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Jan. 28, 2013 at 8:03 AM
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French retake much Mali from rebels

TIMBUKTU, Mali, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- French and Malian troops wrested back control of most of northern Mali from Islamist rebels but some residents said they feared the militants would return.

People living in the northern city of Gao, on the River Niger, celebrated after French-led forces recaptured the city that had been under jihadist control since March 31, 2012.

Residents shouted "Liberte!" and "Vive la France!" in the streets, British newspaper The Guardian said.

The French suffered no losses in the battle, while about a dozen Islamist rebels were killed, the French Defense Ministry said.

Surviving rebels were reported to have fled on foot or by camel since there was no fuel for motor vehicles, The Guardian said.

At the same time, French and Malian troops captured Timbuktu Airport Sunday night and were poised to retake the storied Timbuktu city itself Monday morning, al-Jazeera reported.

Iran denies blast at Fordow site

TEHRAN, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Iran Monday denied western reports of an explosion that damaged the Fordow uranium enrichment installation last week, calling them "sheer lies."

"The false report about the explosion at Fordow installations is the West's propaganda stunt ahead of the nuclear negotiations to influence the trend and the outcome of talks," Press TV quoted Seyyed Shamseddin Barbroudi, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, as saying

Barbroudi rejected the reports, which he labeled "sheer lies."

The British newspaper The Sunday Times quoted unnamed Israeli intelligence officials as confirming an explosion had occurred at the nuclear facility last week. One official said it was still unclear whether the explosion was an accident or caused by sabotage.

The right-wing U.S. news website WND, formerly World Net Daily, first reported the explosion Friday, saying Hamidreza Zakeri, a former member of the Islamic Republic's Ministry of Intelligence and Security had received reports 240 workers were trapped as a result of an explosion.

Reza Kahlili, an Iranian dissident turned CIA operative, told The Jerusalem Post the incident was "the largest case of sabotage in decades."

Medvedev: Assad's chances 'slipping away'

DAVOS, Switzerland, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad's chances of staying in power "are slipping away," Russia's prime minister said, further distancing Moscow from the Assad regime.

"From the outset, the Russian Federation was not an exclusive ally of Syria or President Assad," Dmitry Medvedev told CNN at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland.

"We used to have good relations with him and his father [Hafez Assad], but he had much closer allies among the Europeans," Medvedev said.

He repeated Russia's longtime insistence outside powers shouldn't pick Syria's leaders.

Russia "never said that our goal was to preserve the current political regime, or making sure that President Assad stays in power," he added. "That decision has to be made by the Syrian people."

Medvedev said he personally appealed to Assad to open up his regime to reform and said Assad's refusal have serious talks with part of the moderate opposition was an "important, if not fatal" mistake.

Brazil club had no license, owner admits

SANTA MARIA, Brazil, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Brazilian officials were trying to determine Monday why a nightclub where 231 were killed in a blaze ignited by performers did not have an operating license.

Authorities said they were investigating why the Kiss nightclub's main door was reported locked when the blaze broke out around 2 a.m. Sunday (11 p.m. EST Saturday).

One of the owners of the nightclub, in the college city of Santa Maria in Brazil's southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul, confirmed to police the club's business license had expired, the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported.

The two owners, identified by police as Hoffman and Elisandro Spohr, may be indicted on manslaughter and fire-setting charges, the newspaper said.

The club had no fire-prevention plan, which was supposed to have been completed in August 2012, National Secretary of Civil Defense Col. Humberto Viana said.

State fire department commander Col. Guido Pedroso de Melo told TV news channel Globo News most of the dead were found piled on top of each other at the locked exit.

Obama, Clinton have joint interview

WASHINGTON, Jan. 28 (UPI) -- President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, rivals-cum-allies, say their friendship developed because of some tough decisions that had to be made.

"I consider Hillary a strong friend," Obama said during an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes" that aired Sunday.

"Very warm, close," said Clinton, who will be leaving her post soon.

They brushed off the tough primary battles their campaigns waged five years ago as the result of trying to draw differences between them when there really wasn't any, they said during the interview taped last week.

The campaign rivalry was set aside, however, when Obama nominated Clinton as his top diplomat, changing the dynamics between the two.

"What did evolve was a friendship, as opposed to just a professional relationship," Obama said. "Friendships involve a sense of trust and being in the foxhole together. And that emerged during the course of months when we were making some very tough decisions."

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