Here are today's top stories from The Associated Press.
North Koreans celebrate first satellite; U.S. demands consequences for launch
PYONGYANG, North Korea — In Pyongyang, North Koreans clinked beer mugs and danced in the streets to celebrate the country's first satellite in space. In Washington, Seoul and Tokyo, leaders pushed for consequences for Wednesday's successful rocket launch, widely seen as a test that takes the country one step closer to being capable of lobbing nuclear bombs over the Pacific.
The surprising, successful launch of a three-stage rocket — similar in design to a model capable of carrying a nuclear-tipped warhead as far as California — raises the stakes in the international standoff over North Korea's expanding atomic arsenal. As Pyongyang refines its technology, its next step may be conducting its third nuclear test, experts warn.
The U.N. Security Council, which has punished North Korea repeatedly for developing its nuclear program, condemned the launch after a closed-door meeting Wednesday and said it will urgently consider "an appropriate response." The White House called the launch a "highly provocative act that threatens regional security," and even the North's most important ally, China, expressed regret.
In Pyongyang, however, pride over the scientific advancement outweighed the fear of greater international isolation and punishment. North Korea, though struggling to feed its people, is now one of the few countries to have successfully launched a working satellite into space from its own soil; bitter rival South Korea is not on the list, though it has tried.
"It's really good news," North Korean citizen Jon Il Gwang told The Associated Press as he and scores of other Pyongyang residents poured into the streets after a noon announcement to celebrate the launch by dancing in the snow. "It clearly testifies that our country has the capability to enter into space."
Vital loan to rescue Egyptian economy hangs in the balance as political impasse drags on
CAIRO — Egypt's political crisis is threatening to plunge its ailing economy even deeper into distress after the government delayed a request for a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund that would have eased a ballooning budget deficit and reassured foreign investors.
Fear of stoking the street unrest over a disputed Islamist-oriented constitution led President Mohammed Morsi to suspend a package of tax hikes that were key to reducing that deficit — and his government may now have to renegotiate the loan deal that took more than a year to hammer out.
While the government said it wants to delay the request for only a month, the IMF mentioned no time frame in its statement Tuesday, saying only that it stands ready to "consult with the authorities on the resumption of discussions."
That raises the possibility that the loan might be put off until the political situation stabilizes, and so far protests have shown no signs of abating. Tensions have risen ahead of Saturday's constitutional referendum, with Morsi's opponents calling for Egyptians to reject the charter.
"It's a serious blow to hopes that the economy will get back on track — the country really needs a financial backstop to convince investors to bring back much-needed capital," said Neil Shearing from research consultancy Capital Economics in London.
Fiscal cliff talks appear stalled less than three weeks before deadline
WASHINGTON — Republicans aren't budging on tax rates, and Democrats are resisting steps like raising the eligibility age for Medicare. Negotiations on averting a year-end fiscal train wreck combining big automatic tax hikes and sweeping spending cuts again appear stalled.
There are less than three weeks before the government could careen off this "fiscal cliff," but the chief GOP negotiator, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Wednesday that "serious differences" remain between him and President Barack Obama after an exchange of offers and a pair of conversations this week.
Boehner spoke after a closed-door meeting with fellow GOP lawmakers in which he advised them not to make plans for the week after Christmas.
Neither side has given much ground, and his exchange of proposals with Obama seemed to generate hard feelings more than progress. The White House has slightly reduced its demands on taxes — from $1.6 trillion over a decade to $1.4 trillion — but isn't yielding on demands that rates rise for wealthier earners.
Boehner responded with an offer very much like one he gave the White House more than a week ago that offered $800 billion in new revenue, half of Obama's demand. Boehner is also pressing for an increase in the Medicare eligibility age and a stingier cost-of-living adjustment for Social Security recipients.
Police: Oregon mall shooter ID'd as 22-year-old man
PORTLAND, Ore. — The gunman who killed two people and himself in a shooting rampage at an Oregon mall was 22 years old and used a stolen rifle from someone he knew, authorities said Wednesday.
Jacob Tyler Roberts had armed himself with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and had several fully loaded magazines when he arrived at a Portland mall Tuesday, said Clackamas County Sheriff Craig Roberts.
The sheriff said the rifle jammed during the 22-year-old's attack, but he managed to get it working again. He later shot himself. Authorities don't yet have a motive but don't believe he was targeting specific people.
Two people — a 54-year-old woman and a 45-year-old man — were killed, and another, Kristina Shevchenko, 15, was wounded and in serious condition on Wednesday.
Roberts, wearing a hockey-style face mask, parked his 1996 green Volkswagen Jetta in front of the second-floor entrance to Macy's and walked briskly through the store, into the mall and began firing randomly, police said.
Explosion targets Syrian Interior Ministry building in Damascus, kill 5, ministry says
BEIRUT — Three bombs collapsed walls in the Syrian Interior Ministry building Wednesday in Damascus, killing at least five people, as rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad edged closer to the capital, the symbol of his power.
The blast came as more than 100 countries recognized the opposition umbrella group as the legitimate representative of Syria, a diplomatic blow to Assad.
Five people were killed in the Wednesday's attacks and 23 others were injured, according to a statement by the Interior Ministry.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least eight people were killed, most of them soldiers, and more than 40 wounded.
Such bombings have been a trademark of Islamic radicals fighting alongside the rebels, raising concerns about the extremists' role in the civil war.
Now a majority among babies, racial and ethnic minorities in U.S. to outnumber white people by 2043
WASHINGTON — White people will no longer make up a majority of Americans by 2043, according to new census projections. That's part of a historic shift that already is reshaping the nation's schools, workforce and electorate, and is redefining long-held notions of race.
The official projection, released Wednesday by the Census Bureau, now places the tipping point for the white majority a year later than previous estimates, which were made before the impact of the recent economic downturn was fully known.
America continues to grow and become more diverse because of higher birth rates among minorities, particularly for Hispanics who entered the U.S. at the height of the immigration boom in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since the mid-2000 housing bust, however, the arrival of millions of new immigrants from Mexico and other nations has slowed from its once-torrid pace.
The country's changing demographic mosaic has stark political implications, shown clearly in last month's election that gave President Barack Obama a second term — in no small part because of his support from 78 percent of non-white voters.
There are social and economic ramifications as well. Longstanding fights over civil rights and racial equality are going in new directions, promising to reshape race relations and common notions of being a "minority." White plaintiffs now before the Supreme Court argue that special protections for racial and ethnic minorities dating back to the 1960s might no longer be needed, from affirmative action in college admissions to the Voting Rights Act, designed for states with a history of disenfranchising black people.