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In brief

Happy Hugo Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez smiles during an agreement signing ceremony at the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday. In background, a painting depicting Venezuelan independence hero Simon Bolivar.

ALBANY, N.Y. Kennedy now out of race

Caroline Kennedy withdrew her Senate bid because of a personal matter unrelated to her ill uncle, rejecting the governor’s attempt to get her to reconsider, a person who worked closely with her said Thursday.

Kennedy discussed withdrawing from the race with Gov. David Paterson on Wednesday, and Paterson asked her to reconsider for 24 hours, the person said.

But by 11 p.m. Wednesday, the associate said, Kennedy decided she couldn’t take the job if appointed. Her uncle, Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, suffered a seizure during an inaugural luncheon Tuesday. The 76-year-old Massachusetts senator was diagnosed in May with an aggressive type of brain tumor.

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. Blagojevich: Trial a ‘sham’

On the verge of being tossed out of office, Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday branded his upcoming impeachment trial “a sham” that won’t provide a fair chance to defend himself.

The two-term Democrat is accused of abusing his power by scheming to benefit from appointing a person to fill President Barack Obama’s Senate seat, circumventing hiring laws and defying General Assembly decisions.

He was impeached by the state House on Jan. 9, and his trial in the state Senate is set to begin Monday. He has denied any wrongdoing.

Attorneys for Blagojevich say they won’t take part in the proceedings.

BAGHDAD Envoy: Fast Iraq exit risky

A hasty departure of U.S. troops from Iraq would carry severe risks, including bolstering al-Qaida and threatening Iraqi progress toward a functioning society, the outgoing U.S. ambassador said Thursday.

Ambassador Ryan Crocker spoke to reporters a day after he and the top U.S. commander in Iraq briefed President Barack Obama on the situation here.

Crocker, who is retiring after a 30-year diplomatic career, declined to say what he and Gen. Ray Odierno told the president during the video hookup. But he noted that the president was committed to a responsible pullout of the more than 140,000-strong U.S. force.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. Neo-Nazis hate litter

A neo-Nazi group has joined the state’s “Adopt-A-Highway” volunteer litter pickup program, taking advantage of a free speech court fight won four years ago by the Ku Klux Klan.

The Springfield unit of the National Socialist Movement has committed to cleaning up trash along a half-mile section of Highway 160 near the Springfield city limits.

The state says it had no way to reject the group’s application. A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling arising from a similar effort by the Ku Klux Klan says membership in the Adopt-A-Highway program can’t be denied because of a group’s political beliefs. At the time, the state could reject applications for the program from groups that denied membership based on race or had a history of violence.

The state can deny an organization’s application only if it has members who have been convicted of violent criminal activity within the past 10 years.

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