March 2, 2013

No progress in the US budget standoff and Chad's president says a key al-Qaeda leader has been killed. I'm David Byrd reporting from Washington.

US President Barack Obama has called lawmakers' failure to prevent across-the-board budget cuts "inexcusable."

Speaking at the White House Friday, Mr Obama called the $85-billion in automatic spending cuts "dumb" and "arbitrary" and said they will hurt the economy and cost jobs.

"None of this is necessary. It's happening because (of) a choice that Republicans in Congress have made. They've allowed these cuts to happen because they refuse to budge on closing a single wasteful loophole to help reduce the deficit."

The president spoke after meeting with top Republican and Democratic lawmakers Friday morning to discuss efforts to avoid the spending cuts.

After meeting with President Obama, Republican John Boehner, the speaker of the House of Representatives, repeated his party's stands that higher taxes will not be part of any budget deal.

"This discussion about revenue, in my view, is over. It's about taking on the spending problem here in Washington."

The White House meeting was largely viewed as symbolic after dueling bills to avoid the cuts were defeated in the Senate on Thursday.

Meanwhile, newly minted US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Friday the US Navy would gradually stand down four air wings because of the budget situation. He said the Air Force would immediately cut flying hours as the Pentagon grapples with budget cuts that put at risk what he called "all of our missions."

Speaking at his first news conference since becoming defense secretary, Hagel said the cuts would affect both military and civilian employees.

"We will manage these issues. These are adjustments. We anticipated these kinds of realities, and we will do what we need to do to ensure the capabilities of our forces."

Hagel said the Defense Department was determined to maintain the world's best fighting force despite the $46-billion in budget cuts due to go into effect in just a few hours.

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Chad's president says his forces have killed a feared al-Qaeda commander, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, during fighting in northern Mali.

Speaking in Chad's capital, N'Djamena, President Idriss Deby said his forces killed two jihadist leaders, including Abou Zeid.

Earlier, Algerian media reports said Abou Zeid and 40 other people were killed Monday in a French airstrike. Neither French, Malian nor Algerian officials have confirmed Abou Zeid's death.

Syrian rebel chief Salim Idris says his fighters need weapons from the United States, not food and bandages. Idris told the Associated Press that he needs anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles to stop President Bashar al-Assad's forces from annihilating the Syrian people.

He said the non-lethal aid the United States plans to send to the rebels will not bring them any close to victory.

Authorities in Texas have ruled that the January death of an adopted three-year-old Russian boy was accidental, but they say the investigation is continuing.

Ector County prosecutor Bobby Bland said that Max Shatto's death was not intentional and that four examining pathologists agreed the January 21 death was accidental.

The child's death drew international attention, including protests from Russian officials who claimed the boy died under suspicious conditions.

A privately-owned rocket lifted the Dragon Capsule into orbit successfully Friday bound for the International Space Station on a re-supply mission.

The unmanned Dragon Capsule built and designed by SpaceX is scheduled to rendezvous and dock with the orbiting space station complex early Saturday.

There were some problems with the vehicle's thruster shortly after launch but engineers have worked out a solution.

And protesters tried to stop demolition of one of the last stretches of the Berlin Wall on Friday decades after most of the Cold War symbol was torn down.

About 200 people gathered Friday in front of a 1.3-kilometer painted section of the wall known as the "East Side Gallery." That section is adorned with several murals.

A developer is building new housing near the section of (the) wall but construction was halted.

For more on these stories, please log on to voanews.com. I'm David Byrd in Washington.