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Japan gives Cheney general approval

Nearing the end of his trip to Asia, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney won general approval from Japan on Thursday for a proposal to reduce American forces in East Asia and the Pacific by 10 percent, including a 5,000 to 6,000 cut in troops stationed in Japan. Cheney said he was pleased with the way the Japanese received the American request that Tokyo increase its share of the $7.5-billion American military expenditure in Japan, which is now about 40 percent. American officials said details would be worked out later this year.De Klerk accepts ANC talks proposal

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa _ President Frederik de Klerk on Thursday accepted a proposal by the African National Congress (ANC) to send a delegation for the first formal talks between the white government and its foremost adversary. The ANC's commitment to dialogue "is a positive step," reflecting a desire to "search for solutions through peaceful means," said de Klerk, who lifted a 30-year ban on the guerrilla movement three weeks ago. No date was set for the meeting.

Vietnamese troops back in Cambodia

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia _ Several thousand Vietnamese troops and military advisers returned to Cambodia at the end of October at Phnom Penh's request and are now helping to defend two strategic cities in northwest Cambodia from attack by Khmer Rouge guerrillas, two senior Eastern European diplomats said. Cambodian and Vietnamese officials have denied that any Vietnamese troops returned after their much-publicized withdrawal in September.

Exhibit to show off Sistine renovation

VATICAN CITY _ The Vatican will open an exhibition March 25 to mark the end of a 10-year project to restore Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel ceiling frescoes, the Renaissance artist's 16th-century masterpieces. An international symposium comprising 54 of the world's leading art historians in March and books will also mark the event. Later this year, restorers will tackle the Last Judgement, the 1,800 square feet fresco that took Michelangelo seven years to paint on the altar wall.

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SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador _ Sabotage by leftist guerrillas forced authorities to ration electricity in most of El Salvador on Thursday and rebels injured nine soldiers in two overnight attacks, state electricity officials and the armed forces said.

KOUROU, French Guiana _ An unmanned Ariane 44-L rocket with two Japanese telecommunications satellites aboard exploded shortly after liftoff. A problem with its propulsion system was blamed.

BEIJING _ China has protested the U.S. report detailing widespread human rights abuses, saying it was based on lies and was interference in its internal affairs, but it offered no hint of retaliation.

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia _ The last statue of Josef Stalin in the Mongolian capital was toppled Thursday to the cheers of passers-by, illustrating the dictator's dramatic fall from grace in this long-time Soviet satellite. Shortly after midnight, the 51-foot granite statue was lifted from its pedestal onto the back of a truck and carted away. Some people applauded its removal; some even kicked it. It had stood in front of the national library in the city center since 1951.

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