California storm bringing round of odd weather

The latest winter storm to move into California brought some odd weather to the region, including thunderstorms in Northern California and snow in the mountains of Southern California, forecasters said.

Thunderstorms were in the forecast Sunday for the San Mateo and Monterey County coasts, with lightning strikes reported early Sunday, the National Weather Service reported Sunday.

Snow was also expected in some of the higher elevations of the Santa Lucia Mountains, a mountain range that runs from Monterey County south to San Luis Obispo.

In Southern California, the storm dropped snow as low as 3,500 feet early Sunday, and winds with gusts topping out at 50 mph were expected in some mountain areas and in the foothills of the San Gabriel Valley. The storm could dump up to four inches of snow before moving out Southern California Monday morning, forecasters said.

Along the beaches, officials were warning about dangerous rip currents and waves as high as 15 feet from Big Sur south to Point Conception in Santa Barbara County.

A high surf advisory was in effect through Monday night for the area.

In the Sierra Nevada, forecasters said snow showers were expected throughout Sunday, with the heaviest snow falling in Mono County, where up to five inches was expected to accumulate.

Near Lake Tahoe, ski resorts in the area were expected see about two inches of new snow, on top of the one or two inches of snow that fell Saturday and early Sunday.

Officials said Sunday that tire chains were required on all vehicles except four-wheel drives on Highway 50 over Echo Summit and on Highway 88 over Carson Pass.

Tire chains or snow tires were also required on a 75-mile section of Highway 395 along the eastern Sierra between Bridgeport and Carson City, Nev.

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U.S. isn't ready for superstorms

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Long, slow recovery from Superstorm Sandy

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Police: Good Samaritans foil North Side robbery

Jose Rodriguez, 30.

Jose Rodriguez, 30.
(Chicago Police Department / January 6, 2013)

A screwdriver-wielding parolee was tackled by two good Samaritans after he stole a woman's purse in the Lincoln Park neighborhood Saturday night, police said.

About 11:45 p.m., Jose Rodriguez, 30, approached a woman from behind in the 800 block of West Diversey Parkway, the Chicago Police Department said in a news release. 

Rodriguez held an arm around the 29-year-old woman's neck, placed a screwdriver against her torso, and demanded money, police said.

Rodgriguez ran off with the woman's purse shortly after, police said.

A 20-year-old witness took off in pursuit, and when Rodriguez approached a 24-year-old man walking in the opposite direction, the 20-year-old yelled for him to stop the robber, police said.

Together, the men tackled Rodriguez and restrained him until police showed up, police said.

Rodriguez was arrested and charged with armed robbery with a dangerous weapon and a parole violation.

Twitter: @AdamSege

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Assad "peace plan" greeted with scorn by foes

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected peace talks with his enemies on Sunday in a defiant speech that his opponents described as a renewed declaration of war.

Although the speech was billed as the unveiling of a new peace plan, Assad offered no concessions and even appeared to harden many of his positions. He rallied Syrians for "a war to defend the nation" and disparaged the prospect of negotiations.

"We do not reject political dialogue ... but with whom should we hold a dialogue? With extremists who don't believe in any language but killing and terrorism?" Assad asked supporters who packed Damascus Opera House for his first speech since June.

"Should we speak to gangs recruited abroad that follow the orders of foreigners? Should we have official dialogue with a puppet made by the West, which has scripted its lines?"

It was his first public speech to an audience in six months. Since the last, rebels have reached the capital's outskirts.

George Sabra, vice president of the opposition National Coalition, told Reuters the peace plan Assad put at the heart of his speech did "not even deserve to be called an initiative":

"We should see it rather as a declaration that he will continue his war against the Syrian people," he said.

"The appropriate response is to continue to resist this unacceptable regime and for the Free Syrian Army to continue its work in liberating Syria until every inch of land is free."

The speech was seen by many as a response to U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who has been meeting U.S. and Russian officials to try to narrow differences between Washington and Moscow over a peace plan. Brahimi also met Assad in Syria late last month.

"Lakhdar Brahimi must feel foolish after that Assad speech, where his diplomacy is dismissed as intolerable intervention," said Rana Kabbani, a Syrian analyst who supports the opposition.

The United States, European Union, Turkey and most Arab states have called on Assad to quit. Russia, which sells arms to and leases a naval base from Syria, says it backs a transition of power but that Assad's departure should not be a precondition for any talks.


Assad's foreign foes were scornful and dismissive of the speech. "His remarks are just repetitions of what he's said all along," said Ahmet Davutoglu, foreign minister of Syria's northern neighbor and former friend Turkey.

"It seems he's locked himself up in a room and only reads the intelligence reports presented to him."

The U.S. State Department said Assad's speech "is yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people's goal of a political transition".

"His initiative is detached from reality, undermines the efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, and would only allow the regime to further perpetuate its bloody oppression of the Syrian people," said spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said Brussels would "look carefully if there is anything new in the speech, but we maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition".

The 47-year-old Assad, tall and mustachioed, in a business suit and tie, spoke confidently for about an hour before a crowd of cheering loyalists, who occasionally interrupted him to shout and applaud, at one point raising their fists and chanting: "With blood and soul we sacrifice for you, oh Bashar!"

At the end of the speech, supporters rushed to the stage, mobbing him and shouting: "God, Syria and Bashar is enough!" as a smiling president waved and was escorted from the hall past a backdrop showing a Syrian flag made of pictures of people whom state television described as "martyrs" of the conflict so far.

"We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word," Assad said in the speech, broadcast on Syrian state television. "This war targets Syria using a handful of Syrians and many foreigners. Thus, this is a war to defend the nation."

Independent media are largely barred from Damascus.

Giving the speech in the opera house, in a part of central Damascus that has been hit by rebel attacks, could be intended as a show of strength by a leader whose public appearances have grown rarer as the rebellion has gathered force.

Critics saw irony in the venue: "Assad speech appropriately made in Opera House!" tweeted Rami Khouri, a commentator for Lebanon's Daily Star newspaper. "It was operatic in its other-worldly fantasy, unrelated to realities outside the building."


The United Nations says 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war, the longest and bloodiest of the conflicts to emerge in two years of revolts in Arab states.

Rebels now control much of the north and east of the country, a crescent of suburbs on the outskirts of the capital and the main border crossings with Turkey in the north.

But Assad's forces are still firmly in control of most of the densely populated southwest, the main north-south highway and the Mediterranean coast. The army also holds military bases throughout the country from which its helicopters and jets can strike rebel-held areas with impunity, making it impossible for the insurgents to consolidate their grip on territory they hold.

Assad, an eye doctor, has ruled since 2000, succeeding his late father Hafez, who had seized power in a 1970 coup.

The rebels are drawn mainly from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, while Assad, a member of the Alawite sect related to Shi'ite Islam, is supported by some members of religious minorities who fear retribution if he falls.

The conflict has heightened confrontation in the Middle East between Shi'ite Iran and Sunni Arab rulers, particularly those in the Gulf who are allied with the West against Tehran.

The plan unveiled in Sunday's speech could hardly have been better designed to ensure its rejection by the opposition. Among its proposals: rebels would first be expected to halt operations before the army would cease fire, a certain non-starter.

Assad also repeatedly emphasized rebel links to al Qaeda and other Sunni Islamist radicals. Washington has also labeled one of the main rebel groups a terrorist organization and says it is linked to the network founded by Osama bin Laden.

Diplomacy has been largely irrelevant so far in the conflict, with Moscow vetoing U.N. resolutions against Assad.

U.N. mediator Brahimi has been trying to bridge the gap, meeting senior U.S. and Russian officials to discuss his own peace proposal, which does not explicitly mention Assad's fate.

National Coalition spokesman Walid Bunni said Assad's speech appeared timed to prevent a breakthrough in those talks, by taking a position that could not be reconciled with diplomacy.

"The talk by Brahimi and others that there could be a type of political solution being worked out has prompted him to come out and tell the others 'I won't accept a solution'," Bunni said, adding that Assad feared any deal would mean his downfall.

(Additional reporting by Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Gulsen Solaker in Ankara and Tim Castle in London; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Kevin Liffey)

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"Cliff" concerns give way to earnings focus

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Investors' "fiscal cliff" worries are likely to give way to more fundamental concerns, like earnings, as fourth-quarter reports get under way next week.

Financial results, which begin after the market closes on Tuesday with aluminum company Alcoa , are expected to be only slightly better than the third-quarter's lackluster results. As a warning sign, analyst current estimates are down sharply from what they were in October.

That could set stocks up for more volatility following a week of sharp gains that put the Standard & Poor's 500 index <.spx> on Friday at the highest close since December 31, 2007. The index also registered its biggest weekly percentage gain in more than a year.

Based on a Reuters analysis, Europe ranks among the chief concerns cited by companies that warned on fourth-quarter results. Uncertainty about the region and its weak economic outlook were cited by more than half of the 25 largest S&P 500 companies that issued warnings.

In the most recent earnings conference calls, macroeconomic worries were cited by 10 companies while the U.S. "fiscal cliff" was cited by at least nine as reasons for their earnings warnings.

"The number of things that could go wrong isn't so high, but the magnitude of how wrong they could go is what's worrisome," said Kurt Winters, senior portfolio manager for Whitebox Mutual Funds in Minneapolis.

Negative-to-positive guidance by S&P 500 companies for the fourth quarter was 3.6 to 1, the second worst since the third quarter of 2001, according to Thomson Reuters data.

U.S. lawmakers narrowly averted the "fiscal cliff" by coming to a last-minute agreement on a bill to avoid steep tax hikes this weeks -- driving the rally in stocks -- but the battle over further spending cuts is expected to resume in two months.

Investors also have seen a revival of worries about Europe's sovereign debt problems, with Moody's in November downgrading France's credit rating and debt crises looming for Spain and other countries.

"You have a recession in Europe as a base case. Europe is still the biggest trading partner with a lot of U.S. companies, and it's still a big chunk of global capital spending," said Adam Parker, chief U.S. equity strategist at Morgan Stanley in New York.

Among companies citing worries about Europe was eBay , whose chief financial officer, Bob Swan, spoke of "macro pressures from Europe" in the company's October earnings conference call.


One of the biggest worries voiced about earnings has been whether companies will be able to continue to boost profit growth despite relatively weak revenue growth.

S&P 500 revenue fell 0.8 percent in the third quarter for the first decline since the third quarter of 2009, Thomson Reuters data showed. Earnings growth for the quarter was a paltry 0.1 percent after briefly dipping into negative territory.

On top of that, just 40 percent of S&P 500 companies beat revenue expectations in the third quarter, while 64.2 percent beat earnings estimates, the Thomson Reuters data showed.

For the fourth quarter, estimates are slightly better but are well off estimates for the quarter from just a few months earlier. S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.8 percent while revenue is expected to have gone up 1.9 percent.

Back in October, earnings growth for the fourth quarter was forecast up 9.9 percent.

In spite of the cautious outlooks, some analysts still see a good chance for earnings beats this reporting period.

"The thinking is you need top line growth for earnings to continue to expand, and we've seen the market defy that," said Mike Jackson, founder of Denver-based investment firm T3 Equity Labs.

Based on his analysis, energy, industrials and consumer discretionary are the S&P sectors most likely to beat earnings expectations in the upcoming season, while consumer staples, materials and utilities are the least likely to beat, Jackson said.

Sounding a positive note on Friday, drugmaker Eli Lilly and Co said it expects profit in 2013 to increase by more than Wall Street had been forecasting, primarily due to cost controls and improved productivity.

(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Kenneth Barry)

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Packers show off depth in 24-10 win over Vikes

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Deep on offense and scary-good on defense, the Green Bay Packers were way too much for the Minnesota Vikings.

Maybe everyone else in the NFC, too.

Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson and the Packers reminded everyone of how dangerous they can be when they're at full strength Saturday night, overwhelming the Vikings 24-10 in an NFC wild-card game that was never really close.

"Our defense played great," Rodgers said. "Our defense tonight played at a championship level and that's what you need in the playoffs."

John Kuhn scored two touchdowns, DuJuan Harris added another and Rodgers connected with an NFL playoff-record 10 receivers as he threw for 274 yards in his first playoff victory at home. Defensively, the Packers (12-5) finally managed to contain Adrian Peterson and were all over Vikings backup Joe Webb, pressed into service because of Christian Ponder's triceps injury.

Peterson was held to 99 yards — an improvement after gaining 199 and 210 in the first two games against Green Bay. It was only the second time in the last 11 games that he was held below 100 yards. Webb, who hadn't thrown a pass all season, was sacked three times and off target all night. His only highlight was a 50-yard scoring pass to Michael Jenkins late in the fourth quarter, but it was far too late for the Vikings (10-7).

"No disrespect to Ponder, but ... it's about one guy and that's Adrian Peterson," said Woodson, who played his first game since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 21. "Our main focus, whether it was Ponder or Webb, was to keep 28 (Peterson) from getting off. And if we were going to keep him from getting off, put the ball in the quarterback's hands, whatever quarterback it was, we felt good about what was going to happen."

With a little over a minute left, Packers fans began taunting the Vikings (10-7) with chants of "Nah-nah-nah-nah ... goodbye." The win snapped a two-game losing streak at Lambeau Field in the playoffs, and sent the Packers to San Francisco next Saturday for an NFC divisional game with the 49ers. The teams met in the season opener, with San Francisco winning 30-22.

"A lot has happened since we played San Francisco," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're a different team."

This was the third game in six weeks between Green Bay and the Vikings, and second in six days. The Packers' loss in Minnesota last weekend cost them the No. 2 seed in the NFC, along with a bye this weekend, and left them looking — dare we say it? — vulnerable going into the playoffs. But with Woodson back and Rodgers having all four of his top receivers for, essentially, the first time since Sept. 30, Green Bay looked like a team that could make the kind of deep run it did two years ago when it won the Super Bowl.

Rodgers used so many different options other NFL quarterbacks must have been drooling. He went with Harris on Green Bay's first scoring drive, mixed it up between James Jones, Tom Crabtree and Greg Jennings on the second, and had 22- and 23-yard completions to Jordy Nelson before Kuhn scored on a 3-yard run that put the Packers up 17-3 just before the half.

And pretty much everyone got in on the fun on the last score, a 12-play, 80-yard drive that chewed up more than 5 ½ minutes. Rodgers connected with Jones on a 19-yard completion to put the Packers in Packers territory, then connected with Harris for 14 yards two plays later to reach the red zone. Rodgers threw incompletes on second and third downs, but just when the Packers thought they'd have to settle for a field goal, the Vikings were whistled for 12 men on the field, giving Rodgers another crack at the end zone.

He found Kuhn for the 9-yard score, and the game was all but over.

"That was tough. We were down seven and they went and scored and they were coming out of the half, too, getting the ball, too, and they got it and scored again," Antoine Winfield said. "Can't do that against the Green Bay Packers."

Harris, who didn't play in the first game against Minnesota this season because he'd only been elevated from the practice squad a day earlier, led the team in receiving (five catches for 61 yards) and rushing (47 yards on 17 carries). Jennings and Jones had four catches each and Nelson had three before hobbling off late in the fourth quarter.

"We have some stuff to work on," Rodgers said. "We've got to help our defense out more, close a team out like that. Tough test next week back in San Francisco."

Hey, at least the Packers are still playing. That's more than the Vikings can say.

Ponder was hurt last weekend when Morgan Burnett slammed into him on a blitz. Though initially thought to be an elbow injury, Ponder said it was actually a deep bruise in his right triceps. It limited his flexibility along with his power and, though it is better, there simply wasn't enough time to recover with the short, six-day turnaround.

After testing the arm before the game, the Vikings decided to go with Webb, whose only playing time this year was a couple of handoffs at the end of a blowout of Tennessee in early October.

"I can play with pain. The biggest thing is the loss of flexibility," Ponder said. "I couldn't get the ball in the position to where I could throw it normally and lost a lot of power and everything. It wouldn't have been wise to play."

It was the first time Buffalo's Frank Reich in 1993 a quarterback had started a playoff game after not starting during the regular season, according to STATS Inc. And, in the first series at least, he seemed to have caught the Packers off guard. That or they were too busy trying to bottle up Peterson, who bulldozed them for 409 yards in their first two games, to pay attention.

With what seemed like every Packers defender focused on Peterson, Webb converted a third-and-3 with a 17-yard pickup. His 5-yard run four plays later put the Vikings at the Green Bay 13. But Webb's first pass of the night went into the ground, and the Vikings were forced to settle for Blair Walsh's 33-yard field goal that gave them a 3-0 lead.

But the Packers quickly settled down and Webb and the Vikings never stood a chance. Especially with Peterson not allowed to roam free as he's done against the Packers in the past.

"The energy level was at an all-time high," Woodson said. "This week, like last week, we buzzed around. But this week we made the tackles, we didn't allow (Peterson) to get through the line of scrimmage and get yards after first contact. We just kept putting heat on them. That was the difference."

Notes: With two sacks of Webb, Matthews joined Reggie White as the only Packers to have two or more sacks in two postseason games. ... Minnesota had 157 of its 324 yards in the fourth quarter, when the game was out of hand. ... Kuhn is the only player in the NFL to score a touchdown in each of the last four postseasons. ... Mason Crosby's 20-yard field goal in the second quarter was his sixth straight in the postseason, a Packers record. ... Vikings S Harrison Smith left the game briefly with a left knee injury, but was able to return. Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said after the game he was fine.


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Here, Bella! Top Pet Names for 2012

Move over, Rover, there’s a new top dog in town, and her name is Bella. For 2012, the “Twilight Saga”-inspired moniker was the most popular for dogs and second-most popular for cats, according to a survey by one veterinary organization. For dogs, Max took second place.

The survey gathered names of 2.5 million dogs and cats at the Banfield Pet Hospital, a veterinary network in Portland, Ore.

The top names resemble those from years past, said Laura Wattenberg, a baby-name expert and the creator of

“Max in particular has been the top name for male dogs for a number of years now,” Wattenberg told LiveScience. 

Cuddly fur babies

In general, pets have been given much more humanlike names over the past generation, Wattenberg said. That reflects a change in society, in which owners see their fur babies more as family members than animals, she said. [What Your Dog's Breed Says About You]

The names people choose for their pets also reflect a sweet, nostalgic innocence.

“There’s a particular slice of human names that have risen for baby names as well, but they’re particularly popular for pets. That’s the cute, cuddly names of the early 20th century.”

These names, such as Max and Lucy, tend to crop up frequently as heroes or heroines in kids’ picture books, Wattenberg said. For instance, the hero in “Where the Wild Things Are” was named Max. These names may reflect how people see their pets.

“They’re like children who never have to grow up,” she said.

Old and new

Pop-culture trends also influenced the popularity of pet names found in the survey. Aside from the top-ranked Bella, Katniss also saw wide use, becoming 18 times more popular for dogs and 14 times more popular for cats, compared with 2011, following the release of the “Hunger Games” in March.  Reality TV stars also got their due, with Honey Boo Boo (a 6-year-old beauty pageant star of “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo“) and Purrfect (the name of Cee Lo Green’s cat on “The Voice”) rising in the ranks.

Still, for dog and cat names alike, familiar can still win out over hip. Perennial favorites like Max and Buddy took the second and third slots for dogs, while the perhaps unimaginative Kitty was the most popular name for cats.

Cats vs. dogs

Interestingly, more humanlike names, such as Charlie or Lucy, were popular for dogs, while unisex monikers like Smokey, Shadow and Tigger describing physical traits like color ranked high for felines in 2012.

That may reflect how much people project a human role onto their pets. For instance, one study showed that animals kept in the house are more likely to get human names, Wattenberg said.

“You could infer from this that people feel a little bit more attached or feel like they have a more personal relationship with their dogs,” she said. “Obviously cat lovers will howl at that, but that’s what the names say.”

In general, pet names overlapped very little with baby names. While the trend toward nostalgic, 20th century names carried over from baby naming trends, formal names ruled for human tots. But cuddly, affectionate nicknames took precedence for pets. From the list of pet names, only Chloe made the list of most popular girl names in 2011.

For instance, pet names like Coco or Rocky are more intensely retro than Ava or Jacob (which are more likely to be given to babies). That suggests, as a society, “we’re more willing to push the style to the extreme with pets and maybe even live out the naming fantasies that we wouldn’t quite be able to give to our children,” Wattenberg said.

Here are the top ten names for dogs and cats in order of more to less popular:

Top Dog Names:

  1. Bella

  2. Max

  3. Buddy

  4. Daisy

  5. Bailey

  6. Coco

  7. Lucy

  8. Charlie

  9. Molly

  10. Rocky

Top Cat Names:

  1. Kitty

  2. Bella

  3. Tiger

  4. Max

  5. Smokey

  6. Shadow

  7. Tigger

  8. Lucy

  9. Chloe

  10. Charlie

Follow LiveScience on Twitter @livescience. We’re also on Facebook & Google+

Copyright 2013 LiveScience, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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Storm over Depardieu's 'pathetic' move


  • Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed Russian citizenship on actor Gérard Depardieu

  • For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted, with many in France disgusted by his move

  • Depardieu more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit, says Agnes Poirier

  • Majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving him, she adds

Agnes Poirier is a French journalist and political analyst who contributes regularly to newspapers, magazines and TV in the UK, U.S., France, Italy. Follow her on Twitter.

Paris (CNN) -- Since the revelation on the front page of daily newspaper Libération, on December 11, with a particularly vicious editorial talking about France's national treasure as a "former genius actor," Gérard Depardieu's departure to Belgium, where he bought a property just a mile from the French border, has deeply divided and saddened France. Even more so since, as we have learnt this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin has bestowed the actor Russian citizenship.

Back in mid-December, the French media operated along political lines: the left-wing press such as Libération couldn't find strong enough words to describe Depardieu's "desertion" while right-wing publications such as Le Figaro, slightly uneasy at the news, preferred to focus on President François Hollande's punishing taxes which allegedly drove throngs of millionaires to seek tax asylum in more fiscally lenient countries such as Belgium or Britain. Le Figaro stopped short of passing moral judgement though. Others like satirical weekly Charlie hebdo, preferred irony. Its cover featured a cartoon of the rather rotund-looking Depardieu in front of a Belgian flag with the headline: "Can Belgium take the world's entire load of cholesterol?" Ouch.

Quickly though, it became quite clear that Depardieu was not treated in the same way as other famous French tax exiles. French actor Alain Delon is a Swiss resident as is crooner-rocker Johnny Halliday, and many other French stars and sportsmen ensure they reside for under six months in France in order to escape being taxed here on their income and capital. Their move has hardly ever been commented on. And they certainly never had to suffer the same infamy.

Agnes Poirier

Agnes Poirier

For Depardieu, a public war of words erupted. It started with the French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and many members of his government, showing their disdain, and talking of Depardieu's "pathetic move." In response the outraged actor penned an open letter to the French PM in which he threatened to give back his French passport.

The backlash was not over. Fellow thespian Phillipe Torreton fired the first salvo against Depardieu in an open letter published in Libération, insulting both Depardieu's protruding physique and lack of patriotism: "So you're leaving the ship France in the middle of a storm? What did you expect, Gérard? You thought we would approve? You expected a medal, an academy award from the economy ministry? (...)We'll get by without you." French actress Catherine Deneuve felt she had to step in to defend Depardieu. In another open letter published by Libération, she evoked the darkest hours of the French revolution. Before flying to Rome to celebrate the New Year, Depardieu gave an interview to Le Monde in which he seemed to be joking about having asked Putin for Russian citizenship. Except, it wasn't a joke.

In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit. He has been Cyrano, he has been Danton; he, better than most, on screen and off, stands for what it means to be French: passionate, sensitive, theatrical, and grandiose. Ambiguous too, and weak in front of temptations and pleasures.

In truth, French people have felt touched to their core by Depardieu's gesture. He, more than anyone, represents the Gallic spirit
Hugh Miles

For more than two weeks now, #Depardieu has been trending on French Twitter. Surveys have showed France's dilemma: half the French people understand him but there are as many who think that paying one's taxes is a national duty. In other words, a majority of French people disapprove of his action but can't help loving the man.

Putin's move in granting the actor Russian citizenship has exacerbated things. And first of all, it is a blow to Hollande who, it was revealed, had a phone conversation with Depardieu on New Year's Day. The Elysées Palace refused to communicate on the men's exchange. A friend of the actor declared that Depardieu complained about being so reviled by the press and that he was leaving, no matter what.

If, in their hearts, the French don't quite believe Depardieu might one day settle in Moscow and abandon them, they feel deeply saddened by the whole saga. However, with France's former sex symbol Brigitte Bardot declaring that she too might ask Putin for Russian citizenship to protest against the fate of zoo elephants in Lyon, it looks as if the French may prefer to laugh the whole thing off. Proof of this: the last trend on French Twitter is #IWantRussianCitizenship.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Agnes Poirier.

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At least 10 people shot Saturday, 2 fatally

An afternoon shooting in the Englewood neighborhood has left a man dead Saturday, a day in which at least 10 people were shot, according to authorities.

At 3:10 p.m. someone shot a male victim multiple times in the abdomen in the 5500 block of South Loomis Boulevard, News Affairs Officer Daniel O’Brien said.

The victim, a man in his 20s, was taken from the scene of the shooting in the Englewood neighborhood to John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County, where he was pronounced dead at 3:52 p.m., according to the Cook County medical examiner's office.

Police were questioning a possible shooter, News Affairs Officer Amina Greer said.

Saturday night about 8:30 p.m., a 39-year-old man was shot in the West Town neighborhood, police said.

The man was taken from the 1800 block of West Maypole Avenue to Stroger with a gunshot wound to the buttocks.

About 7:10 p.m., two men were injured in a shooting in the 5100 block of West Oakdale Avenue, O'Brien said.

A 25-year-old man was taken in critical condition to Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center with a gunshot wound to the back, O'Brien said. A 21-year-old man was taken to the same hospital in good condition with a gunshot wound to the wrist, O'Brien said.

The shooting happened in the Cragin neighborhood on the Northwest Side.

Late Saturday morning, a shooting in the Back of the Yards neighborhood left another victim shot in the abdomen and seriously wounded.

Someone shot the male in the abdomen at 11:48 a.m. in the 4500 block of South Marshfield Avenue, according to Chicago Police Department News Affairs Officer Michael Sullivan.

He was taken to John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County in serious condition, Sullivan said.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting were not known immediately but Sullivan said no one was arrested.

Earlier Saturday, four people were shot in two separate incidents before the sun rose, and a fifth man was killed in a West Side shooting.

Twitter: @ChicagoBreaking

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Venezuela lawmakers elect Chavez ally as Assembly chief

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan lawmakers re-elected a staunch ally of Hugo Chavez to head the National Assembly on Saturday, putting him in line to be caretaker president if the socialist leader does not recover from cancer surgery.

By choosing the incumbent, Diosdado Cabello, the "Chavista"-dominated legislature cemented the combative ex-soldier's position as the third most powerful figure in the government, after Chavez and Vice President Nicolas Maduro.

"As a patriot ... I swear to be supremely loyal in everything I do, to defend the fatherland, its institutions, and this beautiful revolution led by our Comandante Hugo Chavez," Cabello said as he took the oath, his hand on the constitution.

He had earlier warned opposition politicians against attempting to use the National Assembly to "conspire" against the people, saying they would be "destroyed" if they tried.

Thousands of the president's red-clad supporters gathered outside parliament hours before the vote, many chanting: "We are all Chavez! Our comandante will be well! He will return!"

If Chavez had to step down, or died, Cabello would take over the running of the country as Assembly president and a new election would be organized within 30 days. Chavez's heir apparent, Maduro, would be the ruling Socialist Party candidate.

Chavez, who was diagnosed with an undisclosed form of cancer in his pelvic area in mid-2011, has not been seen in public nor heard from in more than three weeks.

Officials say the 58-year-old is in delicate condition and has suffered multiple complications since the December 11 surgery, including unexpected bleeding and severe respiratory problems.

Late on Friday, Maduro gave the clearest indication yet that the government was preparing to delay Chavez's inauguration for a new six-year term, which is scheduled for Thursday.


Maduro said the ceremony was a "formality" and that Chavez could be sworn in by the Supreme Court at a later date.

The opposition says Chavez's absence would be just the latest sign that he is no longer fit to govern, and that new elections should be held in the South American OPEC nation.

Brandishing a copy of the constitution after his win in the Assembly, Cabello slammed opposition leaders for writing a letter to foreign embassies in which they accused the government of employing a "twisted reading" of the charter.

"Get this into your heads: Hugo Chavez was elected president and he will continue to be president beyond January 10. No one should have any doubt ... this is the constitutional route," he said as fellow Socialist Party lawmakers cheered.

The opposition sat stony-faced. One of their legislators had earlier told the session that it was not just the head of state who was ill, "the republic is sick."

Last year, Chavez staged what appeared to be a remarkable comeback from the disease to win re-election in October, despite being weakened by radiation therapy. He returned to Cuba for more treatment within weeks of his victory.

Should the president have to step down after 14 years in office, a new vote would probably pit Maduro, a 50-year-old former bus driver and union leader, against opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old governor of Miranda state.

Capriles lost to Chavez in October's presidential election.

"I don't think Maduro would last many rounds in a presidential race. He's not fit for the responsibility they have given him," Capriles said after the vice president's appearance on state television.

Chavez's condition is being watched closely by leftist allies around Latin American who have benefited from his oil-funded generosity, as well as investors attracted by Venezuela's lucrative and widely traded debt.

The country boasts the world's biggest crude reserves. Despite the huge political upheaval Chavez's exit would cause, the oil industry is not likely to be affected much in the short term, with an extension of "Chavismo" keeping projects on track, while a change in parties could usher in more foreign capital.

(Additional reporting by Deisy Buitrago; Editing by Vicki Allen)

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