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Reuters World News Highlights 1800 GMT Nov 6

TOP STORIES

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney battled down to the wire on Tuesday, mounting a last-minute Election Day drive to get their supporters to the polls in a handful of states that will decide the winner in a neck-and-neck race for the White House.

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LONDON - The fourth quarter has so far brought no improvement in the fortunes of most of Europe's economies, which now risk shrinking more than previously expected, gloomy data showed on Tuesday.

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MOSCOW - President Vladimir Putin fired Russia's defence minister over corruption allegations on Tuesday, the latest twist in an unfolding saga of power, money and suspected adultery at the heart of the Kremlin.

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BEIJING - China's outgoing leader and his likely successor are pushing the ruling Communist Party to adopt a more democratic process this month for choosing a new leadership, sources said, in an attempt to boost its flagging legitimacy in the eyes of the public.

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ATHENS - Hundreds of thousands of Greeks began a crippling 48-hour strike on Tuesday to protest against a new round of wage and pension cuts that parliament is expected to approve by a narrow margin.

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PARIS - France is to grant 20 billion euros in annual tax credits to companies as a way of lowering labour costs, in a tougher-than-expected response to calls from business heads to reverse decades of industrial decline.

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JEDDAH - A safe exit and possible immunity from prosecution for President Bashar al-Assad ``could be arranged'' if it would end Syria's increasingly bloody conflict, British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Tuesday before a visit to Saudi Arabia.

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JERUSALEM - Israel has announced plans to press ahead with construction of 1,213 homes on annexed West Bank land, defying international opposition to its settlement policies.

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ANKARA - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan took a step towards extending his powers on Tuesday after his ruling AK Party presented a proposal to parliament for setting up a presidential system.

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KIEV - Ukraine's outgoing parliament ordered re-runs in five electoral districts on Tuesday, overriding complaints by the opposition which says President Viktor Yanukovich's party is trying to rob them of seats won national polls late last month.

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DOHA - The head of Syria's main opposition group abroad said on Tuesday it should retain a ``central role'' in any unified front against President Bashar al-Assad, possibly complicating unity efforts among the Syrian leader's opponents.

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LONDON - German Chancellor Angela Merkel will try to narrow divisions that threaten to wreck a European Union budget deal and further isolate Britain from its biggest trading partner when she meets British Prime Minister David Cameron in London on Wednesday.