From AP REPORTS

Deal on emergency economic rescue package closer as lawmakers, White House make concessions

WASHINGTON (AP) House Democratic and Republican leaders are looking for imminent agreement with the White House on an emergency package to jolt the economy out of its slump after negotiators on all sides made significant concessions at a late-night bargaining session.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi agreed to drop increases in food stamp and unemployment benefits during the Wednesday meeting in exchange for gaining a rebates of at least $300 for each person earning a paycheck, including low-income earners who make too little to pay income taxes.

Families with children would receive an additional $300 per child, subject to an overall cap of perhaps $1,200, according to a senior House aide who outlined the deal on condition of anonymity in advance of formal adoption of the whole package.

Pelosi, D-Calif., and House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, had yet to reach agreement on a package of tax breaks for businesses after estimates showed a tentative business tax agreement could exceed $70 billion, far more than had been expected, the aide and a Democratic lobbyist said.

Pelosi and Boehner appeared optimistic as they left their third extended negotiating session of the day with Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. "We'll have more to say tomorrow," Boehner said. "We're hopeful."

Egyptian riot police begin to control masses flowing from Gaza but does not reseal border

RAFAH, Egypt (AP) Egyptian riot police began trying to control the masses of Palestinians flooding from the Gaza Strip Thursday, stopping some from moving deeper into Egypt but not attempting to reseal the breached border.

Helmeted officers with dogs used batons to beat the hoods of Egyptian cars and trucks offering rides to Palestinians seeking goods in towns out of walking range.

Dozens of Egyptian guards pushed their way through the crowds but did nothing to halt the thousands of Palestinians moving over the wreckage of a metal wall brought down by explosives a day earlier.

"We are trying to organize the flow incoming and exiting of all these people," a guard who did not provide his name told a reporter walking through the passage from Egypt to Gaza.

U.S. and Arab officials said Wednesday that Egypt had assured the United States it would soon reseal its border with the Gaza Strip. An Arab diplomat said Egypt told the U.S. it expected the Palestinians' exodus from Gaza to end by midday Thursday, but a senior U.S. official said Egypt has not been precise about when it will stop the flow.

Suicide bomber kills provincial police chief at blast site in Mosul; 1 U.S. soldier wounded

BAGHDAD (AP) A suicide bomber on Thursday struck officials fleeing an ambush at the site of a blast in Mosul that killed at least 18 civilians and wounded nearly 150 a day earlier. The provincial police chief and two other officers were killed and one U.S. and one Iraqi soldier were wounded, the military said.

The attacker was wearing an explosives vest under an Iraqi police uniform when he struck, killing Brig. Gen. Saleh Mohammed Hassan, the director of police for Ninevah province, of which Mosul is the capital, according to the statement.

The Iraqi army was securing the area.

An Iraqi police spokesman said Hassan was attacked after gunmen ambushed the blast site, sparking clashes that lasted for about 15 minutes. The bomber moved toward Hassan's car as it was preparing to flee the area, said Brig. Gen. Saeed al-Jubouri, a police spokesman.

Hassan was wounded and taken to an Iraqi army hospital, where he was pronounced dead, al-Jubouri said.

8 police killed during US-led operation in central Afghanistan, officials say

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) At least eight policemen were killed Thursday during an operation by U.S.-led coalition troops in central Afghanistan, which also left several insurgents dead, officials said.

The officers died in the village of Ghariban in Ghazni province during an operation that included U.S. ground forces and airstrikes, said the deputy head of Ghazni's provincial council, Habeb-ul Rahman. It was unclear whether Afghan troops also took part in the raid.

Two other villagers, including a woman, were killed in the clash, Rahman said.

It was not immediately clear how the officers and civilians were killed.

The U.S.-led coalition said it had killed "several insurgents" and detained nine others during an operation targeting a "Taliban commander associated with suicide improvised explosive device operations," in Ghazni province.

Medical breakthrough spares kidney transplant patients from taking anti-rejection drugs

LOS ANGELES (AP) In what's being called a major advance in organ transplants, doctors say they have developed a technique that could free many patients from having to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of their lives.

The treatment involved weakening the patient's immune system, then giving the recipient bone marrow from the person who donated the organ. In one experiment, four of five kidney recipients were off immune-suppressing medicines up to five years later.

"There's reason to hope these patients will be off drugs for the rest of their lives," said Dr. David Sachs of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, who led the research published in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine.

Since the world's first transplant more than 50 years ago, scientists have searched for ways to trick the body to accept a foreign organ as its own. Immune-suppressing drugs that prevent organ rejection came into wide use in the 1980s. But they raise the risk of cancer, kidney failure and many other problems. And they have unpleasant side effects such as excessive hair growth, bloating and tremors.

Eliminating the need for anti-rejection drugs is "a huge advance," said Dr. Suzanne Ildstad, a University of Louisville immunology specialist who had no role in the work.

Super Tuesday won't decide the presidential nominees for either party

WASHINGTON (AP) Don't look to crown any presidential nominees on Super Tuesday. The race for delegates is so close in both parties that it is mathematically impossible for any candidate to lock up the nomination on Feb. 5, according to an Associated Press analysis of the states in play that day.

"A lot of people were predicting that this presidential election on both sides was going to be this massive sprint that ended on Feb. 5," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant who is not affiliated with any candidate. Now it's looking as if the primaries after Super Tuesday including such big, delegate-rich states as Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania could grow in importance.

"Maybe some states were better off waiting," said Backus.

That doesn't mean Super Tuesday won't be super after all. Voters in more than 20 states will go to the polls on the biggest day of the primary campaign, and thousands of delegates will be at stake.

But it's possible Feb. 5 might not even produce clear front-runners.

Massage therapist who found a lifeless Heath Ledger in apartment called Mary-Kate Olsen first

NEW YORK (AP) A massage therapist who discovered a lifeless Heath Ledger in his Manhattan apartment made her first call to Mary-Kate Olsen, according to an in-depth timeline police released Wednesday of the moments surrounding the Australian-born actor's death.

Police said Ledger probably died sometime between 1 p.m. and 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday of what authorities say may be an accidental drug overdose.

Authorities found six types of prescription drugs in Ledger's apartment, including pills to treat insomnia and anxiety, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. Three of the drugs were prescribed in Europe, where Ledger had been filming recently.

Ledger's housekeeper, Teresa Solomon, arrived at his apartment with her own key and let herself in. At 1 p.m., she went to his bedroom to change a light bulb, and saw Ledger sleeping and heard him snoring. She left the room without thinking anything was wrong.

At 2:45 p.m., massage therapist Diana Wolozin showed up for her appointment with Ledger, who didn't answer when she knocked on his door. She then tried to call him on his cell phone, but again got no response. She went into the bedroom, set up her massage table and again tried to wake Ledger.

Toyota still No. 2 after GM, but competition will only intensify in 2008 in new markets

TOKYO (AP) General Motors just barely retained its lead over Toyota as the world's No. 1 automaker last year, but the neck-and-neck competition will only intensify in the coming year as the two rivals vie for sales in China, India and other newer, booming markets.

It was the solid sales growth in such emerging markets that gave General Motors Corp. its slight edge over Toyota Motor Corp. in 2007 global vehicle sales, allowing the U.S. automaker to keep its top spot for the 77th year.

Toyota said Thursday it sold 9.366 million vehicles last year globally, up 6 percent from 2006.

That was about 3,000 vehicles fewer than GM's tally announced Wednesday 9,369,524 vehicles sold, up 3 percent from the previous year.

The race between the two rivals highlights the phenomenal growth of Toyota, founded in 1937, which started out by imitating GM, an American icon, as well as Ford Motor Co.

Year of the reef launched to explore threats to coral

WASHINGTON (AP) Even coral reefs thought to be pristine are facing challenges, researchers said Thursday launching the International Year of the Reef.

The year of the reef is a "campaign to highlight the importance of coral reef ecosystems and to motivate people to protect them," Conrad Lautenbacher, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said at a briefing.

Climate warming has become an increasing threat to reefs, added Clive Wilkinson, coordinator of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network.

Corals have an upper limit of temperatures they can tolerate, he said.

And added carbon dioxide in the ocean water is creating what Wilkinson called the "soda water" effect, increasing the acidity of the water and making it harder for corals to form their shells.

Mark Patterson of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, reported from the Caribbean island of Bonaire that even there, some effects are being seen.

Bonaire "has been viewed as being a pristine environment," he said. But researchers there have found "troubling factors" including the spread of blue-green algae, which may be killing coral.

"We're seeing more dead and dying coral than we should be," he said, though there are also positive signs, with a return of sea urchins, which had been killed by disease and many algae-eating fish present.

The last year of the reef was held in 1997 and scientists are launching another one this year in an effort to increase awareness of the ecological, economic, social and cultural value of coral reefs as well as to learn more about threats to coral reefs and possibly learn how to solve these threats.

The expedition to Bonaire, in the Netherlands Antilles, is seeking to survey the reefs there which are popular with divers. Researchers are scuba diving on the reef and also using three remotely controlled underwater vehicles to extend their study into deeper waters where there is little sunlight and the details of the corals are not well known.

Asteroid to make close pass by Earth next week; scientists say there's no chance of an impact

LOS ANGELES (AP) An asteroid at least 500 feet long will make a rare close pass by Earth next week, but there is no chance of an impact, scientists reported Thursday.

The object, known as 2007 TU24, is expected to whiz by Earth on Tuesday with its closest approach at 334,000 miles, or about 1.4 times the distance of Earth to the moon.

The nighttime encounter should be bright enough for medium-sized telescopes to get a glimpse, said Don Yeomans, manager of the Near-Earth Object Program Office at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which tracks potentially dangerous space rocks.

However, next week's asteroid pass "has no chance of hitting, or affecting, Earth," Yeomans said.

An actual collision of a similar-sized object with Earth occurs on average every 37,000 years.

Spotted last October by the NASA-funded Catalina Sky Survey in Arizona, 2007 TU24 is estimated to be between 500 feet and 2,000 feet long. The next time an asteroid this size will fly this close to Earth will be in 2027.

Scientists plan to point the Goldstone radar telescope in California and the Arecibo radar telescope in Puerto Rico at the asteroid and observe its path before and after its closest approach to Earth. Researchers will use instruments to measure its rotation and composition.

The 2007 TU24 rendezvous comes a day before another asteroid is projected to pass close to Mars.

Scientists have effectively ruled out a collision between the Red Planet and the asteroid 2007 WD5, estimating it will pass at a distance of more than 16,000 miles from the Martian surface. Initial observations of the Mars-bound asteroid put the odds of an impact at 1 in 25, but scientists later dropped the odds to 1 in 10,000.

Pakistan test-fires nuclear-capable medium-range missile

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) Pakistan on Friday successfully test-fired a medium-range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile at the conclusion of the army's annual field training exercises, the military said.

A statement said that the Strategic Missile Group had launched the Shaheen-1 missile from an undisclosed location. The missile has a range of 420 miles.

Nuclear-armed Pakistan routinely tests the various missiles in its arsenal, designed to match that of neighboring archrival India.

Product recalls: wooden blocks and train sets

The following recalls have been announced:

About 15,000 Big Wooden blocks and Jumbo wooden train sets, manufactured in China by First Learning Company Ltd. and sold by Christmas Tree Shops. The toys are recalled because surface paints contain high levels of lead, which is toxic if ingested by young children. No injuries have been reported. The blocks and train sets were sold at Christmas Tree Shops in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States between October 2006 and November 2007. Details: by phone at 888-287-3232; by Web at http://www.christmastreeshops.com or http://www.cpsc.gov.

Couple protests jet noise from Philly airport with obscene rooftop sign

FOLSOM, Pa. (AP) The skies won't seem especially friendly to anyone taking off from Philadelphia International Airport if they notice what a suburban couple wrote on the roof of their home.

"(Expletive) U FAA," the message reads, though one letter of the profane word is substituted with an underline. Below that it is a picture of a plane with a slash through it and the words "no fly zone."

Homeowner Michael Hall and his girlfriend, Michaelene Buddy, are angry that jets have been flying over their house since last month, when the Federal Aviation Administration altered departure headings out of Philadelphia. Hall says he has to sleep with earplugs.

He said he and Buddy also were frustrated after being unable to leave a message with the FAA's noise-complaint hot line because the voice mailbox was always full. So they issued their complaint in roof sealant and 7-foot-tall letters about two weeks ago.

"Just doing it made me feel better, but I'd still like to say what I wrote directly to the idiot head of the FAA," Hall told the Philadelphia Daily News for Thursday's editions.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters had no comment.

The flight changes are part of a massive restructuring of the airspace over the congested corridor between New York and Philadelphia.

The couple's Ridley Township home is in Delaware County, southwest of Philadelphia. The county argues in a lawsuit that the FAA's environmental-impact study violated federal regulations and that the new flight paths will only marginally reduce airport delays.

Proposal would make authentic sangria legal in Virginia; restaurant fined $2,000 for drink

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) If you're served a pitcher of authentic sangria in a Virginia restaurant, someone's breaking the law.

Since 1934, the state has prohibited mixing wine or beer with spirits. Frances McDonald, vice president of La Tasca Spanish Tapas Bar and Restaurants, found that out the hard way when his Alexandria location was cited for violating the sangria ban in 2006 and fined $2,000.

McDonald and managing partner Shana McKillop appealed their case to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on Thursday before going to the Capitol to urge legislators to pass a bill legalizing the red wine, liqueur and fruit concoction.

McDonald said his business received no warning about the ban. He said he was unaware of the prohibition and had he known about it would not have located any of his five restaurants in Virginia. "It's like not being able to serve tequila in a Mexican restaurant," he said.

The Alcoholic Beverage Control Department agent who cited La Tasca even ordered restaurant employees to pour its sangria about 40 liters down the drain, said Shana McKillop, managing partner at the Alexandria restaurant.

A ruling on the La Tasca's appeal should take two to four weeks, said Kristy Marshall, a spokeswoman for the ABC Department. In the meantime, the restaurant has taken to modifying its sangria recipe. The brandy has been eliminated and the triple sec replaced with a nonalcoholic orange liqueur.

"It's still sangria but not as authentic as we'd like to offer our guests," McKillop said.