WASHINGTON

-The Federal Reserve is raising interest rates from record lows set at the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, a shift that heralds modestly higher rates on some loans.

The Fed coupled its first rate hike in nine years with a signal that further increases will likely be made slowly as the economy strengthens further and inflation rises from undesirably low levels.

Yesterday's action signaled the central bank's belief that the economy has finally regained enough strength 6 1/2 years after the Great Recession ended to withstand modestly higher borrowing rates.

"The fed's decision today reflects our confidence in the U.S. economy," chairwoman Janet Yellen said at a news conference.

The Fed said in a statement after its latest meeting that it was lifting its key rate by a quarter-point to a range of 0.25 percent to 0.5 percent. Its move ends an extraordinary seven-year period of near-zero borrowing rates. But the Fed's statement suggested that rates would remain historically low well into the future, saying it expects "only gradual increases."

Russian airstrikes restore Syrian military balance of power

BEIRUT -Weeks of Russian airstrikes in Syria appear to have restored enough momentum to the government side to convince President Bashar Assad's foes and the world community that even if he doesn't win the war he cannot quickly be removed by force.

That realization, combined with the growing sense that the world's No. 1 priority is the destruction of the Islamic State group, has led many to acknowledge that however unpalatable his conduct of the war, Assad will have to be tolerated for at least some time further.

The most dramatic sign of that came Tuesday with the statement by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry that Assad's future will be determined by the Syrian people, suggesting in the clearest way yet that he can stay on for now and be part of a transition.

That statement - less a reversal than the culmination of a rethink that had been underway for months -was doubly piquant coming in Moscow, where Kerry was discussing the Syria question with Russian officials.

"The Russians with their military intervention have basically said you can refuse to talk to Bashar Assad, but that means that you won't get a political solution," said Yezid Sayigh, a senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut. "If you do want that, then you have to deal with this man."

White House, lawmakers hail year-end deal

WASHINGTON - The White House and lawmakers of both parties grudgingly embraced a massive government-wide budget deal yesterday combining more than a trillion dollars in year-end spending with hundreds of billions in tax cuts for businesses, families and special interests of every kind. Leaders planned to push it to final passage by week's end and quickly adjourn for the holidays, ending a tumultuous year on Capitol Hill.

The sprawling package will keep federal agencies funded through Sept. 30 of next year, staving off a government shutdown that was to begin next Tuesday at midnight under the latest in a series of short-term spending bills, this one passed by Congress and signed by President Obama yesterday.

"In divided government, you don't get everything you want," new House Speaker Paul Ryan said of the 2,200-page melange of wins and losses for both parties. "I think everybody can point to something that gives them a reason to be in favor of both of these bills."

At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest sounded a similar note, saying Obama would sign the package despite elements opposed by the administration. Those include a GOP provision lifting the 40-year-old ban on exporting crude oil from the U.S. and delays and suspensions of several taxes to pay for Obama's health-care law.

"The president is pleased with the final product, even if it does reflect the kind of compromise that's necessary when you have a Democratic president negotiating with large majorities of Republicans," Earnest said.

New Orleans considers removing Confederate monuments

NEW ORLEANS - New Orleans is poised to make a sweeping break with its Confederate past as city leaders decide whether to remove prominent monuments from some of its busiest streets.

With support from Mayor Mitch Landrieu, a majority on the City Council appears ready to take down four monuments, including a towering statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. Their ordinance has sparked passionate responses for and against these symbols, and both sides will get one more say at a special council meeting before today's vote.

If approved, this would be one of the most sweeping gestures yet by an American city to sever ties with Confederate history.

"This has never happened before," said Charles Kelly Barrow, commander in chief of the Sons of Confederate Veterans. "I've never heard of a city trying to sweep [away] all Confederate monuments."

Geographers have identified at least 872 parks, natural features, schools, streets and other locations named for major Confederate leaders in 44 states, according to a mapping project. Barrow said more than a thousand statues and monuments and countless plaques also honor Confederate battles and heroes.

- Associated Press