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Rare Van Gogh Sketchbook Copies up for Unprecedented Sale

Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum is selling a limited number of copies of the Dutch master's sketchbooks for the first time, providing rare insight into his life and the origin of some of his most famous portraits, the museum said on Thursday.

Only four of Van Gogh's many sketchbooks survive today, three of which form part of a new "Van Gogh at work" exhibition and contain "perhaps some of his most intimate creations," the museum said on its website.

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Two Held in Lebanon for Smuggling Relics from Syria Cemeteries, Churches

The General Directorate of General Security on Thursday announced that it has busted a network that has been smuggling antiquities from Syria into Lebanon.

“After the GDGS received a tip-off and after reporting to the Public Prosecution, a unit from the directorate's information affairs bureau raided a hideout containing a quantity of stolen relics,” it said in a statement.

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Georgian Orthodox Church Calls for Gay Rally Ban

The head of Georgia's influential Orthodox Church called Thursday on the authorities to ban a gay rights rally set to be held in the deeply religious country.

The call came a day before gay rights activists were to stage a brief demonstration in central Tbilisi to mark the International Day against Homophobia.

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Greek Leader Stresses Culture in Talks with China's Premier

Prime Minister Antonis Samaras of economically troubled Greece met Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on Thursday, hailing the contributions to global civilization of their respective cultures.

Samaras was greeted at the Great Hall of the People with military honors that included armed guards, a marching band and a 19-gun salute.

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In Philadelphia, Murals Breathe Life into City

On a scaffold five meters off the ground, artist Meg Saligman uses her paintbrush to carefully touch up an enormous mural covering an entire wall of a Philadelphia parking lot.

"At first, I was afraid of heights, but I'm not anymore. Now I actually love it," Saligman said from her perch where she worked on refurbishing the 500-square-meter (nearly 5,400-square-foot) painting.

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Christie's Art Auction Sells Nearly Half Billion Dollars

A blockbuster auction of Contemporary art in New York, including a record $58.4 million for a Jackson Pollock drip painting, fetched nearly half a billion dollars on Wednesday -- the biggest haul ever at an art auction.

Christie's said its sale raised a "staggering" total of $495,021,500, with 94 percent of lots finding buyers. Nine of the works sold went for more than $10 million and 23 for more than $5 million.

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White House Backs Laws to Protect Press Sources

The White House threw its weight Wednesday behind a bid to pass a law to strengthen journalists' rights to protect their sources, amid controversy over the seizure of a news agency's phone records.

Following allegations that federal investigators had gone too far in their move against the Associated Press, a spokesman said President Barack Obama had contacted lawmakers to ask that the bill be brought forward.

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Belizean Government Condemns Pyramid Destruction

The government said Tuesday it is pursuing a "vigorous" investigation into a road-building company's near destruction of one of the largest Mayan pyramids in Belize.

The Ministry of Tourism and Culture expressed outrage at the demolition of the Nohmul complex in northern Belize to extract crushed rock for a road project. It said it is investigating to determine precisely how it happened.

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Turkish Government Proposes Alcohol Curbs

A Turkish parliamentary committee is set to debate Wednesday a proposal by the Islamic-rooted government to introduce new curbs on the consumption and advertising of alcohol, a parliamentary source said.

The supporters of the measure say the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) bill seeks to protect society, particularly children, from the harmful effects of alcohol.

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Okinawa Women Demand Sex Remark Apology

Women in Japan's island chain of Okinawa on Wednesday demanded an apology from an outspoken Japanese politician who suggested U.S. troops there make use of its thriving sex industry.

The comments from Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto came after he said "comfort women" -- who most historians agree were pressed into sexual slavery for the Japanese imperial army during World War II -- served a "necessary" role by keeping soldiers in line.

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