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Sunday, Apr 20th

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In a rare rebuke, U.S. blocks Iran's envoy to UN

Iran envoy barredThe United States has blocked Iran's pick for envoy to the United Nations, a rare diplomatic rebuke that could stir fresh animosity at a time when Washington and Tehran have been seeking a thaw in relations.

The Obama administration said Friday that the U.S. had informed Iran it would not grant a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, a member of the group responsible for the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. While U.S. officials had been trying to persuade Iran to simply withdraw Aboutalebi's name, the announcement amounted to an acknowledgement that those efforts had not been successful.

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Nicaragua earthquake: 6.1-magnitude quake rattles west coast

nicaragua earthquakeA strong earthquake damaged dozens of houses in western Nicaragua on Thursday, and authorities said that at least 23 people were injured by falling ceilings, beams and walls in one town.

The 6.1-magnitude quake caused panicked Nicaraguans to run into the streets and callers to local radio stations complained that electricity and water services had been disrupted in their areas.

Apparently hardest hit was the town of Nagarote, along with the communities around it, where more than 100 houses were damaged, said Guillermo Gonzalez, director of the disaster prevention agency. Nagarote is located about 30 miles northwest of the capital, Managua.

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Angela Merkel denied access to her NSA file

Angela MerkelThe US government is refusing to grant Angela Merkel access to her NSA file or answer formal questions from Germany about its surveillance activities, raising the stakes before a crucial visit by the German chancellor to Washington.

Merkel will meet Barack Obama in three weeks, on her first visit to the US capital since documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been monitoring her phone.

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West Bank settlers derided as terrorists for turning on their own army

west Bank extremistsFor years extremist Jewish settlers have targeted Palestinians in retaliation for Israeli government efforts to curtail settlement growth, typically receiving only light punishment. But this week they turned on the soldiers charged with protecting them – and they may have gone too far.

On Tuesday, residents of the settlement Yitzhar and other sympathizers attacked a nearby Israel Defense Forces encampment staffed by reservists, destroying their living quarters. Condemnation has been swift and strident: Current and former government officials have called for the attackers to be labeled terrorists and rounded up. The overarching sentiment is that Israel's so-called "price tag" settlers are out of control.

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Swiss unveil new solar plane for global flight

Solar planeA Swiss team planning to complete the first round-the-world solar flight next year unveiled a new version of their unique aircraft Wednesday, which they say could remain in the air indefinitely.

Pilots Bertrand Piccard and Andre Borschberg said the Solar Impulse 2 improves upon the single-seater prototype that first took flight five years ago, and which has since demonstrated that a solar-powered plane can fly through the night, between two continents and across the United States.

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Israeli settlement plans sank peace talks, Kerry says

Settlement plans sank peace talksSecretary of State John F. Kerry said Tuesday that Israel's announcement last week of new housing for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem led to the breakdown of his eight-month effort to reach a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians.

Appearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said both sides had taken steps in recent days that stood in the way of progress. But he said a turning point came when an Israeli housing agency published tenders for 700 new apartments.

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Famed Jesuit priest abducted, beaten and executed in Syria

Jesuit priest executed in SyriaAn activist Jesuit priest who spent three years living alongside besieged civilians and rebels in the Syrian city of Homs was assassinated Monday, according to the Vatican, which said he was abducted by unidentified gunmen who beat him before executing him in front of his monastery.

Father Francis Van Der Lugt, 75, a Dutch Jesuit priest, came to Syria in 1966 and eventually founded a home for children and adults with mental disabilities outside Homs, where he lived before the three-year-old civil war started. After fighting began, he relocated to the rebel-held neighborhood of Bustan al Diwan in Homs Old City, where he worked with refugees and civilians during the more than two-year-old siege by regime forces.

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