World briefs: Attacks in Iraq kill at least 26

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BAGHDAD -- A series of explosions across Iraq killed at least 26 people Friday, continuing a spate of violence that has marked recent political turmoil and witnessed bombings now on seven consecutive Fridays.

The bombings come amid worsening sectarian tensions, with Sunnis and others saying that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his political bloc are seeking to monopolize power before provincial elections in April.

In a bird market in Khadumiya north of Baghdad, the Shiite majority city, twin car bombs exploded, killing 16 people and wounding 45 others, according to security and medical sources.

In Hilla province, two car bombs exploded, one at a parking lot and another at a market in Shomali district south of Baghdad. The two explosions killed 10 people.

Egyptians rally against Morsi

CAIRO -- Egypt's army put up barbed wire and surrounded the gates of the Presidential Palace in Cairo Friday as protesters pelted government buildings with rocks during rallies against President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood.

Egypt's opposition on Thursday called for calm in anticipation of Friday's planned protests, expressing concern that the Feb. 6 murder of Tunisian opposition leader Chokri Belaid in Tunis could trigger further unrest in the region and lead to copycat killings of opposition leaders in Egypt.

Tensions were already running high in Egypt, where Mr. Morsi has been accused of failing to deliver on campaign pledges.

Attack highlights racism

JERUSALEM -- An apparent arson attack Friday on the offices of leading Israeli soccer club Beitar Jerusalem has put a spotlight on longstanding concerns over growing anti-Arab racism among the nation's soccer fans.

The fire, which destroyed historic trophies and mementos, comes after the team broke with its unofficial tradition and signed two Muslim players from Chechnya, enraging its most xenophobic fan-base that has a history of chanting anti-Islam slurs at games.

The incident drew immediate rebukes and promises of a crackdown by authorities, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ahead of a charged home game against an Arab team that will likely be the debut match for one of the new Muslim players.

Call to ease fracking rules

BERLIN -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition wants to set rules aimed at easing the extraction of natural gas by means of hydraulic fracturing, deflecting calls in some German regions to ban the technology on environmental grounds.

So-called fracking outside of water-protection areas should be permitted pending completion of environmental impact assessments that take into account possible flow-backs of fracking liquids, a paper drafted by government lawmakers in the environment and economy working group showed.

EU backs budget cuts

BRUSSELS -- European Union leaders agreed Friday to a seven-year budget that cuts spending for the first time, bowing to British Prime Minister David Cameron's insistence on thrift.

The deal, struck after 251/2 hours of talks in Brussels, set the budget for 2014-2020 at 960 billion euros ($1.3 trillion), down from an original proposal of 1.047 trillion euros and less than the 994 billion euros spent in the current budget cycle.

"We simply could not ignore the extremely difficult economic realities across Europe," EU President Herman Van Rompuy told reporters.



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