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AUSTRALIA: Cyclone roars inland, smashing homes

A powerful cyclone ripped across the northeast coast early Thursday, blasting apart houses, laying waste to banana crops and throwing boats onto town streets. The disaster zone stretched more than 190 miles in Queensland state. Emergency crews used chain saws and other equipment to cut through trees and other debris blocking roads. Premier Anna Bligh said no deaths or serious injuries had been reported but bad news could yet emerge from many places still cut off. Cyclone Yasi was moving inland and losing power, but drenching rains were falling, adding woes to a state where the worst flooding in decades has killed 35 people since late November.


ISRAEL: Iran's motives questioned

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday that Iran wants to take advantage of the chaos in Egypt to create "another Gaza" run by Islamic fundamentalists. He told parliament he expects any new Egyptian government to honor its three-decade-long peace agreement with Israel, but he warned that Islamic groups have already taken over by democratic means in Iran, Lebanon and Gaza. "Is there freedom in Iran? Is there democracy in Gaza?" he asked. "They [Iranians] want an Egypt that goes back to the Middle Ages." He did not say how Iran would do this.


ITALY: Male model for 'Mona Lisa'?

A male apprentice, longtime companion and possible lover of Leonardo da Vinci was the main influence and a model for the "Mona Lisa" painting, an Italian researcher said Wednesday. But Silvano Vinceti said the portrait, which hangs in the Louvre in Paris, also represents a synthesis of Leonardo's scientific, artistic and philosophical beliefs. Because he worked on it at various intervals for many years, he was subjected to different influences and sources of inspiration, and the canvas is full of hidden symbolic meanings. "The 'Mona Lisa' must be read at various levels, not just as a portrait," Vinceti said. This is one of many theories that have circulated over the decades about the identity of "Mona Lisa" and the meaning for her enigmatic smile.

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