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Minds unchanged on guns

The slaying of five dozen people in Las Vegas did little to change Americans' opinions about gun laws.

The nation is closely divided on whether restricting firearms would reduce such mass shootings or homicides, though a majority favour tighter laws as they have for several years, according to a new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The massive divide on stricter limits remains firmly in place.

The survey was conducted from Oct. 12-16, about two weeks after 64-year-old Stephen Paddock fired on a crowded musical festival taking place on across the street from his hotel room, killing 58 and wounding more than 540 before killing himself. It's the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

In this latest survey, 61 per cent said the country's gun laws should be tougher, while 27 per cent would rather see them remain the same and 11 per cent want them to be less strict. That's similar to the results of an AP-GfK poll in July 2016.

Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats, but just a third of Republicans, want to see gun laws made stricter.

Kenny Garcia, a 31-year-old resident of Stockton, California, and a former gun owner, said he's torn about whether tighter gun laws would lead to a reduction in mass shootings.

"That's the hard part," Garcia said. "How do you control something like that when you have no idea where it's coming from, whether you control the guns or not?"

Still, he's frustrated by easy availability of some devices — such as the "bump stocks" used by the Las Vegas shooter to make his semi-automatic guns mimic the more rapid fire of automatic weapons.

"They give people access to these things, then they question after something horrible happens, but yet the answer is right there," he said. "It just doesn't make sense."

About half of Americans said they think making it more difficult to buy a gun would reduce the number of mass shootings in the country, and slightly under half said it would reduce the number of homicides.

About half felt it would reduce the number of accidental shootings, 4 in 10 that it would reduce the number of suicides and only about a third felt it would reduce gang violence.



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Suicide bombings kill 63

Suicide bombers struck two mosques in Afghanistan during Friday prayers, a Shiite mosque in Kabul and a Sunni mosque in western Ghor province, killing at least 63 people at the end of a particularly deadly week for the troubled nation.

The Afghan president issued a statement condemning both attacks and saying that country's security forces would step up the fight to "eliminate the terrorists who target Afghans of all religions and tribes."

In the attack in Kabul, a suicide bomber walked into the Imam Zaman Mosque, a Shiite mosque in the western Dashte-e-Barchi neighbourhood where he detonated his explosives vest, killing 30 and wounding 45, said Maj. Gen. Alimast Momand at the Interior Ministry.

The suicide bombing in Ghor province struck a Sunni mosque, also during Friday prayers and killed 33 people, including a warlord who was apparently the target of the attack, said Mohammad Iqbal Nizami, the spokesman for the provincial chief of police.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for either attack, the latest in a devastating week that saw Taliban attacks kill scores across the country.

The U.S. government strongly condemned the attacks in Kabul and Ghor, as well as other attacks carried out across Afghanistan this week.

"In the face of these senseless and cowardly acts, our commitment to Afghanistan is unwavering. The United States stands with the government and people of Afghanistan and will continue to support their efforts to achieve peace and security for their country," said State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert in a statement.



Devilish deficit hits $666B

The U.S. budget deficit rose to $666 billion in the just-completed fiscal year, a spike that comes as Republicans are moving to draft a tax code rewrite that promises to add up to $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the coming decade.

The sobering deficit numbers, released Friday by the Treasury Department and the White House budget office, followed Senate passage Thursday night of a 10-year budget plan that shelves GOP concerns on deficits and debt in favour of a tax overhaul.

Still, House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin insisted Friday on "CBS This Morning:" ''We're Republicans. We're sensitive to the deficit."

President Donald Trump and his GOP allies on Capitol Hill promise this year's tax legislation will spark a burst of economic growth — and hope it will pay big political dividends for their party.

Friday's budget figures represent an $80 billion jump over last year's $585 billion deficit, which itself was way up over the previous year's $438 billion.

The administration says the sour deficit report shows a need to pass the tax overhaul measure.

"Through a combination of tax reform and regulatory relief, this country can return to higher levels of GDP growth, helping to erase our fiscal deficit," said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

"These numbers should serve as a smoke alarm for Washington, a reminder that we need to grow our economy again and get our fiscal house in order. We can do that through smart spending restraint, tax reform and cutting red tape," said White House budget director Mick Mulvaney.

Mulvaney drafted Trump's May budget plan, which promised to balance the budget within a decade, but only through politically unrealistic cuts and rosy assumptions of economic growth. But Trump hasn't promoted the effort, which was quickly shelved by the GOP in Congress.

The White House in July revised its short-term deficit outlook significantly to warn of worsening deficits. Since then, a bad hurricane season has forced the government to spend billions in disaster relief.



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Spacewalk gets sketchy

A spacewalking astronaut successfully replaced a blurry camera outside the International Space Station on Friday, but had to contend with a balky jetpack and a frayed safety tether.

Both jetpacks and safety ties are crucial for saving a flyaway astronaut.

NASA said Joe Acaba was always securely attached to the orbiting outpost and never in any danger during the nearly seven-hour spacewalk.

But one of his tethers had to be replaced shortly after he and station commander Randy Bresnik floated outside. Mission Control noticed the red lifeline was frayed and worn. Bresnik went back to the air lock to get Acaba a spare.

Then five hours into the spacewalk, Mission Control saw that the right handle on Acaba's emergency jetpack was popped open — again. Bresnik once more went to his crewmate's assistance, even offering some tape to keep it down.

After consulting for several minutes in Houston, flight controllers declared the jetpack unreliable and ordered Acaba back inside, once he was done greasing the new robot arm on the space station's big robot arm. He finished the lube job, then headed in.

Bresnik acknowledged things didn't go as planned, "with all the stuff that happened today and the challenges we had." But he thanked everyone for their hard work and diligence.

In the end, only a couple minor chores were left undone.



Raqqa in ruins

Drone footage from the northern Syrian city of Raqqa shows the extent of devastation caused by weeks of fighting between Kurdish-led forces and the Islamic State group and thousands of bombs dropped by the U.S.-led coalition.

Footage from Thursday shows the bombed-out shells of buildings and heaps of concrete slabs lay piled on streets littered with destroyed cars. Entire neighbourhoods are seen turned to rubble, with little sign of civilian life.

The video shows entire blocks in the city as uninhabitable with knocked-out walls and blown-out windows and doors, while some buildings had several stories turned to piles of debris. The stadium that was used as an arms depot and prison by the extremists appears to have suffered less damage compared with surrounding buildings.

Long before the ground offensive by the Syrian Democratic Forces began in Raqqa in early June, warplanes pounded the city for months.

The U.S.-backed Kurdish-led SDF announced Tuesday they have driven IS militants out of the city after weeks of fighting.

The SDF is scheduled to hold a news conference in Raqqa on Friday during which the city will be declared free of extremists for the first time in nearly four years. The SDF will likely hand over authority in the city to the Raqqa Civil Council, which is made up of local officials and tribal leaders and will be in charge of returning life to normal in the city.



Make China great again!

In this summer's "Wolf Warrior II," Chinese action star Wu Jing portrays a tough super-patriot who rescues both fellow countrymen and oppressed Africans with help from the People's Liberation Army.

Audiences loved what became China's biggest-grossing movie ever. Some reportedly sang the national anthem as the movie closed on an image of a Chinese passport and the words, "Please remember, at your back stands a strong motherland."

This red-blooded nationalism has been channeled skillfully by President and ruling Communist Party leader Xi Jinping as he seeks to strengthen the party's role in Chinese life and shepherd the country's rise to prominence at a time when the United States and others in the West are seen to be in retreat.

Xi's muscular foreign policy could become even more assertive following this month's congress of the ruling Communist Party, where delegates will agree to support his policies and endorse his second five-year term as party secretary general, observers say.

"Xi's on a roll," said June Teufel Dreyer, professor of political science at the University of Miami. She predicted he would continue expanding China's influence by gradually increasing pressure on other countries, a tactic seen in Beijing's steady island-building efforts in the South China Sea, for instance.

In an address Wednesday to the congress' opening session, Xi reiterated that China pursues an "independent foreign policy of peace" and maintains a defensive military posture. However, he also warned other countries not to underestimate China's willingness to stand up for itself.

"No one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests," Xi told delegates at Beijing's hulking Great Hall of the People.

For years, after its emergence from hard-line Marxism in the late 1980s, China stuck to reformist leader Deng Xiaoping's dictum to "keep a low profile and bide one's time, while also getting things done."

That began to change after the last decade's global financial crisis, from which China emerged relatively unscathed, and the country's foreign policy has since shifted into high gear under Xi.

China has succeeded in leveraging its booming economy and mountain of foreign currency holdings to influence other nations and further its global ambitions. A key watershed came this year, when the People's Liberation Army began manning China's first overseas base in Djibouti, reversing decades of rhetoric eschewing such facilities as imperialist Cold War holdovers.

The overall goal seems clear: Restore China to its traditional role as East Asia's leading nation and a global economic and cultural force.

Xi said as much in his opening address on Wednesday when he outlined a vision of raising China's international stature. By 2050, Xi said, China would be "a global leader in terms of composite national strength and international influence."

"Xi presents very bold visions for where China should be headed and what China must become," said Jingdong Yuan, an Asia-Pacific security expert at Australia's University of Sydney.



Arrests in vampire attack

Deadly mob attacks on people suspected to be "vampires" have led to 140 arrests in Malawi, police said Friday.

The situation had spun out of control, the inspector general of police, Lexon Kachama, told The Associated Press. More arrests were expected.

Nine people have been killed in the attacks that began last month after rumours of "blood-suckers" spread. In the latest case, a man with epilepsy was burned to death in Blantyre, the southern African nation's second-largest city, Kachama said. Another person there was stoned to death.

President Peter Mutharika has appealed for calm in the four districts where the mob attacks have taken place, saying this week that "my government will offer protection from these alleged blood-suckers."

The United Nations and U.S. Embassy have blacklisted some of the areas as dangerous zones for staffers.

"The biggest challenge is that thieves and robbers have now taken advantage of the situation and are mounting illegal roadblocks at night in order to harass people," Kachama said.

Government officials have said the attacks were harming the deeply impoverished country's image. Residents including health officials, teachers and traditional leaders have said their homes were destroyed after rumours spread that they were harbouring "vampires."



Not going to live in fear

Some survivors of the Las Vegas mass shooting said they were ready for closure, though they confessed feeling engulfed by anxiety and security fears while gathering in a large group for the first time since the attack.

Theresa Almada, 49, drove Thursday evening from San Diego back to Las Vegas to attend a country music concert benefiting victims of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Fifty-eight people were killed and hundreds more were wounded Oct. 1 at the Route 91 Harvest Festival on the Las Vegas Strip. Gunman Stephen Paddock opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay casino-hotel tower, unleashing more than 1,000 bullets into the crowd.

Almada was physically unharmed and was able to run back to her hotel, but she said she feels immense anxiety that comes in waves. She gathered at the Thursday night benefit concert with fellow survivors wearing matching orange t-shirts and bracelets. Almada said she hopes she'll feel some sense of closure and can begin to heal from the traumatic experience.

"I don't know if there's a copy-cat person out there, but I'm not going to let him do what he did to every single day of my life," Almada said of Paddock.

Susan Pudiwitr, 56, of Las Vegas, who suffered a bullet graze wound on her hip, said she finds comfort being among other survivors but being in a big crowd again makes her think about who's out there, where they are and how she would save herself and her friends if the worst happened again.

"It's been hard. I don't sleep. I have trouble eating," Pudiwitr said.

Security was also on the mind of John Rich of the American country music duo Big & Rich, which headlined the benefit concert along with Rascal Flatts. Thursday's concert at the indoor Orleans Arena was expected to attract 8,000 people, including 2,000 police and other emergency workers.



Dam repair to top $500M

The costs to repair the nation's tallest dam after a nearly catastrophic failure of the spillways will top $500 million, nearly double the original estimate of $275 million, a California Department of Water Resources official said Thursday.

The $500 million figure reflects only the work by the main construction contractor, Kiewit Corp., to repair the spillways at the 770-foot Oroville Dam, said Erin Mellon, a spokeswoman for the state water agency. It excludes the costs of other contractors and the emergency response in the immediate aftermath of the spillway failure, which prompted fears of massive flooding. Nearly 200,000 were ordered to evacuate, but disaster was averted.

Construction crews are excavating unstable soil, replacing it with concrete and topping it with slabs of rebar-reinforced concrete that is anchored into the bedrock.

The project has required far more excavation and concrete than expected, said Jeff Petersen, a Kiewit vice-president who is directing the project. The state has also revised plans to shore up the emergency spillway, doubling the amount of concrete it will require.

Barring a major storm or equipment failure, Kiewit's 700 workers and subcontractors are on track to finish pouring concrete on the main spillway by Nov. 1, Petersen said. That will give the surface a month to cure and be ready for use in December.

"I don't want to jinx it, but we're ahead of schedule," Petersen told reporters during a tour of the jobsite Thursday.



Big bruin goes downtown

A very large bear-about-town was spotted peering into shop windows in a California tourist community on Lake Tahoe.

The Placer County Sheriff's Office posted video on its Facebook page of the four-pawed prowler early Wednesday.

In it, Deputy Don Nevins shines his car's spotlight on the animal and shouts, "Hey, big boy!" before warning the bear against breaking into any of the shops it's sniffing around.

Shortly after, the bear darts in front of his patrol car and off into a park.

Sheriff's spokeswoman Dena Erwin says deputies respond to bear calls every day because they break into cars, homes and businesses. She said right now they are preparing for hibernation, so they're upping their calorie intake.



Gator outgrows bathtub

It was an odd day for one Alaska animal control officer who took a call about an alligator outgrowing its bathtub.

KTUU-TV reports that a Wasilla resident called 911 this week after realizing that the more than four-foot-long alligator named Allie couldn't live in a tub anymore.

Rescue group Valley Aquatics took Allie in. Valley Aquatics owner Sheridan Perkins says Allie is a three-year-old American alligator.

Perkins says she has thought about re-homing Allie in Florida.

The alligator is Wasilla's second run in this year with a large reptile. In May, a 17-foot python named Sam went missing for several days before reappearing in his home's living room. He returned through the door his owner left open for him.



Quake recovery slow going

Wearing a hardhat, Rodrigo Diaz Mejia steps onto the hood of a crushed car and then gingerly into an apartment cracked open by the Sept. 19 earthquake. Inside he spots a photo of two young boys hanging on a wall spider-webbed with deep cracks. He puts it under his arm to carry it out for the family.

For weeks, the mechanic by trade has been climbing through broken walls and over buckled floors in the increasingly unstable buildings of the Tokio 517 apartment complex in central Mexico City to emerge with prized photos, clothes and documents for grateful residents. But now, he says, rains and further shifts mean he may have to stop taking the risk.

The buildings "have settled a bit more and the walls have opened a bit more. Things have fallen. They are starting to want to collapse at any moment," he said of the complex of three apartment buildings in the Portales Norte neighbourhood, two of which collapsed.

Thousands of Mexico City residents have been unable to return to their collapsed or severely damaged buildings one month after a magnitude 7.1 earthquake killed 228 people in the capital and many say they have not yet received promised financial assistance.

Hundreds of buildings were evacuated after the quake and efforts to tear down the ones too damaged to be repaired are only just beginning. Crews will strip buildings of anything that could be a hazard and begin the slow process of low-tech demolition in an urban setting.

People forced out of those structures, meanwhile, are staying with relatives, at hotels or even in tents on the street. The government has said it will offer low-interest loans for people to repair homes or seek new lodgings, but that seemingly will be a slow process.



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