Israelis pay final respects to former prime minister and general Ariel Sharon in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israelis from all walks of life flocked to parliament Sunday to catch a glimpse of Ariel Sharon's coffin and pay their final respects to the iconic former prime minister and general.
A stream of visitors ranging from former army comrades to political allies to citizens who only knew him from afar remembered Sharon as a decisive leader, for better or for worse, and one of the final heroes of Israel's founding generation.
"Words escape me. He was just a man who was larger than life," said a choked-up Shlomo Mann, 68, who served under Sharon's command in the 1973 Mideast war. "Those who didn't know him from up close can't truly understand what a legend he was. There will never be anyone else like him."
The 85-year-old Sharon died Saturday eight years after a devastating stroke left him in a coma.
In a career that stretched across much of Israel's 65-year existence, his life was closely intertwined with the country's history. He was a leader known for his exploits on the battlefield, masterminding Israel's invasion of Lebanon, building Jewish settlements on war-won land and then, late in life, destroying some that he deemed no longer useful when he withdrew from the Gaza Strip.
Kerry calls attendance a credibility test as Syrian opposition infighting strains democracy
PARIS (AP) -- Syria's Western-backed opposition came under steely pressure Sunday to attend peace talks in just over a week as envoys from 11 countries converged to help restore, and test, credibility of a rebel coalition sapped by vicious infighting and indecision.
But diplomacy's limits were starkly apparent in Syria itself, where activists said rebel-on-rebel clashes have killed nearly 700 people in the deadliest bout of infighting since the civil war began.
The bloodshed, pitting al-Qaida-linked militants against several Islamist and more moderate rebel brigades, has begun to overshadow the broader war against the government.
Sunday's meetings in Paris came just over a week before the scheduled talks in Switzerland, as the Syrian National Coalition nears collapse, its influence eroded by the chronic infighting, international pressure and disagreement over whether to negotiate with Syria's president, Bashar Assad.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry joined 10 other foreign ministers who urged coalition President Ahmed al-Jarba to deliver his group to the Switzerland talks and finally meet face-to-face with the government it hopes to overthrow. Kerry said he was confident the coalition would be at the talks, and hinted at a diplomatic backlash from its allies if it skips the meetings.
Iran, 6 world powers agree to deal opening Islamic Republic's nuclear program from Jan. 20
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran has agreed to open the Islamic Republic's nuclear program to daily inspection by international experts starting from Jan. 20, setting the clock running on a six-month deadline for a final nuclear agreement, officials said Sunday. In exchange, Iran will get a relaxation of the financial sanctions that have been crippling its economy.
The announcement that Iran and six world powers had agreed on the plan for implementing an interim agreement came first from Iranian officials and was later confirmed elsewhere. Some U.S. lawmakers have been leery of the agreement, calling for tougher sanctions against Iran, rather than any loosening of controls.
Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi saying the deal, which sets the terms of a landmark agreement reached in November, would take effect from Jan. 20. The agency said Iran will grant the United Nations' atomic agency access to its nuclear facilities and its centrifuge production lines to confirm it is complying with terms of the deal.
Araghchi later told state television some $4.2 billion in seized oil revenue would be released under the deal. Senior officials in U.S. President Barack Obama's administration put the total relief figure at $7 billion.
Under the November agreement, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment to 5 percent -- the grade commonly used to power reactors. The deal also commits Iran to stop producing 20 percent enriched uranium -- which is only a technical step away from weapons-grade material -- and to neutralize its 20 percent stockpile over the six months.
Vote on new constitution could define Egypt's post-Morsi future, gauge general's popularity
CAIRO (AP) -- With a presidential run by Egypt's powerful military chief seeming more likely by the day, this week's constitution referendum, to be held amid a massive security force deployment, is widely seen as a vote of confidence in the regime he installed last summer.
The charter is an overhaul of an Islamist-backed constitution adopted in December 2012 during the rule of Mohammed Morsi, the ousted president, and his Muslim Brotherhood. Drafted by a 50-member panel of mostly secular-leaning politicians, it criminalizes discrimination, enshrines gender equality and guarantees a raft of freedoms and rights.
And crucially, the Jan. 14-15 vote provides the country's increasingly popular military chief, Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, with a first electoral test since he ousted Morsi in a military coup on July 3. A comfortable "yes" vote and a respectable turnout would be seen as bestowing legitimacy, while undermining the Islamists' argument that Morsi remains the nation's elected president.
"It is not just a referendum on the constitution. It is on many things, including el-Sissi and the fight against violence by militants," said analyst and columnist Makram Mohammed Ahmed, who is close to the military. "I cannot imagine that a big 'yes' majority will automatically usher in a new legitimacy that will be swiftly recognized by the West, but it is a good constitution that must be given its due."
With the stakes so high, authorities are undertaking a massive security operation to protect polling stations and voters. The deployment involves 160,000 soldiers, including elite paratroopers and commandos backed by armored vehicles and helicopters, according to military and security officials.
Fey, Poehler to kick off Globes party; favorites are 'American Hustle' and '12 Years a Slave'
The surest bet at Sunday night's Golden Globes? Hosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler.
For the second year in a row, the duo will lead the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's annual glitzy Beverly Hills banquet, where stars gather for a boozy dress rehearsal to the Academy Awards. Poehler and Fey last year brought the Globes telecast to a six-year ratings high of 19.7 million, winning universal praise along the way for their irreverent cracks that playfully punctured Hollywood's veneer.
With Fey and Poehler signed up for next year, too, the 71st Globes show finds itself on the upswing. While the more prestigious and meaningful Academy Awards ceremony wrestles awkwardly with updating its brand, the Globes telecast has thrived as a more comic, unpredictable affair, free of Oscar's self-regard and musical dance numbers.
Yet there's nothing unpredictable about this year's favorite nominees: David O. Russell's con-artist caper "American Hustle" and Steve McQueen's unflinching epic "12 Years a Slave." The films and their much-nominated ensemble casts lead with seven nominations each, but they will be kept mostly separated by the Globes' split between comedy-musical and drama categories.
Still, the broadcast holds plenty of intrigue, with several other films prominently in the mix, too.
Military struggling to keep experienced women in the ranks; new sabbatical program could help
CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. (AP) -- Navy Cmdr. Valerie Overstreet wanted to start a family. But her job as a Navy pilot and the fact that she and her husband, also a naval officer, were stationed in different parts of the country made it complicated.
So she decided to take advantage of a fledgling Navy program that allowed her to take a year off and return to duty without risking her career or future commands.
Now, three years later, she's got a 2-year-old daughter and a 9-month old son, she's back at work at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., and her promotion to captain has been confirmed.
For Overstreet, the year off gave her precious time to have her daughter and get started on her master's degree. The Navy retains an officer it considers promising without requiring her to sacrifice her family life.
Across the military services, leaders are experimenting with programs that will give valued officers and enlisted troops, men and women, the incentive to stay. Also, as the Pentagon moves to bring women into more jobs closer to the combat zone, military officials believe it is crucial to keep midcareer female officers in the services so they can mentor those on the front lines.
Car bombings and clashes kill 21 civilians in Iraq as militant siege in 2 cities rages on
BAGHDAD (AP) -- A series of car bomb attacks and clashes between security forces and militants around and north of Baghdad killed at least 21 civilians, officials said Sunday, amid an ongoing standoff between Iraqi forces and al-Qaida-linked militants west of the Iraqi capital.
The deadliest blast occurred at a bustling bus station in central Baghdad when an explosives-laden car exploded outside, killing at least nine people and wounding 16, a police officer said. Thousands of people use the bus station every day or pass through the area. Last Thursday, a suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of security force recruits nearby, killing nearly two dozen.
Another parked car bomb targeted a gathering of buses and taxis in Baghdad's northern Hurriyah neighborhood, killing four civilians and wounding 12, the same police officer said.
Shortly after sunset, fighting erupted in Baghdad's western suburbs of Abu Ghraib as gunmen attacked a military convoy, authorities said. Army artillery shells later landed on the Sunni village of al-Mahsna in Abu Ghraib, killing five civilians and wounding 13, police said.
Later, a suicide car bomb exploded in the northern town of Tuz Khormato, followed minutes later by bomb hidden in a cart nearby, Mayor Shalal Abdoul said. He said the blasts killed three people and wounded 27.
President's power to make recess appointments at stake in Supreme Court case
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court is refereeing a politically charged dispute between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans over the president's power to temporarily fill high-level positions.
The case being argued at the high court Monday is the first in the nation's history to consider the meaning of the provision of the Constitution that allows the president to make temporary appointments to positions that otherwise require Senate confirmation, but only when the Senate is in recess.
The court battle is an outgrowth of increasing partisanship and the political stalemate that's been a hallmark of Washington for years, and especially since Obama took office in 2009.
Senate Republicans' refusal to allow votes for nominees to the National Labor Relations Board and the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau led Obama to make the temporary, or recess, appointments in January 2012.
Three federal appeals courts have said Obama overstepped his authority because the Senate was not in recess when he acted.
Colin Kaepernick, 49ers top Carolina 23-10 to reach NFC title game for 3rd straight season
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) -- Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco 49ers are headed to the NFC championship game once again -- to face a familiar opponent in a place where they've struggled.
Kaepernick threw one touchdown pass and ran for another score as the 49ers shut down Cam Newton and defeated the Carolina Panthers 23-10 on Sunday to advance to the NFC title game for the third straight season.
Kaepernick completed 15 of 28 passes for 196 yards, avenging his worst statistical performance of the season two months ago against the Panthers.
Anquan Boldin had eight catches for 136 yards and Frank Gore ran for 84 yards on 17 carries for the 49ers (14-4), who will visit Seattle next Sunday looking for a return trip to the Super Bowl.
San Francisco split two games with the Seahawks this season. The 49ers lost 29-3 at Seattle in September and were beaten 42-13 at CenturyLink Field in December 2012.