Iranian divers neutralize mines

TEHRAN, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Navy scuba divers in Iran detected and neutralized mines on the seventh day of Iran’s naval drills, a commander said.

The exercises began Dec. 24 in an area from the east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf to the Gulf of Aden, PRESSTV reported.

Alireza Majd, head of Iran’s Navy diving unit, said Friday the Iranian scuba divers can perform martial and back-up operations at depths of more than 650 feet below the surface.

34 killed in Thailand holiday crashes

BANGKOK, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Thirty-four people died and 501 were injured in crashes on roadways the first day of Thailand’s seven-day New Year holiday, officials said Friday.

Authorities reported a total of 427 collisions Thursday, up about 8.6 percent from the 393 reported the first travel day of the holiday last year, the Thai News Agency reported.

The number of deaths increased from 34 a year ago, while injuries rose about 18 percent, from 425.

Deputy Interior Minister Thanit Thienthong said at a news conference the major causes of crashes were driving under the influence of alcohol and speeding.

Gingrich teary about mom’s mental health

DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 30 (UPI) — GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich said he has a hard time with personal issues and teared up at an Iowa town-hall meeting over his mother’s mental health.

The former U.S. House speaker was asked at the meeting in Des Moines — sponsored by CafeMom, a social networking Web site for mothers and those planning to become mothers — about how his mother affected him, The Hill reported Friday.

“You’ll get me all teary-eyed — (his wife) Callista will tell you, I get teary-eyed every time we sing Christmas carols. My mother sang in the choir and loved singing in the choir,” Gingrich said.

The audience cheered for Gingrich as he fought back tears while speaking about his mother, the newspaper said.

“I do policy much easier than I do personal,” Gingrich joked.

“But I identify my mother with being happy, loving life, having a sense of joy in her friends, but what she introduced me to, is late in her life she ended up in a long-term-care facility. She had bipolar disease, and depression, and she gradually acquired some physical ailments, and that introduced me to the issue of long-term care, which I did with [Former Nebraska Sen.] Bob Kerrey for three years, and that introduced me to the issue of Alzheimer’s, which I did with Bob Kerrey for three more years, and my whole emphasis on brain science comes indirectly from dealing with the real problems of real people in my family,” Gingrich said.

Romney: Obama a ‘pessimistic’ president

DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, in recent campaign rallies and ads, calls U.S. President Barack Obama “pessimistic.”

“We still believe in an America that brings out the best in all of us, that challenges each of us to be better and bigger than ourselves,” Romney says in a television ad to be aired in New Hampshire and Boston. “It’s time for this pessimistic president to step aside and let American optimism that built this greatest nation on Earth build a greater future for our children.”

The ad is part of Romney’s strategy to air only positive messages from his official campaign about everyone except Obama, The Hill reported Friday. His super-PAC, Restore Our Future, though, has spent millions of dollars on ads attacking his GOP opponents.

In a rally Friday in West Des Moines, Iowa, Romney supporter, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, said Obama failed to follow through on the promises he made three years ago in similar campaign rallies, The Washington Post reported.

“President Barack Obama came out to Iowa three years ago and he talked to you about hope and change,” Christie said. “Well, let me tell ya. After three years of Obama, we are hopeless and changeless and we need Mitt Romney to bring us back, to bring America back.”

Fox apologizes for ‘Who killed Jesus’ poll

NEW YORK, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Fox Latin America says it has pulled and apologized for an online poll that asked who was responsible for Jesus’ death and included Jews as a possible answer.

The poll was posted on a Facebook page for National Geographic Cable TV in Latin America as part of a promotional campaign for a Christmas special on the channel, CNN reported.

“Christmas Special is coming to Nat Geo … Who do you think responsible for the death of Jesus?” the Spanish-language poll asked.

The multiple-choice possible answers were “Pontius Pilate; The Jewish People; the High Priests.”

The National Geographic Channel in Latin America had removed the poll and apologized for it Wednesday, the Simon Wiesenthal Center — a Jewish human rights organization headquartered in Los Angeles — announced.

“We sincerely apologize for the publication of a poll on our Web site that might have unintentionally given place to interpretations, opinions or expressions of intolerance that might affect the Jewish community,” Guadalupe Lucero, Fox Latin America’s vice president for corporate communications and PR, said in a statement.

The National Geographic Channel in Latin America is a member of Fox International Channels, part of News Corp.

Egypt says it will halt raids on NGOs

CAIRO, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Egyptian authorities say they’ve agreed to return all equipment and documents seized during a series of raids this week on non-governmental organizations.

Egypt’s military government told U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson it would end the raids on NGOs, CNN reported Friday.

Egyptian police raided the offices of 10 non-governmental organizations across the country Thursday, offering no clear explanation for the actions.

Police seized laptops and desktop computers, video conferencing equipment, cellphones and 15 to 20 boxes of documents in a raid on the offices of the National Democratic Institute.

“We asked them if there was something specific we could help them find,” Julie Hughes, Egypt country director for NDI, told CNN. “They refused to answer.”

Adel Saeed, spokesman for the Egyptian general prosecutor’s office, said the raids were in support of an investigation into allegations that NGOs may have received illegal foreign funding and have been operating without licenses from the Foreign Ministry.

The explanation did not satisfy leaders of organizations based in the United States, CNN said.

“I don’t know that we fully understand what is behind this,” Hughes said.

Calif. kayaker missing after calling 911

MALIBU, Calif., Dec. 30 (UPI) — Authorities were searching for a kayaker off the Malibu, Calif., coastline after he called 911 complaining of chest pains.

The man, whose name was not released, called the Malibu Lost Hills Sheriff’s Department at 3 p.m. Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

A Los Angeles County Fire Department lifeguard boat found an empty kayak and a life vest about 2 miles offshore about 30 minutes after the call. The missing man’s car was found parked in a nearby parking lot.

The lifeguard boat and the U.S. Coast Guard searched the waters, but have been unable to find the man.

Sarkozy to honor Joan of Arc’s birthday

PARIS, Dec. 30 (UPI) — French President Nicolas Sarkozy has planned a trip to eastern France to observe what is thought to be the 600th birthday of national heroine Joan of Arc.

Sarkozy will spend about 20 minutes next week in Domremy, the village said to have been the birthplace of Joan of Arc, Radio France Internationale reported Friday. He will unveil a plaque in the home where she is thought to have been born.

Sarkozy will also visit Vaucouleurs, the town where Joan of Arc began her campaign to push the English out of France and put Charles VII on the throne.

There, along with Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand and Defense Minister Gerard Longuet, Sarkozy will visit a museum dedicated to the heroine.

A roundtable with historians will follow the museum visit, though a majority of experts do not agree Joan of Arc was born in the house Sarkozy plans to visit in Domremy.

Obama, Gingrich agree on boosting research

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — President Barack Obama and GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich agree research to improve health is part of the solution to rising healthcare costs.

Research!America, non-profit group working to make research a higher national priority, said Obama, a

Democrat, and Gingrich, running for the Republican nomination, have both returned questionnaires. All

presidential candidates were invited to participate.

Both Obama and Gingrich agree boosting investment in medical research creates jobs that benefit a wide variety of industries.

However, their positions on embryonic stem cell research differ.

“For too long, patients and families have suffered from debilitating, incurable diseases and we know that stem cell research offers hope to millions of Americans across the country. I am committed to supporting responsible stem cell research now, and in the future,” Obama said in his response to the questionnaire.

“I strongly support adult stem cell research,” Gingrich said in his questionnaire. “I will oppose at every turn any process of destroying embryos.”

In the area of global competitiveness, Gingrich said: “Considering today’s American tax and regulatory systems, it is increasingly likely that the full implementation of the new (scientific) knowledge will first occur outside the United States and be imported by us. This will be tragic for Americans.”

“To compete for the jobs and industries of our time, we have to make America the best place on earth to do

business and out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world,” Obama said. “I have called for a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race.”

Moore pleads guilty in Colorado bomb scare

DENVER, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Earl Albert Moore pleaded guilty in Denver federal court Friday to a charge of arson in the April 20 bomb scare at the Southwest Plaza Mall in Littleton, Colo.

Moore, 65, is scheduled to be sentenced in March to at least 30 years in prison for the bomb scare that came on the 12th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, The Denver Post reported.

“I didn’t have any intention of hurting anybody,” Moore said in court. “I really don’t have an explanation.”

Moore placed an explosive device in the mall one week after he was released from prison on a bank robbery conviction, the Post said. The device failed to detonate.

Egypt asks U.S. to freeze Mubarak assets

CAIRO, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Egypt has asked the United States to freeze assets of about 100 officials connected to the ousted regime on charges of corruption, profiteering and power abuse.

“Our embassy in Washington has received several requests concerning from the Egyptian judicial authorities asking for support and assistance from legal services of the United States to freeze any assets which belong to Mubarak, his family and some of the symbols of the former regime,” said Sameh Shoukri, Egypt’s ambassador to the United States.

A decision to freeze assets of deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s family and his associates was issued Oct. 16 by Egypt’s Illicit Gains Authority, Ahram Online and Middle East News Agency reported Friday.

The decision came after Switzerland revealed Mubarak’s two sons hid $340 million in Swiss banks.

Mass. has first rabies case in 75 years

BOSTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Health officials in Massachusetts say they’ve confirmed the state’s first human case of rabies in 75 years, and a man is hospitalized in critical condition.

Authorities said the infection was confirmed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a Barnstable County man who was likely infected by a bat in his home, The Boston Globe reported Thursday.

It’s the sixth case this year in the United States but the first in Massachusetts since 1935, the newspaper said.

Public Health Commissioner John Auerbach said there is no reason to believe there are any more rabid animals in the state than in recent years.

“This is not a reason for people to panic,” he said. “There is no elevated risk here.”

Rabies is a disease that attacks the central nervous system and can be fatal.

Fukushima hospitals face financial crisis

FUKUSHIMA, Japan, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Hospitals in Japan’s Fukushima prefecture have reported financial stain in the wake of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant disaster.

The prefecture’s hospital association, to which 90 percent of its hospitals belong, estimated the hospitals’ combined losses would reach at least $164 million for the first year after the nuclear crisis in March, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported Thursday.

The hospitals demanded Tepco pay compensation for the first six months following the disaster. They received about 70 percent of their request, though retirement bonuses for doctors and other expenses, such as the cost of medicine, where not covered.

Due to financial shortfalls, hospitals have been forced to reduce staff and cut services.

“Many of the hospitals had to limit the number of inpatients they accept due to the declining number of medical staff,” said Kazuhira Maehara, head of the prefecture’s hospital association. “Compensation payments didn’t start until nine months after the accident. Unless something is done, it will be a long time before hospitals [in the prefecture] can resume operation.”

Onoda Hospital in Minami-Soma reported the number of doctors dropped from eight to six, while the number of nurses working in the hospital decreased from 80 to 46.

The hospital also said it was forced to close its inpatient wards, which reduced its revenues to one-third of pre-crisis levels, Yomiuri said.

“We don’t know how long we’ll be able to continue operating under the current circumstances,” a hospital administrator said.

Lack of snow hitting ski resort businesses

MAMMOTH LAKES, Calif., Dec. 30 (UPI) — An unseasonably warm and dry December in Northern California has ski resort operators worried about a lack of snow, but they say they’re staying optimistic.

While last year’s snowfall brought huge totals — 65 feet fell on the mountains around Lake Tahoe resorts, well above the typical 50 feet — the snow so far this year is being measured in inches, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday.

It’s had an impact on the holiday season business, ski resorts say.

“It’s certainly having an effect on us now,” Joani Lynch, a spokeswoman for Mammoth Mountain, said.

The resort, which had so much snow last year it stayed open until July 5, has had just 2 inches of snow in December.

“Visitor numbers are down 18 percent behind last year,” Lynch said.

Many of the mountainsides in Mammoth are brown, and only 46 of 150 available ski trails are open.

The problem is not just in California, as ski resorts across the country are struggling with a lack of snow and falling business, in contrast to last year when resorts had record snowfalls and attendance.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said 47.5 percent of the continental United States was covered in snow this time last year, about double the coverage this year, USA Today reported.

Still, ski operators say they remain optimistic the rest of the winter will bring plenty of snow — and plenty of ski buffs.

Ill. fuel spill no threat to water supply

AURORA, Ill., Dec. 30 (UPI) — Aurora, Ill., officials said the leak of nearly 1,500 gallons of diesel fuel at a Federal Aviation Administration facility poses no threat to the water supply.

Several departments from Aurora, a suburb of Chicago, as well as the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency were working with a hazardous materials firm to clean the spill, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.

The spill occurred Wednesday morning.

FAA officials told the city the fuel spilled into a city storm sewer that discharges into the Fox River.

Skier dies after Canada avalanche injury

PEMBERTON, British Columbia, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A backcountry skier died after being injured in an avalanche and trapped in the mountains overnight near Pemberton, British Columbia, officials said.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Sgt. Peter Thiessen confirmed the skier was dead when rescue teams reached him early Friday, CBC News reported.

“I don’t have a lot of detail at the moment, but I can confirm that unfortunately the avalanche has taken one life, the life of an adult male, but beyond that I can’t provide too much information,” Thiessen said.

The skier was injured when an avalanche swept through a group of four skiers Thursday afternoon.

The group was skiing through the backcountry, despite high avalanche warnings in place for alpine areas in recent days.

CBC News reported the injured skier was not buried but was unable to move. He waited on the mountain with another skier while the other two skied to get help.

Two aircraft from the Canadian Forces Base Comox were dispatched to rescue the remaining skiers but had to turn back because of poor weather conditions Thursday night, said John Millman of the Canadian Forces Joint Rescue Co-ordination Centre Victoria.

The RCMP then organized a ground search-and-rescue team, but darkness and weather hampered their efforts.

The rescue team located the injured skier and his companion about 7 miles from the nearest road.

Late-term abortions bring murder charges

ELKTON, Md., Dec. 30 (UPI) — Two doctors have been charged with murder in Maryland in connection with late-term abortions, police said.

Steven Brigham, 55, of Voorhees, N.J., faces five counts each of first-degree murder, five of second-degree murder and one of conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, police in Elkton, Md., told the Cecil Whig newspaper .

Nicola Riley, 46, of Salt Lake City, has been charged with one count each of first-degree murder, second-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder.

Brigham was being held in Camden County Jail in New Jersey, Riley, in Salt Lake City Jail. Both were arrested Wednesday night and were awaiting extradition hearings, the Whig said.

Police said they began investigating in August 2010 after Riley took a woman to an Elkton hospital because of a “complication resulting from a medical procedure.” Investigators determined the woman had driven from New Jersey to Maryland for an abortion.

The woman was transferred from Union Hospital in Elkton to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore for additional treatment of complications from a botched abortion, the Whig said.

Riley was charged as a result of the woman’s aborted fetus, police said. Brigham faces charges as a result of that aborted fetus and four other illegal abortions he allegedly performed at the Elkton clinic, police said.

Elkton police said they found several fetuses in a freezer at the clinic, CNN reported.

Tom Brown, an attorney representing Brigham, said his client hadn’t violated any Maryland laws.

Sharon Krevor-Weisbaum, an attorney representing Riley, said the criminal charges were “without merit.”

Under Maryland law, a fetus is considered viable if medical experts believe it is able to sustain life on its own outside the womb.

Dredging blamed in Australia fish kills

GLADSTONE, Australia, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Fishermen in Australia say a giant dredging operation in a Queensland harbor is responsible for killing fish and other marine life.

Work is under way to dredge 46 million tons of sediment from Gladstone Harbor as part of a $30 billion project to export coal-seam gas to Asia.

A sharp rise in dead fish and crustaceans in Gladstone since dredging work began to allow liquid natural gas carriers to access the harbor has caused widespread anger and protests, The Australian reported Friday.

But the Gladstone Ports Corp., which is conducting the dredging, insists the operation is not responsible for the fish disease and deaths, which it says started before dredging commenced.

A scientific review is due in two weeks, and Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Development director general Jim Reeves said if the dredging were found to be responsible, “we will have to deal with that.”

“We may have to adapt or modify the dredging practices,” Reeves said. “We are not interested in dredging at all costs.”

Gladstone Harbor is within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area designated by the United Nations.

Gladstone Ports Corp. Chairman Ian Brusasco has written to members of Parliament asking them to consider redrawing the World Heritage area boundary to exclude the harbor.

Larissa Waters of the Greens Party said the Ports Corp. request was an admission that “their massive dredging program is an environmental disaster that does not belong in a World Heritage area.”

“It’s the mass dredging that should be stopped, not the World Heritage listing,” she said.

Car Trashed In Futile Search For Drugs

POMPTON LAKES, N.J., Dec. 30 (UPI) — A New Jersey man whose car was impounded by police who suspected drugs were hidden inside said officers did $12,636.42 worth of damage.

Darren Richardson, 28, of Wanaque, said police called in a sniffer dog when he was pulled over by Pompton Lakes officers Sept. 23 and an officer claimed to detect a strong scent of marijuana, The (Newark, N.J.) Star-Ledger reported Thursday.

Richardson, who was charged with disorderly conduct after arguing with the officers, said the 2004 BMW 325i was impounded and he received it back three weeks later to find the car had been destroyed by the search for drugs. Police said no marijuana was found.

Geico, Richardson’s insurance company, estimated the damage at $12,636.42 and declared the car a “total loss.”

The Pompton Lakes Police Department said an internal affairs investigation has been opened into the incident.

Richardson has filed a notice of claim against the department alleging false arrest and malicious prosecution. He said Geico may sue the department to recoup the cost of his claim, which has been paid.

Montreal Nixes Topless Breakfast Servers

MONTREAL, Dec. 30 (UPI) — After 11 years of serving breakfast by topless waitresses in see-through skirts, a restaurant has been ordered by the city of Montreal to require clothing.

The owner of the Restaurant Les Princesses d’Hochelaga, Raynald Morissette, told CTV News he has spent some $200,000 in legal fees since 2004 fighting the city order, but has decided to have the waitresses wear miniskirts and small vests instead.

The city originally argued the restaurant wasn’t in an area zoned to “exhibit eroticism,” The (Montreal) Gazette reported.

In the midst of the legal zoning wrangling, the restaurant’s liquor license was revoked in 2008 for serving alcohol without food, although it was restored this year, CTV said.

One waitress who asked not to be identified told the broadcaster since having to cover up, business and tips have fallen off.

“Before, when it was topless service, we made more money because there were more customers, especially tourists,” she said.

Kahne Apologizes For Breastfeeding Tweets

MOORESVILLE, N.C., Dec. 30 (UPI) — NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne has apologized for Twitter postings in which he criticized a mother for breastfeeding a baby at a North Carolina grocery store.

The (Norfolk, Va.) Virginian-Pilot reported Thursday Kahne, who lives in Mooresville, N.C., deleted some of the comments for which he had been criticized and apologized on Facebook.

“I understand that my comments regarding breastfeeding posted on Twitter were offensive to some people,” he said. “For that, I apologize. It was in no way my intention to offend any mother who chooses to breastfeed her child, or, for that matter, anyone who supports breastfeeding children.”

He said reading Twitter followers’ “feedback” gave him a “better understanding of why my posts upset some of you.”

Kahne, 31, said his posts were “just a reaction to the location of that choice [to breastfeed], and the fashion in which it was executed on that occasion,” but added, “I respect the mother’s right to feed her child whenever and wherever she pleases.”

Kahne was shopping Tuesday at a grocery store when he spotted the woman breastfeeding and said on Twitter: “Just walking through supermarket. See a mom breastfeeding little kid. Took second look because I was obviously seeing things. I wasn’t!”

He then said on Twitter, “I don’t feel like shopping anymore or eating.”

Fox Sports reported somebody responded on Twitter, “I hope someday you have a kid and someone tells your wife that feeding your child looks nasty.”

His response included an expletive, Fox Sports said.

Man Writes Songs Day After Day After Day

ST. PAUL, Minn., Dec. 30 (UPI) — Forgive Terry Eason of St. Paul, Minn., if he skips singing “Auld Lang Syne” Saturday; if all goes as planned, he will have written a year’s worth of songs.

Eason began his New Year’s resolution on, well, Jan. 1, 2011, and after experiencing an “aha” moment attending the “Make Something Cool Everyday” exhibit in Minneapolis, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported Friday.

“I don’t want it to be perceived as some kind of ego trip,” Eason said. “I see it more as a personal exercise.”

After writing and recording a new song every day in 2011, Eason posted his daily efforts online.

Topics were of-the-moment, such as having a root canal or waiting for a locksmith, the Pioneer Press said.

“There’s some really poppy, melodic songs, some atmospheric and weird ones, some electronic ones,” he said. “Either for good or bad, I think there’s some pretty cool stuff that came out of this that wouldn’t have come out otherwise.”

As for the first day of 2012, Eason said he and his daughter will go to the Minnesota Vikings game and he won’t be memorializing the outing in lyrics.

Display iPhone Swears At 12-Year-Old

COVENTRY, England, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A British mother said she was shocked when an iPhone 4S at a Tesco store told her 12-year-old son to “shut up” with a four-letter profanity.

Kim Le Quesne said her son was testing out the phone’s Siri system, which answers spoken questions, at the Tesco store in Coventry, England, and it gave him the obscene answer when he asked it to tell him the number of people in the world, The Sun reported Friday.

“The phone was a demo version and was low enough on the shelf for Charlie to have a go with it. He asked it a simple question and we couldn’t believe the filth it came out with,” the mother said. “I thought I must be hearing things. So we asked again and the same four-letter stuff blared out. I asked for the manager and after staff heard it they agreed to unplug it.”

Workers at the store said pranksters had tampered with the set-up instructions for the device.

“We have launched an investigation. The handset will be going back to Apple for diagnostic tests,” the store said in a statement.