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AROUND THE NATION

>Fargo sees hope of averting flood

FARGO, N.D. (AP) -- They passed out cigars Saturday in Fargo, but no matches just yet, as a flood-weary city that has spent the last week getting ready to hold back the Red River cautiously prepared to celebrate what appeared to be a successful defense against the swollen waterway.

The river continued to inch upward toward an expected crest today a few feet below last year's record, to be followed by a quick and steady drop.

Last week, volunteers filled and placed sandbags and the Army Corps of Engineers built dozens of temporary clay dikes in Moorhead, Minn., and Fargo to hold back a river that was forecast to approach last year's record, which forced thousands to evacuate.

After the preparations were largely complete, the National Weather Service lowered its crest prediction several times as below-freezing temperatures helped slow the melting of snow and clear skies free of major rain storms were forecast for the next few days.

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>Obama faults leaders in message to Iranians

WASHINGTON -- President Obama told Iranians in an online video message that the U.S. wants more educational and cultural exchanges, and lamented that Tehran's leaders have "turned their backs" on past good faith overtures to expand opportunities for their people.

Iranian state radio accused Obama of "pursuing the same Iranophobic policy" as always.

In his second video directed at Iran, Obama said the U.S. offer of diplomatic dialogue still stands but the Iranian government has chosen isolation.

"The United States believes in the dignity of every human being and an international order that bends the arc of history in the direction of justice -- a future where Iranians can exercise their rights, to participate fully in the global economy and enrich the world through educational and cultural exchanges beyond Iran's borders," Obama said in the video.

The White House released the video, as it did last year, to coincide with Nowruz, a 12-day holiday celebrating the arrival of spring and the beginning of the Persian new year.

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>Financial reform urged to protect consumers

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. needs major changes to its financial system so consumers are better protected, banks fortified and the economy safeguarded from sliding into another Depression, President Obama said Saturday.

In his weekly radio and Internet address, Obama told Congress to act quickly and pass "common sense rules that will our allow markets to function fairly and freely while reining in the worst practices of the financial industry."

That, he said, is the central lesson of the current financial crisis that has cost millions of Americans their jobs and nearly caused the collapse of the financial system.

The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is set to begin debate Monday on legislation from Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., its chairman, that would give the government unprecedented powers to split up big financial firms, force the industry to pay for its most spectacular failures and create an independent consumer watchdog.

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>Three die in collision of two small planes

WILLISTON, Fla. (AP) -- Three people died Saturday after two small planes collided over central Florida.

Levy Sheriff's Office Capt. Evan Sullivan said a woman called 911 at 11:45 a.m. after hearing what she thought was a gunshot, then seeing an airplane upside down in a field.

Authorities discovered a second plane engulfed in flames in a heavily wooded area several hundred yards away.

Officials said a single-engine Piper and a kit-built plane collided near Williston Municipal Airport. Two bodies were in the Piper, and a 73-year-old man was in the other plane.

The kit-built aircraft, also known as an experimental plane, left from Ocala, about 25 miles southeast of Williston. The Piper took off from the Williston Municipal Airport.

The weather was sunny and clear. Officials do not know what caused the collision.

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