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UK Says Afghan Killings won't Dent Morale as Taliban Claims Responsibility

Britain's defense secretary insisted on Thursday that the country's troops are committed to their mission in Afghanistan, after the number of U.K. personnel killed in the conflict passed 400.

Ministers have expressed fears that the deaths of six soldiers killed when an explosion hit their armored vehicle in the southwestern Helmand province on Tuesday evening would prompt new concern over the 11-year-long campaign.

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Sarkozy Vows to Bow Out of Politics if Not Re-Elected

French President Nicolas Sarkozy admitted publicly Thursday he will quit politics if he loses next month's election, as his Socialist challenger pressed home his attacks on the incumbent's record.

"I tell you, yes," he replied when asked on a television program if he would withdraw from public life if, as opinion polls predict, he loses to Socialist Francois Hollande in the two-round vote in April and May.

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World Powers Call on Iran to Enter 'Serious Dialogue'

World powers said Thursday that mooted upcoming talks with Iran focused on its nuclear program must be "serious", without pre-conditions and produce "concrete results."

"We call on Iran to enter, without pre-conditions, into a sustained process of serious dialogue, which will produce concrete results," said a statement on behalf of the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany, known as the P5+1.

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Putin Vows 'Non-Party' Presidency for Russia

Vladimir Putin vowed Thursday to rule Russia as a "non-party" leader when he assumes power for a third term as president amid a wave of protests challenging his rule for the first time in 12 years.

"Today, it would probably be appropriate to recall that the president is a non-party figure," Putin told outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev in a televised meeting at the Krasnaya Polyana ski resort on the Black Sea.

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Iran's Khamenei Hails Obama's Damping Down War Talk

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday welcomed comments by U.S. President Barack Obama damping down talk of war against Tehran over its controversial nuclear drive.

"This talk is good talk and shows an exit from illusion," Khamenei's website quoted the leader as telling clerics from the Assembly of Experts, the 86-member body which selects the supreme leader, supervises his activities and can dismiss him.

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Clinton Urges China to Prove intentions

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday called on China to show in "concrete ways" that its rise is in the world's interest, saying that Beijing needs to take greater responsibility.

In a wide-ranging speech on relations between the Pacific powers, Clinton renewed U.S. calls on China to protect the rights of foreign businesses, adjust the "unfair" value of its currency and improve its human rights record.

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S. Korea Holds Firing Drill near Tense Border

South Korean troops mounted a live-fire exercise near the tense border with the North on Thursday amid high tensions and in the face of Pyongyang threatening retaliatory strikes.

The one-hour exercise in Pocheon, the first of its kind this year near the land border, was a regular drill involving about 170 tanks, self-propelled howitzers, helicopters and four warplanes, a Defense Ministry spokesman told Agence France Presse.

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China Backs Down from Legalizing Secret Detentions

China has abandoned controversial plans to make it legal to "disappear" criminal suspects following a huge public outcry, in a move hailed as a victory for judicial reformers.

Proposed changes to China's criminal law being debated this week by parliament originally included a clause that allowed police to hold people suspected of terrorism or endangering national security in secret locations without notifying their families.

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Nine Afghan Police Killed, Infiltrator Suspected

Nine Afghan police were killed in an insurgent attack that authorities said Thursday was believed to have been facilitated by a fellow officer and suspected Taliban infiltrator.

The attack in the southern province of Uruzgan late Tuesday follows a wave of incidents in recent weeks in which members of the Afghan security forces have turned their weapons on their NATO and U.S. allies.

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U.S. Sees Vatican as Potential Money Laundering Hub

The U.S. State Department for the first time listed the Vatican as potentially vulnerable to money laundering, along with 67 other countries.

The department's annual International Narcotics Control Strategy report listed the Vatican as a "jurisdiction of concern" along with countries like Albania, the Czech Republic, Egypt, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and Yemen.

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