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Shooting survivors concerned about cost of health care

TUCSON, Ariz. — Seconds after gunfire erupted outside a supermarket here last month, Randy Gardner, one of those struck during the barrage, said another potential crisis immediately entered his mind.

“I wondered, How much is this going to cost me?”’ he said. “It was a thought that went through my head right away.”

Tucson’s medical system quickly swung into action after the shootings, with ambulances and medical helicopters rushing victims to hospitals where trauma specialists awaited them. The life-saving treatment the victims received over the ensuing days carried a heavy cost though, and the bills — the costliest of which may be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords — are still being tallied.

But despite the fears of some victims, it does not appear that the shooting will ruin anyone financially. Interviews with victims as well as advocates assisting them suggest that most, if not all, of the 13 people wounded that morning had health insurance, and health care providers say they expect insurance companies to cover the bulk of the medical costs.

New lineup released for Haitian presidential runoff

MEXICO CITY — After a nearly two-month standoff with international donors over its disputed presidential election, Haiti’s electoral commission on Thursday announced that it had removed the government-backed candidate from the second round of voting in favor of a popular musician whose supporters held fierce protests when he was initially excluded.

The election authorities said Mirlande H. Manigat, a former first lady and college administrator who was the top vote-getter in the Nov. 28 election, will face Michel Martelly, a performer with the stage name Sweet Micky, in a March 20 runoff.

The decision was a turnabout for the government, which had released preliminary results in December showing that Jude Celestin, a public works official who was President Rene Preval’s choice, had come in second, leading to days of violent protests over accusations of a stolen election.

But Preval, whose popularity has fallen as the pace of rebuilding from the January 2010 earthquake has slowed, came under intense diplomatic pressure to accept the conclusion of a team of international experts who contended that Celestin had not earned a spot in the runoff because of tainted results.

Drought alarms Chinese leaders

HONG KONG — A severe drought in northern China has badly damaged the winter wheat crop and left the ground very dry for the spring planting, fueling inflation and alarming China’s leaders.

President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao separately toured drought-stricken regions this week and have called for “all-out efforts” to address the effects of water shortages on agriculture, state media reported Thursday. Wen made a similar trip just 10 days ago and called for long-term improvements in water management.

Rising food prices were a problem last autumn even before the drought began, prompting the government to impose a wide range of price controls in mid-November. The winter wheat crop has been parched since then in northern China while unusually widespread frost has hurt the vegetable crop in southern China. State media began warning a week ago that price controls on food might not be effective.

Some of the driest areas are close to Beijing, which has had no appreciable precipitation since Oct. 23, although there were brief snow flurries on Dec. 29. If the drought lasts another 11 days it will match one in the winter of 1970-71 as the longest since modern record keeping started in 1951, according to government meteorologists quoted by state media.

Nepal PM chosen, ends stalemate

KATMANDU, Nepal — Nepal’s bitterly divided legislature elected a new prime minister Thursday, ending a stalemate that had paralyzed the country for months as competing political parties fought to control the government in this strategically located Himalayan nation.

The new prime minister, Jhalanath Khanal, immediately called upon Nepal’s rival political parties to support his administration and work together in finishing a new constitution expected to restructure the national government.

“My government will give full attention to the completion of the peace process and constitution writing,” Khanal told reporters.

Once a Hindu monarchy, Nepal is enduring a traumatic transition to democracy. A guerrilla war ended in 2006 after Maoist rebels agreed to stop fighting and form a political party. The Maoists then unexpectedly won a plurality in 2008 national elections and assumed control of the government before walking away from power roughly nine months later in a dispute over control of the military.

It is unclear what sort of power-sharing agreement will exist between Khanal and the Maoists, or what the new government will look like. Khanal’s challenges are enormous. For one thing, politicians are still fighting over how to integrate former Maoist fighters into the nation’s security forces. In the interim, more than 19,000 former Maoist combatants are living in camps around Nepal.

There are also stark differences between the Maoists and other parties over the constitution, with some rival politicians accusing the Maoists of trying to subvert the process to weaken institutions that would support a multiparty democracy. The Maoists have denied such charges and blamed other parties for trying to maintain their grip on power at the expense of the country’s poor.