AP Top News at 5:15 p.m. EST

Associated Press
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., talks with reporters near the floor of the Senate during the votes on tax cuts legislation on Capitol Hill in Washington Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2010.(AP Photo)
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In a reach across party lines, the Senate overwhelmingly passed sweeping legislation Wednesday to prevent a Jan. 1 income tax increase for millions and to renew jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. A House vote is expected by Thursday. Within moments of the 81-19 Senate vote, President Barack Obama urged the House to follow suit without making any changes — a slap at rebellious liberals working to stiffen the terms of an estate tax provision they characterize as a giveaway to millionaires and billionaires.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department on Wednesday sued BP and eight other companies in the Gulf oil spill disaster in an effort to recover billions of dollars from the largest offshore spill in U.S. history. The Obama administration's lawsuit asks that the companies be held liable without limitation under the Oil Pollution Act for all removal costs and damages caused by the oil spill, including damages to natural resources. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties under the Clean Water Act.

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council gave a unanimous vote of confidence Wednesday to the significant strides Iraq has taken by lifting 19-year-old sanctions on weapons and civilian nuclear power. The council also decided to return control of Iraq's oil and natural gas revenue to the government next summer and to settle all remaining claims over the controversial oil-for-food program, which helped ordinary Iraqis cope with sanctions imposed after Saddam Hussein's army invaded Kuwait two decades ago.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A new arms control treaty with Russia is essential for the United States to keep tabs on its rival's vast nuclear arsenal, backers of the pact said Wednesday as the Senate plunged into debate on President Barack Obama's top foreign policy priority. The treaty "will enable American teams to return to Russia to collect data on the Russian arsenal and verify Russian compliance. These inspections greatly reduce the possibility that we will be surprised by Russian nuclear deployments or advancements," said Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee who spoke for the treaty before Democrats took their turn.

MOSCOW (AP) — Fearing more clashes between racist hooligans and mostly Muslim ethnic minorities, police detained more than 1,000 people in Moscow and several other Russian cities Wednesday, after weekend rioting in the capital left dozens injured. Hundreds of riot police outside the Kievsky station in central Moscow hauled into police vans mostly young men and teenagers who were shouting racist slogans and raising their hands in Nazi salutes. Some were lined up against buses and searched by police. Officers confiscated an arsenal of weapons, including traumatic guns, knives and metal bars, police spokesman Viktor Biryukov said.

SYDNEY (AP) — Australians on a high cliff watched helplessly Wednesday as a wooden boat smuggling about 70 would-be migrants was smashed against the rocks of Christmas Island by monstrous waves, dumping screaming men, women and children into the stormy surf. At least 28 people died. The deaths underscored the dangers faced by hundreds of refugees who have tried to sail from Indonesia to Australia in recent years — often in cramped, barely seaworthy boats — to start new lives after escaping from poor, war-ravaged countries.

NOGALES, Ariz. (AP) — A Border Patrol agent was fatally shot near the Mexico border amid a shootout with bandits known for targeting illegal immigrants along a violent smuggling corridor in the Arizona desert, a union leader said Wednesday. Agent Brian A. Terry, 40, was waiting with three other agents in a remote area north of Nogales late Tuesday when a gun battle with the bandits began, said National Border Patrol Council President T.J. Bonner. No other agents were injured, but one of the suspects was wounded in the shootout. The Border Patrol declined to reveal the country of origin of the suspects.

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (AP) — The wife of the man who held a Florida school board at gunpoint said Wednesday that her husband was a gentle giant who was pushed over the edge by the economy and frustrated over her losing her teaching job. "He wanted to get me an answer," Rebecca Duke said a day after her husband, Clay Duke, killed himself. He shot at school board members in Panama City, missing some of them by mere inches, before he exchanged gunfire with a security guard. As he lay on the floor in the boardroom, he shot himself to death in the head.

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Some compare a helmeted motorcyclist's $1.5 million casino chip armed robbery at the posh Bellagio resort with a Hollywood movie script. Others see it more like a liquor store smash-and grab. Either way, the man who made off in a matter of minutes with chips in attention-getting denominations from $100 to $25,000 might be staring now at colorful but worthless loot.

NEW YORK (AP) — Before 2010, Mark Zuckerberg, the 26-year-old co-founder and CEO of Facebook, was primarily known as a mysterious, sweatshirted figure, a Silicon Valley wunderkind familiar mainly to those in tech circles. But this year, Zuckerberg has been thrust into pop culture ubiquity, appearing on screens of all shapes and sizes, from "Oprah" to one of the year's most acclaimed films.

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