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Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

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IRAN

Rocket launch worries U.S.

TEHRAN — Iran launched a research rocket and opened its first major space center, state television reported yesterday, the latest steps in a program many fear may be cover for further development of its military ballistic missiles.

State television showed live images of the event, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issuing the launch order.

The country’s space program, like its nuclear-power program, has provoked unease abroad. “It is just another troubling development,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

BRITAIN

Lawmakers question bugging of colleague

LONDON — Parliament members raised questions yesterday about the extent of covert surveillance in Britain after a newspaper reported that authorities spied on a lawmaker with a bug hidden in a hollowed-out table at a prison visiting room.

Justice Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons an inquiry had begun into whether officials eavesdropped on legislator Sadiq Khan’s conversations with Babar Ahmad, who is in prison awaiting extradition to the United States to face terrorism charges.

Newly released figures show hundreds of Britons routinely have their phone calls, e-mails and mail monitored by law-enforcement officials.

SYRIA

Rights activist jailed for meeting

DAMASCUS — Authorities have detained a rights activist for reportedly participating in a political forum forbidden by the government, part of an ongoing wave of arrests, a local human rights group said yesterday.

Adnan Makiah, 47, was picked up by security agents Saturday at a retail clothing store in Damascus where he worked, the National Organization for Human Rights said in a statement faxed to the Associated Press.

His detention was the latest in a crackdown on the pro-democracy “Damascus Declaration” group and brings to 13 the number of activists from the group who have been arrested since they held a Dec. 1 meeting calling for reform.

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