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Reuters World News Highlights at 0645 GMT, Feb 27

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Feb 27 (Reuters) - TOP STORIES

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ROME - Italy's stunned political parties searched for a way forward on Tuesday after an inconclusive election gave none of them a parliamentary majority and threatened prolonged instability and a renewal of the European financial crisis.

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ALMATY - World powers hope Iran will respond positively on Wednesday to their new offer to lift some sanctions if Tehran scales back nuclear activity the West fears could be used to build bombs.

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LONDON - Iran is using old tankers, saved from the scrapyard by foreign middlemen, to ship out oil to China in ways that avoid Western sanctions, say officials involved with sanctions who showed Reuters corroborating documents.

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BEIRUT - Syrian rebels have received advanced weapons aimed at narrowing the arms gap with President Bashar al-Assad's forces and reinforcing a new rebel military command which Western countries hope can dilute the strength of Islamist fighters.

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NEWPORT NEWS, Va. - U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday warned of threats to Navy readiness and the government released hundreds of illegal immigrants due to budget pressure as automatic government spending cuts crept closer.

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BAMAKO - Seven people were killed in a suicide car bomb attack by suspected Islamist militants in the remote northern Malian town of Kidal on Tuesday, the MNLA Tuareg rebel group said, in the second such attack there in less than a week.

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PERTH, Australia - A powerful cyclone headed for Australia's Port Hedland, that has brought half the world's seaborne-traded iron ore to a halt, has intensified and is set to make landfall late on Wednesday, threatening to flood inland mine operations and rail links.

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KABUL - Allegations from locals about abuse and torture have prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to bar U.S. special forces from Wardak province, a potentially risky move because it could give the Taliban more room to operate in a strategically important area close to the capital, Kabul.

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WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate confirmed Chuck Hagel as President Barack Obama's new secretary of defense on Tuesday, after an unusually acrimonious confirmation fight that threatened to complicate his work as civilian leader at the Pentagon.

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WASHINGTON - Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke strongly defended the U.S. central bank's monetary stimulus before Congress on Tuesday, easing financial market worries over a possible early retreat from bond purchases.

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ROME - Pope Benedict was praying and packing on Tuesday two days before his move out of the Vatican and into retirement where he will assume the title of "pope emeritus" and still be referred to as "your holiness".

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CARACAS - Most Venezuelans expect President Hugo Chavez to recover from cancer and return to active rule even though he has been in hospital and virtually unseen for two-and-a-half months, a poll showed on Tuesday.

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CAIRO - An alliance of Egyptian opposition parties decided on Tuesday to boycott parliamentary elections in protest at an election law they say favours the Muslim Brotherhood, increasing the chance that Islamists will sweep the vote.

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JERUSALEM - A rocket fired from Gaza exploded in Israel on Tuesday, the first such attack since a November truce, and a militant group said it launched the strike to retaliate for the death of a Palestinian in an Israeli jail.

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PARIS/BAMAKO - France said on Tuesday it would not negotiate with gunmen claiming to be from Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram who have taken a French family of seven hostage in retaliation for French military intervention in Mali.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/thomson-reuters/130227/reuters-world-news-highlights-at-0645-gmt-feb-27