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Reuters World News Highlights at 1315 GMT, Jan 18

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Jan 18 (Reuters) - TOP STORIES

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ALGIERS - At least 18 foreign hostages were unaccounted for on Friday and their al Qaeda-linked captors threatened to attack other energy installations after Algerian forces stormed a desert gas complex to free hundreds of captives, resulting in dozens of deaths.

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UNITED NATIONS - French troops' initial clashes with Islamist militants in Mali have shown that the desert fighters are better trained and equipped than France had anticipated before last week's military intervention, French and other U.N. diplomats said.

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BEIJING - China's economy grew at its slowest pace in 13 years in 2012, though a year-end spurt supported by infrastructure spending and a jump in trade signalled the foundation for the stable growth path Beijing says is vital for economic reform may be in sight.

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TAKAMATSU, Japan - U.S. and Japanese aviation safety officials wrapped up their initial investigation of a badly damaged battery from a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner jet on Friday, saying further checks would be held in Tokyo and could take a week to complete.

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NEW YORK - Lance Armstrong ended years of vehement denial on Thursday by finally coming clean and admitting he had cheated his way to a record seven Tour de France titles with systematic use of banned, performance-enhancing drugs.

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VIENNA - U.N. inspectors failed again in talks in Tehran this week to secure a breakthrough deal on Iran's atomic activity in a setback for diplomatic efforts to resolve the nuclear dispute with the Islamic state peacefully.

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ISLAMABAD - A cleric who has been pushing for electoral reforms in Pakistan will resort to street protests aqain if the government does not abide by an agreement that eased a political crisis, an aide said on Friday.

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JERUSALEM - Four days before Israel's parliamentary election, opinion polls published on Friday showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still set to win, although his support had slipped to its lowest point in the campaign so far.

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BEIRUT - A large blast hit a neighbourhood of the Syrian city of Aleppo on Friday and caused several casualties, state television said.

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NEW DELHI - Pakistan urged India on Thursday to tone down the "Pakistan bashing" over a spate of military clashes in Kashmir between the nuclear-armed neighbours, and again offered foreign minister-level talks to try to cool tensions.

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JAKARTA - Severe floods in Jakarta eased on Friday, a day after unusually heavy monsoon rains swamped parts of the Indonesian capital in waist-deep water and left more than 18,000 people homeless.

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NEW DELHI - India has jurisdiction to try two Italian marines charged with killing two fishermen, the country's Supreme Court said in a long-awaiting ruling on Friday, setting the stage for a criminal trial that could further sour ties between India and Italy.

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LONDON - Britain will drift out of the European Union and the European project will fail unless the bloc tackles three serious problems it faces, British Prime Minister David Cameron had planned to say in a postponed speech on Friday.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130118/reuters-world-news-highlights-at-1315-gmt-jan-18