4 charged in N.C. flag-burning case

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Jan. 1 (UPI) — Four men are facing misdemeanor charges for allegedly burning two U.S. flags at the Occupy Charlotte protest site in North Carolina, authorities say.

One of the four charged Friday, Alex Tyler, 19, of Fort Mill, said he took part in the flag-burning “to display my utter contempt for American greed,” The Charlotte Observer reported. He said it wasn’t an act against the military and expressed sorrow for any trouble he may have caused the Occupy movement, the newspaper said.

The other three charged were identified as Jason Bargert, 28, of Charlotte, Michael Behrle, 23, of Matthews and Stephen Morris, 20, of Matthews.

While burning the American flag isn’t illegal, setting a blaze outside a fire pit is and that’s the misdemeanor the four were charged with.

The four were released after posting bail.

The flag-burning caused a rift in the city’s Occupy movement, with at least 10 members issued a statement disassociating themselves and the movement from the incident. Some members called the flag-burning “hideous,” “shocking” and “disrespectful,” and called for the four men to be expelled from the camp, the Observer said.

Where in the world is Banana Sam?

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 1 (UPI) — Banana Sam’s not on the lam, San Francisco Zoo officials say, he’s been monkey-napped.

A $5,000 reward is being offered for the safe return of the 17-year-old squirrel monkey, who zoo officials said Saturday was snatched from his cage either late Thursday or early Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

“This was a criminal act of vandalism and trespassing, and we are working with the police to identify the perpetrators,” said Tanya Peterson, the zoo’s executive director.

“We are hoping he has nine lives and will be rescued again.”

Squirrel monkeys, which can weigh up to 3 pounds, do not make good pets, Peterson said.

“He has extremely sharp teeth and will definitely bite if provoked,” zoo officials said in a statement.

Paul, Santorum near Romney

DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are giving Mitt Romney a run for his money in Iowa, the latest poll tracking the Republican presidential hopefuls indicated Saturday.

With Iowa’s GOP caucuses looming on Tuesday, The Des Moines Register Iowa Poll shows Romney has been unable to establish himself as the dominant presidential hopeful in the first state in the nation to hold its nominating process. The poll gave the former Massachusetts governor 24 percent to 22 percent for Paul, a congressman from Texas, and 15 percent for Santorum, a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania.

Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich came in at 12 percent, Texas Gov. Rick Perry at 11 percent and Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota was at 7 percent.

The poll of 2,527 registered Republican and independent voters was conducted Tuesday through Friday and has a 4 percentage point margin of error.

The newspaper said when the final two days of polling are considered alone, Romney stays at 24 percent but Santorum moves into second with 21 percent and Paul is third at 18 percent.

Other recent polls have shown Paul in a statistical dead heat with Romney and Santorum charging hard.

“Momentum’s name is Rick Santorum,” the Register’s pollster, J. Ann Selzer, said.

The poll also found 41 percent of likely caucus-goers say they might still change their minds.

Ohio rattled by 4.0 earthquake

AKRON, Ohio, Dec. 31 (UPI) — A 4.0-magnitude earthquake shook northeastern Ohio Saturday afternoon, seismologists said.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the 3:05 p.m. temblor was centered near Youngstown.

Barbara Forney, 79, told the Akron Beacon Journal the jolt from the quake toppled the Christmas tree in the living room of her Akron home.

“It was like someone pushed it down,” she said.

The newspaper said state geologist Michael C. Hansen said the “pretty good-sized” quake was felt as far away as Michigan, Ontario, Pennsylvania and New York.

No injuries or major damage had been reported, he said.

The quake was the largest of 11 in the last eight months to have occurred within 2 miles of injection wells in Mahoning County used to dispose of brine wastes from gas and oil drilling, Hansen said. There is “little doubt” the quake is linked to 9,000-foot-deep wells the state and the owner, Northstar Disposal Services LLC and operated by D&K Energy Inc., agreed on Friday to shut down, he said.

There are 177 such wells being used in Ohio to permanently dispose of the brine wastes.

The newspaper said geologists have long suspected injecting liquids into underground rock formations can trigger earthquakes along fault lines. Earthquakes have been linked to injection wells in Arkansas, West Virginia, Colorado and Texas, the newspaper said.

Explosives found in serviceman’s carry-on

MIDLAND, Texas, Dec. 31 (UPI) — A U.S. serviceman was taken into custody Saturday after explosives were found in his carry-on bag at Midland (Texas) International Airport, authorities said.

The Midland Reporter-Telegram reported the incident led authorities to evacuate and shut down the airport’s terminal for about an hour.

The suspect, who was being held by the FBI and had not been identified, is an active serviceman who had been home visiting family and was returning to North Carolina, Midland police Sgt. Brian Rackow told the newspaper.

The explosives, which had military-grade wrapping, were discovered by Transportation Security Administration officers while the man’s carry-on bag was going through the X-ray machine shortly before 9:30 a.m., city police said.

Grenadian cops charged in Canadian’s death

ST. DAVID, Grenada, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Two police officers were charged Saturday with fatally beating a Canadian man at a police station in Grenada, authorities said.

Officers Kenton Hazzard and Wendell Sylvester are charged with manslaughter in the death of Oscar Bartholomew, 39, of Toronto, Postmedia News reported.

Bartholomew, a Grenadian native who was back on the Caribbean island for the Christmas holidays with his wife Dolette, is alleged to have been beaten by police Monday and died a day later in a hospital.

Postmedia News said Bartholomew’s death certificate stated he died of increased intracranial pressure, subdural bleeding and trauma to the head with skull fractures. A second autopsy was to have been conducted Saturday, the family’s lawyer said.

The attack allegedly occurred when the couple stopped at the police station seeking to use the washroom. Bartholomew was reported to have mistaken a female police officer for an old family friend and picked her up in a hug before putting her down when he realized it wasn’t his friend.

It’s alleged other officers, who considered the incident an assault on an officer, then beat Bartholomew in the police station.

One of two alleged witnesses to the beating said in a written statement that five officers restrained Bartholomew’s hands and feet before assaulting him.

The other alleged witness was in police custody and was reluctant to recount what he saw, the family’s lawyer said.

Police were unavailable for comment Saturday, Postmedia News said.

Nigeria declares state of emergency

ABUJA, Nigeria, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Attacks by the militant Islamic sect Boko Haram prompted Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan to declare a state of emergency in parts of the country Saturday.

Jonathan said in a televised address the emergency declaration would be in force in parts of Yobe and Borno states in the northeast, Plateau state in central Nigeria and Niger state in the east, Voice of America reported.

Borders will be temporarily closed in those areas so the country can respond to security challenges as it tries to restore normalcy, Jonathan said.

“All Nigerians will collectively fight this terror,” Jonathan said. “We will crush [Boko Haram]. We know what happens in other countries. That is why I always say, ‘Yes, there has been a terrorist attack, but there is not a magic wand to wave it off’ because we know it has been happening in other countries.

“But collectively, we’ll bring it under control and finally crush it. We begin from tonight to take some different measures, different approach to fighting Boko Haram.”

The address came after Christmas Day attacks in northeastern Nigeria, including four that killed about 40 people, most of them Christians.

Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden,” has claimed responsibility for multiple bombings and shootings in the north and in the capital, Abuja.

The attacks have heightened concerns the militant group is attempting to incite sectarian strife.

The militant group seeks to impose Sharia law throughout Nigeria, Africa’s most-populous nation, divided between a largely Muslim north and a mainly Christian and animist south.

The Christian Association of Nigeria, an umbrella group of churches, said this week Christians would defend themselves if security forces could not protect its members, the BBC reported.

Islamic Jihad founder’s son said captured

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Ibrahim Fathi Shaqaqi, son of the late Palestinian Islamic Jihad founder Fathi Shaqaqi, was arrested by security forces in Syria, a relative alleged.

Ynetnews, in a report attributed to an unidentified Egyptian newspaper, said Shaqaqi, 20, was arrested at his home in the al-Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus.

A relative said security forces had detained his son without allowing family members to see him or providing information on his whereabouts or those of other Jihad operatives imprisoned in Syria.

It wasn’t reported when the younger Shaqaqi was taken into custody.

Though the Syrian government and the militant group have close ties, Syrian authorities denied the group’s request to release militants when the uprising against President Bashar Assad began in March.

The violent Syrian crackdown on protesters has continued despite the arrival of Arab League monitors. Al-Arabiya reported up to 43 people died in Friday’s violence, including five members of Syria’s security forces.

The elder Shaqaqi was shot dead in Malta Oct. 26, 1995.

Va. AG seeks to add names to GOP ballot

RICHMOND, Va., Dec. 31 (UPI) — Virginia’s attorney general is preparing emergency legislation to rectify the lack of candidates who were able to qualify for the state’s Republican primary.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said he is intervening in the GOP primary process because only two candidates, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, were able to secure the 10,000 signatures — with a minimum of 400 from each congressional district — to gain access to the March 6 primary, Fox News reported Saturday.

“Recent events have underscored that our system is deficient,” Cuccinelli said in a statement Saturday. “Virginia owes her citizens a better process. We can do it in time for the March primary if we resolve to do so quickly.”

Meanwhile, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich joined a lawsuit filed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry asking the Board of Elections for access to the ballot. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and former New Mexico Gov. Jon Huntsman also joined the suit.

Tucker Martin, a spokesman for Gov. Bob McDonnell, said: “Virginia’s laws regarding ballot access are well known and have been in place for many years. All candidates seeking to be listed on the Virginia primary ballot in a statewide race have known the requirements well in advance. … It is unfortunate that this year, for whatever reasons, some Republican candidates did not even attempt to make the Virginia ballot, while others fell short of submitting the required number of valid signatures.

“That leaves Virginia voters with only two Republican choices in the March primary, and the governor certainly would have preferred a broader field. He is always open to reviewing how Virginia’s primary system can be improved to provide voters with more choices.”

Two former Democratic attorneys general, a former Democratic state party chairman and a former Republican state party chairman have expressed support for Cuccinelli’s action, Fox News said.

“Virginia’s onerous and restrictive ballot access rules do create serious constitutional problems and undermine the rights of citizens and candidates,” the Perry campaign said.

Bomb kills 2 children, injures 13 people

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Dec. 31 (UPI) — A bomb blast in the tribal area of northwestern Pakistan Saturday killed two schoolchildren and injured 13 other people, 10 of them children, authorities said.

The blast occurred in the Landi Kotal area of Khyber province, which borders Pakistan, in the compound of a local tribal leader during a tribal council meeting, DawnNews reported.

The two children killed by the blast were passing the compound on their way too school.

The injured victims were admitted to the Khyber headquarters hospital.

Among those injured in the blast, during a council meeting on the auction of a local bus stop, were three tribal leaders, DawnNews said.

Police crack down on protest in Moscow

MOSCOW, Dec. 31 (UPI) — About 60 people were arrested Saturday evening during a protest in Moscow, Russian police said.

Police said about 200 demonstrators gathered in Triumfalnaya Square accompanied by 100 reporters, photographers and bloggers, RIA Novosti reported. They said anyone carrying a sign or talking to the news media was taken into custody.

One group lined up to show that letters in tape on their shirts spelled out the message “Freedom for Udaltsov,” in support of imprisoned activist Sergei Udaltsov. He was arrested Dec. 4, the day of parliamentary elections, and is now on hunger strike.

Eduard Limonov, a leader of the Other Russia movement and a writer who spent 14 days in custody after he was arrested in December 2010 at a demonstration, was among those arrested Saturday.

Police attempted to keep protesters out of the square by blocking streets with trucks and buses and setting up barricades to keep pedestrians out. They used a megaphone to urge protesters to celebrate New Year’s Eve.

“Please do not gather together. No action at this spot today has been sanctioned by the Moscow mayor’s office,” protesters were warned. “Go to the place where you will see in the new year. Happy New Year everyone!”

Child sex offenders given polygraph tests

HERTFORDSHIRE, England, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Britain is studying the use of lie-detector tests on child sex offenders to gauge if they warrant further investigation, officials said.

In a trial being run by Hertfordshire police, 25 sex offenders deemed to be low risk were asked to take the tests, The Independent reported Saturday.

Of the first 10 tested, police said six revealed behavior more serious than they were initially suspected of and were investigated in greater detail. Two others disclosed information they later refused to admit to in a formal interview.

Results of the tests are not admissible in court as evidence.

The trial is being overseen by Professor Don Grubin, a forensic psychology specialist at Newcastle University.

Report: Warren Jeffs, in prison, bans sex

SALT LAKE CITY, Dec. 31 (UPI) — A follower of Warren Jeffs said the polygamous church leader ordered his followers not to have sex while he is in a Texas prison.

The member said he was excommunicated by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for having sex with his wife, CNN reported. The man has asked that his name not be used.

Jeffs was sentenced to life plus 20 years in Texas for the aggravated sexual assault of two “spiritual wives,” one 12 and the other 15.

KSL-TV, a CNN affiliate in Salt Lake City, reported Jeffs has issued a series of edicts to his followers that include bans on ATVs and many children’s toys like bicycles and trampolines. Jeffs has communicated directly with his followers by telephone as well as through his brother, Lytle.

Texas officials are trying to determine if Jeffs has abused prison phone privileges.

DPJ defectors to start new party

TOKYO, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Lawmakers who left the Democratic Party of Japan are set to start a new party next week, officials said Saturday.

The nine Lower House members, led by Akira Uchiyama of Chiba prefecture, left the DPJ in protest over Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s plan to raise the consumption tax, Kyodo News reported.

The new party will be named Kizuna, meaning bonds or solidarity, said a source close to the party, and it will be registered with the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry Wednesday.

The source said they will be discussing general principles and platforms Tuesday.

The DPJ, meanwhile, approved Noda’s plan Thursday to double the consumption tax to 10 percent by 2015 to help cover growing social security costs.

Slain student’s family angry at police

MANCHESTER, England, Dec. 31 (UPI) — The family of an Indian student shot dead in Manchester say British authorities have not given them full information about the killing.

Anuj Bidve, 23, died in the early hours of Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. His family learned of his death from a Facebook post by one of his friends.

Rakesh Sonawane, Bidve’s brother-in-law, said the family has still not been told when his body can be returned to India for Hindu funeral rites and has not been given details about the medical treatment he received after the shooting.

“We still have a lot of faith in the U.K. authorities and the police, but they have to help us more,” Sonawane said. “They have to help us to believe again that Britain is not a racist place.”

Bidve, a graduate student in micro-electronics at Lancaster University, was from Pune, a city 80 miles southeast of Mumbai. He and some Indian friends from the university had come to Manchester for the holiday and were walking into the city center when Bidve was approached by two men.

Investigators are treating the shooting as a hate crime and have offered a $78,000 reward for information. Five people ranging in age from 16 to 20 were arrested, although the three youngest have been freed on bail.

Hijacked Italian crew ‘fine’

ROME, Dec. 31 (UPI) — The captain of an Italian ship hijacked off the coast of Somalia said the 18-member crew is “fine.”

“We are anchored off the Somali coast and the crew is fine,” Captain Agostino Musumeci said Friday.

The oil tanker, the Enrico Ievoli, was captured near the coast of Oman, Italy’s ANSA news Agency reported.

Last week, another Italian oil tanker, the Savina Caylyn, was freed after being hijacked by Somali pirates in February.

Officials estimate pirates in the region made $80 million from ransom money in 2010. Earlier this year, governments reached an agreement that they would no longer pay ransoms.

Wildfire forces Chilean park closure

SANTIAGO, Chile, Dec. 31 (UPI) — A massive forest fire has closed down Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, where 14,085 acres of land have burned, officials said.

“We are faced with a hugely complex situation, an extreme scenario, mainly due to topography, strong winds and highly combustible vegetation,” said Vicente Nunez, head of Chile’s Office of National Emergency.

Winds of up to 55 mph worsened the fire Friday, Sky News reported.

Argentina is assisting in extinguishing the fire and has deployed soldiers, four planes and a helicopter to the remote mountainous region.

The fire began late Tuesday and grew quickly due to dry conditions.

About 400 tourists were evacuated from Torres del Paine Thursday after the fire consumed 3,706 acres.

Arab League monitors express concern

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 31 (UPI) — Arab League monitors voiced their concern Saturday about Syrian snipers shooting at protesters from rooftops.

“We saw them with our own eyes. We call on the authorities to remove them immediately,” said one Arab League observer. “We will contact the Arab League immediately and if they do not comply within 24 hours, there will be other measures.”

Other demonstrators said troops opened fire on them to disperse a protest of 70,000 in Damascus, The Sun reported.

Despite the presence of observers, demonstrators said security forces killed at least 35 people Friday during the mass protests across the country.

The Local Co-ordination Committees, a network of anti-government groups inside Syria, said at least three people were killed Saturday by security forces.

Ga. requires secure ID for state benefits

ATLANTA, Dec. 31 (UPI) — With the dawn of 2012, those applying for a wide range of benefits in Georgia will need secure identification to prove they are legal residents.

Employers and officials are worried about fallout from the state’s strict new immigration law, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Secretary of State Brian Kemp warned applicants for professional licenses may face months of delay.

Judy Paull, chief nursing officer at the Medical Center for Central Georgia in Macon, said some of the 1,700 nurses there might be unable to work if their licenses are not renewed by Jan. 31. She said others could be forced to work overtime to cover for them.

“This is a very serious and worrisome situation,” Paull said. “So the best I can do is be constantly reminding people and checking to see how many of our nurses have already renewed and are current on their licensure.”

Applicants for energy assistance, unemployment insurance and business loans must also present identification.

Iran to launch missiles in Gulf

TEHRAN, Dec. 31 (UPI) — The Iranian navy plans to test-fire surface-to-air missiles during the final days of military exercises in the Gulf of Oman, a navy official said Saturday.

Seyed Mahmoud Moussavi, deputy commander of the Iranian navy, said it would be the first time such a missile is launched from an Iranian vessel, Fars News Agency reported.

Iran started its 10-day naval war games last weekend in an area stretching from the East of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden.

Other Iranian officials have denied test-firing missiles in the Gulf, the BBC reported.

The launching of various long- and short-range surface-to-sea, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles was set to commence Saturday, PRESSTV reported.

Iran said the drills are a defensive measure but are meant to convey a message of peace and friendship to other countries in the region.

Group says Syria has not freed prisoners

DAMASCUS, Syria, Dec. 31 (UPI) — The Syrian government’s promise to free 700 political prisoners was only a delay tactic, a human-rights group says.

Will Davies, a spokesman for Avaaz.org, said the group has received information that only 13 people have been released, The Daily Telegraph reported. Avaaz communicates with activists inside Syria.

“Making this promise to release more than 700 is another case of regime stalling tactics as the regime plays for time and tries to placate the Arab League,” Davies said.

Syria agreed to a number of steps recommended by the Arab League in a plan to end the violence there. They also included withdrawing security forces from a number of cities that are centers of opposition to the government of President Bashar Assad.

The United Nations estimates 5,000 people have died, most of them dissidents killed by security forces, since large protests began in Syria.