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US Automakers to Ask Congress for Help


US ECONOMY: Top U.S. auto executives are to appear before Congress today, seeking help for their ailing industry. The chiefs of General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, along with the head of the main autoworkers union, will testify before a Senate committee examining the state of the U.S. automobile industry. Democrats in Congress are backing a plan to use 25 billion dollars from the economic rescue plan to help the car makers. But the Bush administration says it would be a mistake to make the money available to manufacturers without requiring them to restructure and become more competitive.

WORLD ECONOMY: Citibank, the fourth-largest U.S. bank, says it is eliminating an additional 50 thousand jobs worldwide in response to the slowing global economy. In a statement Monday, the banking giant expressed hopes to reduce expenses by about one-fifth. It has already slashed tens of thousands of jobs this year in the face of four consecutive quarterly losses and a steep decline in its stock price. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and U.S. central bank chief Ben Bernanke are scheduled to appear today before a congressional committee to answer questions about the 700 billion-dollar bailout program.

OBAMA TRANSITION: U.S. President-elect Barack Obama and his former rival for the presidency, John McCain, have pledged to work together to resolve the economic crisis and other "critical challenges" facing the country. Mr. Obamaheld his first face-to-face talks Monday with McCain since defeating the Arizona senator in the presidential election November fourth. In a joint statement, the two men said they had a productive conversation about the need to start a new era of reform. They also said there is a need to take on government waste and bitter partisanship in Washington in order to restore trust in the government, and return prosperity and opportunity for hardworking Americans.

IRAQ: U.S. officials say an agreement to end the U.S. military presence in Iraq is a firm commitment, but add that it could be renegotiated if security conditions change. U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military official, told reporters Monday that he hopes conditions in Iraq continue to improve. But, he warned that security conditions could change over the next three years. He also said it will be a big challenge to get all troops out of the cities by June of next year, as the deal outlines. A White House spokeswoman told reporters Monday that establishing a pullout date, something the Bush administration has avoided in the past, was a concession to Iraqi negotiators.

SOMALIA PIRATES: The owner of a Saudi-owned oil supertanker hijacked by Somali pirates says the 25 crew members are safe. The French news agency quotes a company official of the Dubai-based Vela International as saying the crew is "in good health, none of them has been harmed." The U.S. Navy spokesman for the Navy's Fifth Fleet (Lieutenant Nathan Christensen) said Monday the ship was heading toward an anchorage point off the Somali port of Eyl. The port is known as a haven for pirates who have seized dozens of ships off Somalia this year.

DRC UNREST: The United Nations Security Council is considering a boost in the size of the peacekeeping force for the Democratic Republic of Congo. A French-drafted resolution would add nearly 31-hundred more soldiers and police to the 17-thousand peacekeepers already on the ground in eastern Congo. Witnesses say Congolese rebels have seized new territory, with rebel General Laurent Nkunda now reported to be controlling the Rwindi area of North Kivu province. Reports from the area say U.N. peacekeepers were caught in the middle of a gunbattle between Nkunda's men and DRC government forces on Sunday.

BURMA - DISSIDENTS: The United States has condemned Burma's military government for the recent sentencing of at least 86 pro-democracy activists to harsh prison terms. A statement issued by White House spokeswoman Dana Perino Monday criticized the Burmese government for the persistent repression of its people's basic freedoms. Perino said those sentenced -- including Buddhist monks and veteran activists -- were sentenced arbitrarily behind closed doors and without the benefit of defense lawyers.

CUBA - CHINA: Chinese President Hu Jintao has arrived in Cuba as he continues his tour of Latin America. Mr. Hu arrived in Havana Monday night after wrapping up a trip to Costa Rica. Chinese officials said Mr. Hu will meet with Cuban leaders to discuss expanding relations between the two countries. While in Costa Rica earlier in the day, the Chinese president and his Costa Rican counterpart, Oscar Arias, agreed to launch free trade talks in January with the goal of reaching an agreement by 2010. They announced the deal following talks in Costa Rica's capital, San Jose.

CHINA - MINE FLOOD: China's state-run Xinhua news agency says rescuers have saved 32 miners who were trapped underground in a flooded coal mine in the central part of the country. Xinhua said today that one body also was found at the mine near the city of Pingdingshan in Henan province. Hundreds of rescuers are still searching for another man. Eight other miners who were inside when the mine flooded Monday morning all managed to escape. Xinhua said the coal mine was officially authorized. But a safety official told Xinhua late Monday that the miners were working in an unauthorized area, and the number of workers in the pit exceeded safety limits.

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