Crews try to stop spread of Pa. sinkhole

ALLENTOWN, Pa., Dec. 30 (UPI) — Construction workers in Allentown, Pa., Friday were trying to stop the spread of a huge sinkhole that led to evacuations of some 25 residents, officials said.

Some of those evacuated Thursday were allowed to return to their homes to retrieve belongings but city inspectors were still assessing whether other homes were structurally sound as the sinkhole stretched as wide as a road, leaving some sidewalks suspended in the air, The (Allentown) Morning Call reported.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski said it remained uncertain whether a water main break or a water leak caused the sinkhole.

“It could have been there for decades. How it happened, no one knows,” Pawlowski said.

The mayor said the sinkhole continued to threaten Union and West End Cemetery, but many of the markers in the threatened section had been moved from another cemetery and do not mark the actual grave sites.

City workers were to excavate the sinkhole and fill it with a wet mixture and soil, then repair the street with steel reinforcing rods, the Morning Call said.

Dwayne Glover, the first resident to alert emergency officials, said he had walked into his basement Thursday to try to figure out why his water pressure had dropped. When he walked through a puddle to turn off a water valve, he said, he stepped through the concrete floor.

“It just gave way,” Glover said. “We want to know why those pipes busted and how is it that nobody knew of a problem like this.”

Hamas denies plans to stop attacks

JERUSALEM, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Palestinian Hamas leaders denied a report that exiled leader Khaled Mashaal ordered the party’s armed wing to stop attacks against Israel.

Spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said the report published in Haaretz was “trivial” and undeserving of a response, the Jerusalem Post reported Friday.

The Haaretz report said Mashaal had issued the order based on an understanding reached with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during talks in Cairo.

Barhoum said Palestinians will maintain their right to armed resistance against Israel, the Jerusalem Post said.

Interpol chief: EU must step up security

LYON, France, Dec. 30 (UPI) — The head of the international police agency Interpol urged European countries to check visitors’ passports against its database of stolen documents.

In an interview reported Friday in The Independent, Interpol Secretary-General Ronald Noble said only a few countries in the European Union take advantage of its database of 15 million suspicious passports.

Once travelers are admitted to an EU country, the Schengen Agreement allows them to travel freely through most of Europe.

“If we all say that we are going to trust one another to screen and control people coming through our borders then we should all have the same standard,” Noble said.

Noble pointed out one of the people involved in the 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center in New York had entered the United States using a stolen Iraqi passport.

“The lesson that should have been learnt … is that people carrying stolen travel documents, if they are not stopped, can enter your country and mastermind a horrible attack,” Noble said.

While a European Commission official said the Schengen Agreement provides for a database of dubious passports, Noble said Interpol’s is far more comprehensive because 131 countries contribute to it.

1 killed, 3 injured in Thailand attacks

RAMAN, Thailand, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Three separate attacks in southern Thailand Friday caused one death and three injuries, police say.

Defense volunteer Kasaman Sadeemae, 23, was shot in front of his home in the Raman district of Yala province early Friday as he waited for a colleague to pick him up for duty, the Bangkok Post reported.

The gunman, riding on a motorcycle, fled the scene.

Sadeemae was taken to a hospital where he was pronounced dead, police said.

Later, a remote-controlled bomb was triggered also in Raman, just before two motorcycles and a truck carrying eight soldiers passed over it, police said.

One of the soldiers was slightly injured by the blast.

In the Yarang district of Pattani province Friday morning, two soldiers providing security for teachers were injured in a roadside explosion in front of the Thai Rath Witthaya 52 school, said the Bangkok Post.

Police blame southern insurgents for all three attacks.

Swedish drivers hitting elk, reindeer

STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A rash of accidents in northern Sweden saw motorists crashing into at least 20 elk, deer and reindeer in a three-day period, authorities said.

Police in Vasterbotton County said they received reports of at least eight collisions between cars and wild animals on Thursday, The Local reported.

Six of the crashes involved elk, one was with a roe deer and another reported accident was a collision with a reindeer, they said.

No motorists were injured in the incidents. There was no information on the conditions of the animals, authorities said.

“It’s mostly reindeer and elk that are being hit,” police spokeswoman Ebbe Nyberg said. “In all the accidents, the people involved have been lucky and escaped without injury.”

Nyberg attributed the rash of incidents to heavy snowfall in the region.

“They’re out on the roads. It’s hard, people need to drive very carefully in order to avoid them,” she said.

London subway drivers call off strike

LONDON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Drivers for the London Underground say they’ve called off plans for more strikes, citing progress in talks with management on Boxing Day pay.

Their strike on Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, caused disruption to the network on a day when traditional Boxing Day sales began and even forced the Arsenal football club to postpone a home match because of transport problems faced by fans, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

Tube — or subway — drivers had said they would walk out again on Jan. 16, Feb. 3 and Feb. 13 in a long-running contract dispute over bonus payments and whether the Boxing Day shift should be covered by volunteers.

The drivers, who earn $70,000 a year, were demanding triple pay and a day off for working on Boxing Day, a package worth $567.

The ASLEF union, which represents more than half the drivers on the network, said it had called off the scheduled strikes after “meaningful” talks with management.

Further negotiations are set for next week.

“I welcome the constructive approach taken by the leadership of ASLEF at our discussions,” Howard Collins, London Underground’s chief operating officer, said.

Vegas expects record New Year’s Eve crowd

LAS VEGAS, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Las Vegas is expecting a record 314,000 out-of-town guests for New Year’s Eve parties this year, officials said.

The night will bring the number of visitors to the city to 39 million in 2011, closely rivaling the 39.2 million during 2007, USA Today reported Thursday.

“While the recovery has been gradual and spending has taken longer to recover, visitor volume has been strong,” said Kevin Bagger, senior director of marketing for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

The city expects to fill 98 percent of its 150,189 hotel rooms on New Year’s Eve, which is a 0.4 percent increase from last year.

Bagger said average hotel rates have risen steadily over the past 20 months, despite a 1.2 percent boost in the number of rooms.

Rooms at the Bellagio that went for $659 to $799 on New Year’s Eve 2010 are going for $1,199 to $1,998 this year, said Yvette Monet, a spokeswoman for the Bellagio’s parent company, MGM Resorts International.

“Based on current booking trends, this New Year’s weekend is anticipated to be one of the best in quite some time on the Las Vegas Strip,” says Monet. “At some MGM Resorts properties [which include the ARIA Resort & Casino, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand and The Mirage] it could be one of the best of all time, in terms of visitor volumes and room rates.”

“If any holiday is made for Las Vegas it’s New Year’s Eve, and it’s working in their favor that it falls on a Saturday night this year,” says San Francisco-based travel analyst Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of Atmosphere Research Group.

FEC debuts mobile device application

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — The Federal Election Commission Friday released mobile Web applications it says will allow easier access to U.S. campaign finance data and FEC activities.

The beta release is meant to run on devices using iPhone platforms, the FEC said in a release, adding many of the features also will run on other platforms.

Full versions for other mobile devices will be released later.

“By optimizing our data for mobile devices, we are making it possible to access the wealth of information available through our Web site in a more convenient manner,” FEC Chairwoman Cynthia Bauerly said.

The series released Friday at www.fec.gov/mobile/ includes:

— Presidential candidate summary information that allows drilling down for details such as receipts, disbursements and cash on hand.

— A calendar of FEC meetings, reporting deadlines, conferences, advisory opinions and litigation.

— Links to audio files of recent hearings.

— The FEC channel on YouTube with instructional videos on campaign finance law and practices; and

— A Twitter feed with FEC updates.

Occupy promises orderly protest at Rose Parade

PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 30 (UPI) — Occupy activists promise an orderly protest during Monday’s Rose Parade in Pasadena, Calif.

Their plan is to follow the parade along the same route with their own floats, the Los Angeles Times reported. It will feature an octopus made of recycled plastic bags.

The 70-by-40-foot creature represents Wall Street’s tentacles “that reach into your pocket to get your money and a tentacle to get your house,” Mark Lipman said. The group is also preparing two copies of the Constitution, one headed “We the People” and the other “We the Corporations.”

“This is the real Rose Parade, and the other is the Rose Charade,” Pete Thottam told the Times.

The parade and the Rose Bowl football game are being held Jan. 2 this year because New Year’s Day is a Sunday.

Occupy activists expect more than 1,000 people to participate in their events.

Tournament of Roses organizers anticipate an audience for their parade of about 700,000 people along the parade route and millions more watching on TV.

The Occupy group says it is working with local police and the Tournament of Roses to ensure all events go smoothly.

“Our goal is to put Occupy’s best foot forward,” Thottam said. “We recognize that this is a historic, iconic event geared toward middle America and the family.”

Demand for bison meat spurs ranchers

DENVER, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A growing consumer demand for bison meat has U.S. ranchers in the West scrambling to rebuild their thinned herds after years of decline.

Demand is outstripping supply, driving prices up and pushing the bison industry to catch up, The Denver Post reported Friday.

“Five years ago, I spent 90 percent of my time trying to get people to eat bison,” Dave Carter, executive director of the National Bison Association, said.

“Now, I spend 90 percent of my time getting people to raise bison.”

The industry surged in the 1990s when it appeared that meat from bison — also known as buffalo — would be a popular consumer choice. But interest was slow to develop, prices crashed, and many ranchers fled the industry.

But now bison meat finally has reached its anticipated popularity, Carter said.

“The message we’ve put out has really resonated,” he said. “It’s a lean and healthy food, and it tastes great. People have taken that first taste, and now they’re looking for more.”

Colorado ranks fourth in the nation in the number of bison behind South Dakota, Nebraska and North Dakota, the Post reported.

Cyclone Thane kills 33 in India

CHENNAI, India, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Cyclone Thane, packing wind gusts up to 87 mph and heavy rains, struck the southeastern coast of India Friday, killing at least 33 people, officials said.

The cyclone hit north coastal Tamil Nadu and the neighboring Union Territory of Puducherry between 6:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., the Hindustan Times reported.

Cuddalore, where 21 people were killed, was hardest hit, while seven others died in Puducherry. Two people also died in Villupuram, two in Tiruvallur and one in Chennai.

“There could be some more deaths,” said Marri Shashidhar Reddy, vice chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority.

The authority sent eight teams to affected areas.

Thane crossed the coast between Cuddalore and Puducherry, bringing torrential rains and gale winds that uprooted hundreds of trees and took down utility poles, disrupting power, The Times of India said.

The cyclone also disrupted air and rail service.

Venezuela tanker fire claims 13 lives

CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Thirteen people are dead and 16 are injured after a tanker overturned on a Venezuelan highway, engulfing a bus and other vehicles in flames, officials said.

The flames spread for three-quarters of a mile down the stretch of Pan-American Highway linking Caracas with nearby Los Tegues. It took firefighters more than an hour to put out the fire, the BBC reported Friday.

Police said a river of fuel spilled from the gasoline tanker when it flipped over, apparently after the driver lost control of the vehicle.

President Hugo Chavez tweeted his condolences.

“I send my prayers to the victims of the accident on the Pan-American Highway. To their families my feelings of sadness and all necessary support,” he wrote on Twitter, the BBC said.

Wild wolf in Calif. is first in a century

SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Wildlife experts say a lone gray wolf that crossed the border into California from Oregon became the first known wild wolf in the state in almost a century.

The 2-1/2-year-old male wolf was tracked Thursday using a GPS collar as it crossed the Oregon border into California’s Siskiyou County, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Environmentalists said they were pleased to see the endangered species back in California, a sentiment not shared by Northern California ranchers worried that recolonization could endanger their livestock.

“Whether one is for it or against it, the entry of this lone wolf into California is a historic event and the result of much work by the wildlife agencies in the West,” Charlton H. Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Game, said. “If the gray wolf does establish a population in California, there will be much more work to do here.”

There’s no guarantee the lone wolf will remain in California, experts said.

He’ll have to wait a long time before a female wolf also discovers the Golden State, they said.

“He’s looking for a pack or other mates,” Mike Fris with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Southwest region said. “If he stays in California, that most likely won’t be fruitful for him.”

Agent Orange probe in S. Korea finished

SEOUL, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A U.S.-South Korean team said it found no evidence of Agent Orange during its probe of claims the toxic defoliant was buried on a U.S. facility in South Korea.

Army Col. Joseph F. Birchmeier, the lead U.S. investigator, said the investigation found no evidence Agent Orange was buried on Camp Carroll and discovered no risk to public health on the Army post, the Pentagon said Friday in a release.

“I want you to know that we have found no definitive evidence that Agent Orange was buried or stored on Camp Carroll,” Birchmeier said during a joint news conference with Gon Ok, a biomedical professor at Pokyong National University in Busan, South Korea.

The investigation began in May following a report by a Phoenix television station during which U.S. veterans claimed they buried Agent Orange on the military complex in southeastern South Korea in 1978.

A review of documents indicated all 380 barrels of Agent Orange brought to South Korea in 1968 were used by the Korean army to reduce areas where the enemy could hide inside the Korean Demilitarized Zone, the Pentagon said.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of our people and our Korean neighbors in the surrounding communities,” said Army Brig. Gen. David Conboy, deputy commanding general for 8th Army. “This joint investigation was thorough, scientific and complete, and I’m happy to report that there is no threat to public health and no evidence that Agent Orange was buried on the post.”

String of arsons hits Hollywood

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Nineteen fires were set early Friday in Hollywood and West Hollywood, including one at the former home of Jim Morrison, Los Angeles fire officials said.

The fires were started in parked cars, the Los Angeles Times reported. In some cases, the fires spread to nearby buildings.

At the house on Love Street in West Hollywood where Morrison once lived a fire that started in a parked Mazda Miata spread to the front of the building, officials said. The blaze was extinguished in what officials called a “major save” because of the 90-year-old house’s age and its location on an overgrown hillside.

Morrison, lead singer with the Doors, lived in the house with his partner, Pamela Courson, before moving to Paris. His song, “Love Street,” was inspired by the house.

Investigators said the first fires were reported just after midnight in West Hollywood. Calls continued to come in through the night.

On Thursday, three fires were started before dawn in a five-block stretch of Sunset Boulevard. A suspect, Samuel Arrington, 22, of Los Angeles was arrested.

Investigators are unsure if the new string of fires were set by copycats or if they involve the same arsonist as those on Thursday.

Wisconsin man killed when train hits truck

IXONIA, Wis., Dec. 30 (UPI) — A 44-year-old Wisconsin man was killed when an Amtrak train hit his truck at a railroad crossing Thursday, authorities said.

Michael Dragan of Oconomowoc, Wis., had driven down a private driveway that crosses railroad tracks in Ixonia in southern Wisconsin when the train hit his 2007 truck about 4:42 p.m., Jefferson County Sheriff Paul Milbrath told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Dragan was pronounced dead at the scene.

Nobody was injured on the Amtrak train, a westbound Empire Builder carrying 326 passengers, Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said.

The train, which was en route from Chicago to Seattle, stopped at the scene about four hours while authorities investigated the crash.

U.S., S. Korea pledge cooperative efforts

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — U.S. Defense chief Leon Panetta and his South Korean counterpart pledged to work to stabilize the region after North Korea’s leadership change, officials said.

Pentagon press secretary George Little said Panetta and South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin “shared the view that peace and stability on the Korean peninsula is our overarching priority and agreed to maintain close cooperation and coordination in the weeks and months ahead” during a telephone conversation.

The two leaders spoke for about 20 minutes Thursday, Little said in a Pentagon release.

North Korea conducted a state funeral Wednesday for Kim Jong Il, who died of a heart attack Dec. 17. Kim’s third son, Kim Jong Un, was proclaimed the country’s new leader Thursday.

The Pentagon said it hasn’t seen any North Korean provocation since the elder Kim’s death, and the U.S. alert level for troops stationed in South Korea hasn’t been raised.

Doctors in Greece threaten strike

ATHENS, Greece, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Doctors in Greece’s social security system say they’ll strike next week and urged private doctors to join over changes in the way insured patients are treated.

Beginning Jan. 1, Greeks insured through a number of social security funds will be treated by the newly formed National Organization for Healthcare Provision, known as EOPPY.

Doctors working for the main social security fund IKA, who are employed on a freelance basis, say they fear that if they lose their patients to doctors working for EOPPY, they will also lose their jobs, ekathimerini reported.

The IKA doctors say they will strike in an effort to convince the government to allow all doctors, not just those listed with EOPPY, to be able to see patients and issue them prescriptions.

In a statement, EOPPY said doctors who do not work for the organization would still be able to treat patients and write prescriptions.

Government officials said the changes to the health system are part of Greece’s efforts to rein in public spending.

British newspapers accused of sexism

LONDON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A coalition of women’s groups says British newspapers are sexist and create a dangerous environment for women.

The groups End Violence Against Women, Equality Now, Object and Eaves says the government panel investigating British media ethics should shift its focus from alleged phone hacking to issues surrounding the way women are portrayed by the media, The Guardian reported Friday.

The End Violence Against Women coalition offered the Leveson inquiry examples of “poor reporting of violence against women stories which were either intrusive, inaccurate, which misrepresented or were misogynistic, victim-blaming or condoning violence against women and girls.”

While the coalition was critical of the British newspaper industry in general, it was most fiercely critical of tabloids such as Rupert Murdoch’s The Sun for features and photos that objectify young women, The Guardian said.

Anna van Heeswijk of the group Object said the sexualized stories and images portrayed in the tabloids “grooms boys and men into thinking it is acceptable to view and treat women and girls as sex objects. This portrayal of women is incompatible with a socially responsible press.”

Herbert Nipson, former Ebony editor, dies

CHICAGO, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Herbert Nipson, who spent almost 40 years with Ebony magazine, including 15 as its executive editor, has died, the Chicago-based publication says.

Linda Johnson Rice, chairwoman of Chicago-based Johnson Publishing, announced that Nipson, 95, died of natural causes Dec. 10, the Chicago Tribune reported. He was at his home in Albuquerque, N.M., where he spent his winters.

During his time with the magazine, Nipson reached out to a broader audience. While Ebony was founded as a magazine for urban blacks, Nipson included articles aimed at those in rural areas and expanded coverage of the arts, entertainment and sports.

“Nip, as we all knew him, was an extraordinary presence for as long as I can remember going to the Johnson Publishing Co. offices.,” Rice, daughter of the company’s founder, said. “He was a guiding force in shaping Ebony. His vision was essential to making the magazine what it is today.”

Nipson grew up in Pennsylvania and majored in journalism at Penn State. He became the first black member of the journalism fraternity Sigma Delta Chi, now the Society of Professional Journalists, although his daughter, Maria Nipson, said he later found out he was admitted only because the group was unaware of his race.

After serving as an Army driving instructor during World War II, Nipson received a master’s degree in creative writing at the University of Iowa. He joined Ebony in 1949.

Nipson collected art and served for many years as president of the board of the Southside Community Arts Center in Chicago.

In his last years, Nipson spent summers with his son in Cambridge, Mass., and winters in Albuquerque where his daughter lived.

Indonesia to address overpopulation

JAKARTA, Dec. 30 (UPI) — Indonesia says it’s launching an ambitious family-planning program in an effort to slow population growth in the capital of Jakarta, home to 9.6 million people.

Asep Syarifudin, head of the Jakarta Community Empowerment Agency, said the immediate goal was to keep population growth in the capital, the most populous city in Indonesia and in Southeast Asia, below 10 percent next year, the Jakarta Globe reported Thursday.

So far only 501,787 people had joined the family-planning program, Syarifudin said, a majority of them women who had agreed to take birth control pills.

About 37,000 men had received free vasectomies as part of the program, he said.

“We have done lots of things to bring in new participants. We have prepared all the facilities necessary to provide free family planning,” he said.

The Jakarta government is spending $1.3 million this year for the program in cooperation with a number of state and private hospitals and health clinics.

January is slavery, trafficking prevention month

WASHINGTON, Dec. 30 (UPI) — U.S. President Obama proclaimed January National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, urging people to know what they can do to end modern slavery.

“During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we stand with all those who are held in compelled service,” Obama said in the proclamation issued Friday. “[We] recognize the people, organizations, and government entities that are working to combat human trafficking; and we recommit to bringing an end to this inexcusable human rights abuse.”

Human trafficking endangers the lives of millions of people worldwide and “knows no borders,” Obama said.

He said his administration will continue to implement its strategy to combat human trafficking in the United States by working to protect the victims, prosecute the traffickers and prevent human rights abuses by raising public awareness and addressing “the root causes of modern slavery.”

“The steadfast defense of human rights is an essential part of our national identity, and as long as individuals suffer the violence of slavery and human trafficking, we must continue the fight,” Obama said.

Chimp starts his own fires and cooks

DES MOINES, Iowa, Dec. 30 (UPI) — A chimpanzee living in Iowa knows how to use tools and can even start fires and cook, animal researchers say.

Kanzi, a male bonobo chimp, lives at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, where scientists taught him to use matches.

Now Kanzi enjoys roasting marshmallows over an open fire and pan-frying hamburgers, the New York Daily News reported Friday.

“Kanzi makes fire because he wants to. He used to watch the film ‘Quest for Fire’ when he was very young, which was about early man struggling to control fire,” trust scientist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh said.

“He watched it spellbound over and over hundreds of times.”

The ability to control fire was a major evolutionary step that helped improve humans’ diets and led to the development of larger brains, researchers said.

Chimpanzees may not be so far behind: Kanzi is reportedly teaching his son Teco how to make fires, too.