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New rocket defense deployed for first time

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Israel deployed its newly developed "Iron Dome" rocket defense system for the first time Friday to defend its southern communities from attacks by Gaza militants after a week of Palestinian strikes and Israeli reprisals.

There was no rocket fire when Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak visited soldiers at a military base near the Gaza border and announced the new system was being put into use.

He said he had approved the Iron Dome deployment as "an operational experiment." He said this is the first battery and that it would "take years for Israel to be fully equipped" with a system that would protect the entire area.

Israel developed the system to protect its civilians from the thousands of rockets fired over the years from Palestinian militants in the south and Lebanon's Hezbollah in the north.

The Iron Dome system uses cameras and radar to track incoming rockets and shoot them down within seconds of their launch. It was developed at a cost of more than $200 million.


Political parties opt for early election

LISBON, Portugal (AP) -- Portugal's political parties opted Friday to hold an early election rather than form a new government, even though that could hasten the debt-stressed nation's financial woes and force it to take a bailout.

Days after the Socialist government quit earlier this week in a dispute with rivals over new austerity measures, President Anibal Cavaco Silva met with the country's political parties to see if they would voluntarily form a coalition government. But all backed a new election instead, which would take place in late May or early June.

Portugal, one of western Europe's poorest countries, is being engulfed by a financial crisis that is pushing it toward a bailout it doesn't want.

The parties' decision Friday means that a bailout request to the European Union and the International Monetary Fund will be deferred until early summer, after the election, possibly creating a cash-flow problem.


Death toll tops 70 in powerful quake

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- A powerful earthquake that toppled homes in northeastern Myanmar has killed more than 70 people, and there were fears Friday the toll would mount as conditions in more remote areas became known.

The Thursday night quake, measured at magnitude 6.8 by the U.S. Geological Survey, was centered just north of Tachileik near the Thai border. It was felt hundreds of miles away in the Thai capital, Bangkok, and the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

Myanmar state radio announced Friday that 73 people had been killed and 111 injured. It said 390 houses, 14 Buddhist monasteries and nine government buildings were damaged.

Significant damage was reported in the villages around Tachileik, including to bridges and roads, complicating relief efforts.

A U.N. official said a small hospital and bridge were damaged in the nearby town of Tarlay, making it difficult to access the town. The private relief agency World Vision said water tanks and wells were also damaged, making water scarce.


EU leaders commit to testing reactors

BRUSSELS (AP) -- European Union leaders called Friday for worldwide stress testing of nuclear plants and committed to putting their 143 reactors through the toughest security checks possible.

France, one of the nations most reliant on nuclear energy, with 58 reactors, said it would immediately close any plant if it failed a test.

At the end of a two-day summit, the EU nations agreed to submit their nuclear plants to tough safety tests by year-end and promised to heed the lessons from the damage at Japan's Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the 27 leaders agreed "on uniform euro stress tests and the highest possible safety standards."

"The experience of Japan has to be reflected in the new stress tests. This is not business as usual," she said.

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