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Blast hits pipeline in Syrian city

BEIRUT — A pipeline carrying oil to a refinery in the tense Syrian city of Homs was blown up Thursday, activists and the official Syrian news agency said, casting a huge pillar of black smoke over the city’s cloudy horizon.

The news agency, Sana, blamed the attack on an “armed terrorist group,” the phrase the Syrian government has used to describe those behind the country’s uprising. Some activists in Homs suggested that the government was responsible, as part of an effort to besiege a city that has proven the most rebellious since the revolt began in March.

One resident, who gave his name as Abu Rohayel, said the smoke was so thick that people there were suffering from respiratory problems.

“I can see mothers covering their children with blankets,” he said.

The attack on the pipeline occurred at about 1 a.m., and it was still burning by noon. It was at least the third attack on a pipeline in Syria this year. In July, a gas pipeline in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour was struck, as was an oil pipeline near Homs.

The European Union has banned imports of oil from Syria, devastating what represented one of the country’s main sources of revenue. Residents in Homs and elsewhere have complained of shortages in heating oil, making a cold winter more difficult.

—Anthony Shadid, The New York Times

Senate blocks Obama’s choice for consumer panel

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday blocked President Barack Obama’s nominee to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, as filibustering Republicans who oppose the very powers of the new agency successfully challenged one of the administration’s main responses to the financial crisis.

The nomination of Richard Cordray was rejected after Democrats failed to achieve the 60 votes they needed to move his nomination forward. The vote was 53 yes, 45 no.

Obama left open the option of a recess appointment.

“We are not giving up on this,” he said. “We are going to keep on going at it. We are not going to allow politics as usual on Capitol Hill to stand in the way of American consumers being protected.”

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, said his party had made clear for months that it would not approve a leader for the watchdog consumer agency until the law that established it was amended.

—John H. Cushman Jr., The New York Times

Markets end lower ahead of conference in Europe

Stocks fell sharply Thursday after the European Central Bank appeared to lower expectations for an expanded bond-buying program just as leaders gathered for a summit meeting intended to resolve the sovereign debt crisis in Europe.

The central bank cut its benchmark interest rate for the second consecutive month and expanded the emergency financing it provides to cash-starved banks.

But Mario Draghi, president of the central bank, indicated in a news conference that he was cautious about future bond purchases. Yields on Italian and Spanish bonds rose after his remarks and stocks declined in Europe and then on Wall Street.

Analysts said that investors appeared to be disappointed by Draghi’s remarks, in which he said he was “surprised” his recent comments were seen as a sign that the bank would buy more bonds if political leaders delivered tougher rules on budgetary discipline.

—Christine Hauser, The New York Times

US climate envoy seems to shift on timetable for talks

DURBAN, South Africa — Facing criticism from fellow envoys, environmental activists and one impassioned heckler, the chief U.S. negotiator at a climate conference here Thursday shifted his position — or at least his language — on a timetable for a new set of international talks.

Todd D. Stern, the Obama administration’s special envoy for climate change, was put on the defensive by a narrative developing here that the United States opposed any further action to address global climate disruption until after 2020, when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, a primary U.N. climate agreement, and voluntary programs negotiated more recently have run their course.

He denied that the United States was dragging its feet and, somewhat ambiguously, endorsed a proposal from the European Union to quickly start negotiating a new international climate change treaty.

The 17th annual meeting of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change is scheduled to conclude Friday night. A number of issues are nearing resolution, although others — including the status of the Kyoto Protocol as well as the form and timing of future negotiations — remain up in the air.

—John M. Broder, The New York Times

Letter bomb sent to Deutsche Bank’s chief

BERLIN — German authorities said Thursday that a suspicious envelope intercepted by Deutsche Bank employees was a letter bomb apparently sent by an Italian anarchist organization to the bank’s chief executive, Josef Ackermann, one of the most powerful and controversial figures in European banking.

In a joint statement the state police in Hessen and the Frankfurt prosecutor’s office said “initial investigations show that this was a functional letter bomb.” The letter was addressed to Ackermann.

Though a native Swiss, Ackermann is the most prominent banker in Germany, his name is synonymous with an industry whose reputation has plummeted since the financial crisis.

A spokesman for the state police, Siegfried Wilhelm, said a letter had been found, and an Italian group, the Informal Anarchist Federation, which has a history of sending letter bombs, claimed responsibility.

—Nicholas Kulish, The New York Times