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Feb. 28, 2013 at 7:59 AM
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Pope meets with cardinals on last day

VATICAN CITY, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- In his final day as pope, Benedict XVI Thursday told the cardinals charged with electing his successor he will be close to them in prayer during the conclave.

The 85-year-old pontiff met with the cardinals, greeting them each individually as they kissed his ring before a golden throne in the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace, The New York Times reported.

"I will be close to you in prayer," he told them, referring to the conclave to select a new pope beginning in mid-March.

Benedict said he would behave with "unconditional reverence and obedience" toward his new successor. Both will be residing in the Vatican.

Benedict was scheduled to leave the Vatican by helicopter to go to the papal summer residence at Castel Gandolfo where his retirement will officially take place at 8 p.m., the Times said.

After he steps down, Benedict will be referred to as pope emeritus or Roman pontiff emeritus. The German-born pope will continue to be addressed as "Your Holiness" following his retirement.

WH, GOP to let sequester deadline pass

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- The White House and congressional Republicans were poised Thursday to let the deadline for sweeping across-the-board U.S. budget cuts pass 24 hours later.

The Senate was to face down competing bills Thursday whose sponsors said could prevent the $85 billion in broad spending cuts, known as the "sequester," from coming to pass Friday.

But Senate leaders of both parties said neither measure was likely to pass.

President Barack Obama scheduled a meeting with the top four congressional leaders of both chambers for Friday, when the domestic and military spending cuts passed by Congress were scheduled to be automatically triggered.

None of the participants expect the morning meeting at the White House to produce a breakthrough, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The cuts -- which will run through the end of the fiscal year in September unless lawmakers intervene -- are the first of a decade-long plan to cut spending $1.2 trillion for nearly every federal program, except for military personnel and entitlement programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

House GOP shifts on Violence Against Women

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- U.S. House Republican leaders say they're ready to vote Thursday on a Democratic-preferred version of a bill to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act.

"The majority of the country feels strongly this is something we ought to do," Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., told The Washington Post after the leaders agreed on the unusual move Cole acknowledged indicated GOP divisions on the touchy issue.

"It's better to resolve this and move on, rather than be hung up on the issue," he said.

Republican leaders said they wanted to resolve the issue to avoid reminding the public of last fall's campaign season marred by GOP missteps on the sensitive issue of rape and an election won by Democrats in part because of women's support, the Post said.

But the House vote on the Democratic-preferred bipartisan bill already passed by the Senate was not expected to be a simple clean vote, aides said.

Snowstorm lingers in Maine, New Hampshire

SILVER SPRING, Md., Feb. 28 (UPI) -- A winter storm that walloped much of the U.S. midsection with snow measuring in double digits lingered in New Hampshire and Maine Thursday.

A winter storm warning was in effect until 5 p.m. Thursday for the areas, which are expected to receive as much as 10 inches of snow, the National Weather Service reported.

Accuweather reported bands of light snow showers and flurries will drop smaller amounts of snow and a wintry mix through much of the Midwest, including Northern Michigan, the Ohio River Valley, Indiana, Kentucky and northern Tennessee Thursday.

People throughout the Great Plains, Midwest and New England began the cleanup process Wednesday, digging their homes and cars out of the snow dropped by a blizzard.

Some residents in Texas had to resort to unconventional tools to aid in the cleanup, CNN reported.

"The guy was shoveling next door for an older lady. I thought he had a real shovel," Plainview, Texas, resident Julie Swift said. "But he had a lid to a big plastic tub. That was funny."

Kerry: U.S. wants to hasten Assad's fall

ROME, Feb. 28 (UPI) -- Washington and allies plan new ways of speeding the Syrian regime's fall, Secretary of State John Kerry said before an 11-nation conference with the opposition.

U.S. and allied officials are coming up with ways of convincing Syrian President Bashar Assad "he can't shoot his way out of this," Kerry told reporters in Paris before leaving for Rome for a Friends of Syria conference Thursday of world leaders and the Syrian Opposition Coalition.

"We are examining and developing ways to accelerate the political transition that the Syrian people want and deserve," Kerry said.

"That may require us to change President Assad's current calculation," he added.

At the Rome meeting, Kerry's offers to the opposition were expected to include non-lethal assistance such as body armor and armored vehicles that would go directly to opposition Free Syrian Army fighters doing battle with Assad in the 2-year-old conflict that has claimed some 70,000 lives.

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