Snowstorm heads southeast, bringing flight cancellations

A Christmas Eve snowstorm that blanketed parts of the Midwest was headed southeast, expected to bring rare Christmas Day snowfall to Nashville, Atlanta and the Carolinas.

After dumping 9 inches of snow in Iowa by Friday morning, the storm was likely to dip south into Tennessee and Georgia today, then perhaps move north Sunday. Winter weather advisories were in effect from Kansas east to Kentucky and from Minnesota south to Arkansas on Friday.

The National Weather Service said that for the first Christmas in 17 years, Nashville and Atlanta could get more than just a dusting of snow.

Delta Air Lines spokesman Morgan Durrant said 500 weather-related flight cancellations were planned for today nationwide. That included 300 of the 800 scheduled departures from the Atlanta hub. Durrant said those affected had been notified. Orlando, Fla.-based AirTran also said flight delays were possible in Atlanta and the Northeast through Monday.


State Duma delays final vote on START until next month

Russia’s lower house of parliament gave preliminary approval Friday to a U.S.-Russian arms treaty, but decided to delay the final vote until next month.

The Kremlin-controlled State Duma voted 350-58 to approve the New START treaty in the first of three readings. The legislators said they would proceed further after returning from the New Year’s vacation that lasts until Jan. 11.

The Russian parliament normally ratifies international treaties in a single vote, but this time legislators said they needed an extra time to study legislation accompanying the treaty that was passed by the U.S. Senate when it ratified the pact on Wednesday.

Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the State Duma’s foreign affairs committee, said the full ratification could happen next month “at the earliest,” as the Russian legislators would need to formulate their response to the Senate legislation in a ratification bill.

At the same time, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made it clear the bill wouldn’t change the text of the treaty, just as the Senate’s legislation didn’t affect it. A quick initial approval of the ratification bill signaled a strong Kremlin support.


At least 45 people killed over accusations of voodoo

At least 45 people have been killed across Haiti due to accusations they are using “black magic” to spread cholera, the director of a voodoo association said Friday.

Most of the killings are occurring in the southern coastal town of Jeremie, where people are being lynched, set on fire and attacked with machetes, said Max Beauvoir, a voodoo priest. But he said killings also have been reported in Cap Haitien and the Central Plateau.

The Associated Press reported in early December that national police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said machete-wielding mobs had killed a dozen people accused of practicing witchcraft to spread cholera.

Andre Leclerc, a U.N. police spokesman, said Friday he had received reports of only a couple of killings recently, but said that Beauvoir would have more exact figures.

Fear and confusion have surrounded the cholera epidemic, which has killed more than 2,400 people and could affect another 600,000 or more, experts say.


Man arrested for carrying loaded stolen gun at airport

A man headed to Cuba has been arrested at Miami International Airport after screeners said they found a loaded gun in his fanny pack.

Miami-Dade police arrested 48-year-old Juan Manuel Baldoquin of West Palm Beach on charges of carrying a concealed weapon and grand theft of a firearm. He was being held on $10,000 bond.

Detective Javier Baez said police found the loaded gun when searching the bag by hand.

Baez says Baldoquin told officers that he had forgotten that the gun was in the bag.

The gun had been reported stolen in 1996.

CARACAS, Venezuela

Chavez uses loyalists to expand his powers

President Hugo Chavez has given himself the equivalent of a big Christmas present in congress: a package of laws that dramatically expand his powers and allow him to undermine opponents in one of the boldest moves of his presidency.

In a single week, he has used an outgoing National Assembly packed with loyalists to gain new abilities to crack down on critics — over the air, on the Internet, in universities and from independent organizations that get foreign funding. He also has obtained broad powers to bypass the legislature and enact laws by decree for the next year and a half.

Chavez is likely to use the new powers to try to strengthen his political footing as he prepares for the next presidential election in less than two years.


Krugerrands worth $1,400 found in bell ringers’ kettles

A valuable gold coin dropped into a Salvation Army kettle outside a Colorado Walmart resembles similar rare coins donated across the nation.

Salvation Army bell ringer Clair Harger found the unusual coin in her kettle in Broomfield on Wednesday. The charity investigated and found it was a 1983 South African Krugerrand coin worth $1,400.

Similar valuable Krugerrands have turned up in kettles in Florida, Indiana and Washington.

Harger, who has been a bell ringer for three years, said she even asked the man if it was a Krugerrand and he said no.