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Thousands of students protest Assad regime

BEIRUT (AP) -- Thousands of students took part in demonstrations Wednesday against Syria's authoritarian regime, brushing off President Bashar Assad's sweeping declarations of reform as the country's growing protest movement vowed to stage the biggest rallies to date Friday.

The monthlong uprising in Syria has posed the biggest challenge to the 40-year ruling dynasty of Assad and his father before him. Tuesday, Syria did away with 50 years of emergency rule -- but emboldened and defiant crowds accused Assad of simply trying to buy time while he clings to power.

"We are preparing for a huge demonstration on Friday," said an activist in the southern city of Daraa, where anti-government protests first erupted last month and later spread nationwide. At least 200 people have been killed as the government has cracked down on the protesters.

Wednesday, 4,000 university students from Daraa and surrounding areas protested near the city's al-Omari Mosque.

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Workers at N-plant face health problems

FUKUSHIMA, Japan (AP) -- Workers battling the crisis at a stricken nuclear power plant suffer from insomnia, show signs of dehydration and high blood pressure, and are at risk of developing depression or heart trouble, a doctor who met with them said Wednesday.

The crews have been fighting to get the radiation-spewing Fukushima Daiichi plant under control since it was crippled by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan.

"The conditions at the plant remain harsh," epidemiologist Takeshi Tanigawa told the Associated Press.

Tanigawa, the Public Health Department chairman at Ehime University's medical school, said he spoke with 80 of the workers over four days when he was allowed into another nearby nuclear plant where many of them take their breaks.

The nuclear workers have been toiling round-the-clock to stabilize the plant. Tanigawa said they get little rest, no baths or fresh food, and are under the constant threat of exposure to radiation.

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Queen hosts a lunch for Middleton parents

LONDON (AP) -- Palace officials said Wednesdsay that Queen Elizabeth II hosted the parents of Kate Middleton, who is scheduled to wed Prince William on April 29.

Buckingham Palace said the queen and her husband, Prince Philip, hosted Carol and Michael Middleton for a private lunch in Windsor Castle.

The palace said the lunch -- also attended by a few members of the queen's royal household -- was a long-standing engagement and declined to give further details.

The visit comes just a week ahead of the much-anticipated royal wedding in London and is believed to be the first time the monarch has met Middleton's parents, self-made millionaires who run their own party-planning business.

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