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Reuters World News Highlights 1000 GMT, Oct 25

AMMAN - President Bashar al-Assad's forces fired heavy tank and rocket barrages at a Damascus suburb on Thursday, killing five people, opposition activists said, a day before a U.N.-brokered ceasefire is due to come into force.

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HAVANA - Hurricane Sandy, strengthening rapidly after crossing the warm Caribbean Sea, slammed into southeastern Cuba early on Thursday with 105 mph winds that cut power and blew over trees across the city of Santiago de Cuba.

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DAVENPORT, Iowa - President Barack Obama predicted passage of immigration reform and a deficit-reduction deal, offering a fresh glimpse of his second-term agenda as he fights for votes in the final stretch of the tight race for the White House.

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NEW YORK - Disgraced Wall Street titan and philanthropist Rajat Gupta was sentenced to two years in prison on Wednesday, a much lighter sentence than U.S. prosecutors had demanded, by a judge who called his insider trading crimes ``disgusting'' and ``a terrible breach of trust''.

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JERUSALEM - Palestinian militants held fire overnight on Thursday and Israel refrained from air strikes as an informal truce brokered by Egypt appeared to take hold following two days of violence along the Israel-Gaza border.

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KHARTOUM - Sudan said on Wednesday that an Israeli air strike had caused the huge explosion and fire at an arms factory in Khartoum that killed two people, but Israel's defence minister declined to comment.

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MECCA - Nearly 3 million Muslim pilgrims started the first phase of the annual haj on Wednesday, travelling through packed streets from Mecca's Grand Mosque to the enormous camp at Mina just outside the Saudi Arabian city.

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ATHENS - Greece's finance minister said on Wednesday that his country had been given more time by its international lenders to implement austerity cuts, an assertion played down by leading European Union officials.

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CARLETONVILLE, South African - AngloGold Ashanti sacked 12,000 wildcat strikers who defied a deadline to return to work on Wednesday, the latest South African company to resort to mass firings after weeks of crippling labour unrest.

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WASHINGTON - Two years after the Stuxnet computer worm attacked its nuclear program, Iran is increasingly turning to cyber warfare itself in a growing, stealthy confrontation with its enemies.