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Mass Pro-Assad Demo in Damascus as 19 More Killed

At least 19 people were killed in violence-hit Syria on Wednesday, activists said, as tens of thousands of supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rallied in Damascus, in a show of support for the embattled leader.

The demonstrators, waving Syrian flags and brandishing pictures of Assad, swarmed to Omayyad Square, chanting, "The people want Bashar al-Assad."

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Ennahda Party Leader: Islamists ‘Natural’ Choice to Lead Tunisia

The leader of Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party said Wednesday that its commanding lead in historic elections made it the "natural" choice to lead the country's next government.

"It is natural that the party which obtained the majority heads the government," Rached Ghannouchi said in a radio interview as provisional tallies showed Ennahda leading the count following Sunday's poll.

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Iraq Attacks Kill 9, Wound 22

Bomb and gun attacks in Iraq have killed nine people, including a mayor, four soldiers and two family members of a Shiite cleric, and wounded 22 others, security officials said on Wednesday.

"A car bomb targeted an Iraqi army patrol in al-Zuhour neighborhood, killing three soldiers and wounding three civilians" in Mosul in Iraq's north, a first lieutenant in the Mosul police said.

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Panetta Warns Iran Not to Meddle in Iraq

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday warned Iran that it should not meddle in Iraq when American forces leave the country at the end of this year.

The Pentagon chief said that even after the last of the 39,000 combat troops are out of Iraq, the U.S. will maintain a significant presence in the Middle East.

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Arab Mediators Head to Damascus amid Strike Call

An Arab delegation led by Qatar was headed for Damascus on Wednesday for mediation between the Syrian government and its opponents, even as activists rejected dialogue and called for a general strike.

"We will begin our meeting with Syrian officials in Damascus at around 3:00 pm (12:00 GMT) to inform them of the initiative, agreed upon by 21 foreign ministers," Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi told Agence France Presse.

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15 Dead as Yemen Truce Fails, Saleh Says Ready to Go

A truce between government and dissident forces collapsed as soon as it was announced, with at least 15 killed on Tuesday, as Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh told the U.S. he is prepared to step down.

The State Department said Saleh told the U.S. ambassador in Sanaa that he is committed to a plan brokered by Gulf states that calls on him to quit 30 days after signing the deal in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

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Tunisian Islamist Party Takes Lead in Early Results

Tunisia's Islamist Ennahda party prepared for coalition talks Tuesday as early results showed it dominating the Arab Spring's first free elections.

Ennahda took 15 of the 39 seats from five domestic polling districts in the new constitution-writing assembly, the ISIE elections body announced, stressing the provisional nature of the tally.

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Turkish Army Denies Tank Incursion into Iraq

The Turkish army Tuesday denied that tanks crossed into Iraq, in a statement posted on its website.

"Today there were some media reports about our tanks crossing to the other side of the border. These reports are not correct," the army said.

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Seif al-Islam Gadhafi Reportedly Approaching Niger Border

Former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi’s son and onetime heir apparent Seif al-Islam was on Tuesday poised to cross into Niger along with his father's ex-intelligence chief, a Tuareg official said.

The two are the top most wanted fugitives from the slain despot's ousted circle, who are wanted by the International Criminal Court and had been widely expected to seek refuge in Niger following Gadhafi’s death last week.

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Libya's NTC Asks NATO to Stay 'At Least One More Month'

NATO reacted cautiously Tuesday to a request from Libya's new regime to maintain air operations a month longer than planned as the alliance indicated that consultations were still ongoing.

"NATO said it would closely consult with the U.N. and the NTC (National Transitional Council) before making a final decision," a NATO official said on condition of anonymity.

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