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Yemeni official hints
at election delay

BEIRUT — Adding to fears of a worsening political crisis in Yemen, a top government official hinted that presidential elections set for February that would mark the formal end of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s 33-year rule could be delayed.

During an interview broadcast Tuesday on Al Arabiya, Yemen’s foreign minister, Abu Bakr al-Qirbi, said it would be “difficult” to hold the elections on Feb. 21 as planned because security in the country was deteriorating. The elections are a condition of a power transfer deal that Saleh signed in November, and Yemeni officials have called them a critical milestone in progress toward ending the crisis.

Opposition figures quickly criticized his comments, and a spokesman for Yemen’s vice president said there would be no delay, according to CNN.

Still, the muddled signals underscored the difficulties Yemeni officials face as they try to implement an agreement that is intended to quiet a year of popular protests and start the country’s political transition.

—Kareem Fahim, The New York Times

Congress sees few barriers in extending payroll tax cut

WASHINGTON — With both parties largely in agreement on a yearlong extension of President Barack Obama’s payroll tax cut, the fight in Congress over the coming weeks will boil down to how to pay for it, and Democrats appeared to hold the advantage as members of the House returned to Washington on Tuesday.

Senior Democratic aides say they are entering the tax negotiations in a strong position after House Republicans yielded to bipartisan political pressure and passed a two-month extension of the two-percentage-point payroll tax cut just before their winter break.

Republicans, eager to avoid another bruising fight, have signaled that they will drop the most controversial provisions in the version of the yearlong extension passed by the House earlier in December. Those include efforts to block environmental regulations on boilers and carbon emissions, and to allow states to impose drug tests on recipients of unemployment benefits.

Democrats have retreated from their effort to raise taxes on incomes over $1 million to finance the extension of a tax cut for most working Americans, stave off a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors and extend expiring unemployment benefits. But they do not seem ready to give much more ground.

—Jonathan Weisman, The New York Times

Romney faces forceful
attacks in GOP debate

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. — Mitt Romney came under forceful attacks during a debate here Monday evening, with his Republican rivals lining up to question his business background, wealth and character, as they implored voters to scrutinize his candidacy before he sails to the party’s presidential nomination.

With five days remaining before the South Carolina primary, the Republican challengers wasted little time before firing pointed questions at Romney. They called on him to release his tax returns, explain whether his corporate buyout firm Bain Capital had created or killed jobs and account for his evolving views on social issues like abortion.

A spirited crowd of nearly 3,000 Republican activists at the Myrtle Beach Convention Center cheered as the candidates circled around Romney and pressed him for answers. He responded to some questions, deflected others and worked to keep his cool during the forum, which was broadcast by Fox News.

—Jeff Zeleny and Jim Rutenberg, The New York Times