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In brief: Monti resigns, paving way for elections

Rome – Prime Minister Mario Monti, the technocrat who guided Italy through economic turbulence for the past 13 months following the scandal-plagued rule of Silvio Berlusconi, resigned Friday to make way for new elections.

Monti, a former economics professor and European Union commissioner, had been appointed to office with a Cabinet of academics and economists and broad support to bring the country back from the brink of financial disaster.

Monti’s resignation Friday followed parliament’s final approval of the last of his budgetary measures. He and his Cabinet will remain in power as caretakers until the elections, expected in mid-February.

The short run-up to the election is fraught with question marks; Monti himself, now a senator for life, could seek an active role in the coming government despite previous assertions that he has no such ambitions.

He is expected to announce his decision Sunday.

Defense bill heads to Obama’s desk

Washington – Congress sent President Barack Obama a $633 billion defense bill for next year that would tighten penalties on Iran to thwart its nuclear ambitions and bulk up security at diplomatic missions worldwide after the deadly Sept. 11 raid in Libya.

The Senate voted 81-14 on Friday for the massive policy measure that covers the cost of ships, aircraft, weapons and military personnel. The vote came less than 24 hours after the House passed the bill, 315-107.

The White House has threatened a veto, but it remains unclear whether Obama will reject the solidly bipartisan legislation. The bill passed by veto-proof margins.

The vote came against the backdrop of looming reductions in projected military spending driven by the automatic, across-the-board cuts that will take place if the “fiscal cliff” negotiations fail. The Pentagon faces cuts of $55 billion after the first of the year that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned would be devastating to the services.

Even if that is averted, the bill approved Friday reflects cuts in defense dollars that Obama and congressional Republicans agreed to in August 2011 as well as the end to the war in Iraq and the drawdown of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The bill would authorize $528 billion for the Defense Department’s base budget, $17 billion for defense and nuclear programs in the Energy Department and $88.5 billion for the war in Afghanistan.

The bill is about $29 billion less than the current level, largely due to smaller amounts for Iraq and Afghanistan.


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