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IRAQ: U.S. influence on the decline

American influence has so dwindled in Iraq over the last several months that Iraqi lawmakers and political leaders say they no longer follow Washington's advice for forming a government. Instead, Iraqis are turning to neighboring nations, and especially Iran, for guidance - casting doubt on the future of the American role in this strategic country after a grinding war that killed more than 4,400 U.S. soldiers. "The Iraqi politicians are not responding to the U.S. like before. We don't pay great attention to them," Shia lawmaker Sami al-Askari, a close ally of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, said Thursday. "The weak American role has given the region's countries a greater sense of influence on Iraqi affairs."


FRANCE: Protests continue to disrupt nation

Police used tear gas and water cannon against rampaging youth in Lyon Thursday while the French government showed its muscle in parliament, short-circuiting tense Senate debate on a bill raising the retirement age to 62. Despite growing pressure, President Nicolas Sarkozy held firm on a measure he says is crucial to the future of France, heightening the standoff with labor unions that see retirement at 60 as a hard-earned right. Weeks of protests have left at least a quarter of the nation's gas stations on empty, blocked hundreds of ships at the Mediterranean port of Marseille and even forced Lady Gaga to cancel Paris concerts.


HAITI: Dozens killed in disease outbreak

An outbreak of severe diarrhea in rural central Haiti has killed at least 54 people and sickened hundreds more who overwhelmed a crowded hospital Thursday seeking treatment. Hundreds of patients lay on blankets in a parking lot outside St. Nicholas hospital in the port city of St. Marc with IVs in their arms for rehydration. As rain began to fall in the afternoon, nurses rushed to carry them inside. Doctors were testing for cholera, typhoid and other illnesses in the Caribbean nation's deadliest outbreak since a January earthquake that killed as many as 300,000 people.


DOMINICAN REPUBLIC: Children sickened by school food

Officials say 126 students were sickened Thursday after eating free school breakfasts despite the Dominican government's efforts to resolve past problems with tainted school food. The latest illnesses occurred at a public school in the city of Azua. Nine students ranging in age from 6 to 12 were hospitalized, said Rafael Herasme, a local hospital director. Education Minister Melanio Walls said samples of subsidized milk, juice and bread would be analyzed.

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