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ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — They're supposed to be talking about growth and money, but the threat of war in Syria is creeping into nearly every conversation as the leaders of the world's 20 top economies huddle in Russia this week.

Men at the forefront of the geopolitical standoff over Syria's civil war sat around the same huge, ornate table Thursday in St. Petersburg, Russia: President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President Francois Hollande, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and Saudi Prince Saun Al Faisal al Saud, among others.

The world's unemployed and impoverished may get short shrift at this summit, though activist groups are pleading with leaders to join forces to tackle corruption and tax-avoiding corporations, in hopes that stabilizes and better distributes economic growth.

Here's a look at what's happening at the two-day summit of the G-20, nations that represent two-thirds of the world's population, 85 percent of its GDP and its leading armies:

SYRIA

Western bombs are unlikely to fall on Syrian government targets during this gathering. The U.S. and French presidents are readying possible military strikes over what they say was a chemical weapons attack by Syrian President Bashar Assad's army, but both are waiting for the U.S. Congress to weigh in first.

In the meantime, Obama and Hollande came under pressure and criticism Thursday from opponents of intervention, as China and EU leaders urged restraint. The U.N.'s Ban is pressing for diplomatic action.

Putin, on his own turf and looking strong in the face of Western hesitancy to tangle militarily with the Russia-backed Assad, told The Associated Press this week that any one-sided intervention would be rash. But he said he doesn't exclude supporting U.N. action — if it's proven that the Syrian government used poison gas on its own people. And China is among those warning at this summit that oil price volatility resulting from an international Syria war could threaten global economic recovery.

US-RUSSIA BODY LANGUAGE

Even without Syria, Obama and Putin had plenty to disagree about.

Obama snubbed the Russian leader, cancelling a one-on-one meeting over lack of progress on other issues too — including Russia's harboring of Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor who exposed U.S. surveillance of emails and phone calls of Americans and foreigners. The U.S. also strongly opposes arrests of political opponents and a new law against gay "propaganda."

Body language may be key to understanding where the U.S.-Russia relationship is going. The two leaders shook hands as the summit opened, but Obama's face was stern as he watched Putin open the G-20 talks. Will they relax and make small talk over over dinner at Peter the Great's resplendent Peterhof Palace? Will other leaders take sides?

TAXING MULTINATIONALS

The goal of some leaders at this G-20 is to get major cross-border companies such as Google and Starbucks paying more taxes instead of using loopholes and tax havens.

Laudable to the general public, it's complicated both practically and politically. It would require cracking down on well-connected companies registered in Delaware or the Virgin Islands, for example.

But if any forum can tackle this, it's the G-20, with all the major government decision-makers at the table. Some leaders also want to rein in so-called shadow banking and regulate hedge funds more.

FED UP WITH THE FED

The developing economies whose vigorous growth helped the world economy survive the financial market meltdown five years ago are now starting to falter. And they're placing part of the blame on the U.S. Federal Reserve's expected moves to wind down stimulus measures. China and Russia started off the summit by warning the U.S. to consider international fallout as they set monetary policy.

That expectation has pushed up long-term U.S. interest rates, which has in turn led investors to pull out of developing countries and invest in U.S. assets instead. The leaders of Russia and Brazil and others may appeal for the U.S. to coordinate with other governments when it changes financial policy.

OLYMPIC PRESSURE

With Russia set to host the Winter Olympics in Sochi in five months, this summit is THE place for other leaders to pressure Putin to open up his country and himself to criticism, opposition and public debate.

Activists want pressure against Russia's gay propaganda law, a law banning adoptions by Americans, and legal cases targeting Putin opponents. The Russian leader, for his part, wants global recognition, and revenue, from these games.
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   ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — China is warning other world powers of global economic risks of a potential U.S.-led military intervention in Syria'a civil war.

   Chinese Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao says such "military action would definitely have a negative impact on the global economy, especially on the oil price."

   He spoke in St. Petersburg on Thursday ahead of a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 leading world economies.

   He cited estimates that a $10 rise in oil prices could push down global growth by 0.25 percent.

   He urged a negotiated U.N. solution to the standoff over allegations that Syria's government used chemical weapons against its own people, expressing hope that "the world economic balance will become more stable rather than more complex and more challenging."

Read more...

   WASHINGTON (AP) — Eight years after Hurricane Katrina, most states still don't require four basic safety plans to protect children in school and child care from disasters, aid group Save the Children said in a report released Wednesday.

   The group faulted 28 states and the District of Columbia for failing to require the emergency safety plans for schools and child care providers that were recommended by a national commission in the wake of Katrina. The lack of such plans could endanger children's lives and make it harder for them to be reunited with their families, the study said.

   The states were: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas and Virginia.

   "Every workday, 68 million children are separated from their parents," Carolyn Miles, Save the Children's president and CEO, said in a statement with the group's annual disaster report card. "We owe it to these children to protect them before the next disaster strikes."

   After Katrina exposed problems in the nation's disaster preparedness, the presidentially appointed National Commission on Children and Disaster issued final recommendations in 2010 .calling on the states to require K-12 schools to have comprehensive disaster preparedness plans and child care centers to have disaster plans for evacuation, family reunification and special needs students.

   Idaho, Iowa, Kansas and Michigan do not require any of the four recommended plans, the study found, while D.C. and the remaining states each require one or more of them.

   The number of states meeting all four standards has increased from four to 22 since 2008, the report said. The group praised New Jersey, Tennessee, Nebraska and Utah for taking steps over the past year to meet all four standards.

   Save the Children said it found gaps in emergency preparedness during a year when school shootings devastated Newtown, Conn., Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc along the East Coast and tornadoes ravaged Oklahoma.

   Miles said such disasters "should be a wake-up call, but too many states won't budge."

   A spokeswoman for the National Governors Association declined comment on the report, referring questions to the various states.

Read more...

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