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WORLD BRIEFLY: Venezuelan President Chavez dies, the Dow hits record, Martha Stewart testifies

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 | 9:24 p.m. CST

Here are today's top stories from The Associated Press.

Hugo Chavez, Venezuelan president who vilified U.S. and electrified Latin American left, dies

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez was a fighter. The former paratroop commander and fiery populist waged continual battle for his socialist ideals and outsmarted his rivals time and again, defeating a coup attempt, winning re-election three times and using his country's vast oil wealth to his political advantage.

A self-described "subversive," Chavez fashioned himself after the 19th Century independence leader Simon Bolivar and renamed his country the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

He called himself a "humble soldier" in a battle for socialism and against U.S. hegemony. He thrived on confrontation with Washington and his political opponents at home, and used those conflicts to rally his followers.

Almost the only adversary it seemed he couldn't beat was cancer. He died Tuesday in Caracas at 4:25 local time after his prolonged illness. He was 58.

During more than 14 years in office, his leftist politics and grandiose style polarized Venezuelans. The barrel-chested leader electrified crowds with his booming voice, and won admiration among the poor with government social programs and a folksy, nationalistic style.

Dow surges to new record, but will skittish investors buy stocks again?

NEW YORK — The stock market is back.

Five and a half years after the start of a frightening drop that erased $11 trillion from stock portfolios and made investors despair of ever getting their money back, the Dow Jones industrial average has regained all the losses suffered during the Great Recession and reached a new high. The blue-chip index rose 125.95 points Tuesday and closed at 14,253.77, topping the previous record of 14,164.53 on Oct. 9, 2007, by 89.24 points.

"It signals that things are getting back to normal," says Nicolas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group, a brokerage. "Unemployment is too high, economic growth too sluggish, but stocks are anticipating improvement."

The new record suggests that investors who did not panic and sell their stocks in the 2008-2009 financial crisis have fully recovered. Those who have reinvested dividends or added to their holdings have done even better. Since bottoming at 6,547.05 on March 9, 2009, the Dow has risen 7,706.72 points or 118 percent.

The Dow record does not include the impact of inflation. Adjusted for that, the Dow would have to reach 15,502 to match its old record, according to JPMorgan Chase.

Martha Stewart testifies she was trying to offer shoppers more opportunities with Penney shops

NEW YORK — Home decor and food guru Martha Stewart testified in court on Tuesday that she did nothing wrong when she signed an agreement to open shops within most of J.C. Penney's stores across the country.

Stewart testified in New York State Supreme Court in a trial over whether the company she founded breached its contract to sell cookware, bedding and other items exclusively at Macy's when she inked the deal with Penney.

Stewart's appearance, which followed a lineup of other top brass including the CEOs of both Macy's Inc. and J.C. Penney Co., attracted a lot of attention from the media. So much so that the judge opened up the jury box to make room for the expanded audience, and spectators had to wait behind a roped line to enter the courtroom.

During four hours of testimony, Stewart, who founded Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., denied Macy's allegations that she did anything unethical and said she was only looking to expand her brand.

Stewart said it's Macy's that didn't uphold its end of the agreement to try to maximize the potential of her business. She said her brand had grown to about $300 million at Macy's, but the business was now "static" at the department store chain. She said she had hoped the business would exceed $400 million.

China's premier signals new emphasis on social well-being, environment, fighting graft

BEIJING — China's government pledged to repair the country's ravaged environment and boost public services under its new leadership, an acknowledgment that quality of life was sidelined during the outgoing administration's decade of breakneck economic growth.

In a policy speech opening the national legislature's yearly session Tuesday, soon-to-retire Premier Wen Jiabao detailed a list of problems that had grown in recent years and was being left to his successors: a sputtering growth model; poisoned air, waterways and soil; a vast and growing rich-poor gap; and rampant official corruption that has alienated many Chinese.

"Is this a time bomb?" Yao Jianfu, a retirement government researcher, asked. Yao's specialty is China's army of migrant workers who are often deprived of access to housing, education and other government services. "If there's an economic downturn and massive unemployment, will the 200 million migrant workers become the main force of the next Cultural Revolution?" he said, referring to the excesses of the chaotic 1966-76 period.

The unfinished agenda of China's past decade are now central concerns of the new leadership as it seeks to assuage a public that is looking beyond pocket-book issues, empowered by the Internet and increasingly vocal about the need for change.

Wen acknowledged the responsibility he and other retiring leaders have for leaving such a tangle of problems, even as they have guided China to prosperity and power on the world stage.


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