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U.S. 'Closely Watching' for Signs of N.Korea Nuclear Test

The United States said Tuesday it was watching "very closely" following South Korean warnings that North Korea may be preparing a fourth nuclear test ahead of a visit to Seoul by President Barack Obama.

"North Korea has a history of taking provocative action and we are always mindful of the possibility that such an action could be taken," White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard Air Force One as Obama departed for his week-long trip to Asia.

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Russia Threatens Response if Interests Attacked in Ukraine

Russia issued a blunt warning Wednesday it would respond if its interests are attacked in Ukraine, as pro-Kremlin rebels in the restive east of the country braced for a new military offensive by Kiev.

The threat by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, recalling the 2008 war with Georgia over breakaway South Ossetia, came as U.S. troops were headed to region in a show of force after Washington again warned Moscow of new sanctions over the escalating crisis.

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Jihadist Group in Mali Announces Death of French Hostage

One of Mali's top jihadist groups said on Tuesday a French hostage it had kidnapped in November 2012 was dead.

The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), a splinter group of al-Qaida's regional branch, told AFP Gilberto Rodrigues Leal "is dead, because France is our enemy."

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U.S. Troops Head to Poland, Baltics to 'Reassure' Allies

The United States is deploying 600 troops to Poland and the Baltics to highlight its commitment to NATO allies amid tensions with Russia over Ukraine, officials said Tuesday.

In a show of solidarity, a company of 150 soldiers from the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne Brigade based in Vicenza, Italy, will arrive in Poland on Wednesday and roughly 450 troops are due in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia in the coming days as part of a series of exercises due to last at least through the end of the year, a Pentagon spokesman said.

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Ukraine Relaunches Operation against Rebels, Military Plane Hit by Gunfire

Ukraine's acting president on Tuesday ordered the military to resume an operation against pro-Kremlin separatists, after the "brutally tortured" bodies of two people, one a kidnapped local councilor, were discovered in the restive east.

"I demand the resumption of effective counter-terrorism measures to protect Ukrainian citizens in the east from terrorism," Oleksandr Turchynov said, according to a statement from his other office as parliamentary speaker.

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Death Toll in Korea Ferry Disaster Crosses 100

The confirmed death toll from South Korea's ferry disaster rose sharply to more than 120 Tuesday as divers speeded up the grim task of recovering bodies from the submerged ship and police took two more of its crew into custody.

Better weather and calm seas spurred their efforts but underwater visibility was still very poor, forcing divers to grope their way blindly though the corridors and cabins of the ferry that capsized and sank last Wednesday.

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Erdogan Bans May Day Rallies on Taksim Square

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday he would not allow May Day gatherings on Istanbul's Taksim Square, the scene of protests that have dogged the government for months. 

A similar decision in May last year to ban the use of the square -- a traditional and symbolic rallying point -- led to violent clashes between police and protesters which were followed by a wave of nationwide anti-government demonstrations in June.

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Iran Prisoners' Families Protest in Capital

The families of men incarcerated in Tehran's notorious Evin prison protested Tuesday near the Iranian president's office, citing mistreatment of their loved ones, activists said.

The gathering came after reports of violence in the jail during an inspection of inmates at Section 350, which houses political prisoners.

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EU Calls for Speedy Implementation of Ukraine Accord

The European Union called Tuesday on all sides to implement speedily the terms of the Geneva accord aimed at defusing the Ukraine crisis.

"We call on all sides to respect the terms and conditions of the agreement in Geneva," a spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.

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Bangladesh Factory Victims Get Money ahead of Anniversary

A fund created to compensate victims of Bangladesh's worst industrial disaster made its first payments Tuesday as the country prepared to mark the first anniversary of the Rana Plaza garment factory collapse.

The payments were made as a Geneva-based international labor group blasted Western retailers for their "woefully inadequate" contributions to the fund set up by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

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