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In brief: Four Iraqi soldiers killed in attack

Baghdad – Four Iraqi soldiers were shot dead Saturday, the day after Sunni Arab tribes in the restive western province of Anbar announced that they had formed their own army to defend themselves against the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government.

The deadly attack came as Sunni gunmen around Iraq clashed with government forces in the aftermath of a government crackdown on Sunni demonstrators Tuesday in northern Iraq. More than 200 people died last week in fighting between Sunnis and Iraqi security forces. The violence has transformed nearly four months of peaceful Sunni demonstrations against the government into a movement violently confronting Baghdad.

Italian leaders create coalition

Rome – Center-left leader Enrico Letta forged a new Italian government Saturday in a coalition with former Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s conservatives, an unusual alliance of bitter rivals that broke a two-month political stalemate from inconclusive elections in the recession-mired country.

The daunting achievement was pulled off by Letta, who will be sworn in as premier along with the new Cabinet at the presidential Quirinal Palace today.

Letta, 46, is a moderate with a reputation as a political bridge-builder. He is also the nephew Berlusconi’s longtime adviser, Gianni Letta, a relationship seen as smoothing over often nasty interaction between the two main coalition partners.

Two bronze heads to return to China

Beijing – The rabbit and the rat are finally coming home.

Two bronze heads that were looted from Beijing’s old Summer Palace in 1860 are to be returned to China this year by a French billionaire who acquired them from Christie’s auction house, Chinese state media reported.

The donation was announced late Friday by Francois-Henri Pinault, heir and chief executive of luxury fashion conglomerate Kering Inc.

“It is not only a friendly gesture to the Chinese people, but will also be conducive to the return of more Chinese relics from overseas,” the State Administration of Cultural Heritage said in a statement published Saturday.

The two heads, as large as beach balls, are part of a set of 12 representing the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Originally fountain ornaments, they are less valued aesthetically than politically, symbolizing for many Chinese their nation’s humiliation during the Opium Wars of the 19th century.

In 2009, Christie’s attempted to auction off the rat and the rabbit, which it had acquired from the estate of the late designer Yves Saint Laurent.

China protested the auction, and when it failed to win an injunction, a Chinese nonprofit group dedicated to repatriating antiques scuttled the sale by submitting a fake high bid of nearly $40 million under an assumed name.

Pinault, the husband of actress Salma Hayek, eventually acquired the two heads from Christie’s, which is owned by his holding company.

The donation is not purely altruistic. Pinault’s brands – Gucci, Bottega Veneta, Saint Laurent and Puma – are chalking up sales in China, the world’s fastest-growing luxury market.


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