USA

A Christmas Day storm dumped snow throughout the Northeast, shutting down more than 100 miles of major highway in New York state, canceling dozens of flights at major airports, and causing power outages for 100,000 people in Pennsylvania. The snowstorm, blowing out of the Great Plains, was blamed for at least 19 deaths since Monday. The system re-formed Wednesday off the East Coast as a nor'easter. It left up to three feet of snow in places before fading early Thursday in time for the morning commute.

Democratic presidential hopefuls are increasing their criticism of President Bush's record on terrorism, arguing that the US is barely safer today than it was before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, The New York Times reported. The emerging contenders for the Democratic nomination have, for the past three weeks, voiced such concerns in interviews, speeches, and TV appearances, suggesting that the focus of the Democratic White House candidates in 2004 will go beyond the traditional issues of education, the economy, jobs, and healthcare, the Times said.

Al Qaeda "sleeper cells" in Canada and the US have communicated with each other as recently as this month, the Washington Post reported, citing Canadian intelligence officials. The disclosure follows the arrest in Ottawa last week of an Algerian, Mohamed Harkat, who Canada's counterintelligence agency says has links to a top lieutenant of Osama bin Laden.

Federal authorities imposed temporary flight restrictions over New York and Pasadena, Calif., as a security precaution for their respective high-profile New Year's celebrations. Under the order, pilots will be prohibited from flying below 1,500 feet within a one-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty from 4 a.m. to 4 p.m. on New Year's Eve. In Pasadena, flights below 3,000 feet were banned along the route of the Rose Parade for much of New Year's Day.

New claims for unemployment benefits plunged last week by the largest number since July 31, 1993, offering encouraging news to a job market that has remained sluggish this year as companies struggled to cope with an uneven economic recovery. The Labor Department said new claims for jobless benefits fell by a seasonally adjusted 60,000 to 378,000 for the week ending Dec. 21. However, analysts cautioned that such claims tend to fluctuate widely during the year-end holiday season, with adjusting for seasonal factors possibly distorting the weekly figures.

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