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Rapid growth leaves Asian airlines searching for pilots

NEW YORK (AP) The rapid growth of airlines in Asia is helping bolster economies and change lifestyles, but it's also creating a daunting safety challenge.

The Asia-Pacific region currently accounts for 31 percent of global air passenger traffic, according to the International Air Transport Association. The figure is expected to jump to 42 percent in the next two decades. But some experts say the region is struggling to keep up with the infrastructure, airports and pilots to support it.

Boeing projects that the Asia-Pacific region will need 216,000 new pilots in the next 20 years, the most of any part of the world.

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New law spells end for many small Spanish businesses

The new year marks the end of rent controlled era in Spain that helped protect small businesses and city centers from market pressures.

A law passed 20 years ago put controls in place that limited hikes to the same percentage value as the official inflation rate. But that comes to an end Jan. 1.

About 200,000 mostly family-owned stores, bars and restaurants are affected by the change, which their landlords to raise rents to whatever they want.

An estimated 55,000 businesses are expected to close down over the coming months, wiping out around 120,000 jobs in a country which already has a 24 percent unemployment rate, labor groups say.

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US home price growth slows for 11th consecutive month

WASHINGTON (AP) U.S. home prices rose in October at a slightly slower pace, as real estate sales have fallen and affordability has increasingly become a challenge for potential buyers.

The Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index increased 4.5 percent in October from 12 months prior. The figures reported Tuesday mark the eleventh straight month of price gains decelerating and the smallest gain since October 2012.

The slowdown in price growth comes after surging double-digit increases for much of 2013.

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US consumer confidence rises in December

WASHINGTON (AP) American consumers are feeling more confident, a private survey showed.

The Conference Board said Tuesday that its consumer confidence index climbed to 92.6 this month from a revised 91 in November.

Consumers have plenty of reasons to feel better: Gas prices are down, the economy grew last quarter at its fastest clip in 11 years and employers are on pace to make 2014 the best year for hiring since 1999. The missing piece of the economic recovery is pay as wages are barely keeping up with inflation.

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White Castle's veggie slider not for dieters

NEW YORK (AP) White Castle is offering a vegetarian version of its famous sliders, but they're not necessarily for dieters.

The hamburger chain says it will offer the Veggie Slider for 99 cents each for a limited time at its 400 locations in 12 states.

The sliders range between 150 and 270 calories, with customers able to choose from three sauces honey mustard, ranch and sweet Thai. Regular beef sliders range between 140 and 220 calories, depending on the topping, according to White Castle's website.

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Chipotle apologizes for NY worker's police protest

NEW YORK (AP) Two Chipotle chief executives have apologized to New York City police officers who were greeted by a restaurant employee making the "hands up, don't shoot" gesture popular with protesters.

Co-Chief Executive Officers Steve Ells and Monty Moran said in a statement Monday that the employee's action at a Brooklyn restaurant appeared to be spontaneous.

The incident happened on Dec. 16 when a group of nine police officers entered. The officers were not refused service, but chose to leave after encountering the gesture while in line.

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China fires officials over deadly factory blast

BEIJING (AP) China's Cabinet says two top officials have been fired in an eastern city over an explosion at an auto parts factory that killed 146 people. It was the country's worst industrial accident since 2005.

The dust explosion at Zhongrong Metal Products Co. Ltd. in the city of Kunshan killed 75 people immediately. The death toll climbed to 146 when other workers died in the hospital. The factory supplied parts to General Motors.

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Arrest warrant for ex-Korean Air exec in nut rage

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) A South Korean court on Tuesday approved the arrest of a former Korean Air Lines Co. executive who delayed a flight over a bag of macadamia nuts.

Cho Hyun-ah, the daughter of the airline's chairman, forced the flight to return to its gate in New York to remove a senior flight attendant. She was angry that the nuts were served in a bag, not on a plate.

Prosecutors have yet to press criminal charges against Cho, but South Korean law allows authorities to arrest a suspect for up to six months over worries the person could flee or destroy evidence.

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Petrobras bans firms amid kickback probe

SAO PAULO (AP) Brazil's state-run oil company says it's temporarily suspending the country's biggest builders and engineering firms from bidding on contracts amid investigations into a massive corruption scandal.

The oil firm Petrobras says that it's blocked 23 companies from bidding on projects while an internal probe and an investigation continue into alleged kickbacks and money laundering.

Federal prosecutors so far are seeking the repayment of some $380 million from companies in connection with their investigation, though they say they will great expand the probe. Thirty-nine people, many top executives, face charges.

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By The Associated Press=

The Dow Jones industrial average lost 55.16 points, or 0.3 percent, to 17,983.07. The Standard & Poor's 500 index lost 10.22 points, or 0.5 percent, to 2,080.35 and the Nasdaq composite fell 29.47 points, or 0.6 percent, to 4,777.44.

Benchmark U.S. crude oil rose 51 cents to $54.12 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, a benchmark for international oils used by many U.S. refineries, rose 2 cents to close at $57.90 a barrel in London. Wholesale gasoline was little changed at $1.454 a gallon. Heating oil rose two cents to close at $1.869 a gallon. Natural gas fell 10.5 cents to close at $3.094 per 1,000 cubic feet.