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Cooperative relay communication in a fading channel environment under the orthogonal amplify-and-forward (OAF), non-orthogonal and orthogonal selection decode-and- forward (NSDF and OSDF) protocols is considered here. The diversity-multiplexing gain tradeoff (DMT) of the three protocols is determined and DMT-optimal distributed space-time code constructions are provided. The codes constructed are sphere decodable and in some instances incur minimum possible delay. Included in our results is the perhaps surprising finding that the OAF and NAF protocols have identical DMT when the time durations of the broadcast and cooperative phases are optimally chosen to suit the respective protocol. Two variants of the NSDF protocol are considered: fixed-NSDF and variable-NSDF protocol. In the variable-NSDF protocol, the fraction of time occupied by the broadcast phase is allowed to vary with multiplexing gain. In the two-relay case, the variable-NSDF protocol is shown to improve on the DMT of the best previously-known static protocol for higher values of multiplexing gain. Our results also establish that the fixed-NSDF protocol has a better DMT than the NAF protocol for any number of relays.