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Why the religious fast for Ramadan, Lent and other holy days

Muslims around the world are welcoming the start of Ramadan, a month of fasting, increased worship, heightened charity, good deeds and community. Christians are also fasting during Lent, the 40-day period of penance and prayer ahead of Easter, which marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Fasting across religions is practiced for a wide range of reasons that include spiritual purification and self-discipline. Here is a quick look at fasting as an act of faith:

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Ling Ma, Beverly Gage among authors honored by book critics

Ling Ma's sharp and surreal "Bliss Montage" and Beverly Gage's sweeping biography of the late FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, "G-Man," were among the winners Thursday night of the National Book Critics Circle awards.

Ma's story collection won the prize for fiction, with the judges praising her "sometimes startling" portraits of racism and xenophobia, and her gift for pulling readers "into a world where everything has been called into question." Last week, "Bliss Montage" received the Story Prize for outstanding short fiction.

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USAID’s CSP Celebrates the Completion of 76 Student Internships

The Community Support Program (CSP), funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has recognized the efforts of a third cohort of 76 university students and recent graduates from 11 universities who completed internships in support of USAID-funded projects in Lebanon.

U.S. Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Richard Michaels, USAID Lebanon Acting Mission Director Nicholas Vivio, and representatives from municipalities, local communities, and 11 USAID-assisted universities attended the ceremony.

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Israeli leader halts bill against Christian proselytizing

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would prevent the passage of a proposal by a powerful ally in his governing coalition to punish Christian proselytizing with jail time.

The proposal had raised an uproar with evangelical Christians — one of Israel's strongest and most influential supporters in the United States.

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Lawyers: Dispute over Van Gogh art in Detroit is settled

A deal has been reached over control of an 1888 painting by Vincent van Gogh, lawyers said, weeks after the custody fight created public buzz and much tension near the end of a rare U.S. exhibition in Detroit.

Brokerarte Capital Partners LLC, which claims to own "The Novel Reader," told a federal appeals court that it reached a confidential settlement with the unnamed entity who loaned the painting to the Detroit Institute of Arts for an exhibition of Van Gogh's works that ended Jan. 22.

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Muslim authorities say Ramadan fasting to begin Thursday

Muslim authorities in Saudi Arabia and several other Middle Eastern countries say this year's fasting month of Ramadan will begin Thursday based on the expected sighting of the crescent moon.

Clerics across the region said the moon was not visible Tuesday night, meaning it will almost certainly appear the following evening, heralding the start of the monthlong observance.

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Bullfighting ban faces critical legislative vote in Colombia

A 61-year-old matador nicknamed "Little gypsy of America" fell headfirst into the dust when he was headbutted by a bull. He recovered to the applause of the crowd, and later killed the bull with a sword thrust to the back of its neck.

He was among six veteran bullfighters performing for free on a recent Saturday in front of about 150 people at an emerald-green hacienda in Colombia's Andes. The festival was to raise money for a foundation hoping to save the centuries-old tradition from a national ban being pushed by politicians who argue bullfighting is cruel and unethical.

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Their world was the oyster: Oldest pearl town found in UAE

Archaeologists said Monday they have found the oldest pearling town in the Persian Gulf on an island off one of the northern sheikhdoms of the United Arab Emirates.

Artifacts found in this town on Siniyah Island in Umm al-Quwain, likely once home to thousands of people and hundreds of homes, date as far back as the region's pre-Islamic history in the late 6th century. While older pearling towns have been mentioned in historical texts, this represents the first time archaeologists say they have physically found one from this ancient era across the nations of the Persian Gulf.

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In Rome, church and state agree to Pantheon entrance fee

Tourists in Rome checking out the Pantheon, Italy's most-visited cultural site, will soon be charged a 5-euro ($5.28) entrance fee under an agreement signed Thursday by Italian culture and church officials.

Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano said the move was a matter of "good sense." The introduction of an entrance fee comes five years after a previous government shelved plans to start charging visitors 2 euros.

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Cambodia celebrates return of 'priceless' stolen artifacts

Centuries-old cultural artifacts that had been illegally smuggled out from Cambodia were welcomed home Friday at a celebration led by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who offered thanks for their return and appealed for further efforts to retrieve such stolen treasures.

Many, if not all, of the items displayed at the government's offices Friday had been looted from Cambodia during periods of war and instability, including in the 1970s when the country was under the brutal rule of the communist Khmer Rouge. Through unscrupulous art dealers, they made their way into the hands of private collectors and museums around the world.

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