By Mark Arsenault, Globe Staff
The Massachusetts Senate late this afternoon passed a major overhaul of the state pension system designed to cut benefits for future workers, saving $5 billion over a 30-year plan.
The proposal, which passed just before 5 p.m. would raise the minimum retirement age from 55 to 60 and would raise the retirement age for maximum benefits from 65 to 67. The bill would also base pension benefits on workers’ top five years of earnings, rather than the top three years, as is currently the practice.
The legislation now heads to the House for a vote. Speaker Robert A. DeLeo has not yet set a date for that debate.
State Senator Katherine Clark, a Melrose Democrat who leads the Legislature’s committee on public service, said the pension changes proposed in the bill are necessary to ensure that the plan remains solvent for the next generation of public employees.
“This is not the beginning of dismantling what we have,” she said at the outset of debate today. “It is crafted to protect what we have.”
A senior al-Qaeda leader in Pakistan, Abu Hafs al-Shahri, has been killed, say senior US officials.
There has been no independent confirmation of the death, which officials said happened in the Waziristan tribal region.
The US frequently carries out drone air strikes against suspected militants hiding out in the volatile area.
Three weeks ago, the US said it had killed al-Qaeda’s suspected chief of operations, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman.
The media are denied access to the area, making it difficult to confirm such claims.
The US said Shahri has been killed earlier this week and that his death “removes a key threat inside Pakistan”.
He had played a “key operational and administrative role” in al-Qaeda and had worked closely with the Taliban to carry out attacks in Pakistan, said officials.
The death would “further degrade al-Qaeda’s ability to recover” from the death of Abd al-Rahman, they said, as Shahri had been considered a contender to take on some of the dead leader’s duties.
A US official told the BBC that the death represents a blow to the core of al-Qaeda in the country.
The US does not routinely confirm drone operations and there has been no comment as yet from Pakistani officials.
However, correspondents says that Arab newspapers had already reported on the killing of Shahri, saying his relatives in Saudi Arabia had received an anonymous phone call to inform them had been killed in a US drone strike.
The BBC’s Ilyas Khan, in Islamabad, says a drone strike near Mir Ali in Waziristan last Sunday is known to have killed a key leader of the Haqqani network.
North Waziristan remains the headquarters of the Haqqani leadership and the main militant bastion in the semi-autonomous tribal belt.
Reports since have suggested that an Arab man whose identify was not clear was also killed, says our correspondent.
The Haqqani network has been blamed for several large attacks in Afghanistan, including a 20-hour gunfight in central Kabul earlier this week.
Abd al-Rahman had reportedly been number two on a list of the five top militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan whom Washington and Islamabad most wanted to capture or kill.
He was considered a close confidant of Osama Bin Laden, who was killed by US special forces in a raid in northern Pakistan in May, and was heavily relied on by the group’s new leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri.
News of Shahri’s death comes at a time of further tension between the US and Pakistan.
On Wednesday, the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said the US would retaliate against insurgents on Pakistani soil. Pakistani officials said his comments were out of line.
Libya’s interim authorities say their fighters have entered the coastal city of Sirte, one of the last places still loyal to ex-leader Col Muammar Gaddafi.
A National Transitional Council spokesman said the fighters had breached Sirte’s defences but were meeting heavy resistance.
Earlier, crowds in Benghazi cheered UK Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
They are the first foreign leaders to visit Libya since Col Gaddafi fell.
A spokesman for the National Transitional Council (NTC) told the BBC that NTC fighters have breached lines of defence on the south and west of Sirte.
The fighters – made up of battalions from Misrata, 200km (120 miles) to the west – are about 8-10km from the city centre, the spokesman said.
They have been facing fierce resistance and have been forced to withdraw a couple of kilometres in order to treat casualties, he added.
Ali Gliwan of the NTC told the Associated Press news agency the fighters had advanced into Sirte city centre, where they clashed with snipers and an elite unit of pro-Gaddafi troops.
Four NTC fighters had been killed and seven wounded, he told AP.
Col Gaddafi’s spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, told a Syrian TV channel that “thousands of volunteers” were ready to “liberate Libya” from the NTC.
“There are thousands upon thousands of young volunteers who are ready on the various fronts,” he said in a phone call to the pro-Gaddafi al-Rai channel.
He went on: “We are in fact strong. We have the capabilities, the means and plans to liberate the whole of Libya.”
Gunmen in northern Mexico have shot dead three relatives of a police officer being held over a deadly arson attack on a casino last month.
The officer’s father, stepmother and stepbrother were killed in their home in the city of Monterrey.
Police believe it was an act of revenge by the Zetas drugs cartel, after the officer named gang members allegedly involved in the casino attack.
The blaze killed 52 people and caused revulsion across Mexico.
Police officer Miguel Angel Barraza is one of six suspects detained in connection with the 25 August arson attack on the Casino Royale in Monterrey.
The other five are all alleged to be members of the Zetas cartel, which is thought to have torched the casino after its owners refused to pay protection money.
The murder of the family came on a day of violence in and around Monterrey, in which at least 15 people were killed.
Monterrey and the state of Nuevo Leon have seen rising bloodshed as the Zetas and Gulf cartels vie for control of trafficking routes to the US.
Map of Mexico
The casino attack was one of the deadliest episodes of violence since President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on drug gangs in late 2006.
Gunmen burst into the crowded casino in broad daylight and doused it in petrol before setting it alight.
Panic ensued as people rushed for the exit. Many were overcome by smoke as the building was engulfed in flames.
The attack caused outrage in Mexico, a country that has become accustomed to drug-related violence, with around 40,000 killed in less than five years.