2 die as wildfires force evacuations near L.A.
LOS ANGELES : Two huge wildfires driven by strong Santa Ana winds burned into neighborhoods near Los Angeles yesterday, forcing frantic evacuations on smoke- and traffic-choked highways, destroying homes and causing at least two deaths. More than 1,000 firefighters and nine water-dropping aircraft battled the 4,700-acre Marek fire at the northeast end of the San Fernando Valley and the 5,000-acre Sesnon fire at the west end. Residents downwind were warned to remain alert into the night, as winds were forecast to roar over 60 mph. Authorities confirmed more than three-dozen mobile homes burned in the Marek fire and TV news helicopter crews counted about 10 homes destroyed by the Sesnon fire. "It is a blowtorch we can't get in front of," said Los Angeles County fire Inspector Frank Garrido. One person was killed in a crash on the 118 Freeway after traffic stopped as fire neared the route. Earlier, a fatality was discovered at the Marek fire, where neighborhoods abut rugged canyons below the mountainous Angeles National Forest. The man appeared to have been a transient living in a makeshift shelter, officials said.
N. Korea renews U.N. access to nuclear site
VIENNA, Austria : North Korea declared yesterday that it will resume shutting down its nuclear program and allow U.N. experts to monitor the process, including making sure the plant that produced plutonium for its test bomb remains disabled. The moves, revealed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, were a strong indication that Pyongyang was making good on its pledge to return to a deal with the United States, Russia, China, South Korea and Japan meant to strip it of its weapons-enabling nuclear program. Pyongyang announced Sunday that it would resume dismantlement in line with the deal offering political and energy rewards in exchange, after the United States removed North Korea from its list of states sponsoring terrorism. "The agency inspectors were ... informed today that as of 14 October 2008, core discharge activities at the [nuclear] reactor would be resumed," said a restricted IAEA document to the agency's 35 board members. It said "monitoring and verification arrangements" of the U.N. nuclear agency also would be restarted.
Police clash with pro-Serb protesters
PODGORICA, Montenegro : Police fired tear gas yesterday at thousands of pro-Serb Montenegrins who pelted state buildings with rocks and flares to protest their government's recognition of Kosovo's independence. At least 34 were injured. Protesters chanted, "Treason! Treason!" and "Kosovo is Serbia!" to condemn the government's decision last week to recognize Kosovo, the former Serbian province that declared independence in February. Eleven protesters and 23 police officers were hurt during the clashes in Podgorica, Montenegro's capital, and 28 demonstrators were arrested. Earlier, about 10,000 protesters gave the country's pro-Western government until tomorrow to withdraw its recognition of Kosovo, or they would try to topple it "by unparliamentary means."
Gay couples rush to wed ahead of Calif. election
SAN FRANCISCO : Gay couples from around California and the nation are tying the knot ahead of Election Day to avoid missing out if voters approve a ballot initiative aimed at banning same-sex marriage. The urgency intensified last week with news that Proposition 8's supporters had far outraised its opponents and the measure was gaining support in public opinion polls. "Couples are making their plans to come in before Nov. 4 because people are getting a little uneasy," said San Francisco Clerk-Recorder Karen Hong Lee. "It's too close to call, basically, and it's legal right now, so why wait?" Proposition 8 would amend the state constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman. If approved, it would overturn a California Supreme Court ruling that made the state the second, after Massachusetts, to legalize same-sex marriage.
Kidnapping as terrorist tactic soars, data show
WASHINGTON: Figures compiled by the Defense Intelligence Agency from classified and unclassified sources indicate a 500 percent increase in foreigners taken hostage around the world as militants adopt the methods of the most violent figures in the Iraq insurgency. In 2004, 342 foreign and U.S. hostages were taken by terrorist and insurgent organizations. By 2006, that number had grown to 501. By 2007 it had jumped to more than 1,500, and it is on track to rise even higher this year. Kidnapping as a terrorist tactic has spread rapidly after its spike to 229 in Iraq in 2004.