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Istanbul's Hagia Sophia Sees First Qoran Reading in 85 Years

A Muslim cleric has for the first time in 85 years recited the Qoran in the Hagia Sophia, the world famous landmark of Istanbul which is now a museum after serving as a church and a mosque, reports said Saturday.

The Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum accessible to all by the secular founders of modern Turkey in the 1930s and secular Turks are wary of any moves to re-Islamise the building.

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Brazil More than Beans as Michelin Probes Latino Dishes

Tickle your palate. Try some Amazonian ants with pineapple. Or how about some beetroot salad with curds? Brazilian gastronomic fare has far more to offer than the traditional staples of beans and rice with cassava.

So say the experts from the revered Michelin guide, who have edited their first Brazil edition covering the megacities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

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Norway to Ease Rules on Gender Change Recognition

Norway will introduce a new law governing sex changes, the government said Friday after an expert group recommended an end to what critics call "medieval" treatment of transgender people. 

Health Minister Bent Hoie promised to put an end to a practice dating back to the 1970s which includes mandatory irreversible sterilisation and psychiatric evaluations before the state will recognise that a person has changed gender. 

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France's Hollande Steps Back in Time at Giant Cave Replica

French President Francois Hollande on Friday stepped 36,000 years back in time into a darkened, cool cave to admire the earliest known figurative paintings of hands, bears, rhinos and panthers.

But he was actually above ground, inaugurating a giant, millimetre-by-millimetre exact replica of the closely guarded Grotte Chauvet in southern France, unearthed by chance in 1994 by a group of speleologists who discovered hundreds of paintings by our prehistoric ancestors.

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Statues Smashed at Night after Ukraine's Ban on Soviet-Era Symbols

Masked men toppled three statues of Communist leaders overnight Friday Ukraine's city of Kharkiv, days after parliament moved to purge Soviet-era symbols countrywide.

A video posted on YouTube by an anti-Russian militant group called "We've had enough" -- -- shows the men smashing three large monuments glorifying Bolshevik leaders in Ukraine's second largest city.

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Vatican Makes France Wait over Openly Gay Ambassador

Three months after appointing an openly gay diplomat as France's ambassador to the Vatican, Paris is still waiting for the green light from Rome.

Such a delay is unusual. Normally, the Vatican takes less than a month and a half before deciding whether to accept an ambassador. 

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Gaza Police Seize Banksy's Disputed Weeping Goddess

Gaza police have seized a work by famed street artist Banksy from a man who bought it for $200 from a family that later said it was duped, both sides told AFP.

Bilal Khaled, accused of buying the work painted on a door belonging to the Darduna family without telling them its real value, said Friday "the police seized it yesterday under a court order."

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70 Years on, Greeks Awaiting Justice in Nazi Massacre Village

Loukas Sehremelis was just 12 years old when Nazi troops burst into his house in the Greek village of Distomo, shooting and killing indiscriminately.

"A burly German soldier launched himself through the window and fired a shot in the air from his pistol," said Sehremelis, now 83, sitting in the tiny living room where his family was massacred on June 10, 1944.

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Jacob Lawrence's Great Migration Series on View at MoMA

One hundred years ago, African-Americans began a mass exodus from the rural South, heading north in search of economic opportunity and social equality. The Museum of Modern Art is paying tribute to that movement in a rare exhibition of a series chronicling the phenomenon from artist Jacob Lawrence, himself the son of migrants.

His Great Migration series, featuring 60 poignant narrative paintings, is the centerpiece of the exhibition that runs through Sept. 7.

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Play about Slain Pro-Palestine Activist Returns to NY Stage

A play about American activist Rachel Corrie, who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in Gaza, is winning quiet acceptance in New York, where uproar postponed its debut a decade ago.

Her parents and the play's director say the dimming controversy reflects a shift in American attitudes towards Israel and the Palestinian conflict.

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