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Three miners trapped by fire are rescued

NEW MARKET, Tenn. (AP) -- A fire broke out Wednesday in a Tennessee zinc mine, trapping three miners inside for about three hours before they were rescued, authorities said.

The three miners were trapped by smoke and needed respirators before they could leave the mine. A rescue team helped them out, and they appeared unharmed, though they were taken to a hospital as a precaution, officials said.

Renata Roberts, a spokeswoman for Switzerland-based mine operator Nyrstar, said the three miners were "in fine spirits."

"We are working with mine safety officials and others to make sure it's safe to resume operations. We are undertaking a full investigation," she said.

Fifty-four miners were underground at the time of the fire, according to Amy Louviere, a spokeswoman with the Mine Safety and Health Administration.

It was not clear how the fire started on a drill rig about 800 feet below ground around 1:10 p.m.

The Young Mine is about 25 miles northeast of Knoxville.

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173 police officers killed by guns in 2011

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of police officers killed across the country by firearms made 2011 one of the deadliest years in recent history for U.S. law enforcement.

A total of 173 officers died in the line of duty, up 13 percent from 153 the year before, according to numbers as of Wednesday compiled by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund.

Craig Floyd, the group's chairman, blamed the rise on budget cuts to public safety departments. He cited surveys by police groups that showed many cut back on training and delayed upgrading equipment.

It's the second year in a row the number of officers killed in the line of duty has grown. In 2009, the death toll dipped to 122, a 50-year-low.

The largest number of fatalities this year was reported in Florida, where 14 officers were killed, followed by Texas (13), New York (11), California (10) and Georgia (10).

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Congress approves Palestinian aid

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Lawmakers have freed up $40 million from a total of $187 million in U.S. assistance to the Palestinians that had been frozen over the Palestinian bid for U.N. membership.

Members of Congress released the economic and humanitarian funding for the Palestinians, the State Department said Wednesday. The money is administered by the U.S. Agency for International Development and "has been vital to establishing and strengthening the foundations necessary for a future Palestinian state," the department said.

The Obama administration had been urging lawmakers, with Israel's backing, to release the money, because it contributes to Palestinian stability and Israeli security.

The administration is pressing Congress to release the remaining $147 million that comes from the last budget cycle in which aid to the Palestinians was to total 545.7 million.

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GOP hopeful to run as a Libertarian

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) -- Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, a long-shot candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, said Wednesday he is leaving the GOP in favor of running as a Libertarian.

He told a news conference at the state Capitol that the decision was difficult but that he was "deeply disappointed" by the treatment he received in the Republican nomination process.

"I had hoped to lay out a real libertarian message on all the issues in the Republican contest. The process was not fair and open," he said.

Johnson has been excluded from all but two GOP presidential debates. He also has barely registered in the polls.