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Reuters World News Highlights 1800 GMT, Jan 4

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BEIRUT - Syria on Friday said a car bomb at a crowded petrol station in Damascus on Thursday night was set off by "terrorists", a term it uses for rebels seeking to topple President Bashar al-Assad.

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WASHINGTON - Former U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson said on Friday he and Google executive Eric Schmidt will make a "private humanitarian visit" to North Korea, partly aimed at securing the release of an American detainee there.

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CARACAS - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is still suffering a "severe" respiratory infection that has hindered his breathing as he struggles to recover from cancer surgery in Cuba, the government said on Thursday.

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BAGHDAD - Street protests in Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland pose a new challenge to Shi'ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki as shock waves from the Sunni-led insurgency in nearby Syria strain his country's fragile political balance.

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WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives on Friday approved $9.7 billion in initial federal funds for victims of Superstorm Sandy, with New York and New Jersey lawmakers still seething over delays in voting on the rest of a $60 billion aid package.

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ANKARA - Turkish officials have made "important progress" in talks with jailed Kurdish militant leader Abdullah Ocalan to try to end a near three-decade insurgency by his supporters, a senior ruling party official said on Friday.

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JERUSALEM - The former head of Israel's internal security service said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday was wavering and weak in an unusually personal condemnation of the right winger, who enjoys a strong lead in polls ahead of the Jan. 22 election.

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BRUSSELS - The European Union says no date has been fixed for further talks on Iran's nuclear programme, while hoping they will be soon, an EU foreign affairs spokesman said.

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HARARE - Zimbabwe's government said on Friday it will not seize any more foreign-owned farms after losing multi-million-dollar compensation claims under a treaty aimed at protecting overseas investments.

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LONDON - A Pakistani girl shot in the head by the Taliban for advocating girls' education has been discharged from a British hospital after doctors said she was well enough to spend time recovering with her family.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130104/reuters-world-news-highlights-1800-gmt-jan-4