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Timbuktu Recovers Its Mausoleums, Risen from Ruins

Mali's fabled city of Timbuktu on Thursday celebrated the recovery of its historic mausoleums, destroyed during an Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and rebuilt thanks to U.N. cultural agency UNESCO.

The dusty desert city formally received the keys to the precious shrines to Muslim saints dating back to medieval times at a ceremony consecrating their return that was held in the legendary Djingareyber mosque.

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French Purists Vexed at Demise of Circumflex

French linguistic purists  voiced online anger Thursday at the loss of one of their favorite accents -- the pointy little "circumflex" hat that sits on top of certain vowels. 

A change in the spelling of some 2,000 French words will come into effect in new primary school textbooks being released for the start of the school year in September, the education ministry and publishers announced. 

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Saudi Says Iranian Pilgrims Welcome despite Rift

Iranian pilgrims are still welcome to visit Islam's holiest sites in Saudi Arabia despite increased tensions between the two countries, Riyadh's foreign minister said on Thursday.

"Any Muslim is welcome in Mecca and Medina... and this includes the Iranian pilgrims," Adel al-Jubeir told reporters.

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Austrian Museum Seeks Sponsors to Save 'Dark Side' of Art

Would you pay to see art that's broken, mouldy or eaten by worms? 

Vienna's famous Leopold Museum sure hopes so. The prestigious home of Gustav Klimt and Egon Schiele is displaying damaged artworks to raise funds for their restoration.

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150 Years on, Exhibit Probes the Dark World of 'Crime and Punishment'

Inside an old Saint Petersburg apartment that was once home to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, a new exhibition plunges visitors into the dark and complex world of "Crime and Punishment", shedding new light on one of Russia's greatest literary works 150 years after its publication.

Located in the heart of Russia's former imperial capital, the exhibit explores the depths of a novel which won critical acclaim when first published in 1866 and went on to become one of Dostoyevsky's best-known works. 

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Study Grants for Virgins 'Illegal', Says S. African Minister

A South African cabinet minister on Wednesday slammed as "illegal" a new scholarship scheme for female students who must pass virginity tests during the holidays to receive grant money.

Uthukela municipality near Durban city last month awarded "maidens' bursaries" to 16 university students on condition they remain virgins until they completed their studies.

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Pope Francis under Fire over China 'Realpolitik'

Pope Francis came under fire Wednesday after lavishing praise on China in a move widely seen as oiling the wheels of Vatican moves to improve relations with Beijing.

Close watchers of the Holy See were taken by surprise by the content of an interview with the Asia Times in which the Argentinian pontiff said the world need not fear China's growing power and avoided any mention of human rights or the restrictions on Catholics and other Christians' freedom of worship in the world's most populous nation.

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Saudi Court Quashes Death Sentence for 'Apostate' Poet

A court in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday overturned a death sentence against a Palestinian poet convicted of apostasy, giving him eight years in prison instead, his lawyer said.

The court in the southwestern city of Abha "overturned the previous sentence to execute him for apostasy," the lawyer for Ashraf Fayad said in a statement he posted on Twitter.

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Greek Island Gives Migrant Life Jackets for Ai Weiwei Artwork

Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei will create an artwork in Germany from 14,000 life jackets discarded by migrants arriving on Greece's Lesbos island, local authorities said on Tuesday.

"Island mayor Spiros Galinos has provided 14,000 life jackets for the creation of an artwork in Berlin by globally renowned artist Ai Weiwei," the town said in a statement.

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Japan Tells U.N. No Evidence of Forced WWII Sex Slavery

Japan says it has found no evidence its WWII government and military forcibly rounded up women to be sex slaves, Tokyo has told a U.N. committee, the latest pronouncement in a corrosive row over interpretations of history. 

The confirmation Tuesday, ahead of a conference on women later this month, is likely to renew anger among the dwindling number of surviving former "comfort women", who say the country has never taken full responsibility for what it did in wartime.

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