Top Stories: Worldwide

The following are the day's top general news stories:

1. Queensland Tackles `Biblical' Flooding Disaster as Yet More Rain Forecast 2. Beijing Residents Rush to Register New Cars to Meet China's Quota System 3. Abbas Says Peace Agreement Possible Within Two Months If Netanyahu Ready 4. MQM Party Quits Pakistan Coalition, Leaving Government Without a Majority 5. Leslie Frazier Will Remain as Minnesota Vikings Coach, Star-Tribune Says

1. Queensland Tackles `Biblical' Flooding Disaster as Yet More Rain Forecast

Australia´s Queensland state is tackling floods that have cut off towns and shut down mines as further heavy rain is forecast to fall on affected regions in the center of the nation´s third-most populous state. "Severe thunderstorms are likely to produce damaging winds, very heavy rainfall, flash flooding and large hailstones," the Bureau of Meteorology said on its website. Rockhampton, home to more than 75,000 people about 500 kilometers (300 miles) north of the state capital, Brisbane, is cut off from road, rail and air links as the nearby Fitzroy river swells. Towns across Queensland in Australia´s northeast have been evacuated as flooding spreads over an area the size of France and Germany combined. The disaster, which has affected 200,000 people, is of "biblical proportions" with the state facing the cost of rebuilding damaged infrastructure and the loss of income from mining and tourism, Treasurer Andrew Fraser said. Weeks of rain destroyed cotton crops, halted coal deliveries, shut mines and prompted BHP Billiton Ltd., Xstrata Plc, Rio Tinto Group and Peabody Energy Corp. to declare force majeure, a legal clause allowing them to miss contracted deliveries.

2. Beijing Residents Rush to Register New Cars to Meet China's Quota System

Residents in Beijing, the city ranked as having the world´s worst traffic, rushed to apply for new vehicle licenses under a quota system started Jan. 1 as China´s government seeks to ease the congestion. A total of 53,549 applications were made on the first day of the year, more than double the number of license plates to be available each month, the Beijing News reported yesterday. The government said on Dec. 23 it would set a monthly quota of 20,000 new vehicle licenses in the Chinese capital. China surpassed the U.S. last year to become the world´s biggest car market as tax cuts and government subsidies aimed at spurring auto sales fueled a surge in traffic. Beijing tied with Mexico as having the world´s worst traffic, according to a survey by International Business Machines Corp. last year.

3. Abbas Says Peace Agreement Possible Within Two Months If Netanyahu Ready

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said a peace deal could be reached within two months if his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu is ready to make decisions on core issues. "I don´t think there is any need for more talks," Abbas said on Palestine TV today. "What we need now is decisions." Netanyahu, in a text message to journalists released after the Abbas interview, called on Abbas to resume direct negotiations that would address core issues such as borders, security, refugees and the future of east Jerusalem. Saying he would sit with the Palestinian leader "until smoke rises," Netanyahu added that if talks were serious "we will know quickly if an agreement is possible."

4. MQM Party Quits Pakistan Coalition, Leaving Government Without a Majority

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement said it is pulling out of Pakistan´s ruling government coalition because of a gasoline price increase that occurred yesterday. "We will sit on the opposition benches in the National Assembly from Monday," Karachi-based MQM spokesman Wasim Akhtar said in a telephone interview today. "We will not demand a vote of no-confidence. For now, we are only sitting on the opposition benches," he said. The departure of the MQM from Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani´s Pakistan Peoples Party-led coalition means it now lacks a parliamentary majority, Geo TV reported. With the switch of the MQM, the coalition has 158 seats in the 342-seat National Assembly and the opposition led by Nawaz Sharif has 173 seats, Geo said. The MQM walkout occurs as President Asif Ali Zardari and Gilani have faced popular criticism over their failure to control the highest inflation in Asia, the government´s response to devastating floods last year and a surge in ethnic violence and killings in Karachi in 2010.

-0- Jan/03/2011 00:35 GMT

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