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US presidential running mates clash in crucial debate

US Vice President Joe Biden has taken on Republican rival Paul Ryan in a one-off debate that saw foreign policy and the economy take center stage. The heat was on for both candidates in a tightening presidential race.

Joe Biden came out swinging on Thursday as the 90-mintute nationally televised debate got underway. Biden put in an aggressive performance, interrupting Ryan on a number of occasions. Nevertheless his rival held his own on a number of issues, remaining relatively calm as he took to the national debate stage for the first time.

The vice presidential candidates began by evaluating events surrounding last month's attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which resulted in the death of the US ambassador and three American officials.

Ryan slammed the Obama administration for failing to initially define the incident as a terrorist attack and instead blaming protests surrounding a US-made anti-Islam video.

Watch video 01:31

Biden Wins on Points in VP Clash

"It took the president two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack," the 42-year-old Wisconsin congressman said, adding that Obama's foreign policy was "unraveling."

Biden hit back, rejecting Ryan's criticisms as a "bunch of malarkey." He denounced Ryan and Republican candidate Mitt Romney for holding a press conference shortly after the Benghazi attack.

He vowed to "find and bring to justice the men who did this. Whatever mistakes were made will not be made again."

Talk then turned to Iran, with Ryan accusing the Obama regime of allowing Tehran to get "four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability." But Biden asserted that Iran was still "a good way away from acquiring a nuclear weapon."

When it came to the economy, Biden, 69, derided Romney's now-infamous videotaped remarks in which he accused roughly "47 percent" of Americans who do not pay their income taxes as "victims" looking for handouts. But Ryan painted Romney as a man who "gave 30 percent of his income to charity" and who cares about "100 percent of Americans."

Biden does damage control

Biden was tasked with reversing gains made by the Republican campaign less than four weeks ahead of the presidential election. Stakes for the Democrats rose after President Obama delivered what was widely regarded as a disappointing performance against rival Mitt Romney in the first of three presidential debates last week.

Since that debate Romney has been seen to shift more toward the political center on issues including abortion and taxes, prompting Democrats to accuse him of misrepresenting his position. But his policy alterations seem to have gone down well with voters and Romney has taken the lead in national surveys. He has also narrowed the gap by which he trails Obama in many crucial swing states.

In the Reuters/Ipsos daily tracking poll on Thursday, Romney led the Democratic incumbent by 47 percent to 44 percent. The online poll showed him up just one percentage point on Wednesday.

ccp/jr (Reuters, AFP)

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