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The African Union transferred authority Monday to a new joint peacekeeping force with the United Nations in Darfur that the international community hopes will stem the violence in Sudan's war-torn western region. The development capped months of international pressure on Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to admit the force. But the current force stands at only 9,000 peacekeepers, far below the 26,000 planned, and it is unclear when further deployments will come.

A senior senator has called for an official probe into Brazil's role in a secret pact among South American rulers in the 1970s and 1980s after a former general admitted Brazil's security forces handed over leftists to Argentina's military dictatorship. "What they did was turn people in to face death," Sen. Cristovam Buarque was quoted as saying on Agência Estado news Monday.

Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda pledged Tuesday to resume naval operations near Afghanistan after a political standoff over Tokyo's role in the global fight against terrorism forced the country to end its mission last year. Japan's six-year mission to the region, which began in 2001, provided logistical support to troops in Afghanistan – mainly providing warships with fuel and water.

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South Korea's Ministry of Justice said that presidential pardons of former Daewoo Group chairman Kim Woo-choong, who was sentenced to 8-1/2 years in prison for embezzlement, and 75 politicians took effect Tuesday. The Daewoo conglomerate collapsed under massive debt after the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.

Beijing just managed to hit its target date of 245 "blue sky" days without dangerous smog levels in 2007. Now it sets about achieving an even more ambitious goal of 256 days with relatively good air quality as it readies to host the 2008 Olympic Games.

The political party backing ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra announced it had won the support of three small political allies to form a coalition government with a slim majority in parliament. The People Power Party said its tentative four-party coalition controlled about 254 of 480 seats. Above, PPP leader Samak Sundaravej (second from l.) joins hands with coalition partners.

By harnessing the sun's rays over a 200-yard stretch of road with an innovative energy-collection system, Dutch civil engineering firm Ooms Avenhorn Holding BV is able to heat a 70-unit, four-story apartment building, the Associated Press reports – this even under normally cloudy Dutch skies. At this point the thermal system, with its network of flexible plastic pipes beneath asphalt, is too expensive and inefficient to solve the world's energy problems, but such technologies continue to evolve.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country took a "good step forward" economically in 2007, but said the fight against unemployment remains one of her major goals in the new year. Germany's unemployment rate fell 0.1 percent to 8.1 percent, or 3.4 million people, in November, the lowest level in 15 years.

Scotland's leading wildlife and zoological groups have submitted a license application to the government for a trial re-introduction of beavers, which were hunted into extinction 500 years ago, the BBC News has reported. If it is approved, about 20 of the mammals could be released in spring 2009. Beavers play a key role in wetland ecosystems.

Strict new bans on smoking took effect Tuesday in German pubs and French cafes, Western Europe's final bastions for smokers.

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