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PENNSYLVANIA

Hagel breaks ranks to endorse Democrat

HARRISBURG, Pa. | Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel, a Republican who has broken ranks in the past with his party, gave Democrat Joe Sestak his second major endorsement from moderates in a week in his bid for a fiercely contested Senate seat in Pennsylvania.

Mr. Hagel said Monday that Mr. Sestak has demonstrated during his two terms in Congress a willingness to put the interests of the nation and his constituents ahead of his party.

“I think he’s exactly what our country needs more of. I think he’s what the Senate needs more of - courageous, independent thinking,” Mr. Hagel said.

Mr. Hagel, like Mr. Sestak a military veteran, refused to comment on the candidacy of Mr. Sestak’s opponent, Republican former Rep. Pat Toomey. Mr. Toomey has a small lead in the race for the seat long held by Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican-turned-Democrat whom Mr. Sestak beat in the primary.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-independent, also has endorsed Mr. Sestak.

IRAQ

Biden presses for Baghdad deal

Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said Monday he is pressing Iraq’s leaders to settle their differences and form a government almost six months after the country’s election and a week before the scheduled end of the U.S. combat mission.

The Pentagon plans to cut troop numbers in Iraq to 50,000 by Sept. 1 - from 176,000 at the peak of the deployment after the 2003 invasion to topple dictator Saddam Hussein - and end its official combat mission there.

“More than 140,000 troops were in Iraq on Inauguration Day,” Mr. Biden said in a speech to U.S. military veterans in Indiana. “By the end of August, 50,000 will remain.”

Iraqi insurgents have been seeking to exploit a political vacuum created by the failure of the country’s Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions to agree on a coalition government almost after an inconclusive March 7 parliamentary election seen as a crucial test for Iraq’s young democracy.

SECURITY

Blackwater successor agrees to export fines

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