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TOBACCO COULD KILL 1-BILLION BY 2100, U.N. SAYS

Health

The World Health Organization warned in a report Thursday that the "tobacco epidemic" is growing and could claim 1-billion lives by the end of the century unless governments dramatically step up efforts to curb smoking. In its first comprehensive report on tobacco use in 179 countries, the U.N.'s health agency urges governments to adopt six "tobacco control policies": raise taxes and prices of tobacco; ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; protect people from secondhand smoke; warn people about the dangers of tobacco; help those who want to quit smoking; and monitor tobacco use to understand and reverse the epidemic. Dr. Douglas Bettcher, director of WHO's Tobacco Free Initiative, said WHO estimates 5.4-million smoking-related deaths a year, rising to more than 8-million a year by 2030 if nothing is done. That adds up to 175-million between 2005 and 2030. Beyond that, he said, deaths will continue to rise and statistical projections put the death toll at near 1-billion by the end of the century.

Russia

Election monitors will skip vote

An international election monitoring organization said Thursday it will not observe Russia's presidential election next month because of the "severe restrictions" imposed by the Kremlin. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had accepted the Kremlin's limitations on the number of monitors it could use in the March 2 election. Russia originally invited 70 OSCE monitors, then said Monday it would allow up to 75, said Curtis Budden, spokesman for the election monitoring organization. But the Kremlin and the organization still clashed on when to allow the monitors in. "An election is more than what happens on election day," said Christian Strohal of the OSCE.

Elsewhere

Iraq: U.S. and Iraqi soldiers raided the Shiite district of Sadr City on Thursday and arrested 16 people. The United States said later that one detainee died of wounds received during the operation. Also, Muqtada al-Sadr, the rebellious Shiite cleric warned that he would expel fighters of his Mahdi Army who violate a six-month-old suspension of military operations against U.S. and allied Iraqi forces.

Puerto Rico: The FBI said Thursday it has arrested Avelino Gonzalez Claudio, 65, one of three alleged Puerto Rican militants sought in a 1983 Connecticut robbery that authorities said was among the largest in U.S. history at the time. The Puerto Rican independence group, the Macheteros, robbed a Wells Fargo armored truck depot of some $7-million.

Israel: Israeli forces killed six Palestinian militants and a civilian in Gaza early Thursday after militant groups in Gaza stepped up their rocket fire against Israel.

Switzerland: Two Picasso paintings worth millions, Tete de cheval (Head of horse) from 1962 and Verre et pichet (Glass and pitcher) from 1944, were stolen from a Swiss exhibition, police said Thursday. The paintings were on loan from the Sprengel Museum in Hanover, Germany.

England: Britain's Home Office on Thursday approved the extradition of Islamic preacher Abu Hamza al-Masri, who is accused of trying to establish a terrorist training camp in Oregon, a spokesman said. Masri once led London's Finsbury Park Mosque, which was attended by 9/11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and "shoe bomber" Richard Reid.

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