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THAILAND

King to undergo a spinal tap

BANGKOK | Thailand's king, who has been in hospital since September 2009, was to be operated on to remove cerebrospinal fluid, the royal household said in a rare statement on his health on Monday.

The lumbar puncture procedure, also known as a spinal tap, was to be done Monday night, the statement said.

King Bhumibol Adulyadej, 83, has made the occasional public appearance since being hospitalized and the most recent footage has shown him in better health.

He is revered by most Thais, and his health is sensitive because of concerns his succession may be complicated at a time of continuing political tension.

The government is expected to dissolve parliament in coming days and call an early election. Protests against the government in the first half of last year were put down by the military at the cost of 91 lives.

Public discussion of the monarchy is limited by strict lese-majeste laws that carry a penalty of up to 15 years in jail.

SUDAN

From gun to ballot box in key border state

KADUGLI | Former civil war foes faced off in polls Monday to elect a new governor and regional assembly in Sudan's oil-producing northern state of South Kordofan, a key battleground in the conflict.

Foreign observers and diplomats arrived ahead of polling to encourage a free and fair voting process and appeal for calm during the hotly contested ballot, in what remains one of Sudan's most heavily militarized regions, which also has strong links to the soon-to-be independent south.

Analysts have warned of the potentially explosive consequences if the elections fail.

Just last month, 29 people were killed in an attack on the village of the state's deputy governor, Abdelaziz al-Hilu, who blamed his rival, existing Gov. Ahmed Harun, for organizing the attack by northern paramilitary forces, in a deliberate attempt to derail the vote.

But Mr. Harun appealed for calm and tolerance on Monday, hailing the elections as a historic moment for the state.

FRANCE

Appeals trial begins for ex-prime minister

PARIS | French former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin's appellate trial on charges of smearing his fierce political rival, President Nicolas Sarkozy, during the 2007 election began Monday.

Mr. Villepin, a suave diplomat best remembered for leading the charge against the Iraq war at the United Nations in 2003, was cleared of all charges in a first trial that ended last year.

Two co-accused - Jean-Louis Gergorin, former deputy boss of aerospace giant EADS, and Imad Lahoud, former EADS employee and mathematician - were jailed for 15 months and 18 months, respectively, and fined $60,000.

Mr. Villepin made no comment on the trial as he arrived at court wearing a dark blue suit, saying only that he was thinking of the victims of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, killed in an overnight raid by U.S. forces in Pakistan.

The three defendants stated their names and monthly incomes before taking their seats for a hearing under presiding judge Christiane Beauquis.

Mr. Villepin was not questioned further in Monday's hearing.

IVORY COAST

Gbagbo urges supporters to seek peace

KORHOGO | Ivory Coast's deposed former leader Laurent Gbagbo urged supporters Monday to drop political quarrels for now and help the West African country revive its economy in peace.

Mr. Gbagbo was ousted from power on April 11 by forces loyal to his successor, Alassane Ouattara, backed by French and U.N. troops deployed to help end a four-month power struggle that killed thousands.

His supporters have continued to battle government forces in pro-Gbagbo areas of the main city Abidjan.

Mr. Ouattara has promised to launch a South African-style truth and reconciliation process but was urged by a delegation of senior international officials on Monday to ensure it was impartial and balanced.

AUSTRIA

Watchdog: 102 journalists killed in 2010

VIENNA | A total of 102 journalists were killed in 2010, eight fewer than the previous year, a media watchdog said Monday.

Asia, where 40 reporters were slain, was the most dangerous region in the world for journalists, followed by Latin America where 32 perished, the International Press Institute (IPI) said in its annual World Press Freedom Review.

Pakistan, with 16 deaths, was the most lethal country in the world.

Mexico and Honduras, meanwhile, accounted for almost a quarter of all killings, with 12 and 10 deaths.

"Although the number of journalists who died in 2010 represented a drop from 2009's record high [of 110 deaths], it was in some ways worse than previous tallies because no large number could be tied to a major war or a single high-fatality incident," the Vienna-based IPI, which has kept a so-called death watch since 1997, said in a statement.

While 15 reporters died in sub-Saharan Africa last year, eight perished in the Middle East and North Africa. That number included six deaths in Iraq.

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