Death toll in Iraq bombings rises to 18

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The death toll from the bombings in several Iraqi cities has risen to at least 18, with 73 other people wounded, a police spokesman told Efe Thursday.

Car bombs killed at least 20 people and wounded 60 others on Wednesday in Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad.

One of the attacks targeted a wedding party, officials said.

April was the bloodiest month in Iraq in nearly five years, with 712 people killed amid a wave of attacks.

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U.S. economy grows at 2.4 pct rate in 1st qtr.

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The U.S. economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.4 percent in the first quarter, down from the initial estimate of 2.5 percent, the Commerce Department said.

Consumer spending, which accounts for more than two-thirds of economic activity in the United States, rose at an annualized rate of 3.4 percent in the January-March period, the highest level in two years and up from the initial 3.2 percent figure reported by the government.

Government spending, according to the latest figures, fell 4.9 percent in the first quarter, more than the initial estimate of 4.1 percent.

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Pakistan Taliban confirms its No. 2 killed in U.S. drone strike

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The Pakistani Taliban, known as the TTP, acknowledged that second-in-command Wali ur Rehman was among seven people killed in a U.S. drone strike in North Waziristan, on the border with Afghanistan.

Rehman's killing on Wednesday torpedoed any chance for dialogue with the Pakistani government, TTP spokesman Ehsanula Ehsan told Dawn television.

"On one side the government of Pakistan advocates for peace talks, and on the other it conspires with the United States and kills Taliban leaders," the spokesman said.

Pakistani intelligence sources said Wednesday that Rehman was killed when two missiles struck a dwelling in the village of Chashma, but the Taliban initially denied the claim.

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Hurricane Barbara downgraded to depression after killing 2 in Mexico

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Hurricane Barbara was downgraded to a tropical depression as it moved over southern Mexico, where it killed at least two people, the Mexican national weather service said.

The storm was located 60 kilometers (37 miles) west-northwest of Cardenas, a city in Tabasco state, and the same distance east of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz, the weather service said in its 7:30 a.m. bulletin.

The threat level associated with Barbara has been lowered to moderate, the weather service said.

The storm is moving toward the north at around 15 kph (9 mph) and is packing winds of 55 kph (34 mph), with gusts of 75 kph (46 mph), the weather service said.

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Mujica sees Spanish banks as springboard to greater presence in Uruguay

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Uruguayan President Jose Mujica said that the good experience of Spain's banks in his country can become a springboard for a greater presence by other Spanish companies that can invest in different sectors.

Mujica is on the second day of his official visit to Spain, during which he met with Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.

In an interview granted to Efe, the Uruguayan leader said that Montevideo's relationship with Spain is "sustainable" and he noted that Madrid is the second-largest foreign investor in his country, after Argentina.

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Baby rescued from toilet in China released from hospital

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The baby boy who was rescued after being thrown into a toilet in eastern Zhejiang province was released from the hospital, the Chinese press said.

The newborn has been reunited with his relatives, according to media outlets who, however, did not specify whether the baby is now with his father or his grandparents.

The story began last Saturday, when a woman reported the presence of a newborn infant in the drainpipe of a toilet.

Later, she admitted being the child's mother.

The 22-year-old single woman admitted to police two days after the rescue that she had given birth to the child in secret in the toilet of an apartment building where she lives.

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1 Dead, a dozen missing in Borneo river shipwreck

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At least one person has been found dead and a dozen others remain missing after an overloaded passenger ferry sank in a river in the Malaysian portion of the island of Borneo, police said.

The accident occurred on Tuesday near Belaga, in Sarawak province.

Authorities on Wednesday raised to 192 the number of survivors after another 11 people were rescued and taken to a shelter set up near the accident site.

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Spain's economy gains traction, contracts just 0.50 pct in 1st qtr.

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The pace of contraction in Spain's economy slowed in the first quarter, with the gross domestic product (GDP) falling just 0.50 percent, compared to the previous quarter, thanks to stabilizing consumer spending and business investment, the National Statistics Institute, or INE, said.

GDP contracted 2 percent on a year-on-year basis due to a drop of 4.9 percent in consumer spending and a gain of 2.9 percent from the export sector, the INE said.

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U.S. grants 18-month TPS extension to 208,000 Salvadorans

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The United States extended Temporary Protected Status, or TPS, for the ninth time, a move that will allow more than 208,000 Salvadorans to live and work in this country for another 18 months, the Department of Homeland Security announced.

In this way, if Salvadoran citizens complete the enrollment procedures properly, they will be able to remain in the United States until March 9, 2015, rather than have their TPS expire next Sept. 9.

The United States grants TPS to immigrants from countries experiencing severe consequences from armed conflicts and/or natural disasters and over the past decade it has been applied to several Central American nations affected by hurricanes and earthquakes, such as the one that struck El Salvador in 2001.

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EFE