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Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - Updated: 10:09 AM

Afghan president suspends talks with US on security deal to protest US-Taliban negotiations

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan president on Wednesday suspended talks with the United States on a new security deal to protest the way his government was being left out of initial peace negotiations with the Taliban meant to find ways to end the nearly 12-year war.

The move by Hamid Karzai could derail the peace process even before it has begun.

In a terse statement from his office, Karzai said negotiations with the U.S. on what American and coalition security forces will remain in the country after 2014 have been put on hold.

The statement followed an announcement Tuesday by the U.S. and the Taliban that they would pursue bilateral talks in Qatar before the Afghan government was brought in.

“In view of the contradiction between acts and the statements made by the United States of America in regard to the peace process, the Afghan government suspended the negotiations, currently underway in Kabul between Afghan and U.S. delegations on the bilateral security agreement,” Karzai’s statement said.

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Obama’s Berlin speech expectations: Big shoes to fill, including his own

BERLIN (AP) — Five years and 50 years. As President Barack Obama revisits Berlin, he can’t escape those anniversaries and the inevitable comparisons to history and personal achievement.

With his own 2008 speech at Berlin’s Victory Column and former President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 historic denunciation of the Soviet bloc as markers, Obama will use an address at the city’s Brandenburg Gate on Wednesday to renew his call to reduce the world’s nuclear stockpiles.

The White House said Obama will draw attention to his plan for a one-third reduction in U.S. and Russian arsenals, rekindling a goal that was a centerpiece of his early first-term national security agenda. Obama will also hold an afternoon news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel after a meeting between the two leaders.

His 26-hour whirlwind visit to the German capital caps three days of international summitry for the president and marks his return to a place where he once summoned a throng of 200,000 to share his ambitious vision for American leadership.

That was 2008, when Obama was running for president and those who supported him at home and abroad saw the young mixed-race American as a unifying and transformational figure who signified hope and change.

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In boost for Senate immigration bill, budget office says it would reduce deficit by billions

WASHINGTON (AP) — Supporters of a far-reaching immigration bill in the Senate see fresh momentum from a report by the Congressional Budget Office that says the measure would boost the economy and reduce federal deficits by billions of dollars.

Congress’ nonpartisan scorekeeping agency said Tuesday that the immigration bill would decrease federal red ink by $197 billion over a decade and $700 billion in the following 10 years as increased taxes paid to the government offset the cost of benefits for newly legal residents.

The White House said the report was “more proof that bipartisan commonsense immigration reform will be good for economic growth and deficit reduction.” Several members of the “Gang of Eight” senators who drafted the legislation also welcomed the news.

The CBO assessment came as the pace of activity increased at both ends of the Capitol on an issue that President Barack Obama has placed at the top of his domestic agenda.

Challenged by protesters chanting, “Shame, shame,” House Republicans advanced legislation to crack down on immigrants living illegally in the United States, while the Senate lurched ahead on a dramatically different approach offering the hope of citizenship to the same 11 million people.

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House Republicans hit abortion, immigration hard, saying GOP elders misinterpreted Romney loss

WASHINGTON (AP) — Republican lawmakers have a message for those who want the party to soften its emphasis on social conservatism in hopes of reaching a wider national audience: Not so fast.

House Republicans flexed their cultural and conservative muscles Tuesday, passing the most restrictive abortion measure in years. They also advanced legislation to crack down on immigrants living illegally in the country, even as senators pursue a plan that would offer those same millions a shot at citizenship.

The actions reflect a roiling debate among Republicans over why they lost two elections to President Barack Obama, and how best to rebuild a winning formula.

Many Republicans in Congress and elsewhere think the party’s establishment erred in concluding the GOP must embrace “comprehensive immigration reform” to attract Hispanic voters. And they dismiss the notion that Republicans should soft-pedal their opposition to abortion, a subject on which they say public opinion is moving their way.

“There’s been a misleading thought as to what happened after the last election cycle,” said Rep. John Fleming, R-La.

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Sen. Grassley says IRS to pay $70 million in employee bonuses despite order to cut benefits

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Internal Revenue Service is about to pay $70 million in employee bonuses despite an Obama administration directive to cancel discretionary bonuses because of automatic spending cuts enacted this year, according to a GOP senator.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa says his office has learned that the IRS is executing an agreement with the employees’ union on Wednesday to pay the bonuses. Grassley says the bonuses should be canceled under an April directive from the White House budget office.

The directive was written by Danny Werfel, a former budget official who has since been appointed acting IRS commissioner.

“The IRS always claims to be short on resources,” Grassley said. “But it appears to have $70 million for union bonuses. And it appears to be making an extra effort to give the bonuses despite opportunities to renegotiate with the union and federal instruction to cease discretionary bonuses during sequestration.”

The IRS said it is negotiating with the union over the matter but did not dispute Grassley’s claim that the bonuses are imminent.

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Award-winning journalist Michael Hastings, 33, dies in car accident in Los Angeles

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Michael Hastings, the war correspondent whose unflinching reporting from Afghanistan led to the resignation of a top U.S. army general, has died in a car accident in Los Angeles, according to his employer and family.

Hastings, who was 33, was described by many of his colleagues as an unfailingly bright and hard-charging reporter who wrote stories that mattered. Most recently, he wrote about politics for the news website BuzzFeed, where the top editor said colleagues were devastated by the loss.

“Michael was a great, fearless journalist with an incredible instinct for the story, and a gift for finding ways to make his readers care about anything he covered from wars to politicians,” said Ben Smith, BuzzFeed’s editor-in-chief.

Smith said he learned of the death from a family member.

Authorities said there was a car crash early Tuesday in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles that killed a man, but coroner’s officials could not confirm whether Hastings was the victim.

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Ohio mom says 3 held her captive; suspect’s lawyer insists he gave her, child place to live

ASHLAND, Ohio (AP) — A woman told authorities she was held captive for more than a year by three people who forced her to do housework, raided her bank account and menaced her with snakes and pit bulls.

But an attorney for one of the suspects and the alleged captor’s mother said the mentally impaired woman was given a place to stay because she and her young daughter had no home and that the woman was free to move in an out whenever she wanted.

Authorities announced federal charges Tuesday against the three people the woman lived with in a blue-collar neighborhood in Ashland, about 65 miles southwest of Cleveland. Beginning in early 2011, they forced the mother to cooperate with them by threats and physical abuse, they said.

The woman and her daughter were freed in October after police investigated an abuse allegation one of the suspects made against her, authorities said, and they are doing well.

“The victim in this case is slowly recovering,” U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach said.

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Turkey’s ’standing man’ to join ranks of history’s iconic symbols of human drama?

The image was stark — a silent, solitary figure standing in passive defiance to the Turkish prime minister’s demand for protesters to clear Taksim Square in central Istanbul.

The challenge by performance artist Erdem Gunduz is catching on with other protesters in Turkey, encouraged by social media into imitating his gesture across the country.

It’s too early to tell whether the “standing man” protests will make a difference in the weeks-long challenge to the authority of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

But singular actions, captured in images distributed around the world, have sometimes influenced the course of history and transformed obscure figures into symbols of their era.

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Cher showcases new music on ’The Voice’ finale, credits luck for her lengthy career

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. (AP) — Cher is no stranger to tabloid fodder.

The 67-year-old singer who has spent most of her life in the spotlight offered this advice to young artists on navigating the world of paparazzi attention: “You’re screwed. That’s my advice.”

“You don’t deal with it. You just try to get a place where no one can find you and that’s your little sanctuary,” continued the “Believe” singer in an interview Tuesday. “I have a fabulous house that I love and it’s my sanctuary.”

Looking ever the rock star in leather and studs, Cher took the stage Tuesday for the season finale of NBC’s “The Voice.” She performed “Woman’s World,” the first single off her upcoming album of the same name — her 26th album since she began recording in the 1960s.

Cher said reality singing competitions are simply a modern incarnation of classic star-makers like “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts.”

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AP PHOTOS: Miami Heat lives to see Game 7 after overtime thriller; James scores 32

MIAMI (AP) — The Miami Heat were so close to elimination from the NBA championships that the team noticed officials bringing yellow tape out to block off the court for the Spurs’ trophy presentation. But a couple of big 3-pointers later and powered by LeBron James’ fourth-quarter surge, the defending champions stayed alive, edging San Antonio 103-100 in overtime. Game 7 is in Miami on Thursday, the NBA’s first do-or-die game to determine its champion since the Lakers beat the Celtics in 2010. Here are some of the best images from Game 6:

     

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