New concerns about airport body scanners

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Nov. 30 (UPI) — The head of a Florida commuter group suggests anyone who flies several times a week may want to avoid airport body scanners in the wake of a cancer report.

European authorities banned the machines earlier this month after studies linked them to a small number of cancer cases, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported Wednesday.

Steve Landes, director of the South Florida Airline Commuters Association, said frequent fliers might want to avoid the scanners.

“Let’s put it this way: I would have to be a fool to say I wouldn’t have any concerns,” Landes said.

The scanners use low-level radiation to detect dangerous items on passengers.

The U.S. Transportation Security Administration has declined comment on the Nov. 14 decision by the European Commission to ban the machines at all airports in Europe.

The ban was ordered after a PBS Newshour/ProPublica report said that research suggests anywhere from six to 100 U.S. airline passengers each year could get cancer from the scanners.

New theories in New York murders case

NEW YORK, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Police in New York no longer think 10 bodies found on a Long Island beach were the work of multiple killers, an official said.

Suffolk County Police Commissioner Richard Dormer told NBC New York investigators now believe the homicides were committed by a single person and most of them occurred last year.

Dormer said investigators have also “debunked” an earlier theory that the killer worked in law enforcement.

“It’s not unusual for people to be very familiar with how police conduct investigations, and how criminals try to evade capture,” he said during a phone interview Tuesday.

The remains of eight women, a male, and a female toddler were found dumped across a stretch of Ocean Parkway between Dec. 11 and April 11.

Dormer also said he doesn’t think the case of missing sex worker Shannan Gilbert is connected to the killings.

“We believe that it’s just coincidence that she went missing in Oak Beach and the bodies were found on Gilgo Beach, which is right across Ocean Parkway and farther west,” Dormer said. “The M.O. is completely different, the scenario is completely different.”

Ivory Coast’s Gbagbo in ICC detention

THE HAGUE, Netherlands, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Former Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo arrived at the International Criminal Court’s detention center Wednesday to face charges of crimes against humanity.

The detention of Gbagbo, 66, at the ICC’s detention center at The Hague, Netherlands, marks the first time a former head of state was taken into the court’s custody, the ICC said in a release.

In October, the ICC prosecutor opened an investigation into the post-election violence that rocked the Ivory Coast at the beginning of this year. After the presidential election Nov. 28, 2010, Gbagbo refused to concede power to Alassane Ouattara, the recognized winner. Four months of violence followed, resulting in more than 3,000 deaths.

Gbagbo, who has been under house arrest since being taken into custody, is accused of “murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts,” an ICC statement said.

“It is exactly a year since the presidential election that led to one of the worst episodes of violence [Ivory Coast] has ever known, with ordinary Ivorians suffering immensely, and crimes allegedly committed by both parties,” ICC lead prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement Tuesday.

Ocampo said his office collected evidence that the violence resulted from a “deliberate policy” to attack civilians, with both parties to the election involved. He said he expected to bring more cases before the court.

Gbagbo will make his appearance before Pre-Trial Chamber III next week when he will be told of his rights and the charges against him.

More arrests in Italian mafia probe

MILAN, Italy, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A magistrate and a politician were among 10 people arrested in Italy Wednesday as part of a probe into the expansion of the Calabrian mafia, authorities said.

Magistrate Vincenzo Giuseppe Giglio, head of the crime prevention department of the Reggio Calabria court, was apprehended on suspicion of providing information about police activity to the mafia, Italy’s ANSA news agency reported.

Also arrested was Calabrian Regional Councillor Francesco Morelli, a member of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s party.

Police said Morelli was the link between the Calabrian ‘Ndrangheta mafia and national police circles.

Ndrangheta is considered the most powerful mafia in Italy due to its hold on the European cocaine trade.

In March, 41 suspected ‘Ndrangheta members were arrested in Calabria, the northern Italian cities of Turin and Genoa, Germany, Canada and Australia.

Italian police said the Calabrian mafia has replicated its operational units in northern Italy and abroad.

Chinese to execute Filipino

MANILA, Philippines, Nov. 30 (UPI) — China’s Supreme People’s Court upheld the death sentence of a Filipino man convicted of drug trafficking, the Philippine government said Wednesday.

A statement released by the Department of Foreign Affairs said the death sentence the man received for smuggling heroin into China three years ago would be carried out Dec. 8, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported.

DFA spokesman Raul Hernandez said Philippine President Benigno Aquino III has sent a letter of appeal to Chinese Premier Hu Jintao requesting that the man’s sentence be commuted to life imprisonment.

The prisoner’s name was not released.

Review: Gingrich pushed ideas and clients

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Republican U.S. presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich and his staff say Gingrich doesn’t lobby but a New York Times review indicates he performed similar services.

A review of his activities shows how he used his influence to work on behalf of clients with skin in the game of shaping government policy, notably healthcare, the review released Wednesday indicated.

Since he left Capitol Hill in 1999, Gingrich has arranged meetings between executives and officials, and included pitches for his clients in his presentations to lawmakers, the Times said.

Gingrich and his aides repeatedly said he is not a registered lobbyist, he never took a position for money and corporations contracted with him because of the potency of his ideas.

“You have somebody who knows what he believes in, he can effectively communicate it and he’s successful in doing it,” said his spokesman, R.C. Hammond.

But even as it appears he wasn’t involved in negotiating legislative language, Gingrich and his staff performed many of the same functions registered lobbyists do, the Times said. The newspaper said it reviewed an unsecured archived version of a restricted area of his Center for Health Transformation’s Web site, finding examples of presentations that offered specific services of Gingrich’s clients and executives from some of those companies sitting on panel discussions.

Randy Evans, a lawyer who has represented Gingrich since his days as House speaker, said none of Gingrich’s clients paid him to adopt a position he didn’t have already.

“That matters a lot,” Evans said, “because there was never a point where we identified a client’s position first and decided, ‘OK, that’s where we’re going.’ His vision always came first.”

Paul Branagan, who was president of Millennium Plastics when it hired Gingrich for $7,500 a month plus stock options, told the Times, “He made it very clear to us that he does not lobby, but that he could direct us to the right places in Washington and elsewhere.”

19 drop out of police discrimination suit

WASHINGTION, D.C., Nov. 30 (UPI) — A court in the District of Columbia has granted a motion to voluntarily dismiss 19 plaintiffs from a decade-old discrimination suit against U.S. Capitol Police.

The move by the U.S. District Court leaves 285 plaintiffs in a case that has dragged on for years as it focused on the plaintiffs’ standing rather than the merit of their claims, Roll Call reported Wednesday.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2001 with now-retired Capitol Police Lt. Sharon Blackmon-Malloy as the lead plaintiff. It argued that more than 200 black officers were denied promotions, retaliated against, unfairly disciplined or fired because of their race.

Blackmon-Malloy said she did not see the voluntary withdrawal of the 19 plaintiffs as a setback.

“It has always been our hope that everyone would remain in the proposed class action lawsuit,” she told Roll Call. “However, we support the plaintiffs who have elected to be dismissed from the case.”

A hearing on the case is expected before the end of December or early next year.

Challenge to same-sex marriage survives

NEW YORK, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A lawsuit challenging the way the legislature approved New York’s Marriage Equity Act will be allowed to proceed, a state judge has ruled.

Acting Justice Robert B. Wiggins of the State Supreme Court said it is possible the Republican majority in the State Senate violated New York’s open meetings law when it discussed whether to bring the same-sex marriage bill to a vote, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The state of New York sought dismissal of the suit filed by the conservative group New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms.

Their lawsuit charged several of the meetings on the legislation, including ones involving Gov. Mario Cuomo and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, should have been subject to the open meetings law.

Wiggins wrote it is ironic the state’s brief “spews sanctimonious verbiage on the separation of powers” yet “arm-twisting by the Executive on the Legislative permeates the entire process.”

The lawsuit asks the court to overturn the marriage law and nullify any weddings that were performed under it.

Iran developing missile capabilites

JERUSALEM, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Iran is developing advanced cruise missiles that could carry non-conventional warheads, Arieh Herzog, a top Israel Defense Ministry official, warned.

Speaking at the annual International Aerospace Conference in Jerusalem Wednesday, Herzog, director of the ministry’s Homa Missile Defense Agency, said Iran will have cruise missiles that could potentially carry a warhead within several years, The Jerusalem Post said.

Herzog said Israel’s missile defense capabilities are keeping pace with developments in Iran, the Post said.

Former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin said Iran has enough material for four or five atom bombs, and once they are developed, will reach nuclear capability within 1 1/2 years, Yedioth Aharonoth said Wednesday.

Yadlin said the recent round of sanctions following the publication of the International Atomic Energy Agency report are not harsh enough to halt Iran’s nuclear drive.

Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan warned if Israel attacks Iran, a regional war would be inevitable, with Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and possibly Syria launching massive missile attacks on Israel, Haaretz said. Dagan made his prediction in a clip from an interview broadcast on Channel 2 Tuesday. He said such a war would take a heavy toll in terms of loss of life and would paralyze life in Israel, the paper said.

Biden: New relationship for U.S. and Iraq

BAGHDAD, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Vice President Joe Biden said in Baghdad Tuesday the drawdown of U.S. forces will mark a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq.

Biden told Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki that the new partnership will include a robust security relationship based on whatever Iraq decides, the White House reported.

The vice president made the remarks at Iraq’s governmental palace prior to a meeting of the U.S.-Iraq Higher Coordinating Committee.

“This is marking a new beginning of a relationship that will not only benefit the United States and Iraq, I believe will benefit the region and, in turn, the world,” Biden said.

He said Iraq has suffered over the past decade, first from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein and then from being “victimized by terror.”

“Few nations have gone through what you’ve gone through,” Biden said. “But now Iraq is poised to join the community of nations who are the great contributors of the world.”

Maliki told Biden Iraq is now capable of protecting its own internal security but added that U.S. forces will play a training role in the future.

He said he hope U.S. companies would come to Iraq with the same force that U.S. troops did.

Doctors seek Hinckley’s eventual release

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — The man who tried to kill U.S. President Reagan is seeking release from a hospital where he’s been held since he was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

A federal judge in Washington is to begin a week-and-a-half of hearings Wednesday on whether John Hinckley Jr. should eventually be released from St. Elizabeth Hospital where he has been a patient since his 1982 trial ended, CNN reported.

Doctors at the federal mental facility in Washington petitioned the court for approval to grant Hinckley, now 56, convalescent leave if a series of extended visits to his mother’s home in Williamsburg, Va., are successful.

In a court hearing two years ago, U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman noted hospital doctors’ testimony that Hinckley’s mental problems were in remission. The court has granted Hinckley greater freedoms during his incarceration.

In its response to the doctors’ petition, the government said Hinckley was “a man capable of great violence,” arguing concerns remain “that this violence may be repeated.”

The hospital petition was filed under seal and unavailable to the public. However, the government said in response the motion proposes eight visits of 17-24 days each to Hinckley’s mother’s home, CNN reported.

After the home visits, the hospital wants “the sole discretion to place Hinckley on convalescent leave” without court review, the government said.

One of Hinckley’s bullets wounded Reagan, who was rushed to a hospital for surgery. Hinckley’s assassination attempt March 30, 1981, also wounded a police officer, a Secret Service agent and Press Secretary James Brady.

On the day he shot Reagan, Hinckley left a letter to actress Jodie Foster in his hotel room. Hinckley was infatuated with Foster after seeing her portray a child prostitute in the movie, “Taxi Driver.”

Cable operators block BBC news channel

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Pakistan’s cable television operators, protesting a BBC documentary on the Taliban, began taking its World News program off the air, the broadcaster said.

The blocking of the international television news channel came after the BBC aired its documentary “Secret Pakistan,” which had questioned Pakistan’s commitment to fighting Taliban militancy, the report said.

Similar blocking action was threatened against other foreign channels airing “anti-Pakistan” programs.

A BBC spokesman urged speedy reinstatement of the World News program, saying: “We condemn any action that threatens our editorial independence and prevents audiences from accessing our impartial international news service.”

The BBC said the documentary, quoting U.S. intelligence officials, had said some in Pakistan were playing a double game of acting as an ally in public, while secretly training and arming the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The latest development comes in the wake of Pakistan’s continuing reaction against last week’s NATO airstrike near the border with Afghanistan in which 24 Pakistani soldiers died.

The Express Tribune reported the All Pakistan Cable Operators Association has also asked Pakistani regulators to revoke BBC’s “landing rights.”

Separately, the Nation quoted the operator group’s president as saying his members want to send a message to international channels that if they do not stop propaganda against Pakistan, they would be forced to stop their transmissions.

Report says Iranian nuke site damaged

TEHRAN, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Updated satellite images Wednesday show a key Iranian nuclear facility in Isfahan suffered damage in an explosion.

The Times of London quoted unnamed Israeli intelligence officials who based their conclusions on satellite images showing smoke billowing from the direction of the plant, Haaretz said Wednesday.

The British daily quoted Israeli sources as saying there was “no doubt” Monday’s explosion damaged the nuclear facility. The anonymous sources ruled out the possibility an accident caused the blast.

The Isfahan plant went into operation in 2004 taking uranium from mines and producing gas used to feed the centrifuges that enrich uranium, Haaretz reported. The Isfahan facility feeds the country’s main nuclear enrichment plant in Natanz.

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency first reported the explosion Monday afternoon but later retracted the story. The agency said an explosion was heard at 2:40 p.m., local time and quoted Mohammed Mehdi Ismaili, the deputy governor, as saying it was heard across the city.

Later, however, Ismaili told the official news agency IRNA reports of an explosion were baseless and fabricated

N. Korea claims LWR progress

PYONGYANG, North Korea, Nov. 30 (UPI) — North Korea is making progress both in low enriched uranium and construction of a light water reactor, its foreign ministry said Wednesday.

The announcement came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, proceeding to Myanmar for an official visit, stopped in South Korea’s Busan city, where she told reporters North Korea should take concrete steps toward denuclearization.

North Korea’s official news agency KCNA quoted its foreign ministry spokesman as saying the activities are for peaceful purposes.

“The construction of experimental LWR and the low enriched uranium for the provision of raw materials are progressing apace … ,” said the report, carried by China’s Xinhua news agency.

The spokesman said peaceful use of nuclear energy is the legitimate right of a sovereign state under international law.

He said concerns should be addressed through the six-party talks and called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to verify North Korea’s intentions.

The six-party talks begun in 2003 among the two Koreas, Japan, China, Russia and the United States for North Korea’s nuclear disarmament are currently stalled. Lately, the North has said it is ready to resume the talks without preconditions.

The latest North Korean announcement could have an impact diplomatic efforts to resume the talks, Yonhap news agency said.

South Korea and the United States want the North to first demonstrate its commitment to denuclearization by closing its uranium enrichment plant before talks can resume.

In Busan, Clinton said: “The United States stands with our ally and we look to North Korea to take concrete steps that promote peace and stability and denuclearization.”

Clashes in Tahrir end 2nd day of voting

CAIRO, Nov. 30 (UPI) — More than 100 people were injured in clashes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square late Tuesday as the second day of voting in parliamentary elections came to an end.

Mohammed el-Sherbeeny, a Health Ministry spokesman, told Ahram Online Wednesday 108 people were injured, 10 seriously, in clashes that erupted when scores of armed men attacked protesters staging a sit-in in the square.

“I can see Molotov [cocktails] thrown into the square and I hear gunshots fired. There are also people standing on top of 6 October bridge, which overlooks the square, and they are throwing stones at protesters,” Mohammed el-Badry, a member of the General Secretariat of the Revolution, told Nile TV. He said two people were shot in the eye and were taken to nearby field hospitals for treatment. No military forces or police intervened, he said.

The results of the two-day vote in the first stage of parliamentary elections are expected to be published Wednesday.

The al-Ahram and al-Shorouk newspapers predicted the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party will dominate. The British daily The Guardian said an initial count shows the FJP is in the lead with 40 percent of the vote and the Salafists are in second.

Obama’s schedule for Wednesday, Nov. 30

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — President Obama travels to Pennsylvania Wednesday to discuss extending and expanding the payroll tax cut, the White House said.

The daily schedule indicates Obama will:

— Receive the daily briefing.

— Travel to Scranton, Pa., to meet a family then speak at Scranton High School, urging Congress to act to extend and expand the payroll tax cut.

— Travel to New York, where he will deliver remarks at several campaign events.

Malaysia bans street demonstrations

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Malaysia’s Parliament, despite a walkout of by opposition party members and a protest rally outside by lawyers, passed a bill that bans street demonstrations.

The National Front coalition government of Prime Minister Najib Razak claimed the Peaceful Assembly Act relaxes legal requirements for protest groups to have demonstrations that will be allowed in designated assembly areas such as athletics stadiums and public halls.

Unsuitable locations for demonstrations are deemed to be anywhere close to schools, hospitals, places of worship, airports or gasoline stations.

The act also bars people under 15 and foreigners from attending demonstrations. The act bars people under 21 from organizing rallies and protests.

Demonstrators and organizers can be fined up to $6,200 for breaking the law.

A previous requirement for organizers to give police at least 30 days notice of a demonstration has been shortened to 10 days.

Once a demonstration is approved, anyone objecting to it would have 24 hours to lodge a protest with police. Previously there was a five-day period to formally object to the demonstration.

Police also must move faster to investigate an objection and come to a conclusion about allowing a demonstration to continue. They must respond to the objection within five days, not 12 as before.

However, police were given increased powers to restrict aspects of demonstrations, including time and place, in an effort to maintain public order.

Government ministers claimed the act strikes a balance between the right to protest and public security.

But opposition party members cried foul during the heated debate in the Dewan Rakyat, Malaysia’s lower house of Parliament, and walked out before the vote, which went in the government’s favor, a report by the national news agency Bernama said.

During a street protest by around 500 lawyers before the vote, marchers shouted “freedom to assemble” and “freedom to the people.” Police stopped them from entering the area immediately around Parliament, the report said.

The government’s move to get a greater handle on protests before they hit the streets comes after a large-scale anti-government demonstration in Kuala Lumpur in July. Estimates of the number of protesters ranged from 5,000-10,000.

Although no deaths were reported, hundreds of people were injured as police used water cannon and fired tear gas into the crowds. Police also took more than 1,400 protesters into custody, including several opposition party members.

Most protesters were released the next day police and the government came under much criticism for what demonstrators said was an unwarranted heavy-handedness.

Protesters were demanding electoral reforms and the government stands down before the next scheduled general election in 2013. Part of the Najib government’s lack of popularity comes from reforms that include cutting fuel subsidies.

There also is concern about plans to do away with some affirmative-action programs — in place since the early 1970s and designed to improve daily life for the country’s indigenous Malay majority over people of Chinese and Indian extraction. Malays made up most of the country’s poorest people.

The rally organizers in July said Malaysia’s electoral system is plagued with fraud, a BBC report said at the time. Longer campaign periods are needed with automatic voter registration and equality of access for opposition groups to the largely government-controlled mainstream media.

The Peaceful Assembly Act is expected to get the nod through the upper Parliament where the National Front also has a majority of seats.

2 GOP lawmakers: Raise top earners’ taxes

WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A Republican plan to offset an extension of a U.S. payroll tax cut could involve raising taxes on high-income people, two Republican senators said.

The party’s plan to cover revenue lost by extending a 2 percent cut in the amount of money employees pay for Social Security taxes could involve a small tax increase for some high-income people who meet certain criteria, Senate Finance Committee member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said Tuesday.

His remarks, cited by The New York Times, offered no further details, and his press office did not immediately respond to a United Press International inquiry late Tuesday night.

Most Republican lawmakers signed a “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” promoted by conservative lobbyist Grover Norquist, promising never, under any circumstances, to support a tax increase.

Senate Appropriations Committee member Susan Collins, R-Maine, said she supported the “millionaires surtax” but wanted to exempt small businesses from increased taxes.

“I don’t think we should be imposing additional taxes on working families at a time when the economy is so fragile,” she said Tuesday in support of extending the payroll tax cut.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said Tuesday Republicans would propose a bill this week to extend the payroll tax cut, but it would do it in a way that would not make up for the lost revenue by surcharging million-dollar incomes, which Democrats proposed.

“At the end of the day, there’s a lot of sentiment in our conference, clearly a majority sentiment, for continuing the payroll tax relief that we enacted a year ago in these tough times,” he said at a news conference. “But we believe in these tough times we ought to pay for it.”

He wouldn’t provide details of the GOP plan, but predicted Congress would extend the tax cut, which expires Dec. 31.

The Democrats’ bill would not simply extend the tax cut but also expand it.

Payroll taxes, cut last year to 4.2 percent from 6.2 percent, would be lowered further to 3.1 percent, providing middle-class families with as much as $1,500 more in their paychecks next year, Democrats said.

The bill would also partially extend the tax break to employers, a move intended to encourage hiring.

The price tag of the bill is about $265 billion, Democratic aides said.

Democrats proposed paying for it in part with a 3.25 percent surtax on annual income over $1 million.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pointed to polls showing most Republican voters say wealthy Americans should increase how much taxes they pay.

“The only place in America that people don’t want a fair system is Republicans here in the Senate,” Reid said at a news conference Tuesday. “Republicans outside this Capitol think the rich should bear some of the burdens we have in our country today.”

Democrats pointed out that Republicans have long insisted tax cuts keep money in the hands of Americans who then funnel it back into the economy, negating the need to offset the revenue loss.

Turkey poised to slap sanctions on Syria

ANKARA, Turkey, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Turkey was likely to impose sanctions on Syria for its military crackdown on anti-regime protesters, the semi-official Anatolian News Agency reported.

“Our work is complete and the sanctions are ready,” Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference Tuesday, without saying when he would announce the sanctions, although the report said the sanctions would be announced Wednesday.

He said Turkey, one of Syria’s most important trading partners, would do nothing that would harm ordinary Syrians. Total trade between the two countries was $2.4 billion last year and, until Syria’s uprising began, was forecast to rise 30 percent this year, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Davutoglu gave no further details about the sanctions other than to say they would differ in “nuance” from Sunday’s sanctions announced by the Arab League.”

The Arab League sanctions include a travel ban on top Syrian officials and a freeze on assets related to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Davutoglu told the news conference creating a military buffer zone inside Syria along the border with Turkey was “not on the agenda.”

Earlier in the day, he told Turkey’s private Kanal 24 TV station such a buffer zone would be an option if tens of thousands of refugees pour over the border into Turkey. He said Turkey was “ready for all possible scenarios” in Syria but hadn’t considered a military intervention and didn’t want to.

A Turkish newspaper reported Wednesday Turkey’s largest petrochemical company, Tupra, ended a 17-year-old oil-purchase deal with Syrian government-controlled oil company, Sytrol.

The newspaper said the deal was terminated this month.

Britain to hit Iran with new sanctions

LONDON, Nov. 30 (UPI) — London will hit Tehran with new sanctions, officials said, after Iranians protesting prior sanctions stormed the British Embassy as security forces looked on.

The British sanctions, to be imposed as early as Wednesday, will be “robust and resolute,” government officials told the Daily Mail.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague — who with Prime Minister David Cameron expressed outrage at the Tuesday siege — promised “other, further and serious consequences” and said he would address Parliament Wednesday.

An additional consequence could be other European nations recalling their ambassadors, removing a key channel of communication, The Washington Post reported.

The European Union is to debate new sanctions against Iran Thursday.

Europe remains one of Iran’s largest trading partners and a key conduit between the country and Washington, which severed ties after the U.S. Embassy in Tehran was overtaken Nov. 4, 1979.

In the British Embassy siege — which evoked memories of the U.S. Embassy takeover that led to a 444-day hostage crisis — young Iranians surged through lines of riot police, ransacked embassy offices, seized classified documents and briefly held six staff members captive, video by the official Iranian English-language TV channel indicated.

The TV channel broadcast the entire assault, which Western diplomats said was led by paramilitary Basij brigades controlled by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and loyal to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Islamist brigades, known for policing morals and suppressing dissident gatherings, consist of young Iranians who volunteer, often in exchange for official benefits.

The force of about 50, chanting “Death to England,” ripped the gilded British crest off the embassy, tore down the Union Jack, replacing it with the Iranian flag, tore up portraits of Queen Elizabeth II and threw satellite dishes off the roofs of embassy buildings.

They smashed windows and scattered thousands of papers onto the street, where British, U.S. and Israeli flags were set on fire. Thousands of student protesters rallied in front of the embassy.

About 200 to 300 other rioters got into Britain’s 50-acre diplomatic compound, housing British diplomats and their families, in the northern Tehran neighborhood of Gholhak, a few miles north of the embassy. The compound, called Qolhak Garden, is also home to the Tehran War Cemetery and has been at the center of diplomatic tension between Britain and Iran over its ownership and management.

Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency said police officers freed six British staff members who had been surrounded by the Qolhak Garden protesters, adding 12 protesters were arrested.

The attacks, to protest economic sanctions against Iran’s suspect nuclear energy program, ended after several hours.

Besides Britain — which called the attacks “outrageous and indefensible” and said it upbraided Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi in the “strongest terms” — the United States, France, EU and U.N. Security Council condemned the assault.

Russia, Iran’s closest ally, described it as “unacceptable and deserving condemnation.”

Iran’s Foreign Ministry expressed “regret” over the “unacceptable behavior by [a] few demonstrators” in spite of preventive efforts, and promised an investigation with wrongdoers prosecuted.

Occupy LA braces for imminent eviction

LOS ANGELES, Nov. 30 (UPI) — Los Angeles police put up traffic barriers around City Hall and issued a citywide tactical alert as Occupy LA protesters braced for an imminent eviction.

Several people reported seeing large numbers of police cars driving into Dodger Stadium, adjacent to downtown Los Angeles, where officers were apparently gathering, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday night.

The tactical alert was “due to unusual occurrence in downtown LA,” a police e-mail said.

The e-mail did not indicate plans to enforce an eviction of protesters from the City Hall lawn.

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had set a 12:01 a.m. PST Monday deadline for protesters to clear their tents and other possessions from the camp on City Hall’s south lawn. Police withdrew from the area at dawn Monday without trying to break up the encampment.

Police Chief Charlie Beck said Monday officers would enforce the closure when they could “do it effectively and efficiently and with minimal force.”

At an Occupy LA meeting Tuesday evening, organizers said it was “very probable” some kind of raid would occur overnight, the Times said. They did not reveal the source of the information.

About half the nearly 500 tents originally at the encampment remained on the lawn around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Villaraigosa — a former union organizer and former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union — told the Times Tuesday he and Beck had made the decision to allow overnight camping on the lawn in the hope of charting a “different path” with protesters.

That was in part because he respects many of their views, he said.

But he decided to order Occupy LA to leave the lawn after he learned children were at the encampment, he said. He was also concerned about public health risks and damage to the lawn, which Villaraigosa estimated would cost “in the hundreds of thousands of dollars” to repair.

Hong Kong fire kills at least 9

HONG KONG, Nov. 30 (UPI) — A fire erupted in a building in the Kowloon part of Hong Kong early Wednesday morning, killing at least nine and injuring 26 others, fire officials said.

Nine charred bodies were found at the site of the blaze in the densely populated shopping area in the Mong Kok section of Kowloon and another 26 people were sent to hospitals, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported, quoting fire officials.

The fire was raging 6 hours after it started around 4:40 a.m., and rescuers were trying to save those trapped on rooftops.

The cause had not yet been determined but authorities had not ruled out arson, Xinhua reported, quoting police.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang and senior city officials visited the injured at the hospitals.

Xinhua reported about 70 households had been affected by the fire and neighborhood shopkeepers expected to suffer big losses.

CNN reported the first started at a retail stall. The report said an arson fire last year destroyed 50 stalls on the same street.

Clinton to seek further Myanmar reforms

NAYPYITAW, Myanmar, Nov. 30 (UPI) — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during a visit to Myanmar, will express support for reforms in the nation once ruled by the military, officials said.

Clinton, whose unexpected trip was announced by U.S. President Barack Obama during his recent Asia tour, will be the first U.S. official of her rank to visit the isolated south Asian country in about 50 years. The visit comes as Myanmar, formerly called Burma, has begun to make progress toward democratic reforms under the new civilian government of President Thein Sein after decades of brutal military rule.

During her three-day visit beginning Wednesday, Clinton “will register support for reforms that we have witnessed in recent months and discuss further reforms in key areas, as well as steps the U.S. can take to reinforce progress,” the State Department said on its Web site.

The report said Clinton “will underscore the U.S. commitment to a policy of principled engagement and direct dialogue as part of our dual-track approach” and “will consult with a broad and diverse group of civil society and ethnic minority leaders to gain their perspectives on developments in the country.”

While announcing the Clinton visit, Obama had said the United States is considering new relationship which would depend on “the Burmese government taking more concrete action.”

Thein Sein, a former general, became president after last year’s elections, which were first in two decades.

Immediately after the elections, the new government freed opposition and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi after holding her under house arrest for years.

The new government also changed some laws to allow Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party to contest in elections. Public protest, not encouraged during the junta rule, resulted in the new government suspending a hydroelectric dam project involving aid from China, a close ally of Myanmar.

In another major reform, the government has freed dozens of political prisoners. The government also has passed reforms for protection of basic human rights.

Aung Zaw, editor of Irrawaddy Magazine, was quoted by CNN as saying Clinton’s visit will the boost the government’s reform process and legitimacy.

Clinton’s Myanmar trip comes as the U.S. foreign policy pivots to the Asia-Pacific region, with Washington determined to play its leadership role. Some experts still express doubts as to whether the new leadership in Myanmar will remain committed to its democratic reforms.