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White House Hires First Transgender Official

The White House said Tuesday it had hired its first openly transgender official, a move which supporters said underscored the administration's drive against inequality.

Officials said former activist Raffi Freedman-Gurspan began work on Tuesday in a team that recruits personnel to serve the president.

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Muslim Forum in Egypt Urges Moderation in Issuing Fatwas

Leading Muslim clerics meeting in Cairo on Tuesday called for moderation in issuing religious edicts, in an attempt to counter extremist fatwas that sanction jihadist atrocities.

The muftis -- often chief interpreters of Islamic law in their countries -- and clerics agreed at the conclusion of the two-day conference on training for Muslim scholars and coordination on issues of Islamic law.

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Near Bustling Harvard Square, Monks Provide Silent Sanctuary

Just blocks away from the bustling heart of this city, a community of monks offers a silent escape from it.

The Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an order of Episcopal brothers, has kept a guesthouse at its monastery for decades to give outsiders a place to unplug and relax in a place of deep, serene quiet.

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In U.S. Workshop, an Altar for Pope Francis Takes Shape

Deacon David Cahoon is a carpenter on the holiest of deadlines: to build the altar from which Pope Francis will celebrate Mass before an al fresco crowd of thousands in Washington next month.

"Thirty-seven days left," he said Monday, sweat beading on his brow, as the altar and accompanying papal chair took shape in a dusty cabinetmaker's shop an hour's drive from the US capital.

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A Room with a Royal View: Plans for a Hotel at Versailles

Imagine opening your hotel room window to gaze upon the lavish grounds and famous palace of Versailles after spending a night on the estate itself.

That prospect could soon be reality -- at least for some of the wealthier visitors to France -- after a government body that manages Versailles put out a tender to build a hotel alongside the fabled grounds.

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Newspaper Nixes Peru Cardinal after Papal 'Plagiarism'

Peru's leading newspaper said it will no longer publish editorials by the cardinal and archbishop of Lima after accusing him of plagiarizing past popes in his articles.

The suspect stories have also been taken down from the website of El Comercio "because the newspaper does not publish articles in which the text is signed by someone but in reality written by another," the publication said.

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China Film Lambasted Online for Distorting History

Social media users blasted a new Chinese film Monday for depicting a summit of world leaders during World War II which embellished history by portraying revolutionary leader Mao Zedong as vital to a conference he never attended.

The Cairo Declaration -- an upcoming war film produced by a company affiliated with China's military -- is part of a host of government-directed events to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Japan's surrender.

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Gloves off as Women Take to Myanmar's Ferocious Kickboxing Style

Moe Pwint Oo shoots the grimy punchbag a steely glare before slamming her fist into it, striking a blow for equality as she practices Myanmar's homespun martial art Lethwei -- a sport that encourages head-butting and grants victory by knock-out only.

The petite medical sciences student is one of a growing number of women taking up Lethwei kickboxing, building up a sweat in the yard of a gritty Yangon gym where some of the country's best fighters train alongside local enthusiasts, expats and even the odd actress.

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Spain's Greyhounds: From Prized to Abused when Hunting Ends

With their narrow head and long legs, greyhounds are one of the fastest dog breeds on earth, making them the preferred choice of hunters in Spain to catch rabbits and hares.

But instead of being rewarded, campaigners say greyhounds are often mistreated, especially once they have become too old to hunt.

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Turkmen President Calls to Restrict Foreign Academics

Energy-rich Turkmenistan's President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov said foreign academics must earn government approval before publishing research on the isolated country in comments relayed by state television on Saturday.

"Foreign academics can only publish their scientific work after consideration of the Ministry of Culture or the academic committees of the Academy of Sciences of Turkmenistan," the 58-year-old president said, without specifying how the government could prevent independent research being published. 

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