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Britain's Blair to undergo routine heart procedure today

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said he will undergo a medical procedure today to correct an irregular heartbeat, calling it a routine treatment that won't prevent him from seeking another term in office.

The 51-year-old prime minister said the procedure will involve local anesthetic and will not affect his job.

Blair will be sedated during the 2{-hour procedure, called a catheter ablation, for the heart condition supraventricular tachycardia.

Blair sought to reassure the public by saying he intends to serve a full third term if his party is re-elected in national elections expected in May. He stressed he will not seek a fourth term.

Under strain, Army relaxes criteria for recruits

WASHINGTON _ To help meet its recruiting goals at a time when its forces are strained by the violence in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army has lowered some requirements for new recruits.

Army officials characterized the changes as modest and well within Pentagon and congressionally mandated quality standards. But the shift represents the first relaxation in Army recruiting standards since 1998, when the strong economy was hurting military recruiting.

Army officials said that for the new recruiting year that started this week, at least 90 percent of new recruits must be high-school graduates, compared with 92 percent last year. As many as 2 percent of recruits will be enlisted even if they scored in the lowest acceptable range on a service aptitude test, compared with 1.5 percent last year.

When spread over the 101,200 incoming soldiers the Army and Army Reserve says it needs to send to boot camp this year, the changes mean as many as 2,000 or so recruits who would previously have been rejected could be enlisted this year.

Kyoto climate pact passes crucial test in Russia

MOSCOW _ The long-delayed Kyoto Protocol on global warming overcame its last critical hurdle to taking effect around the world Thursday when Russia's Cabinet endorsed the treaty and sent it to parliament. The treaty, the first ever to require cuts in emissions linked to global warming, would come into force with Parliament's expected approval.

Although the treaty was negotiated in 1997 and has already been ratified by 120 countries, it will take effect only if supporters include nations accounting for at least 55 percent of all industrialized countries' 1990 emissions.

In Sudan crisis . . .

AT U.N.: Sudan's foreign minister, Mustafa Osman Ismail, pledged Thursday to allow more African troops and police to help end the conflict in Darfur, responding to international demands for quick action to protect civilians.

IN SUDAN: Sudanese authorities have moved hundreds of progovernment fighters from the crisis-torn Darfur region to other parts of the country to keep them out of sight of foreign military observers demanding the militia's disarmament, John Garang, leader of southern Sudan's rebel Sudan's Peoples Liberation Army, said at a news conference in Cairo on Thursday.

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