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Dec. 31, 2004 at 11:27 PM
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New Years revellers remember wave victims

SYDNEY, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Australians and New Zealanders ringing in the New Year's stopped the party for one minute at midnight to remember those killed by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

In Sydney, home to one of the world's earliest and biggest New Year's parties, officials told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. that plans that had been in place for weeks could not be scaled back. But there was a moment of silence among the crowd of more than one million just before the midnight fireworks display.

Those attending the celebration or watching on television were asked to keep the victims in their thoughts and to donate to relief efforts. Oxfam, the international aid group, used the Sydney Harbor Bridge to project an appeal for donations.


Blair rejects G8 meeting on tsunami aid

LONDON, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- British Prime Minister Tony Blair has rejected a call to hold an emergency meeting of the G8 group of wealthy nations to discuss aid to countries hit by the Indian Ocean tsunami.

Blair told Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi that the United Nations should take the lead in relief efforts, The Scotsman reported. Britain becomes head of the G8 on Saturday.

The British government increased its aid pledge to 50 million pounds (about $96 million), and the public has donated about half that amount to private relief efforts.

"In his discussions with Mr Berlusconi this evening, the Prime Minister said he will contact the other G8 members about assistance that we might be able to give to the UN," a spokesman said Thursday night. "But we are confident that G8 members will agree that it is right that the UN should continue to take the lead role in co-ordinating the relief effort."


Rescuers free entangled right whale

CHARLESTON, S.C., Dec. 31 (UPI) -- After hours of work from an inflatable boat Friday, whale rescuers removed fishing gear wrapped around the head of an endangered right whale off the coast of South Carolina.

The whale had probably been tangled in line and buoys from lobster traps for weeks or months, said Theresa Barbo, communications director for the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, Mass. The entanglement was first spotted Dec. 6 off the coast of North Carolina.

The rescue crew spent some time Thursday cutting lines and then spent the night on board the Coast Guard cutter Yellowfin, which had been following the whale.

"It's extremely dangerous work," Barbo said. "The team is exhausted."

Atlantic right whales are one of the largest and rarest animals on earth with a total population of about 300.

The disentanglement was carried out under the supervision of Charles "Stormy" Mayo of the Center for Coastal Studies, one of only three people in the country authorized to carry out difficult right whale rescues. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and researchers from several state agencies and universities have also been involved.

Barbo said that whales of all species are constantly at risk from fishing equipment, but the hazard is especially great for right whales because of their low numbers.

"We're over the moon," she said. "We did not expect a good outcome from this."


Bush raises pay for Cabinet, Congress

WASHINGTON, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- President Bush has signed an executive order increasing pay for all federal workers, including the Cabinet and Congress, the Washington Post reports.

Under the order, the vice president, speaker of the House and chief justice will receive $208,100 a year, while Cabinet secretaries get $180,100. Members of Congress and federal judges

Under the order, the salaries of Cabinet secretaries will increase to $180,100. Annual pay for members of Congress and federal judges increases to $162,100.

The executive order provides specific pay guides implementing a bill passed by Congress that authorizes an average pay increase of 3.5 percent. The administration wanted a smaller increase, proposing 1.5 percent for civilian workers and 3.5 percent for the military, but the bill adopted the principle of "pay parity" for civilian and military workers.

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