Catholic school forbids Halloween costumes

HAMILTON, Ontario, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A Roman Catholic school in Hamilton, Ontario, prohibited Halloween costumes because they interfere with education and raise safety and privacy questions.

“Students and staff may wear black and orange all day,” but no costumes, the St. Therese of Lisieux Catholic Elementary School said in a letter.

Children not wearing black and orange were expected to wear the school uniform, the letter said.

The school said it would emphasize the Christian origin of Halloween by beginning the day with “a Liturgy of the Word.”

Halloween is thought to have been influenced by the Christian All Saints’ Day — also known as Hallowmas, All Hallows or Hallowtide — and All Souls’ Day, Nov. 1 and 2 respectively.

“Halloween” as a word dates from the 16th century Scottish variant of the fuller All Hallows Even, or evening, the night before All Hallows Day.

Parent Lynda Fraser told CTV News the school’s decision to “cancel” Halloween was a disservice to students.

“Halloween is an event all children look forward to every year,” she wrote in an e-mail. “While they can still have their fun and celebration at home and in the evening, many children look forward to the school day celebration where they get to wear their costumes for their friends and have a class party.”

Children tend to lose focus and get worse grades when they don’t enjoy school, she said.

European Commission ‘pushed aside’

BONN, Germany, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A former president of the European Commission says the body is being “pushed aside” in agreements about institutional organization in eurozone countries.

“As far as the agreements about the future institutional organization in the eurozone are concerned, I’m very disappointed,” Jacques Delors told the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle. “The end result resembles a machine with a thousand intricate parts. New groups and new presidential positions are being created, but how it all is supposed to work remains unclear.”

Delors, who was president of the commission from 1985-1994, said the plan to halve Greece’s debt and increase the main bailout fund to $1.4 trillion was “solid.”

“The banks accepted a big sacrifice on their parts to save Greece. Given the situation, that’s about the best you can hope for,” he said.

But he said steps to be taken throughout the eurozone “were negotiated like a poker game among the EU members.”

“That sort of went against the method of working as a community,” Delors said. “In that sense, the European Commission was pushed aside. Now there are four or five groups. The EU is divided.

“But the community approach has proved itself in the past: Europe has made progress when it was used. That’s the only method that is simple and efficient. It forces the governments to make decisions together.”

Delors said the summit had to “put out the fire burning in the eurozone but the community of Europe has suffered and the commission has suffered a loss of authority.”

Delors played a major role in EU integration, the creation of a single European market and the treaty that turned the European Community into the European Union in 1992.

College application process may change

LONDON, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A proposed change in the college application process in the United Kingdom would have students applying after receiving their A-level exam results.

Currently, students apply for courses based on predicted grades, The Daily Telegraph reported. Under the reforms proposed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service Sunday, students would take the tests earlier and apply after they get the results.

UCAS said heavy reforms are necessary because the current system is “complex, lacks transparency for many applicants, and is inefficient and cumbersome for [universities].”

Only 51.7 percent of all test result predictions are accurate, with 41.7 percent being over-predictions, The Independent reported.

The proposal received generally positive reviews from university associations and students.

“We are supportive of a review,” Professor Eric Thomas, president of Universities UK, said. “There may well be a case for making the applications system more efficient and user-friendly for applicants.”

Usman Ali, vice president of the National Union of Students, said the student group welcomes the change.

“These are clearly very carefully constructed proposals, and we would certainly expect they are given careful consideration and not dismissed out of hand — particularly not by those universities with the most work to do to ensure access is widened for students from disadvantaged backgrounds,” Usman said.

The proposal, now under consultation until January, could be implemented as early as 2014. This would be the first major change in the college application process in the United Kingdom since 1961.

Non-French-speaking official under fire

OTTAWA, Oct. 31 (UPI) — The man proposed as Canada’s next auditor general is unqualified because he doesn’t speak French, the opposition New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois said.

The federal government’s own career posting says the $322,900-a-year government auditor position requires “proficiency in both official languages is essential,” the parties and the Liberal Party of Canada said.

Michael Ferguson, New Brunswick’s deputy finance minister, was nominated by Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper for the role last week.

Harper’s government says Ferguson — who was to testify before a House of Commons committee Monday and before the entire House Tuesday — is learning French and is committed to becoming bilingual.

Graham Fraser, the federal government’s commissioner of official languages, told Postmedia Network Canada Corp. he wouldn’t comment specifically on Ferguson’s case, but said mastery of English and French was “a key leadership competency” for senior government officials.

NYC woman called mom moments before death

NEW YORK, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A New York mom says her 21-year-old daughter called to say she was fine moments before she was killed by an oncoming car.

Jennifer Sosa died when she and her brother were knocked over the side of the Cross Bronx Expressway Sunday when they were struck by a car shortly after they had been involved in a minor accident on the icy road.

“Jennifer called me and she said that she was in an accident,” Angela Escoto told the New York Post. “The last thing she said to me was, ‘I’m OK, Mom. I was in an accident, but I’m all right, it’s not that serious. I’m fine.'”

Jennifer and her 19-year-old brother Pedro had been inspecting the damage to their vehicle when they were hit by a car that had skidded on the slick roadway. They fell about 75 feet to a sand pit at a construction site. Pedro Sosa, described by the Post as a promising young boxer, was in a coma Monday.

“I was so worried,” Escoto said. “I kept calling and texting her. I left messages. I got no response at all.”

The driver of the car that struck the pair told the Post he hit the brakes when he came upon the accident scene but could not stop. A police source told the newspaper that particular stretch of road is the scene of multiple fatal accidents during the winter.

Danish grocers said to exploit ‘fat tax’

COPENHAGEN, Denmark, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Dutch supermarkets have raised prices more than justified by a new tax on fattening foods, a check of product prices indicates.

The Copenhagen Post reports a review of prices at eight supermarkets by weekly newspaper Sondagsavisen in cooperation with the Tax Ministry revealed prices had been increased more than needed to cover costs of the “fat tax,” which took effect Oct. 1.

The tax covers items such as butter, cream, some cheeses and other foods with high saturated fat content.

The price check compared current prices with the tax authority Skat’s expected price increases due to the tax.

Skat had calculated the tax would mean a 6.6 percent increase in the price of sour cream, but a spot check showed supermarket Aldi had raised the price 17.3 percent.

Aldi raised prices more than what the new tax could account for on nine of 10 inspected products.

At supermarket Kvickly, the price of butter increased 12.7 percent more than warranted by the tax, while the price of cheese rose by 17 percent more.

“Supermarkets can determine their own prices, so it is not prohibited,” Vagn Jelsoe of the Danish Consumer Council told Sondagsavisen. “But it doesn’t look good.”

Some politicians said they would prohibit supermarkets from exploiting the tax, the Post said.

Canadian: I helped Saadi Gadhafi flee

GATINEAU, Quebec, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Members of Canada’s Libyan community called on Ottawa to investigate if an Ontario man broke laws by helping one of Moammar Gadhafi’s sons flee Libya for Niger.

“There’s the quite the possibility that laws were broken internationally in this and we’re really hoping that the Canadian government takes it seriously,” Nada Basir of the Canadian Libyan Council told Canada’s National Post newspaper.

The council was set up by Canadian Libyans after the Libyan civil war broke out to raise awareness of “the unspeakable violence being inflicted upon the Libyan people in their struggle for freedom,” the group’s Web site says.

Gary Peters, an Australian private security contractor living in Cambridge, Ontario, told the National Post in a report published Saturday he worked as the longtime bodyguard for Gadhafi son Saadi Gadhafi, a member of the late dictator’s inner circle and reputed commander of Libya’s Special Forces. He said he helped smuggle the younger Gadhafi across the border while NATO forces bombed Tripoli last month.

“Through his actions, Mr. Peters assisted the Gadhafi family in breaking international laws and may be in contravention of international law himself by potentially aiding and abetting war crimes and conducting business with the Gadhafis while U.N. sanctions were in place,” the council said in a statement.

Peters, president of Can/Aus Security & Investigations International Inc., told the Post he “broke no laws, but they have to investigate, which is fine.” He has not been charged with any crime.

Canada, like the United States, enacted U.N. sanctions imposing an arms embargo on Libya and freezing the assets of Gadhafi family members, including Saadi Gadhafi. But Canada lifted its sanctions, including a ban on arms sales and military and technical consultants, in September, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the Post.

The government had no immediate additional comment.

Despite the embargo, Gadhafi family members had money and paid cash for three new, bullet-proof Land Rover four-wheel-drive vehicles, Peters said.

He added Saadi Gadhafi owns property in Canada and wants to move to the country.

“But I was warned by [Royal Canadian Mounted Police] that if he comes here they’ll arrest him straight away — I don’t know why,” Peters told the newspaper.

“If he was a mass murderer then obviously I wouldn’t work for him,” Peter said. “The man’s a gentleman, non-violent.”

He said, by contrast, Moammar Gadhafi was “very intimidating” and “very hostile,” but Saadi was a “very nice man, very educated, very nice guy. However don’t piss them off — very revengeful people.”

Feds to investigate seven-hour JetBlue tarmac delay

NEWARK, N.J., Oct. 31 (UPI) — The U.S. Transportation Department is investigating a JetBlue flight that left passengers stranded on a tarmac for more than 7 hours, officials said.

A pilot for the flight, which was heading Saturday afternoon from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to Newark, N.J., when it was diverted to Hartford, Conn. because of weather issues, finally called the airport and asked them to contact police because he couldn’t get help from his own company, ABC News reported Monday.

There were more than 100 passengers on the flight, which touched down in Hartford about 1:30 p.m. EDT Saturday and did not move until 9 p.m.

“Look, you know we can’t seem to get any help from our own company. I apologize for this, but is there any way you can get a tug and a tow bar out here to us and get us towed somewhere to a gate or something? I don’t care. Take us anywhere,” the pilot said on cockpit recordings released on LiveATC.net.

ABC News said the carrier could be fined as much as $27,500 per passenger if found to have violated federal rules limiting airline tarmac delays.

JetBlue officials said the airport infrastructure was overwhelmed by the number of flights diverted to Hartford because of the weather.

Syria wary of external plots

DAMASCUS, Syria, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Syrian President Bashar Assad told a Russian television channel his country was working hard to unmask the external plots threatening national stability.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in Syria since an uprising against Assad began in mid-March. Damascus blames armed insurgents and external elements for much of the violence.

Assad told Russia’s Rossiya 1 television channel that his country was working to “to unmask the external plot against Syria.”

He warned that Syria was positioned on a geopolitical “tectonic plate,” saying the region would experience a massive political earthquake if Damascus faced further outside pressure.

The U.N. Security Council has been unable to pass a resolution condemning the bloodshed in Syria in large part because of veto threats from China and Russia. Both say they worry about a protracted international military conflict in Syria.

Calls for some sort of international military intervention are growing on online social networking sites supporting the Syrian opposition.

The Arab League, meanwhile, told CNN that it called on Damascus to pull its military forces from the street and end the crackdown against demonstrators in the country.

A national dialogue between Syrian officials and members of the opposition was proposed by the Arab League for Wednesday in Cairo.

Alleged kidnappers arrested in Algeria

ROME, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Four people with suspected links to al-Qaida were arrested in Algeria for their alleged roles in the kidnapping of three European aid workers, officials said.

Rossella Urru of Sardinia and colleagues Ainhoa Fernandez Rincon and Enrico Gonyans of Spain were abducted Oct. 32 from a refugee camp in southwestern Algeria, the Italian news agency ANSA reported Monday

The suspects were captured Sunday by Algerian secret service police, the state-run Algerian newspaper el-Khabar said.

Spanish Defense Minister Carme Chacon appealed for the release of the three captives.

Serbia Parliament puts off Kosovo question

BELGRADE, Serbia, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A session of the Serbian Parliament intended to consider the question of Kosovo has been postponed, officials said.

The government said the delay from Wednesday to Friday was because it intended to accompany its report on the situation in the province with another document, “which will also containing some conclusions regarding the policy on Kosovo.”

The Parliamentary Committee for Kosovo and Metohija will meet Tuesday to discuss the government report sent to Parliament last week, B92 reported.

Speaker Slavica Dukic-Dejanovic is expected to schedule the parliamentary session after the committee has considered the report.

The document accuses NATO and EU missions in Kosovo of “placing themselves in the service of Pristina,” the capital of Kosovo, and the Kosovo Albania authorities, b92 reported.

Quoting government sources, Tanjug news agency reported the Serbian government is preparing a declaration on Kosovo, which should be presented to Parliament this week.

Protests follow Kyrgyz elections

BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Protesters in southern Kyrgyzstan took to the streets Monday after it emerged the former prime minister was the winner of a weekend election.

Kyrgyzstan held presidential elections Sunday, the first vote since an April 2010 coup led former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev to flee to Belarus. Following the coup, at least 470 people were killed in ethnic conflicts near Osh and Jalal Abad.

Protesters turned out Monday in the streets of Osh and Jalal Abad calling for the election results to be invalidated, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports.

Around 1,000 supporters of presidential candidate and Ata-Jurt party leader Kamchybek Tashiyev blocked a highway linking Osh to the capital Biskhek to oppose the election results.

They claim the vote was rigged in favor of former Prime Minister Almazbek Atambayev.

The country’s election commission said Atambayev secured 63 percent of the vote compared with 14.7 percent for opposition leader Adahan Madumarov, a former member of Parliament who draws support from the south of the country, and 14.2 percent for Tashiyev.

Rights groups monitoring the situation in Kyrgyzstan note the country has a long way to go to repair ethnic wounds.

Kyrgyz President Roza Otunbayeva is ineligible for a second term. Her term expires Dec. 31.

More than 60 percent of the eligible voters turned out to vote.

Angels’ Night fires down in Detroit

DETROIT, Oct. 31 (UPI) — The number of fires set in Detroit on Angels’ Night before Halloween dropped from last year, thanks to citizen patrols, the mayor’s office said Monday.

The number of arsons Sunday and the weekend was “well below” last year’s number, Dan Lijana, spokesman for Mayor Dave Bing, said in a statement.

Even though fire reports increased in number as night fell, officials were happy with the less-than-expected mayhem, officials said.

“I’m thankful for the citizens coming out,” The Detroit News quoted Bing as saying Sunday night as he greeted neighborhood-patrol volunteers at a fast-food restaurant in Detroit’s New Center commercial and residential district.

City officials said they would release Sunday’s fire numbers later Monday. They reported 18 fires Saturday night, down from the average of 26 for Saturday fires.

In 2010, there were 169 fires over a three-day period around Halloween — up from 119 in 2009, the Detroit Free Press reported.

Angels’ Night was created to lessen fires and other criminal acts associated with Detroit’s Devil’s Night, marked by serious vandalism and arson from the 1970s to the 1990s.

After a brutal Devil’s Night in 1994, then-Mayor Dennis Archer promised city residents arson would not be tolerated. City officials organized and created Angels’ Night in 1995.

As many as 40,000 residents volunteer to keep the city safe the two nights before Halloween, patrolling neighborhoods with magnetic-mount flashing amber beacons on their personal vehicles and reporting suspicious activity to police by citizens’ band radios and cellphones.

Iran’s president to testify in fraud case

TEHRAN, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is called to answer to lawmakers over a $2.6 billion fraud case, but an analyst said the administration should survive.

More than 70 members of the 270-seat Iranian Parliament signed a petition calling on Ahmadinejad to testify about alleged economic misconduct, al-Jazeera reports.

“The petition to question the president has reached the minimum of signatures required. It was handed over to the presiding council,” Hossein Sobhaninia, an Iranian lawmaker, was quoted as saying.

Ahmadinejad is expected before Parliament within the next 10 days in connection to a $2.6 billion bank fraud case, the largest in the country’s history, the report said.

The two-term president has been at odds with the country’s top clerical leaders for most of the year. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, commenting last week on Iranian links to a plot to kill the Saudi envoy to the United States, said it wasn’t clear who was calling the shots in Tehran.

But Foad Izadi, a professor of political communication at Tehran University, told al-Jazeera that Ahmadinejad should emerge from the fraud case unscathed.

“From the beginning, he has said he is going to fully cooperate with the judicial system to address the problem,” he said. “None of the people who are actually his opponents are implicating him in this scandal.”

Russia: Missile shield talks unproductive

MOSCOW, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says Russian-U.S. talks and Russian-NATO discussions on missile defense have been unproductive.

“Our partners are using different means to duck our question why it is not allowed to give strict legal binding guarantees saying missile defense is not aimed against Russia,” Lavrov said Monday.

Russia wants assurances U.S. global missile defense plans are not directed against Russian interests, he said.

“The fact that the United States ignores our ideas makes us think that our partners are not sincere in full,” ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying.

“This runs counter [to] the agreements, which were concluded at the Russian-American bilateral summits and within the Russia-NATO Council summit, including the summit in Lisbon, saying we will work jointly,” the Russian minister said.

“The situation is serious. During the upcoming talks between the Russian and U.S. presidents, we will raise this problem because it is necessary to take final decisions on what we should do further,” Lavrov said.

Russian permanent representative to NATO Dmitry Rogozin said NATO’s position on the issue was not helping.

“[If] NATO strictly follows the U.S. missile defense policy, bypassing the position of the partners and even the allies, this can complicate our mutual relationship in all fields,” he said.

Curbside bus services’ safety examined

NEW YORK, Oct. 31 (UPI) — The rapid growth of private sector curbside bus carriers in major U.S. cities poses a challenge to effective safety oversight, a federal report says.

The report, prepared by the National Transportation Safety Board at the request of Congress following a March 12, 2011, bus crash in New York that killed 15 people and injured 18, focuses on safety issues in the fast-growing segment of the transportation industry, an NTSB release said Monday.

“Business and safety practices within the growing curbside bus industry create challenges for enforcement authorities and consumers alike when it comes to separating the safe operators from the unsafe operators,” NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said.

Curbside motorcoach operations consist of scheduled trips that begin or end at locations other than traditional bus terminals,

Hersman was joined at a news conference announcing the release of the report by U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Rep. , both of New York, who had asked the NTSB to prepare it.

“It’s abundantly clear that the oversight of this industry has not kept pace with its growth and the consequences have been deadly,” Schumer said.

“When travelers board a bus, they should feel safe, whether the trip starts in a terminal or at a Chinatown sidewalk,” Velazquez said.

Europe protesters distrust leaders

MADRID, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Young protesters in Europe express growing distrust of leaders and blame politicians for having fewer prospects than their parents, a think tank official says.

The Christian Science Monitor reported interviews with about 40 people under 30 in Spain, Greece, Britain and France show protesters are part of a global youth movement frustrated by a lack of jobs and what they see as the indifference or inability of politicians to do anything about it.

An estimated 30,000 youths who camped in Puerta del Sol, beginning a Spanish protest movement in May, drew inspiration from the Arab Spring pro-democracy movement sweeping the Mideast and Africa and inspired Occupy Wall Street protesters in America.

But the online U.S. newspaper said the protesters have gone beyond jobs and the economy to raise big questions “about what it means to be human, what values and truths to accept, how people should be treated, how democracy should work, the role of free markets, money, the social contract, community.”

“We are here to claim dignity … [and] a new society that gives more priority to life than economic interest,” a flyer for protesters in Spain reads.

Gaelle Simon, 29, who moved back to her home in France after losing a factory job and apartment in Switzerland, said when she saw images of Puerta del Sol protests, “the skin on my arms jumped off.”

“I had been depressed,” she said. “But after Tunisia and Egypt, I could see what the Spanish kids were doing. Something’s not working in our system, but we don’t need to accept it.”

The protest movement comes after Europe had appeared to be moving toward unity after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the fall of borders, the rise of Democracy, a healthy monetary union, wealth and sustainable, green economies.

But today, idealism has given way to skepticism among many young people, who express distrust of political elites, the Monitor said.

“They see the political class as closed, opaque, corrupt, insensitive. All polls show a wide feeling among youth that the political class and elites are a problem,” said Jose Ignacio Torreblanca of the Madrid office of the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations.

U.S., Israel slam Palestine’s UNESCO bid

PARIS, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Israel and the United States said a decision by the U.N. cultural organization to accept Palestine as a member didn’t do anyone any favors.

Members of the U.N. Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization received 107 votes in favor for membership for the Palestinian territories. Fourteen voted in opposition of membership and 52 abstained, according to the BBC.

Though membership is largely symbolic, Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said it was a small victory.

“This vote will erase a tiny part of the injustice done to the Palestinian people,” he was quoted by the BBC as saying.

Palestinian leaders during this year’s U.N. General Assembly meeting made a unilateral push for full membership at the United Nations as part of an effort to achieve statehood.

White House spokesman Jay Carney was quoted as saying the UNESCO vote undermines efforts at Middle East peace.

Washington under a law passed in the 1990s can cut funding to any U.N. body that gives full membership to Palestine, meaning 20 percent of UNESCO’s funding is in jeopardy.

The Israeli foreign ministry was quoted as saying UNESCO membership wouldn’t give Palestinian leaders any advantage.

“The Palestinian move at UNESCO, as with similar such steps with other U.N. bodies, is tantamount to a rejection of the international community’s efforts to advance the peace process,” the statement read.

The U.N. Security Council is set to vote on Palestinian membership in November. The United States holds veto power there, but not at UNESCO.

Meet Earth’s most typical man

NEW YORK, Oct. 31 (UPI) — A team at National Geographic searched population data for Earth’s most typical person in light of the world population reaching 7 billion Monday.

The National Geographic researchers found that 9 million people on Earth share the same characteristics, CBS News reported. The team created a composite image from 190,000 faces that fit the description — Earth’s everyman.

“He is Han Chinese so his ethnicity is Han. He is 28 years old. He is Christian. He speaks Mandarin. He does not have a car. He does not have a bank account. I think the reaction here among our staff was, ‘Hey, I think I’ve seen this guy,'” said Kaitlin Yarnell.

CBS News found a man who fit that description in New York City. His name is Mu Li and he shares other criteria found by the National Geographic team; right-handed, works in a service industry, lives in a city, owns a cellphone but no car.

“I have a common face, a common background. Suddenly you realize, you say, ‘Wow, you are the most typical person in the world,'” Li said, admitting that he sees himself in the composite image.

Earth’s population may reach 8 billion people in 2026 and by then, researchers say, the most typical human will be from India.

Israel defense chief: Iran our main threat

TEL AVIV, Israel, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Amid continuing concern that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is inclined to order military action against Iran’s nuclear program, a key Defense Ministry chief says, “Iran is out central threat.”

The comments by Amos Gilad, director of policy and political-security affairs at the ministry, followed a report by the Hebrew-language newspaper Yediot Ahoronot that Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak were pushing for pre-emptive strikes against Iran.

The report by veteran commentator Nahum Barnea underlined a critical rift within the defense establishment and the top political echelon over how to counter what many, Netanyahu in particular, see as an existential threat to the Jewish state.

But many in the defense establishment oppose any overt military action against Iran because they accept that it could unleash a regional war on an unprecedented scale using weapons that have never before been used in Middle Eastern combat.

Saudi Arabia and the Arab monarchies in the Persian Gulf would be endangered and Iran would threaten much of the world’s oil supplies.

The United States also opposes a unilateral Israeli campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities, fearing it could get dragged into a conflict not of its choosing, and has repeatedly told the Israelis so.

That was a message forcefully reiterated by U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta when he visited Israel in early October and held talks with Barak.

Gilad, who has great influence within the Israeli military establishment, stressed that countering the Iranian threat must be Israel’s top defense priority.

Netanyahu, he said, “was the first who heard of Iran’s forecasted move on the nuclear missile path and he sees it as a massive threat. The defense minister understands the depth of the threat as well.”

The debate within the upper echelons of government over the Iranian threat was largely behind closed doors until earlier this year when the outgoing head of the Mossad intelligence service, former general Meir Dagan, went public by denouncing Netanyahu and Barak.

He was backed by other senior defense and security officials, many of whom had apparently been squeezed out of command positions over the last 18 months by Netanyahu and Barak.

According to Barnea, the current chief of the general staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, Military Intelligence director Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi and General Security Service head Yoram Cohen all oppose action against Iran at this time.

Gilad maintained that less than a decade ago Iran did not possess missiles capable of reaching Israel; now it has hundreds of ballistic missiles with the range to hit the Jewish state with 10 minutes of launch.

“At the moment, there is no immediate nuclear threat, but there is definitely a great deal of motivation and determination for it,” he said.

“Today, the status is that they’re at the starting point — they have (enriched) uranium, the knowledge is there.”

He declared that Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “says that Israel has no place. Iran believes that it needs to be an empire equal in strength to the United States.

“That’s the motivation driving the development of Iran’s missile capabilities.”

The Israelis believe the Iranians seek to stockpile sufficient quantities of weapons-grade enriched uranium to make several warheads quickly in a “breakout” operation with which to attack the Jewish state before anyone’s aware of what they’re doing.

Commentators in Yediot Ahronot, the liberal Haaretz and other dailies have in recent days openly speculated that the hawkish Netanyahu, having won nationwide acclaim for securing the Oct. 18 release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, held by Hamas since July 2006, now felt he had the country behind in taking on Iran.

Netanyahu, said Jerusalem Post military writer Yaacov Katz, feels that “Israel can now move forward to deal with some of the other strategic problems it faces in the region, such as Iran’s nuclear program.”

But the problem, many military strategists say, is that Israel doesn’t have sufficient military force to deliver a knockout blow against Iran on its own.

Brig. Gen. Relik Shafir, who took part in the Israeli air strike that destroyed Iraq’s Tammuz nuclear reactor June 7, 1981, is one: “The Israeli air force doesn’t have the real strategic capability to bomb distant targets for a prolonged period of time with the required intensity and firepower.”

West accused of hypocrisy about protests

MOSCOW, Oct. 31 (UPI) — Russia’s foreign minister criticized Western organizations for “double standards” in the way they characterize public protests in Russia and at home.

Sergei Lavrov’s comments came after police in Portland, Ore., arrested 30 people for violating a curfew in the city’s Occupy Wall Street protest, RIA Novosti reported Monday.

“While daring to ask us questions, our Western partners do not want to address their own problems, which they have plenty of,” Lavrov said, referring to Western human rights organizations’ criticism of “the violent way” in which protests are responded to in Russia.

“The way they treat protesters of the Occupy Wall Street action shows clearly that our colleagues in the West stick to double standards,” Lavrov said.

Under Russian law protesters must receive permission from authorities to hold rallies, and authorities have the right to change the time, date and location of the protests.

If protesters gather in their originally planned location without proper permission, police are empowered to arrest the participants, RIA Novosti reported.