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VATICAN CITY (AP) - Pope Benedict XVI greeted the Catholic masses in St. Peter's Square Wednesday for the last time before retiring, making several rounds of the square as crowds cheered wildly and stopping to kiss a half-dozen children brought up to him by his secretary.

Tens of thousands of people toting banners saying "Grazie!" - "thank you" - jammed the piazza to bid farewell to the pope at his final general audience - the appointment he has kept each week to teach the world about the Catholic faith.

Pilgrims and curiosity-seekers picked spots along the main boulevard leading to the square to watch Wednesday's event on giant TV screens. Some 50,000 tickets were requested for Benedict's final master class, but Italian media estimated the number of people actually attending could be double that.

"It's difficult - the emotion is so big," said Jan Marie, a 53 year old Roman in his first years as a seminarian. "We came to support the pope's decision."

With chants of "Benedetto" erupting every so often, the mood was far more buoyant than during the pope's final Sunday blessing and recalled the jubilant turnouts that often accompanied him at World Youth Days and events involving his predecessor, Pope John Paul II.

Benedict on Thursday will become the first pope in 600 years to resign, a decision he said he took after realizing that, at 85, he simply didn't have the strength of mind or body to carry on. He will meet Thursday morning with cardinals for a final time, then fly by helicopter to the papal residence at Castel Gandolfo south of Rome.

There, at 8 p.m., the doors of the palazzo will close and the Swiss Guards in attendance will go off duty, their service protecting the head of the Catholic Church over - for now.

Many of the cardinals who will choose Benedict's successor were in St. Peter's Square for his final audience, including retired Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony, object of a grass-roots campaign in the U.S. to persuade him to recuse himself for having covered up for sexually abusive priests. Mahony has said he will vote.

Vatican officials say cardinals will begin meeting on Monday to decide when to set the date for the conclave to elect the next pope.

But the rank-and-file in the crowd on Wednesday weren't so concerned with the future; they wanted to savor the final moments with the pope they have known for eight years.

"I came to thank him for the testimony that he has given the church," said Maria Cristina Chiarini, a 52 year old homemaker who traveled by train early Wednesday from Lugo, near Ravenna, with some 60 members of her parish. "There's nostalgia, human nostalgia, but also comfort, because as a Christian we have hope. The Lord won't leave us without a guide."
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Barge traffic is back to normal along the Mississippi River after drought threatened to close the channel to shipping late last year.

The river reached an historic low at St. Louis on January first - the ninth lowest level ever recorded, and just a foot-and-a-half above the record low. Since then, snowfall and rain across the Midwest have brought the Mississippi back up to normal levels.

Army Corps of Engineers spokesman Mike Petersen told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that they believe the worst is over. But Petersen cautioned that low water levels could return if the drought persists in the Midwest.
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 02:37
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CHICAGO (AP) - Former state Rep. Robin Kelly says she's still a little shocked to have won the Democratic nomination to replace former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.

She won over Democratic front runners former U.S. Rep. Debbie Halvorson and Chicago Alderman Anthony Beale, who both called her to concede.

Kelly emerged early on as an anti-guns voice and her campaign got a boost when New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's super PAC poured $2 million in ads supporting her and blasting Halvorson, who doesn't favor an assault weapons ban.

Halvorson says big money won the race.

But Kelly says no one complains when the National Rifle Association pours money into races. She says she had a good team that worked hard on the ground.

Meanwhile, the race among Republicans to replace former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. is too close to call.

Chicago resident Paul McKinley was leading fellow Republican Eric Wallace by about two dozen votes as of late Tuesday night. But with a handful of precincts outstanding, no winner was declared.

But regardless of the outcome, the winner will enter the April 9 general election with a huge disadvantage.

The 2nd Congressional District is heavily Democratic, and no Republican has won the Chicago-area seat in more than 50 years.

McKinley is a political newcomer. Wallace founded a Christian publishing company and ran an unsuccessful campaign for Illinois Senate in 2006.

Jackson resigned in November. He pleaded guilty earlier this month to spending about $750,000 in campaign funds on personal items.
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 02:24
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Residents in the City of St. Louis may learn Wednesday night which public schools are facing closure.

St. Louis Public Schools superintendent Dr. Kelvin Adams has said he will make several proposals at the 6 p.m. meeting of the special administrative board. Among his proposals, Dr. Adams is expected to recommend that some schools close next year and other be phased out as a cost-cutting measure.

Dr. Adams says several factors, including academic performance, would be considered in deciding which, if any, schools would close.

There has been wide-spread speculation that the Cleveland NJROTC Academy would be phased out, accepting no new freshmen after this year.

Wednesday’s Special Administrative Board meeting is at 6:00 p.m. at 801 North 11th Street.
Wednesday, 27 February 2013 01:49
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