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James Fallows

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In Taiyuan, in northern China's Shanxi province, construction began on a new high-end residential compound last year. When developers needed to excavate a cemetery for the building's foundation, they offered to pay villagers to relocate the remains of loved ones. One family refused to budge, complaining that the compensation was too low. In China, such disputed plots are typically known as "nail houses," and developers continue to build around them while the issue is resolved. In this case, workers carved out a "nail grave" belonging to the family of Chang Jinzhu. The small, bizarre column stood 10 meters above the foundation floor for months. This week, it was reported that Jinzhu's family had reached an agreement with the construction consortium, receiving 800 Yuan ($128 USD) in compensation. A platform and bridge to the gravesite were built, and the family had the four coffins and gravestones removed. [11 photos]

A 10-meter-high tomb stands in a construction site, waiting to be relocated, in Taiyuan, north China's Shanxi province, after the owner of this "nail grave" reached an agreement with the construction consortium and would receive 800 yuan ($128 USD) in compensation, on December 13, 2012. Government-backed land grabs have become a volatile problem as officials and developers seek to cash in on the nation's property boom, sometimes forcing people out of their homes without proper compensation. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

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The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, or Rio+20, begins today in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. An outgrowth of the Earth Summit held in Rio in 1992, the conference is designed to bring together 50,000 delegates from state governments, institutions, and non-governmental organizations to create measures to reduce poverty while promoting clean energy, decent jobs, and sustainable use of resources. The conference has attracted many protests and parallel events, as diverse groups struggle to share the world stage and make their voices heard. Collected here are just a few of the scenes from Rio+20. [37 photos]

An indigenous child from Kayapo tribe attends first indigenous assembly for the Rio+20 Conference at Kari-Oca village in Rio de Janeiro, on June 14, 2012. Indigenous people from around the world are visiting the village for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. (Reuters/Ricardo Moraes)

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China, the most populous country and the second-largest economy in the world, is a vast, dynamic nation that continues to grow and evolve in the 21st century. In this, the latest entry in a semi-regular series on China, we find images of tremendous variety, including astronauts, nomadic herders, replica European villages, pole dancers, RV enthusiasts, traditional farmers, and inventors. This collection is only a small view of the people and places in China over the past several weeks. [47 photos]

Liu Yang, China's first female astronaut, waves during a departure ceremony at Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center, Gansu province, on June 16, 2012. China sent its first woman taikonaut into outer space this week, prompting a surge of national pride as the rising power takes its latest step towards putting a space station in orbit within the decade. Liu, a 33-year-old fighter pilot, joined two other taikonauts aboard the Shenzhou 9 spacecraft when it lifted off from a remote Gobi Desert launch site. (Reuters/Jason Lee)

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Ten years ago, the International Labor Organization (ILO) established June 12 as World Day Against Child Labor. The ILO, an agency of the United Nations, says on its website: "Hundreds of millions of girls and boys throughout the world are engaged in work that deprives them of adequate education, health, leisure and basic freedoms, violating their rights." The World Day Against Child Labor was launched as a way to highlight the plight of these children and support governments and social organizations in their campaigns against child labor. [37 photos]

The rough hands of an Afghan child, at the Sadat Ltd. Brick factory, where some children work from 8am to 5 pm daily, seen on May 14, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan. Child labor is common at the brick factories where the parents work as laborers, desperate to make more money enlisting their children to help doing the easy jobs. (Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)

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One year ago, the small town of Joplin, Missouri, was devastated by an EF5 Tornado. A mile-wide multiple-vortex tornado, with estimated winds peaking at 362 to 402 km/h (225 to 250 mph), tore through the area on May 22, destroying more than 7,000 houses, killing 161 people, and injuring hundreds more. The task of rebuilding is underway, but the scale is daunting -- a year later, Joplin still has an eight-mile scar running through its middle. Gathered here are images of the town on this somber anniversary. [See also, Tornado Ravages Joplin, Missouri, from last year.] [30 photos]

A tall steel cross is refracted in raindrops on a window in Joplin, Missouri, on May 7, 2012. The cross is all that was left standing of St. Mary's Catholic Church, which was destroyed by an EF-5 tornado that tore through a large swath of the city and killed 161 people nearly a year ago. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

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In Kenya, a group of young Maasai warriors from the Laikipia region formed a cricket team with big hopes: to promote healthy living, to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS and women's issues, and ultimately to become role models in their community and ambassadors for both the Maasai and Kenya. The Maasai Cricket Warriors have been training hard, having recently left their village for the city of Mombasa to attend the Legends Cricket Nursery for further coaching. Their next goal is to travel to South Africa to take part in the Last Man Stands World Championships. The team has an open invitation and is now raising funds to make the trip. [17 photos]

A player in the Maasai Warriors cricket team is silhouetted as he plays cricket on the beach in Mombasa, Kenya, on March 6, 2012. The team is made up of Maasai warriors from the Laikipia region of Kenya. The players are aiming to be role models in their communities where they are actively campaigning for the rights of women. (Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images)

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World Press Photo, a non-profit organization based in the Netherlands, recently announced the winners of its 2012 photojournalism contest. More than 5,000 photographers from 124 countries submitted over 100,000 pictures to the competition. Top honors this year went to Samuel Aranda for his image of a woman holding a wounded relative during protests in Yemen. The prize-winning photographs will be assembled into an exhibition that will travel to 45 countries over the next year. Below is just a sample of this year's group of winners -- please visit the World Press Photo website to see them all. (See also the winners from 2011.) [32 photos]

First prize winner in the Spot News Singles category of the 2012 World Press Photo Contest, this photo by by Yuri Kozyrev, Noor Images for Time, shows rebels in Ras Lanuf, Libya, on March 11, 2011. (AP Photo/Yuri Kozyrev, Noor Images for Time)

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Today is Valentine's Day, a day set aside for expressions of love and affection. The traditional western holiday has spread to many countries around the globe, despite some efforts by religious and cultural groups to fight its adoption. Valentine's Day spending in the U.S. this year is expected to reach nearly $15 billion -- $2 billion of it on flowers alone. Ninety percent of the flowers Americans will give to their sweethearts are imported, and nearly all of those imports originate in Colombia and Ecuador. Included in today's posting is an 18-photo series depicting the voyage of the roses from South American farm to florists worldwide. [37 photos]

A couple kisses during a flashmob organized by a local television station on the eve of Valentine's Day in the Russian city of Stavropol, on February 13, 2012. (Reuters/Eduard Korniyenko)

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The Chinese Lantern Festival takes place on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. As they mark the end of the Spring Festival, celebrants create colorful lanterns, set off fireworks, and hold parades. In one village, residents hurl molten metal against a wall to create an impressive display of sparks in a 300-year-old tradition. Gathered below are some vibrant images from this year's Chinese Lantern Festival. [29 photos]

A blacksmith throws molten metal against a cold wall to create sparks, as he and others celebrate the Lantern Festival which traditionally marks the end of the Lunar New Year celebrations, in Nuanquan, Hebei province, China, on February 6, 2012. For over 300 years, the village, which is famous for its blacksmith skills, has maintained the tradition which they consider a cheaper alternative to buying fireworks during the Lantern Festival. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

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Earlier this week, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta indicated that American forces in Afghanistan would be accelerating their withdrawal. "Hopefully by the mid-to-latter part of 2013," Panetta said, "we'll be able to make a transition from a combat role to a training, advice, and assist role." This announcement came shortly after the Taliban declared its plans to open a political office in Qatar, allowing for direct peace negotiations. At the moment, the U.S. still has 90,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan, with 22,000 scheduled to return home later this year. Gathered here are images of the people and places involved in this conflict over the past month, as part of an ongoing monthly series on Afghanistan. [42 photos]

Men of 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, during an operation near the end of their third deployment in three years in Afghanistan. They were securing route 611, which runs Kajaki Sofla, an area that had long been a safe haven for insurgent sub-commanders and for arms and drug trafficking. (Cpl. James Clark/USMC)

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