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Reuters World News Highlights 1800 GMT Feb 21

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

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PRETORIA - South African police investigating Oscar Pistorius for murder pulled their lead detective off the "Blade Runner" athlete's case on Thursday after it emerged he himself faces attempted murder charges for shooting at a minibus.

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ROME - Silvio Berlusconi's resurgence and the rise of a foul-mouthed populist comedian have thrown Italy's weekend election wide open, with deep uncertainty over whether the poll can produce the strong government the country needs.

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BEIRUT - A car bomb killed more than 50 people and wounded 200 in central Damascus on Thursday when it blew up on a busy highway close to ruling Baath Party offices and the Russian Embassy, state media and activists said.

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SOFIA - Bulgaria's parliament on Thursday accepted the government's decision to resign in the face of anti-austerity protests, opening the way for an early election that may benefit fringe parties and make it hard to form a stable government.

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GAO, Mali - French and Malian troops fought Islamists on the streets of Gao and a car bomb exploded in Kidal on Thursday, as fighting showed little sign of abating weeks before France plans to start withdrawing some forces.

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WASHINGTON - Faced with the growing theft of U.S. trade secrets, the White House said on Wednesday it was stepping up diplomatic pressure and mulling tougher laws to stem the threat to American businesses and security from China and other nations.

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HYDERABAD, India - Two bombs placed on bicycles exploded in a crowded market-place in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad on Thursday, and the federal home minister said at least 11 people were killed and 50 wounded.

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MILAN - Italian police arrested a fugitive associate of alleged soccer matchfixing kingpin Tan Seet Eng on Thursday after he flew in from Singapore to hand himself over, they said in a statement.

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LONDON - Major powers are ready to make "a substantial and serious offer" to Iran during talks next week in return for concessions on its nuclear programme, a Western diplomat said on Wednesday.

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TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will be seeking to put a strong U.S.-Japan alliance on full display in the face of potential threats from a nuclear North Korea and an assertive China when he meets U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday.

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WASHINGTON/SEOUL - U.S. and allied spy agencies have found no traces of telltale nuclear-related particles from North Korea's Feb. 12 nuclear bomb test, leaving unresolved basic questions about the device's design, according to officials in the United States, Europe and South Korea.

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WASHINGTON - President Barack Obama turned to local television stations across the United States on Wednesday to increase public pressure on congressional Republicans to avert $85 billion in budget cuts set to begin in nine days.

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SOCHI - Above the Black Sea city of Sochi, one of Russia's richest men is spending billions of roubles to turn a patch of mountainside into a global showpiece. Metals magnate Vladimir Potanin has paid for new buildings, new lifts and hundreds of snow canons in the hope of transforming slopes not far from sub-tropical Sochi into a world-class ski resort.

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WASHINGTON - More than half of U.S. citizens believe that most or all of the country's 11 million illegal immigrants should be deported, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday that highlights the difficulties facing lawmakers trying to reform the U.S. immigration system.

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LOS ANGELES - Oscar night traditionally comes packed with shocks and upsets for the winners, but on Sunday the biggest surprise could be the host - provocative comedian, actor and singer Seth MacFarlane.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130221/reuters-world-news-highlights-1800-gmt-feb-21