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Philip Reeves

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The British have some stunning cathedrals, and York Minster, in the north of England, is one of the most magnificent of all.

Construction on it began 800 years ago, and a mere 2 1/2 centuries later, work was complete.

The result was one of Europe's largest Gothic cathedrals and one that's had a rough ride through history: It's been pillaged and looted, and damaged by devastating fires and lightning strikes.

Today, there's another threat: acid rain. As a result, the cathedral's stones are decaying.

Many signs are in the Cyrillic alphabet. The men and women sitting in the cafes are speaking Russian. The shops sell vodka, black bread, pickled herring and Russian-brewed Baltika beer. You have to pinch yourself to remember where you are.

This scene, with all its echoes of the former Soviet Union, is not in St. Petersburg or Vladivostok, or anywhere else in that vast sweep of bleak northern lands. It is in Ashdod, Israel, a palm-lined, pastel-colored port city that sprawls along the mild shores of the Mediterranean.

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For years the United States has urged the Israelis and Palestinians to negotiate a peace accord based on a two-state solution. Well, there are growing concerns within the international community that the chances of that ever happening are dimming.

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Now to the fragile truce between Israel and Hamas. The fighting may have stopped but a lot of work needs to be done for the cease-fire to last. In Cairo, talks are underway mediated by Egypt, on key issues such as easing the blockade of Gaza.

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We turn now to Ireland and a controversy over a young Indian woman there, who died after being refused an abortion in a hospital.

As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, her case is reigniting debate over the near total ban on abortions in Ireland.

Burhan Khan can't remember exactly when he fled from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He thinks it was about 30 years ago.

"Because there was war. There was killing, there was murdering, there was firing, and they wanted to kill me, and they wanted to kill my children, so I had to come here," he says.

It was the final phase of the Cold War, and CIA-armed Afghan guerrillas were fighting to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan.

Khan and his family wound up where they are today, in a mud hovel on a patch of wasteland outside Pakistan's capital, Islamabad.

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Muslims around the world are celebrating the holy festival of Eid this weekend. That includes almost all of the people of Pakistan. NPR's Philip Reeves is in that country, and sent us this postcard.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC NOISES)

Stop someone in the street. Ask them about the case of Malala Yousafzai. They will likely know — after the worldwide publicity given to her story — that Malala is the Pakistani teenager who was shot for demanding the right of girls to go to school.

They will surely know, too, that the people who shot Malala in the head from close range were the Pakistani Taliban. They will probably view Malala as the heroine she clearly is. And the Taliban will be seen as the violent fanatics that they surely are.

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A 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl remains in critical condition after being shot in the head for defying the Taliban and championing the right of girls to go to school. Malala Yousafzai rose to prominence during the recent war in Pakistan's Swat Valley by writing a blog under a pen name. NPR's Philip Reeves reported on that war — and twice met Malala's father. Reeves sent this account of the tough world in which Malala spent her childhood.

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When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, East Germany's secret police, the Stasi, frantically tore up millions of files gathered during decades of spying on its own citizens.

More than two decades later, the vast array of secret papers collected by the Stasi is still in huge demand. So far this year, 70,000 people have applied for access to the Stasi archives.

Many are young Germans — some searching for information about relatives, others just eager to know more about their country's past.

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Something horrible has happened in Berlin.

You won't see it on TV or in the newspaper, but I know about it. So do my neighbors.

That's because there's a lamppost on our street, festooned with a note that reads, "A HORRIBLE ACCIDENT HAS HAPPENED." And naturally, once you see a note like that, you have to find out more.

As it turns out, the note was written by 29-year-old Maira Becke. But before I reveal her calamity, I must first explain the significance of lamp posts here in Berlin.

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