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French Comics Artist Tardi Rejects Top State Honor

One of France's best-known comic book creators, Jacques Tardi, has refused the country's highest honor saying he does not want to fall under any political influence.

Tardi, best known for his works on the horrors of war and his Adele Blanc-Sec fantasy series, said he had learned this week that he was to receive the Legion d'Honneur medal.

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Tunisia Academic Says Veil Trial anti-Democratic

A Tunisian university dean accused of assaulting a veiled student said on Thursday his trial was aimed at undermining democracy after the judge set a January 17 date for the verdict.

"I am confident that justice will be done for the university," Habib Kazdoghli, dean of the humanities faculty at Manouba University, said as he emerged from the courtroom.

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Shiites Throng Iraq Shrine City for Arbaeen

Shiite pilgrims from Iraq and around the world are to throng Iraq's shrine city of Karbala on Thursday for the climax of Arbaeen mourning rituals amid tight security for fear of militant attacks.

Over the past 10 days, the annual commemoration ceremonies are expected to have drawn up to 15 million pilgrims braving the threat of deadly violence by Sunni insurgents targeting the Shiite community in recent weeks.

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Egypt Journalist Probed for 'Insulting' Morsi

An Egyptian newspaper editor is under investigation for allegedly insulting President Mohamed Morsi, a prosecution source said on Wednesday, a day after a similar probe was launched against a comedian.

State prosecutor Talaat Ibrahim ordered the investigation into Abdel Halim Qandil, editor of the Sawt al-Umma newspaper and a critic of Morsi, after a political activist sued him for allegedly insulting the president.

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From UFOs to 'Tsunami Bomb': N.Z. Archive Secrets Revealed

A new book has revealed rare historical gems buried in New Zealand's national archives, including a bizarre WWII plan to create a "tsunami bomb" and military files detailing supposed UFO sightings.

Author Ray Waru said he wrote "Secrets and Treasures" to highlight the material publicly available at Archives New Zealand in Wellington -- where almost 100 kilometers (62 miles) of shelf space is crammed with historical artefacts.

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Saudi Activists Urge Release of Writer Who 'Insulted' Islam

Saudi intellectuals on Wednesday urged the kingdom's crown prince to order the release of a liberal writer accused of insulting Islam via his Twitter account.

A petition, signed by around 500 people and addressed to Salman bin Abdul Aziz, called for Turki al-Hamad's "immediate and unconditional release."

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Sharp Drop in North Korea Refugees to South

The number of North Korean refugees fleeing to the South fell sharply last year, officials in Seoul said, with activists citing crackdowns and tighter border controls.

A total of 1,508 North Koreans arrived in the South in 2012 -- nearly all of them via China -- down from 2,706 the previous year, the Unification Ministry said.

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Rift between OldestSynagogue, Jewish Congregation

A disagreement over the ownership of a set of Torah finial bells from Colonial times that is worth millions has led to dueling lawsuits between leaders of the nation's first Jewish congregation and the nation's oldest synagogue.

The dispute started after leaders of the nearly 250-year-old Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, agreed to sell the bells, called rimonim, for $7.4 million to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The sale is opposed by leaders of Congregation Shearith Israel in New York City, who say it owns Touro and the rimonim.

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LEBAM Presents Christmas Concert at Lebanese Order of Physicians

The Lebanese Band Association for the promotion of Music organized during the past weekend a Christmas musical concert in cooperation with the Lebanese Order of Physicians (OML) and the Lebanon Lions Club at the headquarters of the OML in Furn al-Chebback.

Tens of children of the national orchestra for boys and girls, the Honor Band, performed during the concert, presenting musical pieces by Anderson, King, Smith and others.

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Saudis Flee Dry Kingdom to Bahrain for New Year

Residents of Saudi Arabia, where booze and New Year's celebrations are banned, flooded into neighboring Bahrain in search of festivities to ring in 2013.

More than 80,000 cars crossed a causeway over the Gulf to Bahrain Monday night to celebrate New Year's Eve, the Saudi newspaper al-Youm reported on Tuesday. Saudi Arabia adheres to a strict interpretation of Islam and bans alcohol as well as celebrations of Christmas and New Year's Eve. It also prohibits unrelated men and women from mingling.

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