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Camp David, not Chicago,
to host G-8

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama has boasted for months about playing host to the annual summit meeting of the Group of Eight industrialized nations this May in his hometown, Chicago. But Monday, without explanation, the White House announced a shift to the secluded setting of Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.

Administration officials and associates, speaking only on the condition of anonymity, said the president in recent weeks began discussing the idea of a more intimate setting for the world leaders — both to ease their communications and to cut down on the security concerns and traffic tie-ups of a big-city meeting.

“To facilitate a free-flowing discussion with our close G-8 partners, the president is inviting his fellow G-8 leaders to Camp David on May 18–19 for the G-8 Summit, which will address a broad range of economic, political, and security issues,” the brief White House statement said.

Camp David is about an hour from Washington and open only to the president and people he invites there.

—Jackie Calmes, The New York Times

Syria permits UN visits but escalates its attacks

Syria’s government made diplomatic gestures Monday toward seeking an end to the uprising that has convulsed the country, agreeing for the first time to allow visits by the top U.N. relief official and by the newly designated envoy who represents the United Nations and the Arab League.

But activists said that Syrian security forces widened their ferocious campaign to crush opposition in the most restive areas, sending troops into Daraa, the southern town where the protests began a year ago. Troops also bombarded the town of Rastan in central Syria, not far from Homs, an epicenter of the uprising that has been devastated by more than month of shelling and gunfire.

The developments came as the tone turned increasingly hawkish in Washington, where Sen. John McCain, a leader among Republicans on military matters, Monday called on the United States to conduct an extensive air bombardment of Syrian targets, with Arab League permission, to protect anti-government fighters and civilians there.

McCain, an early advocate of armed intervention in Libya, said in a speech on the Senate floor that if Syria’s president, Bashar Assad, managed to retain power in defiance of world pressure to stop the crackdown and leave office, that would be a “strategic and moral defeat for the United States.”

—Rick Gladstone, The New York Times

Observers detail fraud in Russian election

MOSCOW — A day after claiming an overwhelming victory in Russia’s presidential elections, Vladimir Putin on Monday faced a range of challenges to his legitimacy, including charges of fraud from international observers and a defiant opposition that vowed to keep him from serving his full six-year term.

While Putin was still celebrating his win, he received a slap in the face from observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. While finding less of the ballot stuffing and other flagrant violations that marred parliamentary elections in December, the observers said Putin had faced no real competition and unfairly benefited from lavish government spending on his behalf.

Putin received milder responses from the European Union and from the United States, which called on the government to investigate fraud allegations.

Thousands of anti-government protesters later gathered in a city square. Yet, the crowd, which police estimated at 15,000, lacked the giddy optimism that pervaded earlier rallies.

—Ellen Barry and Michael Schwirtz, The New York Times