AP News in Brief at 8:58 p.m. EDT

No more practice: 5 weeks before Election Day, Obama and Romney debate for first time

DENVER (AP) — Primed for a showdown, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney left their practice sessions behind Wednesday for a prime-time debate before millions with the power to settle the race for the White House in tough economic times.

A little less than five weeks before the election, the stakes were enormous, yet unquantifiable.

"The debates could well decide one way or the other" who takes the oath of office next January, Romney said in a CBS interview that aired in advance.

But Obama, who holds a narrow lead in opinion polls, told the network: "I don't think that any single factor ends up making a big difference."

The encounter was the first of three for the candidates. By agreement between the rival campaigns, it was focused on the economy and other domestic issues.

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5 things to watch for when Obama, Romney face off in Wednesday night's presidential debate

Five things to watch for when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney meet in their first presidential debate Wednesday night:

1. ROMNEY MAKES HIS MOVE: He needs to re-energize his campaign after slipping in the polls. Can he do it by going on attack? Watch for Romney to lay into Obama's policies with gusto while trying to avoid getting too personal with his criticism, which could backfire. Obama needs to stay calm and hold his ground.

2. OBAMA ON DEFENSE: He's stuck trying to defend a painfully slow economic recovery. Can a sitting president sell the idea that he knows how to make the next four years better than his first four? Or does Obama mostly try to divert attention by slamming Romney's economic plans?

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10 Things to Know for Thursday

Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday:

1. IT'S SHOW TIME FOR OBAMA, ROMNEY

They meet in their first debate before millions who hold the power, in tough economic times, to settle the race for the White House.

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Questions and answers on presidential debates

WASHINGTON (AP) — Tired of being deluged with TV commercials telling you that President Barack Obama or challenger Mitt Romney "approved this message?" The candidates will deliver their message for themselves Wednesday night in the first of three head-to-head presidential debates.

Some questions and answers about the debates:

Q. Who opens and closes?

A. Obama gets the first question Wednesday. Romney gets the last word. The order was determined by a coin toss.

Q. What is the focus Wednesday night?

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Turkey fires artillery at Syria after 5 civilians killed in Turkish border village

BEIRUT (AP) — Turkish artillery fired on Syrian targets Wednesday after shelling from Syria struck a border village in Turkey, killing five civilians, sharply escalating tensions between the two neighbors and prompting NATO to convene an emergency meeting.

"Our armed forces at the border region responded to this atrocious attack with artillery fire on points in Syria that were detected with radar, in line with the rules of engagement," the Turkish government said in a statement from the prime minister's office.

The artillery fire capped a day that began with four bombs tearing through a government-held district in Syria's commercial and cultural capital of Aleppo, killing more than 30 people and reducing buildings to rubble.

Along the volatile border, a shell fired from inside Syria landed on a home in the Turkish village of Akcakale, killing a woman, her three daughters and another woman, and wounding at least 10 others, according to Turkish media.

The shelling appeared to come from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime, which is fighting rebels backed by Turkey in an escalating civil war.

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CDC: Rare meningitis cases rise to 26 in 5 states including 4 deaths; more cases expected

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An outbreak of a rare and deadly form of meningitis has now sickened 26 people in five states who received steroid injections mostly for back pain, health officials said Wednesday. Four people have died, and more cases are expected.

Eighteen of the cases of fungal meningitis are in Tennessee where a Nashville clinic received the largest shipment of the steroid suspected in the outbreak. The drug was made by a specialty pharmacy in Massachusetts that issued a recall last week. Investigators, though, say they are still trying to confirm the source of the infections.

Three cases have been reported in Virginia, two in Maryland, two in Florida and one in North Carolina. Two of the deaths were in Tennessee; Virginia and Maryland had one each, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More new cases are almost certain to appear in the coming days, said Tennessee Department of Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner. Five new cases were confirmed over the past 24 hours, he said Wednesday, calling the situation a "rapidly evolving outbreak."

But federal health officials weren't clear about whether new infections are occurring. They are looking for — and increasingly finding — illnesses that occurred in the last two or three months.

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As Libyan attack probe opens, past practice shows wide blame assessed when US missions hit

WASHINGTON (AP) — Past investigations into attacks on U.S. diplomatic missions have blamed both the administration and Congress for failing to spend enough money to ensure that the overseas facilities were safe despite a clear rise in terror threats to American interests abroad.

An Associated Press examination of two reports that are easily accessible to the public — those created after the devastating Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania — may offer clues to the possible outcome of the current investigation begun by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton into last month's attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

That attack by what is now believed to be al-Qaida-linked militants has become fraught with election-year politics as Republicans accuse administration officials of dissembling in the early aftermath on what they knew about the perpetrators and for lax security at the diplomatic mission in a lawless part of post-revolution Libya.

Two House Republican leaders this week accused the administration of denying repeated requests for extra security at the Benghazi consulate, where Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the U.S.

A five-member accountability review board appointed by Clinton will begin this week looking at whether security at the consulate was adequate and whether proper procedures were followed before, during and immediately after the attack.

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Athletics beat Rangers 12-5 for 3-game sweep and win AL West on last day of regular season

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Same chaotic, champagne dance-party scene in the clubhouse just two days later. New T-shirt: AL West champions.

The Oakland Athletics won the division title with another improbable rally in a season full of them, coming back from four runs down and a 13-game division deficit to stun the two-time defending league champion Texas Rangers 12-5 on Wednesday.

"We knew this is a beast of a team we would have to beat, and to be able to beat them three games in a row and win the division on top of it, really it's a magical-type thing," manager Bob Melvin said.

Josh Hamilton dropped a fly ball in center field for a two-run error that put the A's (94-68) ahead 7-5 in a six-run fourth inning. The A's only added to Texas' troubles the rest of the way.

While Hamilton's Rangers (93-69) are headed to the new one-game, wild-card playoff, the A's get some time off before opening the division series in their first postseason appearance since 2006.

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Army's secret chemical testing in St. Louis neighborhoods during Cold War raising new concerns

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Doris Spates was a baby when her father died inexplicably in 1955. She has watched four siblings die of cancer, and she survived cervical cancer.

After learning that the Army conducted secret chemical testing in her impoverished St. Louis neighborhood at the height of the Cold War, she wonders if her own government is to blame.

In the mid-1950s, and again a decade later, the Army used motorized blowers atop a low-income housing high-rise, at schools and from the backs of station wagons to send a potentially dangerous compound into the already-hazy air in predominantly black areas of St. Louis.

Local officials were told at the time that the government was testing a smoke screen that could shield St. Louis from aerial observation in case the Russians attacked.

But in 1994, the government said the tests were part of a biological weapons program and St. Louis was chosen because it bore some resemblance to Russian cities that the U.S. might attack. The material being sprayed was zinc cadmium sulfide, a fine fluorescent powder.

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'Cuckoo's Nest' actress says her Nurse Ratched character is too cruel for her to watch anymore

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Louise Fletcher says she can't bear to watch "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" because the Nurse Ratched character she won an Oscar for is so cruel.

"I find it too painful," said Fletcher, 78. "It comes with age. I can't watch movies that are inhumane."

Fletcher is returning this weekend to the institution where the movie was made in 1975, the Oregon State Hospital in Salem, the Statesman Journal reported (http://stjr.nl/WjMOTJhttp://stjr.nl/WjMOTJ ).

The hospital, long under fire for inadequate programs and crumbling facilities, has been rebuilt in recent years. Fletcher is attending the opening of its Museum of Mental Health.

The movie is based on the novel by Oregon writer Ken Kesey. It centers on the struggle between the steely Nurse Ratched and Jack Nicholson's scheming character, Randall McMurphy, who eventually gets a lobotomy for leading a rebellion among the prisoners on his ward.

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