosion.

"Based on satellite imagery that showed there were the same activities in two tunnels, they have one tunnel left after the latest test," said Kune Y. Suh, a nuclear engineering professor at Seoul National University in South Korea.

Analysis of satellite imagery released on Friday by specialist North Korea website 38North showed activity at a rocket site that appeared to indicate it was being prepared for a launch (http://38north.org/2013/02/tonghae021413/).


President Barack Obama pledged after this week's nuclear test "to lead the world in taking firm action in response to these threats" and diplomats at the U.N. Security Council have already started discussing potential new sanctions.

North Korea has said the test was a reaction to "U.S. hostility" following its December rocket launch. Critics say the rocket launch was aimed at developing technology for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

"(North) Korea is not afraid of (further) sanctions," the source said. "It is confident agricultural and economic reforms will boost grain harvests this year, reducing its food reliance on China."

North Korea's isolated and small economy has few links with the outside world apart from China, its major trading partner and sole influential diplomatic ally.

China signed up for international sanctions against North Korea after the 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests and for a U.N. Security Council resolution passed in January to condemn the latest rocket launch. However, Beijing has stopped short of abandoning all support for Pyongyang.

Sanctions have so far not discouraged North Korea from pursuing its nuclear ambitions.

"It is like watching the same movie over and over again," said Lee Woo-young, a professor at Seoul's University of North Korean Studies. "The idea that stronger sanctions make North Korea stop developing nuclear programs isn't effective in my view."

The source with ties to Beijing and Pyongyang said China would again support U.N. sanctions. He declined to comment on what level of sanctions Beijing would be willing to endorse.

"When China supported U.N. sanctions ... (North) Korea angrily called China a puppet of the United States," he said. "There will be new sanctions which will be harsh. China is likely to agree to it," he said, without elaborating.

He said however that Beijing would not cut food and fuel supplies to North Korea, a measure it reportedly took after a previous nuclear test.

He said North Korea's actions were a distraction for China's leadership, which was concerned that the escalations could inflame public opinion in China and hasten military build-ups in the region.

The source said he saw little room for compromise under North Korea's youthful new leader, Kim Jong-un. The third Kim to rule North Korea is just 30 years old and took over from his father in December 2011.

He appears to have followed his father, Kim Jong-il, in the "military first" strategy that has pushed North Korea ever closer to a workable nuclear missile at the expense of economic development.

"He is much tougher than his father," the source said.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Phillip Stewart in WASHINGTON; Writing by David Chance; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan, David Brunnstrom and Jackie Frank)

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Yen jittery as G20 eyed, weak Europe dampens mood

TOKYO (Reuters) - Weak euro zone growth data dampened sentiment in markets from Asian shares to copper to gold, while the yen was jittery as the G20's Moscow meeting gets underway and speculation builds over candidates to be the next Bank of Japan governor.

Japanese shares extended losses and by far underperformed Asian equities on news that a conservative, former finance ministry bureaucrat is the leading candidate to head the Bank of Japan, which faces heightening market expectations of and political pressure to take dramatic steps to reflate Japan's economy.

The absence of Chinese investors, major buyers of commodities such as copper and gold, sapped trading incentives and capped prices as markets in China and Taiwan remained shut for the Lunar New Year holiday.

"The recent rally in global stocks shows investors are chasing after risk assets and the risk-on sentiment has been turned on, capping assets which are not favored under these circumstances, such as gold," said Yuichi Ikemizu, branch manager for Standard Bank in Tokyo .

"The G20's impact on markets, if any, will come through reactions in currency markets. There will be more incentive next week when Chinese investors, big buyers, return," Ikemizu said.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> traded in a wafer-thin range, rising 0.1 percent and falling 0.1 percent. It briefly hit a fresh 18-1/2-month high earlier in the session.

The index, however, was set for a weekly gain of 1.3 percent for its best such performance since the week to January 6. Receding risks from the euro zone debt crisis and evidence that global growth remains on a recovery trend, even if fragile, have generally underpinned risk assets broadly despite day-to-day gyrations.

Stocks in the Philippines <.psi> and Indonesia <.jkse> hovered near records hit the day before while Australian and South Korea shares consolidated from their recent strong gains.

Australian shares ended flat after touching a 4-1/2 year high on Thursday, compounded by weak euro zone data and a $3 billion annual loss from miner Rio Tinto Ltd . South Korean shares <.ks11> also ended nearly flat after Thursday's three-week closing high on the back of a firmer yen.

The Nikkei stock average <.n225> closed down 1.2 percent. <.t/>

European markets will likely pause, with financial spreadbetters predicting London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> would open little changed. U.S. stock futures were down 0.2 percent to suggest a softer Wall Street start. <.l><.eu><.n/>


The yen firmed against other major currencies as investors cut back yen short positions amid speculation that Japan might be singled out because of the yen's steady drop over the past three months.

Many traders and analysts say currencies will be discussed, but yen weakness is unlikely to top the agenda so long as Japan convinces delegates it is pursuing strong monetary easing to reflate the economy, and yen devaluation is a side-effect.

Discussions on drafting a Group of 20 communique are proving "difficult" but the passage on currencies will not single out Japan's expansionist policies, a Russian official said on Friday.

"The prevailing sense from all of the official commentary on currencies this week is that the international community is willing to tolerate a weaker yen so long as Japan continues to focus on domestic policies and probably moderates its rhetoric on the currency," JPMorgan said in a note.

The yen's depreciation has been largely based on expectations for much bolder easing steps to be taken by the new BOJ regime starting next month, and news that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is close to selecting his nominee for BOJ governor. News that Toshiro Muto was seen as the leading candidate was taken negatively by Japanese stock market.

"Muto is considered to only follow traditional ways such as expanding asset purchase programs. It would merely be an 'enhanced version of the conventional way'," said Norihiro Fujito, senior investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.

The dollar fell 0.3 percent to 92.54 yen. It marked its highest since May 2010 of 94.465 on Monday. The euro also eased 0.3 percent to 123.59 yen, after scaling its peak since April 2010 of 127.71 yen last week.

London copper was flat but set to log its largest weekly loss this year.

Spot gold fell to a six-week low below $1,630 an ounce.

The euro steadied around $1.3356 after falling to a three-week low of $1.3315 on Thursday as a report showed the 17-nation euro zone economy shrank by 0.6 percent in the last three months of 2012. The bloc's two largest economies, Germany and France, also contracted by more than expected.

With Japanese stocks rising on the yen's weakness, Japanese mutual funds saw the biggest monthly net inflow in 21 months in January as retail investors poured into money reserve funds after locking in profits from rising domestic stocks and equity funds, the Investment Trusts Association said on Thursday.

U.S. crude steadied around $97.27 a barrel and Brent edged down 0.1 percent to $117.86.

(Additional reporting by Ian Chua in Sydney and Ayai Tomisawa in Tokyo; Editing by Eric Meijer)

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Amputee Olympic star Pistorius charged in slaying

PRETORIA, South Africa (AP) — Oscar Pistorius, the double-amputee sprinter dubbed the Blade Runner, was charged Thursday in the Valentine's Day slaying of his girlfriend at his upscale home in South Africa, a shocking twist to one of the feel-good stories of last summer's Olympics.

Pistorius buried his face in the hood of his workout jacket as officers escorted him from a police station after his arrest in the shooting death of Reeva Steenkamp, a 30-year-old model who had spoken out on Twitter against rape and abuse of women.

Police said she was shot four times in the pre-dawn hours at Pistorius' villa in a gated community in the capital, Pretoria. Officers found a 9 mm pistol inside the home and arrested Pistorius on a murder charge.

What sparked the shooting remained unclear, but police said they had received calls in the past about domestic altercations at the home of the 26-year-old athlete, who has spoken publicly about his love of firearms.

A police spokeswoman, Brigadier Denise Beukes, said the incidents included "allegations of a domestic nature."

"I'm not going to elaborate on it, but there have been incidents," Beukes said. She said Pistorius was home at the time of Steenkamp's death and "there is no other suspect involved."

Pistorius made history in the London Games when he became the first double-amputee track athlete to compete in the Olympics. He didn't win a medal but did make the semifinals of the 400 meters and became an international star.

Thursday, companies quickly removed billboards and advertising featuring Pistorius, a national hero in South Africa who also inspired fans worldwide with the image of his high-tech carbon-fiber blades whipping through the air.

Kenny Oldwage, Pistorius' lawyer, told reporters the athlete was "emotional" after his arrest, "but he is keeping up." He said he planned to seek bail for Pistorius at a preliminary hearing Friday.

Pistorius has had troubles in the past in his personal life, which often featured fast cars, cage fighters and women.

In February 2009, he crashed a speedboat on South Africa's Vaal River, breaking his nose, jaw and several ribs and damaging an eye socket. He required 180 stitches to his face. Witnesses said he had been drinking, and officers found alcoholic beverages in the wreckage, though they did not do blood tests.

In November, Pistorius was involved in an altercation over a woman with a local coal mining millionaire, South African media reported. The two men involved the South African Police Service's elite Hawks investigative unit before settling the matter.

Pistorius' father, Henke Pistorius, said Thursday: "We all pray for guidance and strength for Oscar and the lady's parents."

A spokeswoman for Pistorius at Fast Track, an international sports marketing agency in London, said the athlete was assisting with the investigation and there would be no further comment "until matters become clearer."

The sprinter's former coach, Andrea Giannini, said he hoped the shooting was "just a tragic accident."

"No matter how bad the situation was, Oscar always stayed calm and positive," Giannini told The Associated Press in Italy. "Whenever he was tired or nervous, he was still extremely nice to people. I never saw him violent."

Firearms captivated Pistorius, the subject of an online Nike advertisement that featured him with the caption: "I am a bullet in the chamber." In November 2011, he posted a photograph on Twitter of himself at a shooting range, bragging about his score. "Had a 96% headshot over 300m from 50shots! Bam!" he wrote.

Linked to a number of women by the South African media, Pistorius and Steenkamp were first seen together publicly in November. She was named one of the world's 100 Sexiest Women for two years running by the men's magazine FHM.

The leggy blonde with a law degree also appeared in international and South African ads and was a celebrity contestant on "Tropika Island of Treasure," a South African reality show filmed in Jamaica.

While known for her bikini-clad, vamping photo spreads, she tweeted messages urging women to stand up against rape. Her tweets also focused on Pistorius, with one of her last messages noting her excitement over Valentine's Day.

"What do you have up your sleeve for your love tomorrow?" she wrote. "It should be a day of love for everyone."

Police have not publicly named Steenkamp as the victim, saying only that a 30-year-old woman was killed. Steenkamp's publicist, however, confirmed in a statement that the model had died.

"Everyone is simply devastated," the publicist, Sarit Tomlinson, said. "She was the kindest, sweetest human being; an angel on earth and will be sorely missed."

Police arrived at Pistorius' home after 3 a.m., and paramedics tried unsuccessfully to revive Steenkamp, police spokeswoman Lt. Col. Katlego Mogale said.

Officers later took Pistorius to a hospital so doctors could collect samples for DNA testing and check his blood alcohol content.

Pistorius had both legs amputated below the knee before his first birthday because of a congenital condition, and campaigned for years to be allowed to compete against able-bodied athletes.

He was initially banned because of his carbon fiber blades — which critics said gave him an unfair advantage — before being cleared by sport's highest court in 2008.

He was a last-minute selection to South Africa's Olympic team, competing in the 400 meters and the 4x400 relay. He later retained his Paralympic title in the 400 meters.

South Africa's Sports Confederation, its Olympic committee and the International Paralympic Committee all had no comment on the shooting.

Shock rippled across South Africa, a nation of 50 million where nearly 50 people are killed each day, one of the world's highest murder rates. U.N. statistics say South Africa also has the second highest rate of shooting deaths in the world, behind only Colombia.

"The question is: Why does this story make the news? Yes, because they are both celebrities, but this is happening on every single day in South Africa," said Adele Kirsten, a member of Gun Free South Africa.

"We have thousands of people killed annually by gun violence in our country. So the anger is about that it is preventable."


Gerald Imray reported from Cape Town, South Africa. Associated Press writers Michelle Faul and Ed Brown in Johannesburg contributed to this report.


Jon Gambrell can be reached at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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What does Kim intend with nuclear test?


  • North Korea enjoys international community chatter about its nuclear program

  • Dates of nuclear test and rocket launch have significance, writes Joo Sung Ha

  • Joo works as a newspaper journalist and came from North Korea

Editor's note: Joo Sung Ha is a Seoul-based journalist for Donga Ilbo, a newspaper in South Korea. He graduated from North Korea's Kim Il Sung University and trained as a reservist artillery officer. He has been imprisoned in China and North Korea. This piece was submitted in Korean and has been translated.

(CNN) -- On Tuesday, the international community reacted to North Korea's third nuclear test by calling its action "provocative," while South Korea's foreign minister warned that it was a "clear threat to international peace and security."

It was what Kim Jong Un, the nation's young leader, wanted.

From the North Korean government's view, the more pressure the international community places on its nuclear testing, the better. They enjoy the chatter among the world's leaders and at the U.N. about how North Korea's nuclear program must be stopped at all cost.

Joo Sung Ha defected from North Korea and is a journalist based in Seoul.

Joo Sung Ha defected from North Korea and is a journalist based in Seoul.

On January 23, the North Korean foreign ministry notified that they intended to carry out a test. They also sent photos of Kim Jong Un holding a meeting with senior officials.

If Kim had not acted by going through with the underground blast, it would have appeared that he had succumbed to pressure from the international community. In North Korea the authority of the "king" in the dynasty system cannot be compromised.

The date of the nuclear test -- conducted on February 12 -- is also significant, as it fell just days short of the 71st birthday of Kim's late father, Kim Jong Il, on February 16. Many North Korean events are associated with symbolic dates for the Kim family. On December 12, just days before the first anniversary of Kim Jong II's death, Pyongyang launched its first rocket into orbit -- despite international uproar.

North Korea has staked its pride on these events. Saving face is more important than international sanctions, even if hundreds of thousands of ordinary North Koreans have died of hunger.

Even so, I cannot say the motivation behind North Korea's nuclear test is for Kim's pride alone. It also sends a message to its people that "Kim Jong Un leads the world."

Even with the nuclear test, the government knows that war will not arise. But to its people, it can give the impression that war is impending.

Inheriting his father's position at such a young age -- he's believed to be in his 20s -- many in North Korea may question whether Kim has the clout to lead. But through this test, Kim wanted to send a strong message domestically that he is in charge.

What happens if they do develop an effective nuclear weapon? Does North Korea intend to attack the United States? That is impossible. If North Korea attacks, it will be sent back to the Stone Ages -- the leadership in Pyongyang is well aware of that.

Does this point to an eventual attack on South Korea then? South Korea is protected by a nuclear umbrella -- meaning that the United States will protect it. In return for Seoul limiting its own nuclear weapons capability, Washington offers its protection. If North Korea attacks South Korea, it's effectively an attack on the United States.

Another major reason why North Korea is developing a nuclear capability is that its conventional military is dated and there are doubts about whether it can defend itself. While North Korea has an estimated 1.2 million soldiers, making it the third largest military behind China and United States, this is only a number.

It may be hard to believe but for almost 20 years, there have been continued food shortages in the military, to the extent that as many as 20% to 30% of the armed forces have actually disappeared -- with many deserting their post by way of a bribe to their superiors. Those that do remain in service are often involved in petty crime to get by, such as stealing from the civilian population.

North Korea requires military service for 10 years. During those years, most are discharged without even having fired 30 bullets. Without sufficient fuel for planes, airborne troops have not had much training. In 1990, I stood guard at a post in Pyongyang. The anti-aircraft weapon I used was a 1940s era model from the Soviet Union.

If war is to occur, North Korea could not stand, even for days, and it is well aware of that. But could it count on traditional ally, China, for support?

Starting from Kim Il Sung, the founder of North Korea, the North Korean regime has never fully trusted China. The message that China is a nation that could strike North Korea at the "back of the head" has been passed down over the years to Kim Jong Un, his grandson. Since North Korea cannot count on Beijing fully, it has turned to the nuclear option as a deterrent.

North Korea would not risk a pre-emptive attack on the South, but the Kim dynasty now believes it has a card to protect itself, which is its main objective. For this reason, even if millions of people starve to death in the effects of the harsh sanctions, North Korea will keep trying to develop its own nuclear capabilities.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Joo Sung Ha.

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Exhausted passengers disembark stricken ship

MOBILE, Alabama—

A crippled cruise ship that lost power for more than four days in the Gulf of Mexico was pulled into a port in Mobile, Alabama, late on Thursday as passengers cheered the end of a "hellish" voyage marked by overflowing toilets and stinking cabins.

Tugboats pulled the Carnival Triumph into port in a drama that played out live on U.S. cable news stations, creating another public relations nightmare for cruise giant Carnival Corp. Last year, its Costa Concordia luxury ship grounded off the coast of Italy, killing 32 people.

Exhausted passengers lined the ship's decks, waving towels and flashlights and cheering as it pulled into dock, while hundreds of people watched from the shore.

Carnival officials said it could take up to five hours for the more than 4,200 people on board to disembark the ship, which has only one working elevator.

Once on solid ground, many passengers still had a lengthy journey ahead. More than 100 buses were lined up waiting to carry passengers on a seven-hour bus ride to Galveston, Texas, while others had elected to stay overnight in hotels in Mobile before flying home, Carnival said.

An engine fire on Sunday knocked out power and plumbing across most of the 893-foot vessel and left it adrift in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship, which went into service in 1999, was on a four-day cruise and on its way back from a stop in Cozumel, Mexico.

Over the last four days, passengers described an overpowering stench on parts of the ship and complained to relatives and media by cellphone that toilets and drainpipes overflowed, soaking many cabins and interior passages in sewage and turning the vessel into what some have described as a giant Petri dish.

"The thing I'm looking forward to most is having a working toilet and not having to breathe in the smell of fecal matter," said Jacob Combs, an Austin, Texas-based sales executive with a healthcare and hospice company.

Combs, 30, who said he had been traveling with friends and family on the Triumph, had nothing but praise for its crew members, saying they had gone through "hell" cleaning up after some of the passengers on the sea cruise.

"Just imagine the filth," Combs told Reuters. "People were doing crazy things and going to the bathroom in sinks and showers. It was inhuman. The stewards would go in and clean it all up. They were constantly cleaning," he said.

Officials greeted passengers with warm food and blankets and cell phones. Carnival Cruise Lines Chief Executive Gerry Cahill told reporters he planned to board the ship and personally apologize to passengers for their ordeal.

"I know the conditions on board were very poor," he said. "I know it was difficult. I want to apologize for subjecting our guests to that," he said.

"We pride ourselves with providing our guests with a great vacation experience and clearly we failed in this particular case."

Operated by Carnival Cruise Lines, the flagship brand of Carnival Corp, the ship left Galveston a week ago carrying 3,143 passengers and 1,086 crew. It was supposed to return there on Monday.

A Coast Guard cutter escorted the Triumph on its long voyage into port since Monday, and a Coast Guard helicopter ferried about 3,000 lbs of equipment including a generator to the stricken ship late on Wednesday.

Earlier in the week, some passengers reported on the poor conditions on the Triumph. They said people were getting sick and passengers had been told to use plastic "biohazard" bags as makeshift toilets.

Smoke from the engine fire was so thick that passengers on the lower decks in the rear of the ship had to be permanently evacuated and slept the rest of the voyage on the decks under sheets, passengers said.


Cahill has issued several apologies and Carnival, the world's largest cruise company, says passengers will receive a full credit for the cruise plus transportation expenses, a future cruise credit equal to the amount paid for this voyage, plus a payment of $500 a person to help compensate for the "very challenging circumstances" aboard the ship.

Mary Poret, who spoke to her 12-year-old daughter aboard the Triumph on Monday, rejected Cahill's apology in comments to CNN on Thursday, as she waited anxiously in Mobile with a friend for the Triumph's arrival.

"Seeing urine and feces sloshing in the halls, sleeping on the floor, nothing to eat, people fighting over food, $500? What's the emotional cost? You can't put money on that," Poret said.

Some passengers said conditions onboard improved on Thursday after the generator was delivered to the ship, providing power for a grill to cook hot food.

Carnival Corp Chairman and CEO Micky Arison faced criticism in January 2012 for failing to travel to Italy and take personal charge of the Costa Concordia crisis after the luxury cruise ship operated by Carnival's Costa Cruises brand grounded on rocks off the Tuscan island of Giglio. The tragedy unleashed numerous lawsuits against his company.

The cruise ship mogul has taken a low-key approach to the Triumph situation as well, even as it grabbed a growing share of the U.S. media spotlight. His only known public appearance since Sunday was courtside on Tuesday at a game played by his Miami Heat championship professional basketball team.

"I think they really are trying to do the right thing, but I don't think they have been able to communicate it effectively," said Marcia Horowitz, an executive who handles crisis management at Rubenstein Associates, a New York-based public relations firm.

"Most of all, you really need a face for Carnival," she added. "You can do all the right things. But unless you communicate it effectively, it will not see the light of day."

Carnival Corp shares closed down 11 cents at $37.35 in trading on Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. The shares closed down 4 percent at $37.46 on Wednesday after the company said voyage disruptions and repair costs related to Carnival Triumph could shave up to 10 cents a share off its second-half earnings.

The Triumph is a Bahamian-flagged vessel and the Bahamas Maritime Authority will be the primary agency investigating the cause of its engine room fire.

Earlier this month, Carnival repaired an electrical issue on one of the Triumph's alternators. The company said there was no evidence of any connection between the repair and the fire.

For all the passengers' grievances, they will likely find it difficult to sue the cruise operator for any damages, legal sources said. Over the years, the cruise industry has put in place a legal structure that shields operators from big-money lawsuits.

(Additional reporting by David Adams and Kevin Gray in Miami, Writing by Tom Brown; Editing by Peter Cooney and Lisa Shumaker)

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Key U.S. general backs keeping Afghan forces at peak strength

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. general nominated to oversee a vast region that includes Afghanistan on Thursday backed keeping Afghan forces at a peak strength of 352,000, contrary to current plans to shrink them after NATO declares the war over next year.

General Lloyd Austin, nominated to lead the U.S. military's Central Command, said at his Senate confirmation hearing that a more robust Afghan force, while more costly, would "hedge against any Taliban mischief" following America's longest war.

"Keeping the larger-size force would certainly reassure the Afghans, it would also reassure our NATO allies that we remain committed," Austin said.

The comments came two days after President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address that 34,000 U.S. troops - roughly half of the current U.S. force in Afghanistan - would be withdrawn by early 2014.

Obama reassured Americans that the costly, unpopular war was coming to an end, but he left unanswered bigger questions about America's exit strategy, including how many U.S. troops would stay in the country beyond 2014 to help train and advise the Afghans and to battle remnants of al Qaeda.

Obama also did not discuss the future size of the Afghan forces, although a White House fact sheet sent out after his address noted they would remain at 352,000 until "at least" early 2015.

Austin warned the Taliban would be waiting to test them.

"You could reasonably expect that an enemy that's been that determined, that agile, will very soon after we transition begin to try to test the Afghan security forces," Austin said.

Under current plans, the United States and its NATO allies will help build up the Afghan armed forces to 352,000 personnel, a number they are approaching, but the size of the force - which the allies will continue to fund - will be trimmed to 230,000 after 2015.


The hearing frequently moved away from questions about the Afghan war and other current events to questions about Austin's past role as commander in Iraq, when a failure to strike an immunity deal for U.S. troops led to their total withdrawal in 2011.

Obama administration officials have warned that failure to strike an immunity deal with Afghanistan would also result in a pullout, but Afghan President Hamid Karzai and U.S. officials have expressed confidence a deal can be reached.

Republicans, who have criticized Obama's drawdown strategy in Afghanistan, noted that the president would have left a much smaller force in Iraq than Austin recommended, even if a deal had been struck.

Senator John McCain of Arizona lamented the lack of a U.S. presence in Iraq.

Pressed by Republicans, Austin acknowledged that the situation in Iraq was trending in a "problematic" direction, and agreed that a continued U.S. role would have helped bolster Iraqi forces.

When it came to Afghanistan, Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina warned Austin that if Obama sought an insufficient force for the post-2014 mission, he would refuse to vote for funding the war effort.

"It can be as low as 9 or 10,000, that I will stand with them," Graham said.

"If they overrule the commanders and create a force that cannot in my view be successful, I cannot in good conscience vote to continue this operation."

Graham said he would vote for Austin's confirmation once Austin spoke with the former commander of the Afghan mission, General John Allen, about his recommendations to Obama and reported back to the committee about his opinion.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by David Brunnstrom)

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Asian shares gain on improving sentiment, G20 eyed

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares rose on improving risk sentiment while the yen steadied ahead of the weekend meeting of G20 finance and central bank officials, whose views on global growth and differences over currencies will be scrutinized by investors.

"Asian markets have extended gains with risk sentiment remaining resilient as markets continue to push to new highs. Ahead of the European open, we are calling the major bourses relatively flat with GDP numbers in focus," Stan Shamu, market strategist at IG Markets, said in a note.

Financial spreadbetters were predicting London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> would open little changed ahead of European gross domestic data. U.S. stock futures were also steady, suggesting a similarly quiet Wall Street open. <.l><.eu><.n/>

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> extended gains, rising 0.6 percent as its materials sector <.mispjmt00pous> outperformed with a 1.6 percent increase partly on a jump in shares of top miners ahead of earnings news from Rio Tinto .

Australian shares rose 0.7 percent to their highest since September 2008, as a strong earnings season and receding fears about European and U.S. debt woes bolstered investor sentiment.

South Korean shares <.ks11> were flat after Wednesday's three-week closing high and biggest daily percentage gain since January 2 when investors cheered a pause in the yen's decline.

Market reaction was muted after monetary policy decisions from South Korea and Japan during Thursday's sessions.

The Bank of Korea held interest rates steady for a fourth straight month as expected, as global economies show signs of improvement and domestic inflation remains low. But the decision was not unanimous, its governor told a news conference.

The Bank of Japan also kept monetary policy steady and upgraded its economic assessment, as recent falls in the yen and signs of a pick-up in global growth give it some breathing space after expanding stimulus just a month ago.

A pause in the yen's rebound positively affected Japanese equities on Thursday, with the Nikkei average <.n225> advancing 0.7 percent after Wednesday's 1 percent slump when the firming yen prompted investors to take profits on exporters. <.t/>

"Usually the BOJ doing nothing causes a bit of disappointment, but since there are concerns about the flak Japan might get at the G20 this weekend for the weakening yen, standing pat will actually be a relief to the market," said Masayuki Doshida, senior market analyst at Rakuten Securities.

Markets in China and Taiwan remain shut for the Lunar New Year holiday but Hong Kong resumed trading on Thursday.


The dollar recouped earlier losses to inch up 0.1 percent to 93.49 yen after marking its highest level since May 2010 of 94.465 on Monday. The euro steadied at 125.60 yen, below its peak since April 2010 of 127.71 yen touched last week.

The yen lost nearly 20 percent against the dollar between November and early February, and more than 20 percent against the euro.

The yen began its steady fall in mid-November as expectations built for a new government to take aggressive steps to bring Japan out of years of slump. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing for strong reflationary steps, pressuring the BOJ to take unprecedented expansionary measures.

The yen's rapid depreciation, after years of sharp appreciation, has drawn some criticism from overseas, with rhetoric heating up ahead of the Group of 20 nations meeting on Friday and Saturday in Moscow.

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak told reporters on Wednesday in Moscow that the yen was "definitely overvalued" and that "there are no signs" that Japan's monetary authorities were intervening on the foreign exchanges.

Yuji Saito, director of foreign exchange at Credit Agricole in Tokyo, said various interpretations this week over what the G20 may say about Japan's policy and a weak yen trend "have been used as an excuse to adjust positions ahead of the meeting, and I expect forex to be in ranges."

"Currency will be discussed but I think Russia wants the meeting to focus on broader economic issues involving emerging markets as it is the G20 gathering," he said.

Traders and analysts say 90-95 yen to the dollar appeared to be a comfortable range for now, unless upside surprises emerge in the U.S. economy or Japan quickly implements unexpectedly drastic reflationary policies, both of which will swing the dollar higher above the range.

They said the yen's upside was also capped around 87 yen, halfway between its slump from mid-November to early February.

Market reaction was muted to comments from Jack Lew, President Barack Obama's pick to run the Treasury Department, who on Wednesday said he would support a strong U.S. dollar, in line with longstanding U.S. policy.

Data published on Thursday showed Japan's economy shrank 0.1 percent in October-December from the previous quarter, falling for a third straight quarter.

U.S. crude was up 0.1 percent to $97.13 a barrel and Brent added 0.1 percent to $117.98.

London copper rose 0.2 percent to $8,240.50 a metric ton (1.1023 tons).

Gold regained some strength as recent losses attracted buying interest from Asian jewellers after the Lunar New Year break, but firmer equities could limit gains.

(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee in Seoul and Tomo Uetake in Tokyo; Editing by Eric Meijer and Richard Borsuk)

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Plumlee leads No. 2 Duke past UNC, 73-68

DURHAM, N.C. (AP) — With its star big man on the bench with foul trouble, Duke went small to beat its top rival — and one of its smallest players came up big.

The run that propelled the second-ranked Blue Devils to a 73-68 victory over North Carolina on Wednesday night started when Mason Plumlee sat down and backup guard Tyler Thornton warmed up.

"I think the hero for us this game was Thornton," coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He would not let us lose."

Plumlee finished with his usual big numbers — 18 points, 11 rebounds — while Quinn Cook scored 18 points and Rasheed Sulaimon finished with 13 for the Blue Devils (22-2, 9-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).

But the contributions of Thornton couldn't be overlooked.

Thornton finished with nine points on three 3-pointers — or, as many points as he had in his previous three games combined — and two of those 3s came during the run midway through the second half that completely flipped the game's momentum.

"It's just the heart and the will to want to win," Thornton said. "Especially coming down the stretch, you've got to go all out and leave it on the floor, and I think we did that."

Duke shot 44 percent — 52 percent after halftime — and erased a slow start with that timely run and win its sixth straight this season and sixth in eight meetings in college basketball's fiercest rivalry.

P.J. Hairston matched a career high with 23 points and Reggie Bullock had 15 points with four 3-pointers for North Carolina (16-8, 6-5), which led for the first 26 minutes but went on to lose its second straight.

The Tar Heels were 13 of 23 from the free-throw line and missed 7 of 10 during a critical late stretch while falling to 1-4 this season against ranked opponents.

"If I knew how to fix the blessed thing, I would have fixed it," coach Roy Williams said of his team's struggles at the line. "The bottom line is, we didn't make free throws today. We're not a good free-throw shooting team in games."

Still, they trailed just 65-61 in the final minute and appeared to have gotten a stop by forcing Thornton to miss a long 3-pointer with the shot clock winding down. But Bullock fouled Sulaimon on the rebound, and the freshman hit both free throws with 37.5 seconds left.

Hairston hit a free throw on North Carolina's next possession to cut it to 67-62, but Plumlee countered with two free throws with 30.3 seconds left to make it a three-possession game.

Seth Curry scored 11 points in his sixth straight double-figure performance against North Carolina.

The win was a nice present for Krzyzewski, who was celebrating his 66th birthday.

And an unorthodox move — putting one of the best big men in the nation on the bench, however briefly — wound up putting Duke ahead for the first time in this one.

Plumlee picked up his third foul 31 seconds into the second half and uncorked an untimely 20-foot jumper a few minutes later, prompting Krzyzewski to burn a timeout. He went to a smaller lineup, sitting Plumlee in favor of two power forwards, Amile Jefferson and Josh Hairston.

"I thought he was playing like he had three fouls," Krzyzewski said. UNC's James Michael "McAdoo was just going at him so that McAdoo was either going to score, or Mason was going to foul him."

The move freed up some space for the Duke guards and immediately led to six quick points to start the 19-7 run that put the Blue Devils ahead to stay.

Duke outscored North Carolina 11-3 during the 4-minute stretch with Plumlee on the bench and took their first lead when Curry swished a 3 from in front of the bench to make it 42-41 with 14 minutes left.

Thornton — who had missed 12 of 14 3-pointers during his previous eight games — hit two of them from the same spot in the right corner, capping the spurt with his second that made it 50-45 with 12½ minutes to go.

Curry eventually stretched the lead to 59-51 with another 3 with 5 minutes left.

"They started knocking down shots in the second half, open 3-pointers," Bullock said. "I think our team played great, we played with better sense of urgency, we played with better effort, we were more involved in the game and what's happening. But they started knocking down shots and they started gaining momentum, and we wasn't connecting when we were open."

Dexter Strickland added 14 points but McAdoo was held to nine on 4-of-12 shooting for North Carolina, which came in as a written-off, double-digit underdog after a 26-point loss at No. 3 Miami that marked its worst loss of the season.

But the Tar Heels were aggressive early and methodically built a double-figure lead, the third straight year they came into Cameron and went up by 10. Bullock's third 3 of the half with about 6:45 left put North Carolina up 28-18.

"The intensity tonight was better than it has been all year long," Williams said.

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Obama and Rubio: How did they do?

(CNN) -- CNN asked for views on President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, which was dominated by domestic issues such as the economy and need to reinvigorate the middle class, gun control, minimum wage, early education and immigration. Afterward, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida delivered the Republican response.

Sutter: A night that offered no hope for the jobless

John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion. He heads the section\'s Change the List project, which focuses on human rights and social justice.

John D. Sutter is a columnist for CNN Opinion. He heads the section's Change the List project, which focuses on human rights and social justice.

After Barack Obama's speech and Marco Rubio's rebuttal, we should have heard from Kim Peters.

The 47-year-old single mother, who has been more or less unemployed since the start of the Great Recession, wore fuzzy Shrek slippers as she watched the president's State of the Union address Tuesday night from the middle of an empty living room south of Atlanta.

If the country and the president could have peered back at her through her small TV, they would have seen the piles of black trash bags, full of clothes, in the corners of the room. They haven't been unpacked since she was evicted from her last apartment. They would have seen the worry in her eyes -- felt the panic that wakes her up at 3 a.m. and makes her wonder how long it will be before she and her 7-year-old daughter end up homeless. Full story

Granderson: Rubio must have missed the year of the woman

LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com

LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com

You would think that in the shadow of a general election dubbed "Year of the Woman," the last thing any Republican in Washington would want to do is tick off women.

And while the Violence Against Women Act passed in the Senate by a healthy bipartisan majority a few hours before President Obama's State of the Union address, the fact that 22 senators -- all Republicans, all men -- voted against it should be troubling to GOP leaders.

And perhaps the most troubling aspect of that is Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the so-called savior of the Republican Party, was one of those Republican men.

Just think: A few hours before Rubio was to deliver a message reflecting a new Republican Party, he casts a vote that screams more of the same. Full story

Welch: Obama's 'do-something' plan for 'have-nothing' government

Matt Welch is editor-in-chief of Reason and co-author of \

Matt Welch is editor-in-chief of Reason and co-author of "The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What's Wrong With America."

The two most memorable lines of President Barack Obama's fourth State of the Union address were the ad-libbed: "Get it done" (which doesn't appear in the remarks as prepared), and the emotional "They deserve a vote," concerning victims of gun violence.

As exasperated appeals for an obstructionist Congress to get off its duff, the exhortations provided emotional catnip for Democrats. For the rest of us, however, they were sobering reminders of what governing liberalism has deteriorated into: content-free calls to take action for action's sake.

Consumers of national governance are within their rights to ask just what we've gotten in return for ballooning the cost of the stuff since 2000. The answer may lie in not just what the president said, but what he has assumed we've already forgotten. Full story

Rothkopf: Obama's message: I'm in charge

David Rothkopf is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.\n

David Rothkopf is CEO and editor-at-large of the FP Group, publishers of Foreign Policy magazine, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

It is sometimes said of a great actor that he could hold an audience spellbound while reading a laundry list. This is essentially what President Obama tried to do on Tuesday night. As State of the Union addresses go, his was artless. It lacked inspired phrases or compelling narrative. Save for the energy he gave it at key moments, it was pedestrian.

It was also very important.

It was important because with it, Obama returned in earnest to the work of governing. Having won a clear victory in November, and having spent the intervening months putting out the wildfires our Congress likes to set, he delivered word Tuesday night that he had a clear and full agenda for his second term. Full story

Navarrette: A kinder, gentler, wiser Marco Rubio

Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

Ruben Navarrette is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.

Sen. Marco Rubio was ready for his close-up, and he got it. Now you know what all the fuss is about.

Rubio, a rising star and possible 2016 GOP presidential hopeful, was picked to deliver the official Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union sddress.

The selection tells you a lot about what the Republican Party has in store for Rubio, and what this 41-year-old son of Cuban immigrants can do for a party that needs to become more user-friendly for Latinos. His remarks were also delivered in Spanish. Full story

Slaughter: Obama dares Congress to get the job done

Anne-Marie Slaughter is a former director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department and a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

Anne-Marie Slaughter is a former director of policy planning in the U.S. State Department and a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton University.

The hallmark of the 2013 State of the Union address was progressive pragmatism.

Time and again, President Obama punctuated his proposals with the refrain: "We should be able to get that done." After his call for "bipartisan, comprehensive tax reform that encourages job creation and helps bring down the deficit," he said: "We can get this done," and later, "That's what we can do together."

When he proposed the addition of three more urban manufacturing hubs and asked Congress "to help create a network of 15 of these hubs and guarantee that the next revolution in manufacturing is made right here in America," he added: "We can get that done." Full story

Coleman: Where was the foreign policy?

Isobel Coleman is the author of \

Isobel Coleman is the author of "Paradise Beneath Her Feet" and a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

President Obama's State of the Union address predictably focused on his domestic priorities.

Immigration reform, a laundry list of economic initiatives including infrastructure improvements (Fix it First), clean energy, some manufacturing innovation, a bit of educational reform and the rhetorical high point of his speech -- gun control.

As in years past, foreign policy made up only about 15% of the speech, but even within that usual limited attention, Tuesday night's address pointed to few new directions.

On Afghanistan -- America's longest war -- Obama expressed just a continued commitment to bringing the troops home, ending "our war" while theirs continues. On Iran, there was a single sentence reiterating the need for a diplomatic solution, which makes me think that a big diplomatic push is not likely. Full story

Greene: In 2013, democracy talks back about State of the Union

CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include \

CNN Contributor Bob Greene is a best-selling author whose 25 books include "Late Edition: A Love Story" and "Duty: A Father, His Son, and the Man Who Won the War."

"To report the state of the union." Within the first few seconds of President Barack Obama's address Tuesday night, he quoted the late President John F. Kennedy, who 51 years ago used those words to describe a president's annual duty.

As Obama spoke, citizens around the country were tapping away at keyboards, posting and sending messages -- public and private -- characterizing their own view of how the union, and its president, are faring.

Obama told the packed House of Representatives chamber: "We can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger." And those citizens around the country, typing away, were in essence saying: We'll be the ones to decide that, thank you very much. Full story

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of the writers.

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Anxiety grows as Chicago Public Schools narrows closing list

After trimming the number of schools that could be closed to 129, Mayor Rahm Emanuel's school administration on Wednesday entered the latest and what is likely to be the most intense phase so far in trying to determine which schools should be shut.

Chicago Public Schools chief Barbara Byrd-Bennett is expected to pare the preliminary list before unveiling a final one at the end of March. She said administrators will determine which schools are saved in the coming weeks amid a final round of community meetings to hear arguments from parents, teachers and community groups about why their schools should stay open.

If a hearing Wednesday night in North Lawndale was any indication, CPS still has a long way to go to gain the public's trust.

"Our schools don't need to close," Dwayne Truss, vice chairman of CPS' Austin Community Action Council, said in front of hundreds of people packed inside a church auditorium in the West Side neighborhood. "CPS is perpetrating a myth that there's a budget crisis."

CPS initially said 330 of its schools are underenrolled, the chief criterion for closing. Members of a commission assembled to gather public input on the issue told CPS officials earlier this year that closing a large number of schools would create too much upheaval. The Tribune, citing sources, said the commission indicated a far smaller number should be closed than initially feared, possibly as few as 15.

CPS then started holding its own hearings and on Wednesday, while following many of the formal recommendations made by the Commission on School Utilization, said 129 schools still fit the criteria for closing.

The new number and the latest round of hearings sets the stage for the administration to counter questions about the district's abilities to close a large number of schools and the need to do so.

For many who have already turned up to school closing meetings, this final round of hearings will be even more critical. School supporters must show how they plan to turn around academic performance and build enrollment, and also make the case for any security problems that would be created by closing their school.

"We are prepared now to move to the next level of conversation with our community and discuss a list of approximately 129 schools that still require further vetting and further conversation," Bryd-Bennett said. "We are going to take these 129 and continue to sift through these schools."

In the past, political clout has played a role in the district's final decisions. Already this year, several aldermen have spoken out on behalf of schools in their wards.

On the Near Northwest Side, for instance, the initial list of 330 underused schools included about six in the 1st Ward. Ald. Proco "Joe" Moreno helped organize local school council members, school administrators and parents to fight any closing. He also took that fight to leaders in City Hall and within CPS' bureaucracy. Nearly all of the schools in the ward were excluded from the list of 129.

"It is effort and it's organizing and not just showing up at meetings and yelling. Anybody can do that," Moreno said. "Those schools that proactively work before those meetings and explain what they are doing, what they need and that they are willing to accept new students, that's when politics works.

"My responsibility in this juncture was to focus on these schools," he said. "I had to work on the inside, with CPS and with City Hall, and with my schools on the outside."

Most of the schools on the list of 129 are on the West, South and Southwest sides, many in impoverished neighborhoods that saw significant population loss over the last decade. Largely spared were the North and Northwest sides.

In all, more than 43,000 students attend those 129 schools on the preliminary list, according to CPS records.

The area with the most schools on the list is a CPS network (the district groups its schools in 14 networks) that runs roughly from Madison Street south to 71st Street and from the lake to State Street. The preliminary list includes 24 schools in that area.

The Englewood-Gresham network has the second-largest number, 19, while the Austin-North Lawndale network where Wednesday night's meeting was held still has 16 schools on the list.

CPS critics said the preliminary list is still too large to be meaningful and that the district's promise to trim it before March 31 is only a tactic to make the final number seem reasonable.

"They started out with such a far-fetched, exaggerated list of schools, many of which are nowhere near underutilized," said Wendy Katten, co-founder of the parent group Raise Your Hand. "They might appear to be looking like they're listening, but they're not. They have not done a thorough and substantive assessment of these schools."

Following the commission's recommendations, CPS last month removed high schools and schools performing at a high level academically from consideration. On Wednesday, the district said schools with more than 600 students or utilization rates of at least 70 percent have also been taken out of consideration for closing.

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South Korea unveils missile it says can hit North's leaders

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea unveiled a cruise missile on Thursday that it said can hit the office of North Korea's leaders, trying to address concerns that it is technologically behind its unpredictable rival which this week conducted its third nuclear test.

South Korean officials declined to say the exact range of the missile but said it could hit targets anywhere in North Korea.

The Defence Ministry released video footage of the missiles being launched from destroyers and submarines striking mock targets. The weapon was previewed in April last year and officials said deployment was now complete.

"The cruise missile being unveiled today is a precision-guided weapon that can identify and strike the window of the office of North Korea's leadership," ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said told reporters.

North Korea has forged ahead with long-range missile development, successfully launching a rocket in December that put a satellite into orbit.

The North's ultimate aim, Washington believes, is to design an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that could hit the United States.

North Korea, which accuses the United States and its "puppet", South Korea, of war-mongering on an almost daily basis, is likely to respond angrily to South Korea flexing its muscles.

North Korea, technically still at war with the South after their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty, carried out its third nuclear test on Tuesday, drawing condemnation from around the world including its only major ally China.

The test and the threat of more unspecified actions from Pyongyang have raised tensions on the Korean peninsula as the South prepares to inaugurate a new president on February 25.

"The situation prevailing on the Korean peninsula at present is so serious that even a slight accidental case may lead to an all-out war which can disturb the whole region," North Korea's official KCNA news agency said.

(Reporting by Ju-min Park; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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Firmer yen boosts Korean shares, underpins Asia stocks

TOKYO (Reuters) - Asian shares outside of Japan rose on Wednesday, led by South Korean exporters as the yen firmed amid conflicting interpretations of G7 comments about the currency's recent weakness.

The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan <.miapj0000pus> gained 0.9 percent.

Seoul shares <.ks11> outperformed with a 1.5 percent jump while Australian shares jumped 0.9 percent after record first-half earnings from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia boosted sentiment.

The Nikkei stock average <.n225> slumped 1.1 percent as the firming yen prompted investors to take profits on exporters. <.t/>

China, Taiwan and Hong Kong markets remain closed for the Lunar New Year holiday.

European markets will be mixed, with financial spreadbetters predicting London's FTSE 100 <.ftse>, Paris's CAC-40 <.fchi> and Frankfurt's DAX <.gdaxi> would open between a 0.1 percent fall and a 0.4 percent gain. U.S. stock futures were up 0.1 percent to suggest a somewhat firmer Wall Street open. <.l><.eu><.n/>

Investors continued to seek cues from currency markets before a meeting of the Group of 20 finance ministers and central bankers in Moscow on Friday and Saturday, with growing international tensions over exchange rates.

At the center of the debate is Japan, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government has made it clear that it will push for aggressive policies to beat stubborn deflation through drastic monetary expansion. Anticipation of much bolder Bank of Japan monetary policy has sent the yen into a steady decline, helping boost Japanese stocks to 33-month highs.

"The Japanese stock market may have rallied too strongly on expectations alone. I don't believe the Japanese government is manipulating currency rates, but it is maybe time that an equilibrium point may be sought for the yen's level given that some other countries may see weaker currencies as beneficial to their economies," said Yuuki Sakurai, CEO at Fukoku Capital Management in Tokyo.

The yen's respite from heavy selling eased concerns for investors in South Korea.

"The main board's rebound was driven by a break in the yen's weakness, following signs that the won's strength has abated somewhat," said Lim Dong-rak, an analyst at Hanyang Securities in Seoul.

The yen rallied on Tuesday, reversing the previous day's late selloff against the dollar and euro, after an official with the Group of Seven said it is worried about excess moves in the Japanese currency.

G7 governors and ministers reaffirmed their commitment that fiscal and monetary policies would not be directed at devaluing currencies, a statement meant to reassure investors that Tokyo was not aiming to guide the yen lower with its aggressive expansion of monetary policy.

"All these comments are merely stating the obvious and are not to be taken in the context of whether they are endorsing a weaker yen or not," said Yuji Saito, director of foreign exchange at Credit Agricole in Tokyo.

"What is being said is that monetary policy should be used to achieve domestic objectives and Japan is undertaking reflationary policies, not manipulating currency rates, and the result of that is a weak yen. What is asked for from Japan is to explain its policy clearly at the G20," Saito said.

The dollar dropped 0.6 percent to 92.95 yen after marking its highest level since May 2010 of 94.465 on Monday. The euro tumbled 0.6 percent to 125.01 yen, moving further away from its highest since April 2010 of 127.71 yen touched last week.

The BOJ ends a two-day policy meeting on Thursday, with markets expecting no fresh easing steps this time. But expectations are running high that further unprecedented measures will be taken under a new BOJ regime due to start next month after the terms of current top officials end.

"So far, the yen has been weakening on expectations for a bold monetary policy, and from now, Japan has to implement actual policy to justify such expectations," said Naohiko Baba, Japan chief economist at Goldman Sachs.

The euro steadied around $1.3450, keeping overnight gains made after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said talk of a currency war was overdone, and that Spain was on the right track toward economic recovery.

In his annual State of the Union address, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed on Tuesday to hike the minimum wage by more than 20 percent, invest $50 billion on crumbling roads and bridges and spend $15 billion on a construction jobs program in a bid to boost economic growth.

U.S. crude was up 0.1 percent to $97.60 a barrel and Brent was steady around $118.61.

Palladium extended gains to a 17-month high as supply concerns sparked speculative buying, while gold edged up on demand from jewellers.

(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee in Seoul; Editing by Eric Meijer & Kim Coghill)

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