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North Korea announced that it intends to launch a satellite into space between April 4 and 8. The notification is considered unprecedented; previous launches weren't announced and drew international condemnation for that reason. The North also informed the UN's International Marine Organization, which monitors shipping, that the launch would be in an "easterly direction." Still, skeptics say they suspect the launch will mask a test of the North's long-range ballistic missile technology.

Protestant paramilitary leaders in Northern Ireland protested the murders of two British soldiers and a policeman in less than a week but pledged there would be no retaliation against the Roman Catholic community. But police on both sides of the divide between Northern Ireland the Irish Republic were mounting an intense search for what intelligence reports said was a powerful bomb that dissidents planned to explode in their next attack.

The Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush last Dec. 14 was ordered to serve three years in prison by a court in Baghdad. Lawyers for Muntazer al-Zaidi called the sentence "harsh," although the court could have imposed a 15-year term, and vowed to appeal. News of the sentence angered al-Zaidi's relatives , who were evicted from the courtroom before it was pronounced.

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New gains were claimed Thursday by Sri Lanka's military as it sought to finish off the Tamil rebel movement. A spokesman said the administrator of the rebels' vast international fund-raising network died the day before in a mortar attack by government troops trying to capture the final town still in Tamil hands. The Army also seized the rebels' last-known field hospital, the spokesman said. Reporters, who are banned from the war zone, said they could not reach rebel spokesmen for comment.

On the orders of Zimbabwe's Supreme Court, the nominee for junior agriculture minister in the new unity government was freed from prison Thursday on $5,000 bail. Roy Bennett's release was seen as easing tensions between his Movement for Democratic Change and President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF organization. Bennettsaid, "The spirit of forgiveness should prevail, and there should be tolerance and understanding among all political parties."

Despite recurring attacks by Islamist militiamen, the African Union extended the mandate of its peacekeepers in Somalia by three months. But the bloc said it hopes UN peacekeepers will have deployed in the lawless nation by then. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon appeared to cast doubt on that prospect, however, saying in a report to the Security Council that Somalia's political climate raises "uncertainties" about whether such a force is the right way to support the new government's effort to establish itself.

American citizens in Madagascar were "strongly encouraged" to leave by the US Embassy, which said the island nation is "on the brink of civil war." Against that backdrop, Presi-dent Marc Ravalomanana appealed for calm and called on the divided Army to "protect the people and do it with dignity." UN mediators who'd hoped to bring Ravalomanana and opposition leader Andry Rajoelina together for talks Thursday were thwarted when the latter refused to attend.

By an 87 percent to 13 percent margin, members of the Canadian Autoworkers Union agreed to a pay freeze and other concessions that will enable General Motors to qualify for up to $5.4 billion in government loans. But a senior executive of rival Chrysler Corp. told Parliament that the deal wouldn't close even half the gap in labor costs between US and Japanese auto plants in Canada. Chrysler threatened to pull out of Canada unless it is granted $2.3 billion in government aid.

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