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World briefly for Aug. 22

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POSTED: August 22, 2012 9:47 a.m.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Rep. Todd Akin defied the nation's top Republicans on Tuesday and refused to abandon a Senate bid that has been hobbled by fallout over his comments that women's bodies can prevent pregnancies in cases of "legitimate rape."

Akin took his message to conservative talk radio shows, declaring GOP leaders were overreacting by insisting he abandon his quest to unseat Democrat Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, and to social media with appeals for donations on his Twitter feed claiming "liberal elites" are trying to push him out of the race.

"I misspoke one word in one sentence on one day, and all of a sudden, overnight, everybody decides, 'Well, Akin can't possibly win,'" he said on a national radio show hosted by former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. "Well, I don't agree with that."

Akin predicted he would bounce back from the political crisis threatening his campaign, including a call from presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney to leave the race, and capture a seat that is pivotal to Republican hopes of regaining control of the Senate.

But his bid faces tall obstacles — chief among them a lack of money and party support.

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Syrian regime tanks, troops storm Damascus neighborhood, kill 11 suspected rebels

BEIRUT (AP) — Activists say Syrian troops backed by tanks have stormed an upscale Damascus neighborhood, killing at least 11 suspected rebels.

They said the attack came after regime forces shelled the area with mortars soon after dawn.

An activist, who only wanted to be identified by the name Bassam, said that as many as 22 tanks stormed the Kafar Soussa neighborhood with about 20 soldiers on foot behind each one. He spoke via Skype from central Damascus.

The British-based activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 12 were killed by regime forces shelling and shooting in Kafar Soussa.

It was not immediately clear why government forces stormed Kafar Soussa, but there has been a dramatic spike in fighting in Damascus over the past month.

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House Democrats seek to tie Rep. Todd Akin to Republican House candidates

DENVER (AP) — Meet the newest campaign issue for House Democrats: Todd Akin.

From Colorado to New Hampshire to Illinois, Democrats already are using the incendiary comments about rape made by the Missouri congressman and Republican Senate candidate as a political bludgeon. In interviews, news releases and tweets, they've blasted Akin for saying victims of "legitimate rape" are able to naturally prevent pregnancy and tried to tie their opponents to legislation he's supported.

Those moves might only be the beginning, as Akin has so far refused to drop out of the race despite pleas from top Republicans, including GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, and the widespread condemnation of his remarks.

"People are disgusted and appalled," said Joe Mikosi, a Democratic congressional candidate in suburban Denver, who began tying his opponent, GOP Rep. Mike Coffman, to Akin within hours of learning about his comments this past Sunday.

Mikosi sent a tweet that read, "Mike Coffman and Todd Akin have been fighting side by side against women in Congress," and posted a video online included footage of Akin praising Coffman on the House floor.

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AP-GfK poll shows Obama and Romney still locked in tight race, with Obama lead in likability

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all the attention it got, Republican Mitt Romney's selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate has not altered the race against President Barack Obama. The campaign remains neck and neck with less than three months to go, a new AP-GfK poll shows.

Overall, 47 percent of registered voters said they planned to back Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in November, while 46 percent favored Romney and Ryan. That's not much changed from a June AP-GfK survey, when the split was 47 percent for the president to 44 percent for Romney.

At the same time, there's a far wider gap when people were asked who they thought would win. Some 58 percent of adults said they expected Obama to be re-elected, while just 32 percent said they thought he'd be voted out of office.

After just over a week on the campaign trail, Ryan has a 38 percent favorable rating among adults, while 34 percent see him unfavorably. Among registered voters, his numbers are slightly better — 40 percent favorable to 34 percent unfavorable. Ryan remains unknown to about a quarter of voters.

Romney put the 42-year-old conservative chairman of the House Budget Committee on the ticket Aug. 11. The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Aug. 16-20.

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Investigators study Maryland train derailment; tweets describe final moments for 2 friends

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — Investigators looking into a deadly train derailment in Maryland were watching videos, studying track conditions and pouring over maintenance records, trying to figure out if two young women sitting on a railroad bridge over the town's main street contributed to the crash or if their presence was just a tragic coincidence.

So far, investigators have determined the emergency brakes were applied automatically — not by the three-man crew — on Monday around midnight, but they don't know why the train jumped the tracks. It could be weeks before they know anything definitive.

Tweets and photos from the two 19-year-old college students chronicled some of their final moments together as they enjoyed a summer night together before they were to headed back to school.

"Drinking on top of the Ellicott City sign," read one tweet. "Looking down on old ec," read another.

Accompanying photos showed their view from the bridge and their bare feet, one with painted blue toenails, dangling over the edge. "Levitating," read the tweet.

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Pilots report cockpit power failures in Airbuses; some jets still awaiting fixes

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — As United Flight 731 climbed out of Newark with 107 people aboard, the pilot and first officer were startled to find screens that display crucial navigational information were blank or unreadable and radios were dead.

They had no way to communicate with air traffic controllers or detect other planes around them in the New York City area's crowded airspace.

"I made a comment to the captain about steering clear of New York City, not wanting to get shot down by USAF fighters," first officer Douglas Cochran later told investigators. He wasn't joking: "We both felt an extreme urgency to get this aircraft on the ground as soon as possible."

Within minutes, Cochran and the captain had turned around and safely landed the Denver-bound Airbus A320 at the Newark airport. Cochran later told investigators that clear weather might have been the only thing that saved them from a crash.

The January 2008 emergency was far from the first such multiple electrical failure in what is known as the Airbus A320 family of aircraft, and it wasn't the last, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press. More than 50 episodes involving the planes, which first went into service more than two decades ago, have been reported.

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Romney pushes ahead with Obama welfare criticism despite inaccuracies in his argument

MIDLAND, Texas (AP) — Mitt Romney claims he's got a winner with his criticism that President Barack Obama is giving welfare recipients a free ride. Never mind that aspects of his argument against the Democrat are factually inaccurate.

Those flaws aside, Romney's team is pressing on with the charge that the president ended a provision requiring welfare recipients to work. Romney aides insist the argument is helping them gain ground with middle-class voters anxious about the economy and independents who see Obama's welfare changes as an indication that he is a typical liberal, not a moderate. But the campaign offers little evidence to back up those assertions.

Obama's team, in turn, says Romney's welfare charges are dishonest. Numerous independent fact-checkers, including The Associated Press, have determined that Romney and his surrogates are distorting the facts.

"Everybody who's looked at this says what Gov. Romney's saying is absolutely wrong," Obama said Monday. "They can run the campaign they want, but the truth of the matter is you can't just make stuff up."

But that criticism has done little to persuade Romney and his aides to abandon the welfare issue or even tweak its assertions.

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Road paved but NKorea economic zone still building power stations, upgrading rail and ports

RASON, North Korea (AP) — More than a year after construction began, the road from China to North Korea's special economic zone in Rason is paved. Power substations are being built, railway lines are being linked to routes to Siberia, and piers at the harbor expanded.

This week, an international trade fair staged at the exhibition hall in the zone in North Korea's far northeast offered foreign investors and visitors from China, Britain, Russia and elsewhere, as well as journalists from The Associated Press, a glimpse at the efforts to turn a long-neglected, remote region into a manufacturing, tourism and transportation hub.

A diorama of the future Rason International Commercial Trade Center displayed at the trade fair showed rows of modern buildings sparkling with lights and cars parked under street lamps along tree-lined streets — a look at what officials hope the zone will look like in years to come. But whether that vision comes to fruition will depend in large part on whether China comes through with the electricity, supplies and money needed to bring Rason into the 21st century.

Over the past two years, North Korea's leadership has made the bid to transform Rason into an international hub a priority, along with drawing much-needed foreign investment. Last week, Jang Song Thaek, a senior official and uncle of leader Kim Jong Un, led a visit to China to discuss joint cooperation on developing economic zones along the border in an indication that the project has the attention of top officials.

North Korea's economy has languished in sharp contrast to the booming market economies of its neighbors in Northeast Asia. Pyongyang has not publicly released detailed economic data for decades, but the CIA Factbook estimates its per capita GDP at $1,800. Outside the capital, Pyongyang, much of the country remains poor, with buildings and roads in dire need of repair, and the United Nations says two-thirds of North Koreans face some form of chronic food shortage.

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Texas vows to enforce law banning funding for Planned Parenthood after appeals court ruling

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas officials are vowing to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood after a federal court sided with the state in a challenge over a new law that bans clinics affiliated with abortion providers from getting money through a health program for low-income women.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans late Tuesday reversed a federal judge's temporary injunction that was allowing the funding to continue pending an October trial on Planned Parenthood's challenge to the law.

State officials are seeking to halt money to Planned Parenthood clinics that provide family planning and health services as part of the state's Women's Health Program because the Republican-led Texas Legislature passed a law banning funds to organizations linked to abortion providers.

Planned Parenthood provides services like cancer screenings — but not abortions — to about half of the 130,000 low-income Texas women enrolled in the program, which is designed to provide services to women who might not otherwise qualify for Medicaid.

The appeals court's decision means Texas is now free to impose the ban.

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Taylor Swift to perform at VMAs, Fierce 5 US Olympic gymnasts to present at awards show

NEW YORK (AP) — Six-time Grammy winner Taylor Swift will perform at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards next month. But she won't be the only gold winner in the room.

The U.S. Women's Gymnastics team — known as the Fierce Five — will be presenters at the Sept. 6 show. Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, Alexandra Raisman, Kyla Ross and Jordyn Wieber won the women's team gold medal at the Olympics this month and have been on a whirlwind tour ever since that included the couches of Jay Leno and David Letterman. Douglas, Maroney and Raisman also won individual medals.

Miley Cyrus, rapper Wiz Khalifa and alternative hip-hop artist Mac Miller will also present awards.

Drake and Rihanna lead with five nominations each. They'll battle Katy Perry, M.I.A. and Gotye for video of the year.

Swift was at the center of one of the award show's most memorable moments, when Kanye West hijacked her acceptance speech at the MTV Video Music Awards in 2009.

 

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