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World briefly for July 31
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BEIRUT (AP) — Fighting in Syria's largest city of Aleppo stretched into its 11th day on Tuesday amid growing international condemnation of the Syrian government's crackdown on a tenacious rebellion that has lasted 17 months.

Activists reported renewed bombardments of rebel-held neighborhoods and clashes in many parts of Aleppo as the army pushed on with its offensive to retake this key northern city. The battle for Aleppo, Syria's commercial hub with around 3 million inhabitants, has now lasted longer than the rebel assault on the capital Damascus that regime troops crushed earlier in July.

Despite regime claims of success and repeated forays by tanks and ground forces into rebel-controlled areas in the northeast and southwest of the city, the rebels appear to have held their ground, prompting government forces to resort to more shelling by artillery and mortars. Rebel positions are also being attacked with helicopter gunships.

Even as the fighting raged inside the city, rebel forces reported a number of victories in the surrounding countryside, including the town of al-Bab and a key army checkpoint at Anand. The capture of the checkpoint will ease the movement of fighters and supplies between Aleppo and the Turkish border, 30 miles (50 kilometers) away.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebel bastion of Sakhour in the northeast of Aleppo was being shelled and that clashes had broken out between rebels and government forces elsewhere in the city, especially in Salaheddine in the southwest.

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House, Senate negotiators push new round of sanctions against Iran

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress is pressing ahead with a new package of crippling sanctions on Iran, expanding on financial penalties and targeting Tehran's energy and shipping sectors in the hope that economic pressure undercuts its suspected nuclear weapons program.

House and Senate negotiators reached agreement late Monday on legislation that builds on the current penalties directed at financial institutions that do business with Iran's central bank. The new bill would impose sanctions on anyone who mines uranium with Iran; sells, leases or provides oil tankers to Tehran; or provides insurance to the National Iranian Tanker Co., the state-run shipping line.

Lawmakers hope to vote on the bill this week before their monthlong August recess, with a House vote possible Wednesday. The measure has one crucial backer — the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israel lobbying group — and extensive support from Republicans and Democrats.

"This bipartisan, bicameral Iran sanctions legislation strengthens current U.S. law by leaps and bounds," said Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. "It updates and expands U.S. sanctions, and counters Iran's efforts to evade them. The bill sends a clear message to the Iranian regime that the U.S. is committed, through the use of sanctions, to preventing Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold."

The United States and Europe argue that depriving Iran of its oil income thwarts its suspected drive for nuclear weapons. Iran has exported 2.5 million barrels of oil a day to Europe, China, India, Japan and South Korea. U.S. officials say the penalties have reduced Iran oil exports to less than 1.8 million barrels a day, costing Tehran about $63 million daily.

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Fed officials, worried about weak US economy, could be moving toward providing more help

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Federal Reserve appears to be moving toward announcing some new step to try to energize the troubled U.S. economy. The question is whether it will do so after its policy meeting this week.

Probably not, many economists say.

The U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of just 1.5 percent from April through June, less than the 2 percent rate in the first quarter. But many analysts say the economy hasn't slowed enough to compel the Fed to announce further help immediately.

Still, Fed officials have signaled their concern about weakening job growth and consumer spending, which have brought the economy closer to a standstill. Chairman Ben Bernanke has said the Fed is prepared to take further action if unemployment stays high.

What that action might be isn't clear. The Fed has already pursued two rounds of purchases of Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities to cut long-term interest rates and encourage borrowing and spending. These programs are called quantitative easing.

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In Warsaw, Romney pointing to ties between US and Poland and a shared skepticism over Russia

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Mitt Romney is stressing the United States' long ties with Poland as he caps a weeklong foreign tour intended to prove his leadership on world affairs and highlight his differences with President Barack Obama.

The Republican presidential candidate is prepared to deliver a foreign policy speech Tuesday at the end of a three-nation tour that began last week in Britain and took him to Israel.

Romney has stumbled along the way, inadvertently insulting Brits and angering Palestinians. On Monday in Jerusalem, he told Jewish campaign donors Monday that their culture is part of what has allowed them to be more economically successful than the Palestinians. Outraged Palestinian leaders suggested Romney's comments were racist and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East.

On Tuesday, China's official Xinhua News Agency said Romney's "hawkish remarks" could worsen an already tense Mideast situation, or even re-ignite a war between Palestinians and Israelis. Romney has been highly critical of China on the campaign trail, promising to challenge Beijing's growing influence in East Asia and get tougher with the communist government on its human rights record.

There was some tension between reporters and Romney staffers Tuesday, as the campaign was looking to Poland as a final opportunity to project the image of a leader ready to stand on the world's stage.

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EYES ON LONDON: Big night for Phelps, Malloy earns second-ever Olympic judo medal for US women

LONDON (AP) — Around the 2012 Olympics and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of the games to you:

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BIG NIGHT FOR PHELPS

After missing the medal podium in his first swim in London and taking a surprising silver in the 4x100 freestyle relay, Michael Phelps is back for two more shots at another gold medal on Tuesday. He will try to defend his title in the 200-meter butterfly and also swim in the 4x200 freestyle final.

Phelps had the fifth-fastest time in the 200 fly preliminaries on Monday, and he feels ready to go again.

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Officials say India's northeastern power grid fails, third grid to collapse

NEW DELHI (AP) — Officials say India's northeastern power grid fails, third grid to collapse.

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Republican campaign ads prod disillusioned Obama supporters to switch sides

NEW YORK (AP) — One Republican campaign ad describes the "buyer's remorse" some voters feel about President Barack Obama. Another ad features a woman saying she had supported Obama because "he spoke so beautifully," but he's failed to deliver on his promises. Still another ad woos Obama supporters with a direct but gentle prod: "It's OK to make a change."

Come on in, the water's fine. That's the message from Republicans as they try to persuade voters who supported Obama in 2008, many of them women, to switch to Republican candidate Mitt Romney this time.

Nearly all of the $100 million Romney and his allies have spent on TV ads in general election battleground states has been aimed at a single audience: swing voters who say they like Obama personally but are disappointed in his job performance. To reach those voters, Republicans have adopted a political soft sell: Coax them to consider Romney without criticizing the choice they made four years ago.

"You have to approach those voters with a respect for their former votes but to point them in a new direction," said Jonathan Collegio, a spokesman for the pro-Romney groups American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS, which together have spent about $34 million on campaign ads so far. "There is a worry that the tonality of an ad, if it's too harsh, will turn off those voters and thus have them tune out the message."

The soft-sell approach drew a rebuke from Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki, who said Republican appeals to women in particular would fall short.

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Japan's long muted pro-bomb voices grow louder amid debate on phasing out nuclear power

TOKYO (AP) — A contentious debate over nuclear power in Japan is also bringing another question out of the shadows: Should Japan keep open the possibility of making nuclear weapons — even if only as an option?

It may seem surprising in the only country ever devastated by atomic bombs, particularly as it marks the 67th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and Nagasaki three days later. The Japanese government officially renounces nuclear weapons, and the vast majority of citizens oppose them.

But as Japan weighs whether to phase out nuclear power, some conservatives, including some influential politicians and thinkers, are becoming more vocal about their belief that Japan should have at least the ability to make nuclear weapons.

The two issues are intertwined because nuclear plants can develop the technology and produce the fuel needed for weaponry, as highlighted by concerns that nuclear power programs in Iran and North Korea are masking bomb development.

"Having nuclear plants shows to other nations that Japan can make nuclear weapons," former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, now an opposition lawmaker, told The Associated Press.

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Former American Idol finalist Kimberley Locke wants to judge the popular singing competition

NEW YORK (AP) — Kimberley Locke wants to fill that vacant judge's chair on American Idol. The season 2 finalist feels having a former contestant on the show can bring renewed interest to the popular TV singing competition.

"I would love to sit in that chair and, you know, give some advice from the contestant's standpoint because I've been on that stage and I know what it's like," Locke said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.

But don't consider her a pushover. Locke says she'll be brutally honest about each performance and "give it with no fluff."

"When you're a contestant on that show you do need that hard truth sometimes," Locke says, anticipating her critical tone would fall somewhere between the styles of two former judges.

"I'm not quite as nice as Paula (Abdul). Paula's super, super nice but I don't think I'm quite as mean as Simon (Cowell) either."

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Women's team gymnastics competition should come down to Americans and Russians

LONDON (AP) — The Americans need Jordyn Wieber to regain her swagger in a hurry if they're going to hold off Russia for Olympic gold.

The two gymnastic powers have been trading places in team competition for two years and will face off again on the biggest stage for an Olympic title Tuesday night.

The Russians won the world championship in 2010, then finished second to the U.S. last year.

Defending world champ Wieber failed to qualify for the all-around competition at the London Olympics, but the U.S. women will be depending on her for a comeback if they're going to win their first team gold medal since the "Magnificent Seven" of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

"We're going to have to cheer her up and hype her up," teammate Gabby Douglas said.

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