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California Joins Move To Earlier Primaries

With a swipe of his pen, some flowery remarks and a good backdrop, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday moved California's presidential primary to February of next year from June, placing the nation's most populous state at the increasingly congested front end of the primary calendar.

Speaking outside the Stanford Mansion in Sacramento — the site of the first presidential visit to California, by Rutherford Hayes, in 1880 — Schwarzenegger, a Republican, noted that presidential candidates had already come to the state to woo voters as the new primary date was being talked about.

"But today is a special day because we turn this talk into action," the governor said. "Moving our presidential primary means California will have the influence it deserves when it comes to choosing the next presidential candidates."

California is one of roughly 20 states with an eye on Feb. 5, which is shaping up to be a primary day of enormous importance, if for no other reason than the large number of delegates that could be in play.

OPEC Says It Won't Increase Output

Ignoring concerns over slowing economic growth, slightly volatile stock markets and a softening housing market, OPEC ministers on Thursday said that they would keep oil production at current levels, despite calls to pump more supplies into an increasingly tight market.

The decision to hold output steady could send oil prices into a fresh upswing this spring as demand for gasoline picks up. Retail gasoline prices in the United States have been rising since the beginning of the year and reached about $2.60 a gallon on average last week, nearly 40 cents more than in January.

"Three dollars a gallon is just around the corner," said Jason Schenker, an economist at Wachovia. "We've never seen retail gasoline prices rise so much so early in the year."

For consumers in developed countries, a solid rise in demand would probably mean another summer of high gasoline prices and stiff energy bills. Oil prices have settled around $60 a barrel in recent months and members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries seem satisfied with that level.

Fifty Die in Rebel Attack On New Delhi Police Station

Suspected Maoist rebels stormed a police post in the heavily forested center of India early Thursday morning, killing nearly 50 police in what was apparently the biggest attack on state law enforcement in the last several years of leftist insurgency.

There are now Maoist rebels in pockets of nearly half of India's 28 states, according to the government. They are largely entrenched in the forest belt, which is rich in natural resources, like timber and iron ore, but home to some of the poorest communities of indigenous people. Nearly 900 people were killed in the Maoist conflict in 2005, according to the most recent available official statistics.

In central Chhattisgarh state, where the incident took place, the conflict has turned ever more nasty in the last two years with the emergence of an anti-Maoist counterinsurgency force, called the Salwa Judum. Nearly 50,000 villagers, displaced by fighting, now live in flimsy tent camps along the road, as police and the militia try to flush Maoists out of the countryside.