Dec. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The following are the day's top general news stories:
1. North Korean Nuclear Plant Targeted for UN Probe as Sanctions May Tighten 2. Chavez Wins Extended Decree Powers in Venezuela As Power Wanes in Congress 3. Obama Signs $858 Billion Tax-Cut Extension to Revive Economy, Spur Hiring 4. Weekend Storm Forecast to Head Into Atlantic, Sparing Northeast Snowfall 5. Albert Haynesworth's Suspension Triggers Grievance by NFL Players' Union
1. North Korean Nuclear Plant Targeted for UN Probe as Sanctions May Tighten
A committee of the United Nations Security Council has ordered an investigation of a newly reported nuclear facility in North Korea and may need to tighten sanctions on the government in Pyongyang to block further progress, a council diplomat said. The committee to monitor implementation of the sanctions acted in response to a report from Stanford University professor Siegfried Hecker, who visited the previously unknown facility on Nov. 12, according to the diplomat, who was authorized to speak on condition of not being identified because the committee´s meeting are confidential. The committee, with China´s acquiescence, called for the probe at a Dec. 6 meeting and received a confidential briefing by Hecker on Dec. 15. The facility at Yongbyon is intended to provide low- enriched uranium for a light-water reactor for the "peaceful purpose of meeting electricity demand," the official Korean Central News Agency said on Nov. 30. It was the first time North Korea acknowledged the program revealed by Hecker on Nov. 20 following his visit to North Korea. A UN panel of experts on nuclear proliferation was asked to look into Hecker´s observations and report to the Security Council committee by mid-January, according to the diplomat. The panel of experts was appointed by the Security Council last year to assess implementation of sanctions intended to block North Korea´s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
2. Chavez Wins Extended Decree Powers in Venezuela As Power Wanes in Congress
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez today was granted decree powers to pass laws without congressional authorization for the next 18 months, after pro- government lawmakers extended the period from the originally proposed 12 months at the last minute. Chavez says he needs the enabling law to fast-track legislation and raise funding for relief efforts after heavy rains killed 35 people and left 130,000 in government shelters. His opponents say he´s using the rains as an excuse to weaken the new congress after losing his two-thirds majority in September. The new lawmakers take office Jan. 5 "People displaced by the rains are wondering what will happen to them after a year, so we propose that we extend the decree powers to 18 months," Cilia Flores, head of the National Assembly and a lawmaker from Chavez´s United Socialist Party said today on ANTV. "The displaced asked us to modify the time period." Chavez, who has ruled by decree three previous times during his nearly 12 years in office, will raise the value-added tax to finance plans to build homes for the displaced by rains and to help farmers whose crops were destroyed. The damage from the flooding may reach $10 billion, he said Dec. 14.
3. Obama Signs $858 Billion Tax-Cut Extension to Revive Economy, Spur Hiring
President Barack Obama signed into law an $858 billion bill extending for two years Bush-era tax cuts to boost a fragile economy and add jobs. "It´s a good deal for the American people," Obama said at a signing ceremony in Washington. "Putting more money in the pockets of families most likely to spend it, helping businesses to grow, that´s how we´re going to spark demand, spur hiring and strengthen our economy in the new year." Obama overcame resistance from congressional Democrats and labor leaders to broker a tax-cut deal with Republicans, who´ll take control of the House in January and gain Senate seats after last month´s elections. "Candidly speaking, there are some elements of this legislation that I don´t like," Obama said. "That´s the nature of compromise."
4. Weekend Storm Forecast to Head Into Atlantic, Sparing Northeast Snowfall
Residents of New York and the Northeast who´ve been bundling against icy weather will probably be spared having to shovel snow this weekend. A system expected to move to the north and east after forming in the Gulf of Mexico was earlier given a 50-50 chance of dropping snow on the region. It´s now forecast to miss, said Brian Ciemnecki, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Upton, New York. "The storm is going to pass far enough to the south and east that we´re not looking for much of a storm impact," Ciemnecki said. Forecasters trying to predict the weather had difficulty because of conflicting results from computer simulations, said Tom Downs, a meteorologist with commercial forecaster Weather 2000 Inc. in New York.
5. Albert Haynesworth's Suspension Triggers Grievance by NFL Players' Union
The National Football League Players Association filed a grievance on behalf of Washington Redskins defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who was suspended without pay on Dec. 7 for what the team called detrimental conduct. The grievance, which contends that Haynesworth´s suspension was unjust, was filed yesterday, NFLPA director of communications Carl Francis said in an e-mail. Haynesworth, 29, stands to lose more than $847,000 in salary as he sits out the final four games of the National Football League season, the Washington Post reported. The association will now seek to prove to an arbitrator that the Redskins treated Haynesworth unfairly. The nine-year veteran declined to pursue an expedited appeal that, if won, would allow him to play again this season, because it didn´t appear the Redskins would play him even if he the suspension was removed, the Post said. Haynesworth signed a seven-year contract last year that the ESPN said was worth $100 million, including $41 million guaranteed. The two-time Pro Bowl selection skipped a mandatory two-day training camp in June after accepting a $21 million bonus check on April 1. He also failed multiple fitness tests early in July´s training camp, after skipping the team´s off- season conditioning program.
For the complete stories summarized here, and for more of the day's top news, see TOP <Go>.