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World briefly for Nov. 5

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POSTED: November 5, 2012 7:00 a.m.

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney storm into the final day of their long presidential contest, mounting one last effort to protect their flanks while engaging in the toughest battleground of all — Ohio.

The two campaigns were ready to leave matters in the hands of voters and their schedules left little doubt where the election would be won or lost. Obama was holding rallies in Wisconsin and Iowa on Monday. Romney was cutting a broader swath, with events in Florida, Virginia and New Hampshire.

But the richest prize is Ohio, and both Obama and Romney were rallying their supporters in its capital, Columbus.

Whoever wins Ohio has a simpler path to amass the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the presidency. With national polls showing the two candidates locked in a virtual tie, the outcome in a handful of key states will determine who occupies the White House for the next four years.

For Obama, Iowa, Wisconsin and Ohio are his firewall. "I think it's going to hold firm," Vice President Joe Biden told a rally in Ohio Sunday. Victories in those three states, barring a huge upset in a state like Pennsylvania, would virtually assure him re-election. "I think we're going to win clearly," Biden said.

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Florida's economy, demographics leave Obama and Romney frustrated and uncertain to very end

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — To the last minute, Florida is proving to be an expensive and frustrating state for President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney alike, seemingly resistant to arguments that play well in Ohio, Colorado and other states.

For all the talk of Florida leaning Republican, both nominees are making stops here in the campaign's final 40 hours, a testament to its uncertainty. Their campaigns and allies have poured $130 million into Florida TV ads.

Florida is a tough sell for Obama's national message of steady economic recovery, because its unemployment and foreclosure rates remain above the national average. The auto industry bailout ads airing in Ohio would make little sense here.

And Obama's standard remarks to Hispanics don't resonate so well in Florida because its two largest Hispanic groups -- Cubans and Puerto Ricans -- are exempt from immigration laws that Mexican-Americans and others intensely follow.

These factors played into Obama's decision to make his strongest battleground stand in Ohio, which has 18 electoral votes to Florida's 29. And they prompted Republicans to hope Romney would lock up Florida early.

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With schools back and gas scarce, NYC region commuters brace for post-Sandy commute

NEW YORK (AP) — A week after Superstorm Sandy ravaged the New Jersey and New York coast lines, another challenge loomed ahead for the region: Commuters, public school students and motorists — forced out of their cars by a fuel shortage — converging on transit systems not fully ready for them.

The good news in New York City was that, unlike last week, service on key subway lines connecting Manhattan and Brooklyn under the East River had been restored. But officials warned that other water-logged tunnels still weren't ready for Monday's rush hour and that fewer-than-normal trains were running — a recipe for a difficult commute.

"Service will not be normal tomorrow, and we need you to understand that before you enter the system," Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned Sunday.

Last week, with much of the subway system still crippled, commuters who turned to street transportation caused gridlock in Manhattan and elsewhere. A patchwork solution of shuttle buses and rules limiting bridge traffic to cars carrying at least three people didn't provide much relief.

Repair crews have been laboring around-the-clock in response to the worst natural disaster in the transit system's 108-year history, Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman Joseph Lhota said Sunday.

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US elections invite Chinese to make comparisons with their country's closed-door politics

BEIJING (AP) — Where can a pop star score a hit by talking about the U.S. Electoral College for 33 minutes? In China, where Gao Xiaosong's straightforward explanation of the system drew more than 1 million hits in four days.

Chinese have long been fascinated with U.S. presidential elections, but interest is particularly high this year because Americans are voting at the same time Beijing is going through its own political transition. A generation of Communist Party leaders will step down next week to make way for younger colleagues after a highly secretive selection process.

For many ordinary Chinese, comparisons are irresistible.

In a political cartoon circulated online, an American voter covers his ears as the candidates verbally attack each other on TV, while a Chinese man struggles to hear anything from the party congress, taking place behind closed doors.

"Every political system has its pros and cons, but I do think it will be great if I get to participate and get to make a decision after the candidates tell me what their platforms are for the next four years," said Guo Xiaoqiao, a freelance worker in human resources.

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Even in a close state, a vote's a million to 1 shot at picking president; yet voters persevere

WASHINGTON (AP) — There's always grousing about the many people who don't bother to vote. But look at it the other way: An estimated 133 million Americans will cast ballots in Tuesday's election. Some will persevere despite long lines, pressing personal burdens or the devastation left by Superstorm Sandy. Why do they do it?

It's not because any one voter will decide the contest between President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney.

A one-vote win is rare even in local or state races, which attract smaller turnout. The largest numbers of voters — about 6 in 10 eligible adults — come out for presidential years. Yet the presidency's never turned on just one vote, not even in the 2000 recount that flummoxed Florida.

It's so improbable that scholars debate whether voting is a rational act.

"There is no question that from a simplistic rational view it doesn't make sense to vote," said Kevin Lanning, a political psychologist at Florida Atlantic University. "Even in Florida I'm more likely to be killed in an auto accident going to the polls than I am to cast the deciding vote in the presidential election."

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US soldier faces hearing in Afghanistan massacre; case includes blimp video, Afghan witnesses

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — The U.S. soldier accused of carrying out one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is appearing in a military courtroom, where prosecutors will for the first time lay out their case that he slaughtered 16 people, including children, during a predawn raid on two villages in the Taliban's heartland.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a married father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., is accused of slipping away from a remote outpost in southern Afghanistan early on March 11 with an M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher to attack the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, in the dangerous Panjwai district of Kandahar Province.

The massacre left 16 dead — nine of them children, and 11 of them members of the same family. Six others were wounded, and some of the bodies set afire.

Monday marks the start of a preliminary hearing, called an Article 32 hearing, before an investigative officer charged with recommending whether Bales' case should proceed to a court-martial. The hearing is scheduled to run as long as two weeks, and part of it will be held overnight to allow video testimony from witnesses in Afghanistan.

"This hearing is important for all of us in terms of learning what the government can actually prove," said Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne. "The defense's job is to get as much information as possible. That's what our goal is, in preparation for what is certainly going to be a court martial."

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WHY IT MATTERS: Creaky bridges, potholed roads, tricky politics

The issue:

From bridges to broadband, America's infrastructure is supposed to be speeding along commerce, delivering us to work and piping energy and water into our homes and businesses. But just repairing all the breakdowns and potholes would cost tens of billions more than we're currently spending each year. Experts warn the resulting infrastructure and innovation deficit is jeopardizing our global economic competitiveness. Traditionally nonpartisan territory, spending for transportation and other megaprojects is now routinely caught up in politics, with Democrats and Republicans divided over how to pay for public works and which ones.

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Where they stand:

President Barack Obama has favored stimulus-style infrastructure spending plans, talking up highway, bridge and rail repairs as job creators, and pushed for innovations like high-speed rail and a national infrastructure bank to finance projects with the help of private capital. But Republican opposition to increased spending and taxes has blunted many such plans.

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'I do?' Opposition dogs French president's plans to legalize gay marriage and adoption

PARIS (AP) — A plan to legalize same-sex marriage and allow gay couples to adopt was a liberal cornerstone of French President Francois Hollande's election manifesto earlier this year. It looked like a shoo-in, supported by a majority of the French, and an easy way to break with his conservative predecessor.

But that was then.

Now, as the Socialist government prepares to unveil its draft "marriage for everyone" law Wednesday, polls show wavering support for the idea and for the president amid increasingly vocal opposition in this traditionally Catholic country.

And it's not just religious and rural leaders speaking out; top figures within Hollande's own party also are at loggerheads. So the Socialists are dragging their feet, releasing the bill later than planned and delaying parliamentary debate on it until January.

A political hot potato, it has entrenched divisions between urban France, where homosexuality is widely accepted, and rural France, where conservative attitudes hold sway.

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Pope's bodyguard, ex-butler on witness list in new trial in Vatican security breach

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The trial this week of a Vatican computer whiz over his alleged role in an embarrassing scandal of filched confidential papal documents is offering a chance for an insider glimpse at the Holy See's security workings.

Among those expected to testify in the trial, which begins on Monday in a Vatican City tribunal, are the pope's top bodyguard, a commander of the legendary Swiss Guards and a Vatican security official connected to an Italian company with expertise in detecting eavesdropping devices.

Also on the witness list is Paolo Gabriele, Benedict's former butler who is serving an 18-month prison sentence at the Vatican. It will be Gabriele's first opportunity for public comment since the Holy See tribunal convicted him last month of stealing the pontiff's private letters and leaking them to an Italian journalist in one of the worst breaches of Vatican security in recent memory.

The leaks exposed infighting among Vatican bureaucrats, intrigue and allegations of corruption.

Claudio Sciarpelletti, a 48-year-old computer programming analyst in the powerful office of Secretariat of State, was originally supposed to be tried with Gabriele earlier this fall. But his lawyer succeeded in having his client tried separately. Sciarpelletti is charged with aiding and abetting Gabriele.

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2-year-old boy is killed after falling into wild dog exhibit at Pittsburgh Zoo

PITTSBURGH (AP) — A mother's attempt to give her two-year-old son a better view of wild African dogs turned into a "horrific" tragedy at the Pittsburgh Zoo after the boy fell into the exhibit and was killed by a pack of the animals as relatives and bystanders looked on.

Lt. Kevin Kraus of the Pittsburgh police said the attack happened at about 11:45 a.m. Sunday after the mother picked the child up and put him on top of a railing at the edge of a viewing deck. "Almost immediately after that he lost his balance, fell down off the railing into the pit, and he was immediately attacked by 11 dogs," Kraus said. "It was very horrific."

It's not yet clear whether the boy died from the fall or the attack, said Barbara Baker, president of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium. Zoo officials at first estimated the boy fell 14 feet, but police said it was 11. It's not clear which is correct.

Authorities said that zoo staff and then police responded "within minutes" but visitors described that time as being filled with screams for help. Zookeepers called off some of the dogs, and seven of them immediately went to a back building. Three more eventually were drawn away from the child, but the last dog was aggressive and police had to shoot the animal.

Experts said the death is highly unusual.

 

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