More new challenges to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas piled up Tuesday, with masked gunmen seizing Bethlehem City Hall in the West Bank and demanding to be put on the government payroll. At the same time, an aide conceded that Abbas's own Fatah movement is ratcheting up pressure to postpone the Jan. 25 election for a new parliament. One Fatah legislator said the movement "is in trouble" and "needs a chance to prepare for the election [which] means we cannot hold it on Jan. 25." Bethlehem's City Hall is close to the Church of the Nativity, one of the holiest sites in Christianity, which was closed because of the incident, four days before Christmas.

The plume of toxic benzine from a chemical plant explosion in neighboring China is expected to arrive Wednesday at the Russian river city of Khabarovsk, where temperatures have been hovering at about minus-4 degrees F. Residents were bracing for a possible cutoff of their water supply and of central heating that could last a week. Stores reported a run on bottled water and other supplies, such as plastic plates and eating utensils. Meanwhile, emergency crews from China were rushing to finish a temporary dam to try to minimize the impact of the pollution, although the Khabarovsk governor complained that the strong river current was "washing away more than the Chinese can put down." As of Tuesday afternoon, water samples from the Amur River showed chemical levels still within the acceptable range.

Defying the orders of their hard-line president, Iranians made no attempt Tuesday to hide the buying of and listening to Western music. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced a day earlier that a ruling by the Supreme Cultural Revolutionary Council in October against all forms of Western music - among them classical - now would be implemented. The order evoked memories of the 1979 Islamic revolution under the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, when all popular music was banned. Ahmadinejad's order appeared aimed mainly at state radio and TV broadcasts, and those were featuring only Iranian music Tuesday. But shop owners in Tehran, the capital, said they did not expect the ban to be enforced. Or, if it was, they predicted it would fall by the wayside as Khomeini's order eventually did.

For the first time, the communist government of North Korea announced plans to build multiple light-water atomic reactors for its "independent nuclear power industry." But experts in that field said the North has neither the expertise nor the money to do so any time soon, noting that a single light-water reactor can take at least nine years to complete at a cost of up to $3 billion - even for a country with an established civilian nuclear energy program. North Korea was to have been provided with two such reactors, at Western expense, in exchange for halting its nuclear weapons program. But that was canceled after revelations that the Pyongyang government had a secret uranium- enrichment project. Light-water reactors are considered difficult to modify for military purposes. Analysts say the focus of the North's weapons program is its graphite-moderated reactors, which can produce large quantities of material for bombs.

By a sizable margin, the results of a new opinion poll show that most Australians think their country is racist, the Sydney Morning Herald reported. The survey, inspired by the Dec. 11-13 rioting between angry whites and youths of Middle Eastern appearance in a beachfront suburb, found 75 percent of respondents disagreed with Prime Minister John Howard's contention that Australia has no racist undercurrent. However, 80 percent of respondents also said they support multiculturalism - a finding that demonstrates "You can't simultaneously have underlying racism," Howard told TV interviewers. The government of New South Wales State Tuesday was exploring possible criminal charges against the makers of white supremacist videos that have been circulating on the Internet.

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