WASHINGTON

House passes defense budget without war funds

The House yesterday approved a big boost in the Pentagon’s non-war budget for President Bush’s signature, even as a spending bill containing far smaller increases for health and education programs headed toward a certain veto.

The confluence of the votes reflected Bush’s dominant position in the year-end budget battle pitting the White House against Democrats controlling Congress. The $471 billion defense budget – awarding the Pentagon with a 9 percent, $40 billion budget increase – passed the House by a 400-15 vote. A Senate vote could quickly follow.

At the same time, House Democrats had little hope of winning a veto-proof margin on the health, education and job training bill, a top party priority.

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan

Musharraf agrees to hold February elections

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf yielded to pressure from the United States yesterday and said Pakistan will hold parliamentary elections by mid-February, just a month later than originally planned.

But the military leader showed no sign of letting up on his political foes, reportedly arresting more than 800 supporters of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto before dawn in an effort to head off a major anti-government demonstration set for Friday.

The White House hailed its ally’s election pledge, but Bhutto denounced his announcement as “vague” and demanded Musharraf give up his second post as army chief within a week.

TOKYO, Japan

Gates: Japan and neighbors must counter N. Korea

Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned today that Japan and its neighbors must do more to confront security problems in Asia, calling it one of the “last places on earth with the potential for a nuclear confrontation.”

It will take more than one or two countries to overcome the threats from North Korea and nuclear proliferation, Gates said in a speech at Sophia University that stressed the United States’ continued commitment to Asia yet cautioned that other allies must step up.

“Japan has the opportunity – and an obligation – to take on a role that reflects its political, economic and military capacity,” Gates said. “We hope and expect Japan to accept more global security responsibilities in the years ahead.”

SAN FRANSICO

Ship strikes bridge, spills 58,000 gallons of oil

An oil spill fouled miles of fragile coastline yesterday, sending environmentalists scrambling to save tarred marine life and leaving local officials questioning the Coast Guard’s response to the ship collision that triggered the slick.

About 58,000 gallons of oil spilled from a South Korea-bound container ship when it struck a tower supporting the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge in dense fog Wednesday. The accident did not damage the span, but the vessel’s hull was gashed, officials said.

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