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Protocol for U.N. Observer Mission to Syria Signed

Syria on Thursday signed a preliminary accord outlining a protocol for a U.N. mission to monitor a fragile week-old ceasefire in the strife-torn country, the two sides announced.

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Meqdad signed the deal with a member of a U.N. advance team, the ministry said in a statement.

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FM: Australian Troops to Remain in Afghanistan through 2014

Australian soldiers will stay "combat ready" in Afghanistan through 2014, Australia's foreign minister said Thursday, after Prime Minister Julia Gillard indicated they would come home earlier.

Speaking at a meeting of foreign ministers of the NATO-led coalition in Brussels, Foreign Minister Bob Carr told allies that Australia was committed to a plan for foreign combat troops to withdraw by the end of 2014.

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Karzai Calls for 'Accelerated' Transition after Corpses Scandal

Afghan President Hamid Karzai called Thursday for an "accelerated" transition of security responsibilities from NATO forces in the wake of a scandal over U.S. troops abusing Afghan corpses.

"The only way to put an end to such painful experiences is through an accelerated and full transition of security responsibilities to Afghan forces," his office said in a statement.

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Libya Prime Minister to Reshuffle Cabinet

Libya's interim prime minister plans to reshuffle his cabinet which has come under fire over corruption scandals and failure to consolidate the national army, a government spokesman said.

Prime Minister Abdel Rahim al-Kib "has reviewed the performance of certain ministries" and "will announce a cabinet reshuffle soon," Nasser al-Manaa told journalists late Wednesday.

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Protocol Headache! 4 First Ladies in South Africa as Zuma Marries Again

South Africa's polygamist President Jacob Zuma marries again this weekend, officially giving the country four first ladies and an even bigger protocol headache.

Durban-born businesswoman Bongi Ngema will tie the knot with Zuma, 70, in his home village of Nkandla, in a traditional Zulu ceremony recognized under South Africa's broad legal system.

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EU Approves J&J Takeover of Synthes

The European Commission approved Thursday a takeover of the U.S. surgical equipment company Synthes by pharmaceutical giant Johnson & Johnson in exchange for J&Js divestment of other units.

The acquisition was said to be worth around $21.3 billion or 16.2 billion euros.

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Indonesia’s 8-Year-Old Smoker Kicks Habit

An eight-year-old Indonesian boy who smoked more than a pack a day from age four has kicked the habit, a child-welfare commission said Thursday.

The boy, Ilham, has put on two kilograms (4.4 pounds), since going into treatment with the independent Child Protection Commission a month ago, said its chairman, Arist Merdeka Sirait.

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U.N. Says 12,500 Registered Syrian Refugees in Jordan

The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Thursday the number of registered Syrians who have fled the unrest in their country to neighboring Jordan reached around 12,500 this month.

"In Jordan, some 12,500 Syrians had registered with UNHCR as of mid-April 2012. This figure is expected to increase as UNHCR and partners expand their outreach efforts and level of assistance to Syrians," the agency said in a statement on its website.

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In Russia Sea of Drugs, Rehab Offers Harbor of Hope

Katya Nikitina could not sleep, think, or move during her first seven days at the rehab clinic.

A heroin addict in the Urals in western Russia, she moved from Chelyabinsk to the facility in Yekaterinburg, the area's main urban center, to get clean.

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Cannes Film Festival Unveils Line-up

The Cannes film festival on Thursday unveils its pick of Hollywood giants and art-house newcomers to compete at the world's top movie showcase on the French Riviera next month.

Organizers will announce the 50-odd films awarded a slot at the May 16-27 event at a press conference in Paris, half of them in the official race for the Palme d'Or and half in the parallel new talent section, Un Certain Regard.

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