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North Korea fires rocket, claims it holds satellite

– North Korea defied international warnings and fired a long-range rocket early today, the second launch under its new leader and a clear sign Pyongyang is pushing forward with its quest to develop the technology needed to deliver a nuclear warhead.

Pyongyang’s state media quickly claimed that the country had successfully put a peaceful satellite into orbit with its long-range Unha-3 rocket – the North’s stated goal of the launch.

The launch was something of a surprise, as North Korea had indicated technical problems with the rocket and recently extended its launch window to Dec. 29.

Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said North Korea’s rocket appeared to have improved on an April launch, which broke apart shortly after liftoff, but that it might be a day before U.S. officials could determine whether a North Korean satellite was circling the Earth.

The United Nations, Washington, Seoul and others see the launch as a cover for a test of technology for missiles that could be used to strike the United States.


Gunman kills 2, self at Oregon mall

A gunman opened fire in a suburban Portland shopping mall Tuesday, killing two people and wounding another as people were doing their Christmas shopping, authorities said.

Witnesses said a gunman wearing a camouflage outfit and what looked like a hockey mask fired rounds fire from a military-style rifle near the food court at Clackamas Town Center.

Parents with children joined other shoppers rushing to stores’ backrooms for safety as teams of police officers began entering the mall to find the shooter.

Clackamas County sheriff’s Lt. James Rhodes said later that the gunman was dead, apparently from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Michigan becomes right-to-work state

Over the chants of thousands of angry protesters, Republican lawmakers made Michigan a right-to-work state Tuesday, dealing a devastating and once-unthinkable defeat to organized labor in a place that has been a bastion of the movement for generations.

Republican Gov. Rick Snyder called the measures, which he signed after the House approved them, “pro-worker and pro-Michigan.”

The state where the United Auto Workers was founded and labor has long been a political titan will join 23 others with right-to-work laws, which ban requirements that nonunion employees pay unions for negotiating contracts and other services.

Syrian Opposition Council gets US nod

President Obama declared Syria’s main opposition group the sole “legitimate representative” of its country’s people Tuesday, deeming the move “a big step” in the international diplomatic efforts to end Syrian President Bashar Assad’s embattled regime.

Recognition of the newly formed Syrian Opposition Council as the sole representative of Syria’s diverse population brings the U.S. in line with Britain, France and several of America’s Arab allies, which took the same step last month.

Gas line explodes, burns W.Va. homes

Four homes went up in flames and collapsed in charred heaps Tuesday in western West Virginia after a natural gas line exploded in an inferno that raged for at least an hour, melting guardrails and pavement on a swath of Interstate 77.

Five other homes had extensive damage, and several people were treated for smoke inhalation, but authorities said there were no fatalities.

Small shuttle begins 2nd mystery mission

The military’s small, top-secret version of the space shuttle rocketed into orbit Tuesday from Cape Canaveral, Fla., for a repeat mystery mission, two years after making the first flight of its kind.

It is the second flight for the original X-37B spaceplane, which circled the planet for seven months in 2010. A second spacecraft spent more than a year in orbit.


Mali prime minister ousted by military

Soldiers arrested Mali’s prime minister and forced him to resign before dawn Tuesday, showing that the military remains the real power in this troubled West African nation despite handing back authority to civilians after a coup in March.

Prime Minister Cheikh Modibo Diarra’s ouster comes as the United Nations considers backing a military intervention in Mali, a once-stable country now in constant turmoil.

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