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NIKOLAY DOYCHINOV

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"So forward now, with spirit and ideals" reads a line in a poem by Hristo Botev, a Bulgarian poet and national hero. Nestled on the Black Sea between Greece and Romania, Bulgaria is a predominantly Christian country independent of the Soviet Union since the fall of the Iron Curtain over 20 years ago. Despite joining the European Union in 2007, the eastern Balkan nation suffers the same economic problems found elsewhere since the global downturn in 2008. Further complicating the country's economic outlook is endemic corruption and organized crime, which has led the EU to exclude Bulgaria from the Schengen passport-free zone. But the 'spirit and ideals' are still alive in these images from the past several months of Bulgaria, a country of over seven million, as it moves forward. -- Lane Turner (37 photos total)
A worshipper lights a candle as she attends Sunday Mass led by Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Kirill and Bulgarian Patriarch Maxim in Alexander Nevski cathedral in Sofia on April 29, 2012. (Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

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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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There are many forms of protest, many ways to express an objection to particular events, situations, policies, and even people.  Protests can also take many forms - from individual statements to mass demonstrations - both peaceful and violent. In the last 30 days, there have been numerous protests across the globe in many countries.  The following post is a collection of only some of those protests, but the images convey a gamut of emotions as citizens stand up for their political, economic, religious and lifestyle rights.  -- Paula Nelson (51 photos total)
As protesters sleep in Zuccotti Park, N.Y. police officers receive instructions. A group of activists calling themselves Occupy Wall Street targeted the Financial District for more than a week of demonstrations in late September. The group said they sought to bring attention to corporate malfeasance, social inequality, and the yawning gap in income between America's rich and poor. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

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With one month of the season left before the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere, take a look at the cold, snowy days of the last couple months.

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