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NEW: On Christmas, Obama thanks troops for sacrifices

KANEOHE BAY, Hawaii (AP) — President Barack Obama says he and first lady Michelle Obama couldn't be prouder of the U.S. military. He's thanking American troops for their service this Christmas and says they do unbelievable work every day.

The president and Mrs. Obama are paying a visit to a Marine Corps base in Hawaii, where Obama and his family are on their annual vacation. Almost 600 troops from various military branches are gathered to hear from Obama after being served Christmas dinner.

Obama says he called 10 troops stationed in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. He says it's just a sampling of the troops and families that make incredible sacrifices every day.


Frigid temps, coming snow could slow efforts to restore power for customers in US, Canada

LITCHFIELD, Maine (AP) — Frigid temperatures from the Great Lakes to New England are making repair work more difficult as utility crews try to restore power to more than half a million people in the U.S. and Canada.

Crews have been working around the clock and making progress, but the cold means ice isn't melting off lines and limbs. And wind gusts of more than 20 miles an hour threaten to bring down more branches. Forecasts call for two to 6 inches of snow in places Thursday, and that could further hamper line crews trying to get to remote spots.

In Litchfield, Maine, temperatures dropped to 4 degrees overnight. A school has been converted into a shelter, and volunteers have tried to make it homey. For Christmas Day, they cooked up a ham dinner with potatoes, vegetables, bread and pie.

Ashley Walter says her family is staying positive, and making sure they're celebrating Christmas. She says she packed stockings for everyone. Her husband Jacob has been making frequent trips home to check on the cats and the water pipes.


Santa's sleigh delayed after snags at UPS, FedEx

NEW YORK (AP) — Some gifts that were supposed to be under the tree this morning won't be arriving until Thursday or later.

UPS and FedEx say they've run into some shipping problems in parts of the country this week -- in some cases because of poor weather, but also because of overloaded systems.

UPS didn't make any pickups or deliveries Wednesay, and plans to resume normally scheduled service Thursday.

Neither company said how many packages were delayed but noted it was a small share of overall holiday shipments.


Pope delivers Christmas greetings -- in one language

VATICAN CITY (AP) — It's been a tradition for popes to deliver their Christmas greetings in dozens of languages to the crowd standing below the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica.

But Wednesday, in his first Christmas message, Pope Francis stuck to Italian.

He also kept to the simple style he has set for his papacy. Francis wore a plain white cassock as he spoke to more than 70,000 cheering tourists, pilgrims and Romans in the square.

He offered wishes for a better world, praying for protection for Christians under attack, battered women and trafficked children. The pontiff also prayed for peace in the Middle East and Africa, and dignity for refugees fleeing misery and conflict around the world.

In his Christmas speech, Francis explained his concept of peace -- saying it's "not a balancing of opposing forces," or something that "conceals conflicts and divisions." Instead, he said, "Peace calls for daily commitment."


Egypt's military-backed interim government declares the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood says the government's decision declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist group is based on false accusations.

The military-backed interim government's declaration criminalizes all the Brotherhood's activities, its financing and even membership in the group.

The government says the move is in response to Tuesday's suicide bombing on a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city. Sixteen people were killed in the attack and more than 100 wounded.

A security official says the son of a leading Brotherhood member and former lawmaker has been arrested on suspicion that he was linked to the attack. But the Brotherhood has denied being involved, while an al-Qaida inspired group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

A Brotherhood member says the announcement will have no impact on the group's work or beliefs, because the Brotherhood has seen government repression before. The Muslim Brotherhood denounced violence in the late 1970s.


Official: Israel plans new settlement construction

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli official says the government is planning on announcing new construction in its West Bank settlements next week — a move that is likely to trigger an international uproar and threaten peace talks with the Palestinians.

The timing of the announcement would coincide with the expected release of a group of Palestinian prisoners. The government has announced settlement plans during previous prisoner releases to blunt domestic criticism.

The Israeli official said he "expects" an announcement on new construction next week, but declined to elaborate. He spoke on condition of anonymity pending a formal announcement. Israeli television stations said the plan called for 1,000 to 2,000 new homes.

The U.S. opposes settlement construction on occupied land, and the Palestinians have threatened to quit the talks over the construction.


Japanese prime minister to visit Yasukuni shrine

TOKYO (AP) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will visit Yasukuni war shrine Thursday in a move sure to infuriate China and South Korea.

Japanese media reported that Abe will visit the shrine that honors the war dead including convicted war criminals at 11:30 a.m. (0230 GMT).

The visit comes on the first anniversary of Abe's taking office as prime minister.

It will be the first visit by a sitting prime minister since Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited the shrine in 2006 to mark the end of World War II.


Girl who brought thousands of carolers together has died

WEST READING, Pa. (AP) — The thousands of Christmas carolers who gathered outside a Pennsylvania home over the weekend were fulfilling the wish of a terminally-ill eight-year-old girl inside.

Delaney Brown was diagnosed in May with a rare form of leukemia.

Shortly after the caroling began Saturday night, the family's Facebook page showed a picture of Delaney giving two thumbs up, with the text, "I can hear you now!!! Love you!"

Now that Facebook page bears the news that Delaney died early on Christmas Day, surrounded by family and friends.


3 children die in Louisiana mobile home fire

HOUMA, La. (AP) — Louisiana fire officials say a mobile home has killed three children and left their father with serious arm burns from trying to save them.

State Fire Marshal's Office spokesman Mike Delaune says a 12-year-old girl, an 11-year-old boy and a 9-year-old boy died at the Whispering Oaks Trailer Park in Houma.

Houma Fire Inspector Mike Millet says the trailer was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived after 1:30 a.m. Wednesday.

He says the children's father rescued one child, but was unable to get the other three because the fire spread so quickly.

Investigators haven't determined the cause.

Millet says eight people were inside the trailer because the children and their parents were visiting from Alabama for Christmas. No one else was hurt.


Crowds relive Washington's 1776 river crossing

George Washington has made his annual Christmas Day ride across the Delaware River.

Washington's daring Christmas 1776 crossing of the river turned the tide of the Revolutionary War. The 61st reenactment of it was staged Wednesday.

Hundreds of people gather each year to hear Washington's stand-in deliver stirring words to the troops and watch three boats make the crossing from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

During the original crossing, boats ferried 2,400 soldiers, 200 horses and 18 cannons across the river. The troops marched 8 miles downriver before battling Hessian mercenaries in the streets of Trenton.

Thirty Hessians were killed. Two Continental soldiers froze to death on the march, but none died in battle.