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10 things you need to know today: December 12, 2012
North Korea defiantly launches a rocket, Obama recognizes Syria's opposition, and more in our roundup of the stories that are making news and driving opinion
South Korean protesters burn a mockup of a North Korean missile during a demonstration against the North's failed April 13 rocket launch.
South Korean protesters burn a mockup of a North Korean missile during a demonstration against the North's failed April 13 rocket launch. Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

1. NORTH KOREA LAUNCHES LONG-RANGE ROCKET
North Korea carried out an apparently successful launch of its Unha-3 long-range rocket on Wednesday, defying the threat of new U.S. sanctions by violating a U.N. Security Council ban against missile launches. The rocket carried a satellite, not warheads, but if North Korea did manage to place the satellite in orbit, as its state media claims, Pyongyang has taken a big step closer to being able to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of hitting the U.S. The launch, if verified, would also be a big success for North Korea's young new leader, Kim Jong Un; eight months ago, an Unha-3 rocket broke apart 90 seconds after launch, in an embarrassment to the regime. [Washington Post]
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2. OBAMA: U.S. WILL RECOGNIZE SYRIAN OPPOSITION
President Obama announced on Tuesday that the U.S. would recognize Syria's new opposition coalition as the legitimate representative of the nation's people, joining France, Britain, Turkey, and Arab Persian Gulf states in an effort to increase pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down. Hours later, the "Friends of Syria" group, which includes both Western and Arab states, said it would do the same. Obama's move marks a shift toward deeper involvement in the effort to end a conflict that has claimed 40,000 lives since protests against Assad's regime began last year. Some experts say anti-U.S. anger has grown in Syria as Washington stayed on the sidelines. Obama said that the newly formed National Coalition of Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces is the first group that was inclusive and organized enough to be treated as "the legitimate representative of Syrian people." [New York Times]
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3. MICHIGAN GOVERNOR SIGNS CONTROVERSIAL RIGHT-TO-WORK BILLS
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) on Tuesday signed into law two "right-to-work" bills prohibiting unions from compelling workers to become members and pay dues. The bills, passed earlier in the day by the GOP-controlled state legislature, are considered a massive defeat for organized labor in Michigan, which has a rich union history. The law makes Michigan the 24th state with right-to-work laws. Supporters say the laws give workers more choice and boost economic growth, but critics say the real intent is to weaken organized labor by bleeding unions of money needed to bargain effectively with management. [Talking Points Memo]
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4. THREE DEAD IN OREGON MALL SHOOTING
A gunman wearing a white mask ran into the Clackamas Town Center mall outside Portland, Oregon, on Tuesday afternoon and fired up to 60 shots from an assault rifle, killing two people and seriously wounding a third, before killing himself. Police haven't released the names of the shooter or any of his victims, or speculated on the motive. The assailant opened fire outside Macy's and near where Santa Claus was set up, shouting "I am the shooter!" according to Macy's employee Austin Patty, 20. "He was trying to get to the mall to do a mall massacre." [Los Angeles Times]
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5. ISRAEL WITHHOLDS MONEY FROM PALESTINIANS OVER U.N. MOVE
Israel plans to withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority until at least March because of its push for recognition as a state at the United Nations. Under peace deals, Israel collects $100 million in duties every month on behalf of the Palestinian Authority in the occupied West Bank. "The Palestinians can forget about getting even one cent in the coming four months," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Tuesday night. The administration of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas badly needs the money, but Israel says Abbas violated peace accords by seeking a status upgrade through the U.N. rather than through negotiations with Israel. [Reuters]
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6. POPE POSTS FIRST TWEET
Pope Benedict XVI posted his first official tweet to his 660,000 followers on Wednesday. The message read: "Dear friends, I am pleased to get in touch with you through Twitter. Thank you for your generous response. I bless all of you from my heart." The brief note was retweeted more than 9,000 times within 15 minutes, and "favorited" more than 2,500 times. The Vatican announced in early December that the Pope was going to start tweeting to engage more directly with the world's 1-billion-plus Catholics, especially young ones. He's going to be tweeting in several languages, including English and Arabic. [Telegraph]
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7. CHAVEZ'S CANCER OPERATION SUCCESSFUL
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is recovering in a Cuban hospital after a cancer operation that his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, said was completed "correctly and successfully." The "complex" procedure was Chavez's fourth operation for an aggressive form of cancer. Three days before the surgery, Chavez said tests had shown that it was necessary because "some malignant cells" had reappeared in the pelvic region where tumors were removed in the earlier operations. Chavez's condition is dire enough that the socialist leader designated Maduro as his political heir on Saturday. [Associated Press]
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8. EUROPEAN FACTORIES SLOW DOWN
The output of factories in the eurozone continued to slow sharply in the fall, according to the European Union's statistics office. Industrial production fell by 1.4 percent in October after falling more sharply in September. That was a big disappointment to economists, who had forecast modest growth. The figures provided fresh evidence that demand is dwindling in Europe, which could prolong the region's recession. [Reuters]
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9. SITAR LEGEND RAVI SHANKAR DIES
Ravi Shankar, the Indian sitar virtuoso introduced to Western audiences by The Beatles in the 1960s, died at age 92. Shankar played traditional Indian ragas, but his association with George Harrison led him to play a number of big festivals catering to the U.S. counterculture, including Woodstock and the Monterey Pop Festival. He enjoyed watching Otis Redding and the Mamas and the Papas perform, but when Jimi Hendrix lit his guitar on fire, "that was too much for me," Shankar told Rolling Stone. "In our culture, we have such respect for musical instruments, they are like part of God." In 1971, he pioneered the benefit concert by organizing the Concert for Bangladesh. Shankar died at his home in Southern California. Among his survivors are the singer Norah Jones and sitar player Anoushka Shankar. [Associated Press]
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10. LAWYER SAYS MCAFEE TO BE FREED IN GUATEMALA
A lawyer representing antivirus-software pioneer John McAfee says that a Guatemalan judge has ordered him released from jail because his detention was illegal. The courts had not confirmed the claim as of early Wednesday. McAfee spent several weeks in hiding in Belize, where police want to question him about the murder of a neighbor with whom McAfee had quarreled. McAfee reappeared after slipping over the border into neighboring Guatemala last week, and was promptly detained on immigration charges. McAfee's lawyer, Telesforo Guerra, said that if he does get released, rather than extradited to Belize, McAfee hopes to return to the U.S. "That's definitely the country where he will be safest," Guerra said. "In Guatemala, he runs the risk that anything could happen to him." [Associated Press]

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