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LONDON (AP) -- Financial markets were fairly lackluster Tuesday as investors paused for breath ahead of key testimony from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

Bernanke's comments on Wednesday to lawmakers in Congress could well set the tone in markets for the rest of the summer. In particular, investors will be looking for any further guidance on when the Fed will start to reduce its monetary stimulus.

The Fed is currently spending $85 billion buying financial assets in the hope of keeping long-term borrowing rates low and stimulating the U.S. economy. The new money created by the various monetary stimulus that have been enacted in recent years have been one of the key drivers of markets.

Disappointing retail sales figures on Monday reinforced expectations that the so-called "tapering" may take place later in the year than previously thought.

"It seems that the indifferent economic data seen yesterday is fuelling the perception that the Fed won't be inclined to look at tapering asset purchases any time soon, given Bernanke's comments last week," said Michael Hewson, senior market analyst at CMC Markets. "This could be a mistake on the markets part, especially if the Fed Chairman strikes a different tone."

Caution appeared to be the watchword in Tuesday trading in Europe. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.2 percent at 6,598 while Germany's DAX fell 0.3 percent at 8,213. The CAC-40 in France was 0.4 percent lower at 3,862.

Wall Street was headed for a steady opening with both Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures up 0.1 percent. On Monday, both closed at record highs while the S&P posted its eighth straight day of gains, its longest such streak since January.

Later, the focus of attention will be on monthly industrial production figures as well as the latest batch of corporate earnings statements. So far, the second quarter reporting season has been fairly strong, providing markets with another boost. Goldman Sachs, Johnson and Johnson and Coca-Cola are also due to report later while Yahoo unveils its numbers after the close.

"Corporate earnings season is going to play an much bigger part in driving market sentiment in the coming weeks, than it has over the last couple of years," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari. "With investors no longer able to rely on the Fed to drive equity markets higher, they have to make do with focusing more on the fundamentals, and nothing gives us a better overview of these than company earnings reports and their expectations for the coming quarters."

Earlier in Asia, South Korea's Kospi fell 0.5 percent to 1,866.36 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was flat at 21,312.38. China's Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.3 percent to 2,065.72.

Elsewhere, trading was fairly flat. In currency markets, the euro was up 0.2 percent at $1.3080 while the dollar fell 0.4 percent to 99.61 yen.

Oil prices were steady too, with the benchmark New York rate up 15 cents at $106.47 a barrel.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
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WASHINGTON (AP) -- Senators prepared for a potentially rancorous day Tuesday - even by recent standards of partisan unpleasantness - as Democratic leaders threatened to change filibuster rules to stop Republicans from blocking White House nominees for top executive jobs.

Several Senate votes were scheduled to test whether Republicans will allow simple-majority confirmations of a handful of long-stalled nominations. Some senators held out hopes for a breakthrough early Tuesday after one didn't come in a rare, three-hour private meeting of nearly all 100 senators Monday night.

If neither side retreats, the two parties could be on a collision course, with potentially big ramifications for politics and policymaking for years to come.

Standing alone, the rules change that Majority Leader Harry Reid proposes is limited. It would end the ability of 41 senators, in the 100-person chamber, to block action on White House nominations other than judges. The out-of-power party still could use filibuster threats to block legislation and judicial nominees, who seek lifetime appointments.

But critics say Reid's plan would likely prompt Republicans to retaliate by doing even more to reduce the minority party's rights when the GOP regains control of the Senate. That could happen as early 18 months from now, after the 2014 elections.

"It's a decision that, if they actually go through with it, they will live to regret," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said of Democrats.

Leaving Monday night's meeting, Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said, "I think it's going to come to a head tomorrow." The two parties need a breakthrough, he said, but "it's not there yet."

Unlike the 435-member House, the Senate has a long and bumpy tradition of granting rights to minority-party members. The most powerful tool is the filibuster, which essentially kills a measure by using endless debate to prevent a yes-or-no vote.

The mere promise of a filibuster can block Senate action on almost anything unless 60 of the 100 senators vote to overcome it. Filibuster-proof majorities are rare, and Republicans now hold 46 Senate seats.

Both parties have accelerated their use of the filibuster in recent times. Since President Barack Obama took office in January 2009, Republicans have threatened filibusters repeatedly, infuriating Democrats.

Reid said Lyndon B. Johnson faced one filibuster during his six years as Senate majority leader. In the same length of time as majority leader, Reid said he has faced 413 threatened filibusters. The tactic, he said, blocks action on routine matters that Congress once handled fairly easily.

"The power of an extreme minority now threatens our integrity of this institution," Reid, of Nevada, said in a speech Monday. "My efforts are directed to save the Senate from becoming obsolete."

He called his proposal a "minor change, no big deal." But Republicans, led by McConnell, object bitterly.

Democrats acknowledged that Republicans will turn any such rules change to their advantage if they regain the Senate majority, which the two parties have often swapped in recent decades.

White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters the Senate "needs to confirm this president's nominees in a timely and efficient manner." That will be true, he said, "for the next president, and the next president after that. This has become ridiculous."

Asked if Obama worries that a filibuster rule change would make the Senate even more dysfunctional, Carney said, "Well, it boggles the mind how they would achieve that."

This notion that things can't get much worse in the often stalemated Senate seems to have convinced numerous senators and interest groups in recent months that there's little risk in changing traditions to end at least some of the logjams.

Senate Republicans particularly object to two union-backed members of the National Labor Relations Board, Richard Griffin and Sharon Block. Obama appointed them when he said the Senate was in recess.

An appeals court said Obama exceeded his authority. The board's actions since the two members took their seats are in legal limbo.

The administration and Senate leaders have discussed the possibility of replacing Griffin and Block with new nominees, but they reached no accord. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, vowed to cause a new ruckus if the two are replaced.

"I think it will be grossly unfair to throw them out, simply to make a deal, when they've done nothing wrong," he said late Monday.

Republicans also have opposed Obama's pick to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, created in a Wall Street oversight revision that Republicans opposed. Obama nominated his pick, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, more than two years ago.

Many Republican senators say they will not confirm anyone to the consumer post unless the bureau's leadership structure is changed.

Several senators said Cordray's situation is easier to resolve than the NLRB controversy. But Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the Senate's second-ranking leader, said he will not support any changes to the consumer protection bureau's structure as part of a compromise.

Republicans seem to have dropped efforts to block Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency. Reid, however, accused them of unwarranted delaying tactics, which included 1,100 written questions to the nominee.

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LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Protesters ran through Los Angeles streets Monday night, breaking windows, attacking people on sidewalks and at one point raiding a Wal-Mart store, while others blocked a major freeway in the San Francisco Bay Area in the third night of demonstrations in California over George Zimmerman's Florida acquittal in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Thirteen people were arrested after multiple acts of vandalism and several assaults in Los Angeles' Crenshaw District, Mayor Eric Garcetti and Police Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference.

Garcetti and Beck didn't elaborate on the assaults or any injuries, but at least one man could be seen in the street with a head injury.

More than 300 officers were called to the scene and were at first slow to directly engage protesters in an attempt to allow a peaceful end to the demonstration, Beck said. But the chief said police would take a much stricter posture in the coming nights.

"This will not be allowed to continue," Beck said.

Several hundred mostly peaceful protesters gathered Monday night at Leimert Park southwest of downtown LA, many of them chanting, praying and singing.

But a smaller group of between 100 and 150 people splintered off and began blocking traffic on nearby Crenshaw Boulevard, some of them jumping on cars and breaking windows at liquor stores and fast food outlets.

Several protesters ran into a Wal-Mart store, where they knocked down displays before store security chased them out, and police began guarding the door.

Tonya Williams was shopping with her daughter when the protesters burst in and security briefly locked down the store.

"We thought we were going to be stuck in there," Williams said. "We saw the merchandise all thrown around. They had pulled the rack down, and there was merchandise all over the floor."

TV news helicopters showed some people kicking and punching others along the street, including two people sitting on a bus bench.

Police declared the gathering an unlawful assembly about three hours after it began, and most of the crowd left the street.

Garcetti, who returned early from an East Coast trip because of the demonstrations, praised the "overwhelming majority" who protested peacefully.

"We are a better city than what we have seen tonight in the hands of a few people," the mayor said.

In Oakland, dozens of demonstrators briefly blocked all lanes of Interstate 880 at the tail end of rush hour, stopping traffic in both directions for several minutes before lanes were cleared by authorities. Several protesters laid their bicycles on the ground in front of stopped cars.

"You've got to go. You will go to jail," one police officer shouted at demonstrators who were blocking traffic, the Oakland Tribune reported. However, police decided not to make arrests as the marchers, chanting "Justice for Trayvon Martin," were directed back to surface streets.

Later, another group tried to march up the onramp to Interstate 580 before being turned away by Oakland police and California Highway Patrol officers.

The freeway protesters broke off from a larger group organized via social media that gathered at Oakland City Hall about an hour earlier.

More than a half-dozen people were arrested on charges of vandalism and assault, both felony and misdemeanor, Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said.

Over the weekend, demonstrators in Oakland and Los Angeles blocked traffic and clashed with police in protests over a Florida jury's acquittal of neighborhood watch volunteer Zimmerman in the shooting death of the unarmed black teenager.

Police shot beanbag rounds and arrested six people - including one on suspicion of assaulting an officer - while breaking up relatively small demonstrations before dawn.

No injuries were reported to either demonstrators or officers.

Most demonstrations around the state were peaceful.

Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer sent a letter Monday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder supporting the Justice Department decision to review the case to determine whether Martin's civil rights were violated.

"I respect the fact that the jury has spoken ... but I don't think this should be the last word," Boxer wrote in the letter.

© 2013 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. THIS MATERIAL MAY NOT BE PUBLISHED, BROADCAST, REWRITTEN OR REDISTRIBUTED. Learn more about our PRIVACY POLICY and TERMS OF USE.
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