In brief: Syria rejects league demands on Assad

DAMASCUS, Syria – Syria on Monday rejected Arab League demands that President Bashar Assad hand power to a transitional government as “blatant interference” in its internal affairs and an example of foreign plots against the country.

“Syria condemns this decision, which came in the framework of the conspiratorial schemes hatched against Syria,” an unidentified government official was quoted as saying by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency.

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo on Sunday agreed on a political road map for Syria in which a unity government should be formed within two months to oversee preparations for a general election. Under the league’s plan, Assad would delegate authority to one of his two vice presidents for the transition period.

U.S. moving workers at Bahrain embassy

MANAMA, Bahrain – The U.S. State Department said it is moving American Embassy employees to safer locations in Bahrain after ongoing political unrest elevated security worries in the strategic Gulf kingdom.

The statement issued late Monday says frequent clashes along a main highway in Manama have forced people to remain indoors and have disrupted travel. It says embassy staff and their families are being shifted to other neighborhoods to avoid the violence.

Obama speech will focus on economy

WASHINGTON – Eager to command center stage in a year dominated by Republican infighting, President Barack Obama is polishing a State of the Union address that will go to the heart of Americans’ economic anxiety and try to sway voters to give him four more years.

Obama’s 6 p.m. address tonight before a politically divided Congress will be built around ideas meant to appeal to a squeezed middle class. He is expected to urge higher taxes on the wealthy, propose ways to make college more affordable, offer new steps to tackle a debilitating housing crisis and try to help U.S. manufacturers expand hiring.

Sen. Paul stopped by airport security

WASHINGTON – Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, the son of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul and a frequent critic of the Transportation Security Administration, was stopped by security at the Nashville airport Monday when a scanner set off an alarm and Paul declined to allow a security officer to subsequently pat him down. The White House said airport security acted appropriately.

Police escorted Paul away, but he was allowed to board a later flight. The security scanner identified an issue with the senator’s knee, although Paul said he has no screws or medical hardware around the joint.

Paul said he was “detained” at a small cubicle and couldn’t make his flight to Washington for a Senate vote.

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