- Expect feisty defence from China's disgraced Bo Xilai
- Race tight in four states, Obama holds slight edge - Reuters/Ipsos poll
- Flood ebbs, U.S. Northeast picks up after epic storm
Posted: 31 Oct 2012 08:48 PM PDT
BEIJING (Reuters) - Disgraced former top Chinese politician Bo Xilai can be expected to mount a feisty defence of himself when he finally comes to trial, but a guilty verdict is not in doubt, a lawyer who had a front seat at China's last major show trial said.
Zhang Sizhi was defence lawyer for Mao Zedong's widow, Jiang Qing, leader of the "Gang of Four" that wielded supreme power during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution. She was given a suspended death sentence in 1981 for the deaths of tens of thousands during that period of chaos.
As such, Zhang was witness to Jiang's spirited though ultimately fruitless defence, and thinks Bo could do the same.
"Bo Xilai will be given the right to defend himself, but will he be able to use it? I cannot say for certain," the still sprightly Zhang told Reuters in an interview in his spartan apartment in central Beijing late on Wednesday.
"I would expect though that he will defend himself to the fullest extent, according to what I know about the man," said the 85-year-old.
There is little doubt about a guilty verdict.
"It will be another show trial," Zhang said.
Bo, 63, was widely seen as a contender for top leadership before his career unravelled after his former police chief, Wang Lijun, fled to a U.S. consulate for more than 24 hours in February and accused Bo's wife, Gu Kailai, of murdering a British businessman.
Gu and Wang have both been jailed over the scandal stemming from the murder of Neil Heywood. In September, the government accused Bo of corruption and of bending the law to hush up the murder.
While formal charges have yet to be filed, China's prosecutors and courts come under party control and are most unlikely to challenge the party's accusations.
The Bo scandal has rocked Beijing, exposing rifts within the party - elements of which are strong supporters of Bo's populist, left-leaning policies - at a time when the country is preparing for a once-in-a-decade leadership change.
Zhang said he did not expect Gu, 53, to try and kill herself like Jiang did in 1991.
"Her killing herself was a political act. She did not fear death," he said. "Gu is not like this. She's just a little girl."
Zhang, who was sent to toil on a farm during the Cultural Revolution, has never given up his fight for legal and political reform in China.
Zhang has campaigned against censorship and, more recently, lobbied for Wu Ying, a self-made businesswoman convicted in a multi-million dollar scheme to bilk investors, in a contentious fraud case that sparked sympathy for the peasant's daughter. Her death sentence was overturned this year.
With China approaching the leadership change at a Communist Party Congress which opens in Beijing next week, calls for reform have grown in state media and amongst government-linked academics.
But Zhang said he was pessimistic, especially for legal reform in a country where courts are controlled by the party.
"The most important reform China needs to become a country with rule of law is independence of the judiciary," he said.
"I don't talk about this very often for one reason - it will not happen ... It cannot happen as long as we live in a one-party state."
(Editing by Robert Birsel)
(This story has been refiled to fix a typo in the first paragraph)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 31 Oct 2012 08:33 PM PDT
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney are neck and neck in four of the most hotly contested states in next week's election, but Obama holds a slight advantage in two of them, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.
The online survey of four battleground states showed Obama leading by 3 percentage points in Ohio and 2 points in Virginia. The two are dead even in Florida, and Romney leads by 1 percentage point in Colorado.
The state-level polls do not show a clear advantage for either candidate in any of those states going into Tuesday's election, as each race falls within the poll's credibility interval, the tool used to account for statistical variation in Internet-based polls.
But taken together, they indicate that Obama holds a slight edge in the state-by-state battle to rack up the 270 electoral votes needed to control the White House.
Since many of the largest states are considered solidly Democratic, Romney needs to win most of the nine or so states that are considered to be truly competitive in the election.
For Romney, winning the White House without winning Ohio will be difficult, and Obama leads there by 48 percent to 45 percent among likely voters. That margin is just within the survey's credibility interval of 3.8 percentage points.
"That's enough of a difference to give him an edge, if not a decisive lead," Ipsos pollster Julia Clark said.
In Virginia, Obama leads by a narrower margin of 48 percent to 46 percent among likely voters, within the credibility interval of 4.2 percentage points. Among all registered voters, Obama leads by a much wider margin of 54 percent to 37 percent.
In Florida, the two are tied at 47 percent each.
Colorado is the only state in which Romney holds a lead, by 46 percent to 45 percent, well within the credibility interval of 4.1 percentage points.
"These are swing states because the vote is always very, very close. They all went Democratic in 2008, they all went Republican in 2004 and they're on the knife's edge right now," Clark said.
NECK AND NECK AT NATIONAL LEVEL
Nationwide, Obama leads Romney among likely voters by a statistically insignificant margin of 47 percent to 46 percent, the online survey found. The numbers were unchanged from Tuesday and neither candidate has held a clear lead since early October.
Gallup and several other polls have suspended activity since Monday because of Hurricane Sandy, which left millions without power along the East Coast, but Clark said she saw little evidence the disaster had affected the four-day survey's results.
"Our numbers haven't gone strange on us," Clark said. "We're still getting interviews from those areas." Ipsos has monitored response rates and not seen a significant difference due to Sandy, she said.
Some 24 percent of those surveyed nationally said they had already cast their ballots, providing further evidence that early voting will play a larger role than ever in the election. Among those who had not yet voted, a quarter said they planned to cast their ballots before Election Day.
Obama led Romney by 53 percent to 41 percent among the 1,660 respondents who said they had already voted.
Although the race remains tight, 52 percent expected Obama to win. Only 30 percent said they thought Romney would win.
The state polls showed Democratic candidates in Ohio and Florida leading by wider margins than the presidential race.
In Ohio, Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown led Republican Josh Mandel by 49 percent to 41 percent.
In Florida, Democratic Senator Bill Nelson led Republican Connie Mack by 52 percent to 42 percent among likely voters.
Only in Virginia did the Senate race mirror the presidential race. Democrat Tim Kaine led Republican George Allen by 2 percentage points, well within the survey's credibility interval.
(The Reuters/Ipsos database is now public and searchable here: tinyurl.com/reuterspoll)
(Additional reporting by Gabriel Debenedetti; Editing by Alistair Bell and Peter Cooney)
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
Posted: 31 Oct 2012 07:41 PM PDT
NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City and the sodden U.S. Northeast began an arduous journey back to normal on Wednesday after mammoth storm Sandy killed at least 64 people in a rampage that swamped coastal cities and cut power to millions.
Financial markets reopened with the New York Stock Exchange running on generator power after the first weather-related two-day closure since an 1888 blizzard. Packed buses took commuters to work with New York's subway system idle after seawater flooded its tunnels.
President Barack Obama, who has halted campaigning with the election six days away, set aside political differences with New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie for a helicopter tour of the devastated coast, where they saw flooded and sand-swept neighbourhoods and burning homes.
"The entire country's been watching. Everyone knows how hard Jersey has been hit," Obama told residents at an evacuation shelter in the town of Brigantine.
"We're not going to tolerate any red tape. We're not going to tolerate any bureaucracy," he said of the relief effort.
The U.S. Navy said it was moving ships closer to areas affected by the disaster in case they might be needed, including the helicopter carrier USS Wasp.
Sandy killed 69 people in the Caribbean as a hurricane before crashing ashore with 80 mile-per-hour (130-kph) winds on Monday as a rare hybrid superstorm after merging with another system. It was the largest storm by area to hit the United States in generations.
Sandy was likely to rank as one of the costliest storms in U.S. history. One disaster-modelling firm said Sandy may have caused up to $15 billion in insured losses.
LONG ROAD TO RECOVERY
About 6 million homes and businesses in 15 U.S. states remained without power on Wednesday, down from a high of nearly 8.5 million, which surpassed the record 8.4 million customers who went dark from last year's Hurricane Irene.
As markets reopened, floodwaters receded and residents went back to work by car, bicycle and bus in New York, the country's most populous city suffered some setbacks. Damage forced evacuation of Bellevue Hospital, known for psychiatric and emergency care.
Five hundred patients were being moved, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said. Evacuations of four other hospitals and 17 chronic-care facilities had already been ordered.
An evacuation order for 375,000 New Yorkers in low-lying areas remained in effect. With subways down, the mayor said cars must have at least three passengers to enter Manhattan.
Across the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey, water that reached chest high on Monday was knee high on Wednesday morning.
"I thought it was the end. I kept telling my sons to pray," said Marcelina Rosario, 47, who was trapped in the second floor of her Hoboken apartment. "Everything happened so fast. The water started coming up, the refrigerator was floating."
More than half of the gas stations in the New York City area and New Jersey were closed due to power outages and depleted fuel supplies, frustrating attempts to restore normal life, industry officials said.
Tempers flared and horns blared in a line of some 30 cars at a Getty service station in Gowanus in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. "I don't have any lights and need this gasoline for my generator," said Abdul Rahim Anwar as he put two full jerry cans into his trunk.
Fuel spilled from a northern New Jersey oil facility shut down by Sandy, according to Motiva, the site's operator. NBC, citing the U.S. Coast Guard, said 300,000 gallons (115,000 litres) of diesel had been released and 200 people were working on the cleanup.
The New York area's John F. Kennedy and Newark airports reopened after thousands of flights had been cancelled, leaving travellers stuck for days. LaGuardia, a third major airport, was scheduled to reopen on Thursday.
Limited New York subway service was due to start on Thursday, four days after the system, with daily traffic of about 5.5 million people, shut down.
Brooklynite Matthew Gessler went to Breezy Point, the New York neighbourhood where fire destroyed 111 homes, to inspect damage to his mother's house, and was disturbed by what he saw.
"Where the fire happened, you could honestly take that picture and say it was somewhere in the Middle East, like in Afghanistan, and no one would doubt you at all," Gessler said.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown said more than a dozen people had been charged with theft and looting in connection with the storm for targeting businesses in the badly flooded Far Rockaway neighbourhood of the New York City borough.
With six days to go before Tuesday's presidential election, Obama and Christie put aside politics to tour devastated areas together. The two boarded the president's Marine One helicopter and from the air saw wrecked piers, swamped beach homes and streets under water.
"We are here for you and we will not forget," Obama said.
Christie, a vocal backer of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has repeatedly praised Obama and the federal response to Sandy.
"I cannot thank the president enough for his personal concern and his compassion," Christie, known for his aggressive political style, said after the tour.
Obama was scheduled to resume his campaign on Thursday with visits to battleground states Nevada and Colorado. Romney, who had also cancelled political rallies because of Sandy, limited his attacks on Obama while campaigning on Wednesday in Florida.
Christie issued an executive order moving his state's Halloween celebration to Monday, postponing trick-or-treating. Wednesday's Halloween parade through New York's Greenwich Village was postponed as well, but some parents in the suburbs held daytime gatherings for their costumed offspring in parks and parking lots.
The growing U.S. death toll from the storm reached at least 64, with 30 people killed in New York state, nine in Maryland, and six each in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Five other states reported fatalities.
Remnants of the storm were over Pennsylvania on Wednesday, forecasters said. Winter storm warnings were in effect along the central Appalachian mountains and flood watches and warnings were issued across New England and northern mid-Atlantic states.
Sunday's New York Marathon will go on as scheduled, but Thursday's National Basketball Association season-opening game between the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets was postponed.
(Additional reporting by Michael Erman, Anna Louie Sussman, Atossa Abrahamian, Chris Michaud, John McCrank and Scott DiSavino in New York, Susan Heavey in Washington, Ian Simpson in West Virginia, and Mark Felsenthal in Atlantic City, N.J.; Writing by Daniel Trotta and Jim Loney; Editing by Peter Cooney)
New Yorkers in fuel scramble as storm-hit pumps dry up
About 6 million remain without power in US Northeast
Wall Street scrambles to raise cash after Sandy
Factbox - Massive storm Sandy blamed for 64 deaths
Copyright © 2012 Reuters
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