Saturday, September 29, 2012

Published:

Dueling missions for campaign debates: Romney out to gain momentum, Obama to revive '08 vibe

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Barack Obama is cruising into the presidential debates with momentum on his side, yet he's still struggling to revive the passion and excitement that propelled him to the White House. Mitt Romney is grasping for his last, best chance to reboot his campaign after a disastrous September.

The fierce and determined competitors in the tight race have a specific mission for the three debates, the first of which is Wednesday night in Denver.

Obama, no longer the fresh face of 2008, must convince skeptical Americans that he can accomplish in a second term what he couldn't in his first, restoring the economy to full health.

Romney, anxious to keep the race from slipping away, needs to instill confidence that he is a credible and trusted alternative to the president, with a better plan for strengthening the economy.

"The burden in many ways is heavier on Romney," says Wayne Fields, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who specializes in political rhetoric. "What we see right now is an uncertainty about whether he's ready for the job."

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Syrian fighting torches historic medieval market in Aleppo; other cultural sites damaged

BEIRUT (AP) -- A fire sparked by battles between Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops and rebel fighters tore through Aleppo's centuries-old covered market Saturday, burning wooden doors and scorching stone stalls and vaulted passageways. The souk is one of a half-dozen renowned cultural sites in the country that have become collateral damage in the civil war.

The damage to one of the best-preserved old souks in the Middle East was the worst yet to a UNESCO World Heritage site in Syria. Across the country, looters have broken into a historic castle, stolen artifacts from museums and damaged ruins in the ancient city of Palmyra, antiquities officials and Syrian experts say.

The Aleppo market, a major tourist attraction with its narrow stone alleys and stores selling perfume, fabrics and spices, had been the site of occasional gun battles and shelling for weeks. But amateur video posted Saturday showed wall-to-wall flames engulfing wooden doors as burning debris fell away from the storefronts. Activists said hundreds of shops were affected.

"It's a big loss and a tragedy that the old city has now been affected," Kishore Rao, director of UNESCO's World Heritage Center, told The Associated Press by telephone from Paris.

Most of the other sites recognized as heritage sites by UNESCO, the global cultural agency, are also believed to have suffered damage during the 18-month battle to oust Assad, Rao said. The ancient center of Aleppo -- Syria's largest city -- has been hit the hardest, he said.

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Afghan police, soldiers dying alongside NATO partners in insider attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- Afghan Army Sgt. Habibullah Hayar didn't know it, but he had been sleeping with his enemy for weeks.

Twenty days ago, one of his roommates was arrested for allegedly plotting an insider attack against their unit, which is partnered with NATO forces in eastern Paktia province.

Afghan soldiers and policemen -- or militants in their uniforms -- have gunned down more than 50 foreign troops so far this year, eroding the trust between coalition forces and their Afghan partners. An equal number of Afghan policemen and soldiers also died in these attacks, giving them reason as well to be suspicious of possible infiltrators within their ranks.

"It's not only foreigners. They are targeting Afghan security forces too," said the 21-year-old Hayar, who was in Kabul on leave. "Sometimes, I think what kind of situation is this that a Muslim cannot trust a Muslim -- even a brother cannot trust a brother. It's so confused. Nobody knows what's going on."

The attacks are taking a toll on the partnership, prompting the U.S. military to restrict operations with small-sized Afghan units earlier this month.

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AP VIDEO: Syrian refugees discuss their pain, fear

As war rages in Syria, the stream of refugees into other countries shows no sign of stopping. More than 100,000 people fled Syria in August alone -- about 40 percent of all who had left since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began last March.

The United Nations refugee agency said Thursday that the number of people escaping Syria could reach 700,000 by the end of the year.

And in each case, lives are uprooted and changed forever.

In the following videos, people who fled the conflict tell their stories.

See the videos here: http://hosted.ap.org/interactives/2012/syria/http://hosted.ap.org/interactives/2012/syria/

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In or out? Rep. Jesse Jackson's absence from political scene is wearing patience in Chicago

CHICAGO (AP) -- His home in Washington is for sale. His wife says he'll come back to work only when a doctor approves. He vowed to return to the campaign by Labor Day, and then didn't.

Election Day is five weeks away, and Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. remains out of sight.

It's an absence, both from his job in Congress and his campaign, that's starting to test patience in his Chicago hometown.

More than three months have passed since Jackson, a 47-year-old Democrat first elected in 1995, dropped out public sight. It was later revealed that he was hospitalized for severe depression and gastrointestinal problems. There have been few updates on his condition and no hard answers to questions about his future.

Jackson's name remains on the ballot, even though he's yet to make a campaign appearance since last spring's primary. His wife, Chicago Alderman Sandi Jackson, insists she won't step in to take his place.

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Young, Foo Fighters, others wow thousands at Central Park concert to call attention to poverty

NEW YORK (AP) -- Neil Young, the Black Keys, Foo Fighters and others wowed thousands who turned out Saturday night for a free concert in Central Park to call attention to poverty worldwide.

Dubbed the Global Citizen Festival, the concert also featured K'naan, John Legend and Band of Horses, with Young's performance capping off the evening. Video of the event was streamed worldwide as about 60,000 music fans crowded the park's Great Lawn, the midtown Manhattan skyline twinkling behind them.

Legend made a surprise appearance, playing one song "Imagine" at a piano on stage, a short walk from where the song's author, John Lennon, once lived. The five-hour show was a mix of tight sets from the bands, roughly an hour each, mixed with videos and information from guest speakers about global poverty-related problems like infant mortality and polio.

"Feels good to be here," Foo Fighters lead singer Dave Grohl told the crowd during a break between hits like "Learn to Fly," ''Best of You" and "My Hero." Grohl, members of the Black Keys and others joined Young on stage for the finale, his anthem "Rockin' in the Free World."

The concert was scheduled around the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month and organizers used an innovative approach to ticket distribution so that many concert-goers were forced to learn about an array of global problems in order to get a ticket.

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AP PHOTOS: Concert in New York's Central Park shines spotlight on poverty

NEW YORK (AP) -- A crowd of about 60,000 music fans packed Central Park on Saturday night for the Global Citizen Festival, a free concert aimed at calling attention to worldwide poverty and featuring John Legend, Foo Fighters, Neil Young and other performers.

The concert was scheduled around the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week. The festival's organizers used a social media campaign as a means of helping educate concert-goers about global issues including child mortality, polluted drinking water, malaria and other ills that confront the world's poor.

Here is a gallery of photos from the show.

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Robertson, Perkins join 'America for Jesus' rally in Philly, pray for political candidates, US

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Thousands of conservative Christians gathered Saturday on Independence Mall in Philadelphia to pray for the future of the United States in the weeks before the presidential election.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson and Family Research Council president Tony Perkins topped a full day of speakers at "The America for Jesus 2012" prayer rally.

Robertson, a former Republican candidate for president, called the election important, but didn't mention either major political party or candidate by name.

"I don't care what the ACLU says or any atheists say. This nation belongs to Jesus, and we're here today to reclaim his sovereignty," said Robertson, 82, who founded the Christian Coalition and Christian Broadcasting Network, and ran for president in 1988.

Organizers plan another prayer rally Oct. 20 in Washington, D.C., two weeks before President Barack Obama faces Republican Mitt Romney in the presidential election.

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Responding to calls from the military, hundreds of Libyans hand over their weapons

BENGHAZI, Libya (AP) -- Hundreds of Libyans converged Saturday on a main square in Benghazi and another in Tripoli in response to a call from the military to hand over their weapons, some driving in with armored personnel carriers, tanks, vehicles with mounted anti-aircraft guns and hundreds of rocket launchers.

The call by the Libyan chiefs of staff was promoted on a private TV station in August. But it may have gained traction in the wake of the attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in which the American ambassador and three staffers were killed. The incident was followed by a popular uproar against armed militias which have increasingly challenged government authorities.

In response, the government has called on all militias to disband or join a command center coordinating between the army and the militias. The government had relied on many militias for security during the turmoil following last year's ouster and killing of longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Army Col. Omran al-Warfali said the turnout has been impressive.

"Hundreds of citizens came since the early hours of this morning to handover their weapons from all segments of society, men and youth, women, and even children came to hand over bullets they found it in the streets," he said.

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Poulter carries Europe to 2 late wins, cuts US lead to 10-6 going into final day at Ryder Cup

MEDINAH, Ill. (AP) -- Europe sure didn't look like a team trailing by four points in the Ryder Cup.

Under a darkening sky, there was still enough light to see the whites of Ian Poulter's bulging eyes and his golf ball disappear into the cup for a fifth straight birdie -- and another crucial point Saturday. There was no mistaking the smile of captain Jose Maria Olazabal, who waited from sunrise to sunset at Medinah for hope that this cup was still within reach.

Right when it looked like the Americans were a lock to win it back, Poulter came through with a performance so remarkable that it was the only match Europe won when it trailed on the back nine. Right before him, Luke Donald matched a clutch shot by Tiger Woods with one that was even better and it kept Woods winless for the first time going into Sunday singles.

Those two matches gave Europe a load of momentum going into the final day, even if all it really changed was the size of the deficit.

The Americans still had a big lead, 10-6. Europe at least had hope.