Reuters World News Highlights at 0430 GMT, Jan 21

Jan 21 (Reuters) - TOP STORIES

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ALGIERS, Algeria - The death toll has risen to at least 48 hostages killed during a four-day siege at a gas plant deep in the Sahara as a veteran Islamist fighter claimed responsibility on behalf of al Qaeda for the attack.

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HANOVER - Germany's centre-left opposition edged Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives from power in a regional vote in Lower Saxony on Sunday, reviving its flagging hopes of defeating her in September's national election.

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JAIPUR, India - Rahul Gandhi embraced his role as a leading contender for India's next prime minister in a speech on Sunday that spoke of his family's tragic history but yielded few clues about his views on politics and the economy.

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PARIS - Syrian opposition leaders will meet in Paris this month, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday, decrying an "abominable" situation in which he said 100 people a day were being killed in an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

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KABUL - A coordinated attack involving at least three suicide bombers and a powerful car bomb took aim at the headquarters of the Kabul traffic department on Monday, followed by a clash between at least one insurgent and security forces, police said.

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RANCHHODPURA, India - Working out of a tiny rented room furnished with a wooden table, small biometric authentication machine and shelf stacked with passbooks, Ganesh Dangi is a one-man bank for a village of 650 people in northwestern India's desert state of Rajasthan.

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NIONO, Mali - French troops in armoured vehicles advanced on Sunday towards a central Malian town abandoned by Islamist rebels after days of air strikes, moving cautiously for fear of guerrilla-style counterattacks by the al Qaeda-linked fighters.

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WASHINGTON - Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives backed away on Friday from a fiscal clash with President Barack Obama next month that could have risked a government default and chaos in financial markets, shifting to a new, less aggressive stance.

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WASHINGTON - U.S. safety investigators on Sunday ruled out excess voltage as the cause of a battery fire this month on a Boeing Co 787 Dreamliner jet operated by Japan Airlines Co (JAL) and said they were expanding the probe to look at the battery's charger and the jet's auxiliary power unit.

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VIENNA - U.N. inspectors and Iran failed again in talks this week to revive an investigation into suspected nuclear arms research by Tehran, a setback for diplomatic efforts to resolve the atomic dispute with the Islamic Republic peacefully.

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama took the official oath for his second term on Sunday at the White House in a small, private ceremony that set a more subdued tone compared to the historic start of his presidency four years ago.

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KIEV - Ukraine's chief prosecutor accused jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko of ordering the killing of a business rival 16 years ago, dealing a new blow to the ex-prime minister who the West says is the victim of a political vendetta.

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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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YANGON - The Myanmar military will observe a ceasefire in its fight with ethnic Kachin rebels with effect from Saturday, state television reported, but rebels would not immediately commit to uphold the truce.

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MOSCOW - A masked attacker threw acid in the face of the artistic director of Russia's prestigious Bolshoi Ballet, endangering his eyesight, in what colleagues said on Friday was the culmination of a two-week campaign of intimidation.