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Main news of March 1

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A roundup of what has happened in the past 24 hours

WORLD

* Russia and France have started "exclusive talks" on the purchase of four French Mistral-class amphibious-assault ships, President Nicolas Sarkozy said after talks with his Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev

* Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said he does not rule out sanctions against Iran but added that if used, they should be balanced and wise and not target civilians

* President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia and the United States are close to completing negotiations on a new treaty on strategic arms cuts, and expressed the hope that the document could be signed soon

* Russia and the United States made considerable headway last month on a new strategic arms reductions pact, and talks will continue March 9, the Russian Foreign Ministry said

* Tehran is not cooperating adequately with the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA director general said

* Parliamentary elections in Tajikistan failed to meet many international requirements, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said in a statement

* At least 53 people have died as a powerful storm has hit the western coast of Europe, CNN said

RUSSIA

* Russian President Dmitry Medvedev arrived in France for an official visit to kick off a year of cultural exchanges between the two countries, as well as for talks with top officials

* Russia's fifth-generation jet fighter, the T-50, is to undergo more than 2,000 flight tests before full-scale production starts, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said

* Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has submitted to the State Duma a draft law on bail for people accused of economic crimes, the lower house of parliament said

* Russian investigators have broken up an international criminal group which laundered over $1.5 billion since 2007, the Interior Ministry said in a statement

BUSINESS

* Gazprom has signed a memorandum with Gaz de France Suez on the French utility's participation in the Nord Stream gas pipeline project, the companies said in a joint statement

* Russia is lowering oil export duty on its Urals blend from the current $270.7 to $253.7 per metric ton from March 1, following trends on global oil markets

SPORT

* The officials responsible for the preparation of Russia's Winter Olympic team must submit their resignations, the Russian president said

* Canada defeated the U.S. 3-2 in the final men's hockey match on the last day of the Vancouver Olympics, bringing the number of its gold medals to 14

BUSINESS

* French automaker Renault launched the second production line at its Moscow Avtoframos facility, doubling its capacity to 160,000 cars per year

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