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Syrian rebels want troop pullback before they free UN peacekeepers

BEIRUT - Rebels holding 21 U.N. peacekeepers near the Golan Heights in southern Syria say government forces must leave the area before they free their "guests", an activist in touch with the fighters says. (SYRIA-CRISIS/REBELS (UPDATE 2), expect by 1230 GMT/7.30 AM ET, by Dominic Evans, 700 words)

North Korea threatens U.S. with preemptive nuclear strike

SEOUL - North Korea threatens the United States with a preemptive nuclear strike, raising the level of rhetoric while the U.N. Security Council considers new sanctions against the reclusive country. (KOREA-NORTH/DRILLS (UPDATE 2, PICTURE, TV) by Jack Kim, 600 words)

+ See also:

- KOREA-NORTH/UN (UPDATE 3), moved, by Louis Charbonneau, 700 words

- KOREA-NORTH/SANCTIONS (ANALYSIS, PICTURE, TV), moved, by Christine Kim, 1,150 words

- KOREA-NORTH/AMNESTY (PICTURE), moved, by Stephanie Nebehay, 550 words

Kenyan presidential hopeful challenges count in tense vote

NAIROBI - The running mate of Kenya's presidential candidate Raila Odinga calls for the vote count to be halted and casts doubt on the fairness of a process that is still incomplete three days after the poll, remarks that could inflame a largely peaceful election. (KENYA-ELECTIONS/ (UPDATE 3, PICTURE, TV), expect by 1200 GMT/7 AM ET, by Edmund Blair and Richard Lough, 875 words)

Venezuelans parade Chavez's coffin, prepare for vote

CARACAS - Sobbing and shouting, a throng of Hugo Chavez's supporters paraded his coffin through the streets of Caracas in an emotional outpouring that could help his deputy win an election to keep his socialist revolution alive. (VENEZUELA-CHAVEZ/ (UPDATE 7, PICTURE, TV, GRAPHIC), moved, by Simon Gardner and Andrew Cawthorne, 1,200 words)

+ See also:

- VENEZUELA-CHAVEZ/MOOD (PICTURE, TV), moved, by Terry Wade, 745 words


Dancer says did not want acid used in Bolshoi attack

MOSCOW - A Bolshoi Ballet dancer accused of organising an attack that nearly blinded the Russian theatre's artistic director says in court that he wanted the victim beaten up but not splashed with acid. (RUSSIA-BOLSHOI/ (UPDATE 3, TV, PICTURE), expect by 1200 GMT/7 AM ET, by Maria Tsvetkova, 750 words)

UK's Cameron says no turning back on deficit cuts plan

LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron will promise to stick to his deficit reduction plan despite the lack of growth and loss of his country's AAA credit rating, saying Britain will plunge "back into the abyss" if he changes course. (BRITAIN-ECONOMY/CAMERON (UPDATE 1), moved, by Andrew Osborn, 540 words

Beppe Grillo - Italian clown or political mastermind?

ROME - Beppe Grillo stirs strong feelings. His supporters believe he can clean up Italian politics and give ordinary people more say in decision-making. His opponents see a dangerous populist who evokes memories of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. (ITALY-VOTE/GRILLO (INSIGHT, PICTURE), moved, by Gavin Jones, 1,700 words)

+ See also:

- ITALY-VOTE/, moved, 430 words

Tito's pet film studio at risk of Yugoslav fate

BELGRADE - Founded in the wake of World War Two by Yugoslav leader Josip Broz Tito, Avala Film fed his socialist federation on a diet of rousing war epics extolling a vision of 'Brotherhood and Unity' between its peoples. (SERBIA-FILM/ (PICTURE, TV), moved, by Matt Robinson, 1,000 words)


Palestinian street boils at plight of prisoners

OFER PRISON, West Bank - In a sprawling Israeli prison, Palestinian activist Hassan Karajeh sat through a hurried court hearing in a language he didn't understand under the authority of a military occupation he and his people reject. (PALESTINIANS-ISRAEL/PRISONERS (INSIGHT, PICTURE, TV), moved, by Noah Browning, 1,500 words)

Iran's Khamenei seen tightening grip in vote to replace Ahmadinejad

BEIRUT - The presidential campaign season in Iran this year started with a warning. During a visit to the holy city of Qom in mid-January, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a packed crowd that both internal and external enemies may try to undermine the vote. (IRAN-ELECTIONS/CAMPAIGN (INSIGHT), moved, by Babak Dehghanpisheh, 1,700 words)


China wealth fund, Commerce Ministry to get new heads

BEIJING - China will likely appoint savvy international dealmakers to run its giant sovereign wealth fund and Commerce Ministry in a soft power push to soothe fears over a planned spending spree to boost Beijing's ownership of strategic global assets. (CHINA-PARLIAMENT/RESHUFFLE (EXCLUSIVE, PICTURE), moved, by Benjamin Kang Lim and Michael Martina, 1,400 words)

+ See also:


- CHINA-LANDREFORM (PICTURE), moved, by James Pomfret, 800 words


U.S. House passes funding bill, Obama reaches out to Senate

WASHINGTON - Legislation easily passes the U.S. House of Representatives to avert another partisan budget battle and a possible government shutdown, and a dinner meeting between President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans offers signs of a thaw in relations. (USA-FISCAL/ (WRAPUP 6), moved, by Richard Cowan and Roberta Rampton, 950 words)

+ See also:

- USA-FISCAL/HOEVEN, moved, by Roberta Rampton, 350 words

Gun-control drive to get first votes in U.S. Congress

WASHINGTON - Less than three months after the Connecticut school shooting, a campaign to tighten U.S. gun laws that is backed by U.S. President Barack Obama will go to its first votes in Congress on Thursday when a U.S. Senate panel meets. (USA-GUNS/SENATE, moved, by Thomas Ferraro, 450 words)

U.S. senator leads filibuster of Brennan nomination at CIA

WASHINGTON - Kentucky Republican Rand Paul takes to the floor of U.S. Senate and keeps talking for hours in an attempt to block confirmation of U.S. President Obama's counterterrorism advisor, John Brennan, as director of the CIA. (OBAMA-NOMINATIONS/BRENNAN (UPDATE 4, PICTURE), moved, by Patricia Zengerle and Mark Hosenball, 700 words)