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Dec. 11, 2008 at 12:00 PM
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Climate, markets, governance top EU agenda

BRUSSELS, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Issues concerning climate change, the global financial crisis and governance issues dominated Thursday's opening of an EU summit in Brussels.

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen was to present an analysis on why Ireland nixed EU governance reform -- the Lisbon Treaty -- and what can be done to revive the treaty that would trim the European Commission to two-thirds of the countries at any one time, the EUObserver reported.

Participants also are expected to consider an economic strategy that includes a plan for the European Union to invest 1.5 percent of its gross domestic product to boost economic activity in the face of a projected recession next year, the publication said. While accepting the plan in principle last week, some EU members expressed reluctance to pumping in additional financial help beyond what they'd already budgeted.

European leaders also are expected to take up a climate change package. Ministers are divided about issues such as compensation for carbon dioxide emission reduction, the EUObserver said.

Suicide bombing kills 55 in Kirkuk

BAGHDAD, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- At least 55 people died and 109 were injured Thursday when a suicide bomber attacked a restaurant near Kirkuk, Iraq, a police official said.

Reports indicated the bomber entered the crowded eatery during lunchtime, detonating his explosives-laden vest, CNN reported.

The bombing occurred during the Muslim religious holiday of Eid al-Adha, when many Iraqis visit parks, markets and restaurants, CNN reported. The restaurant is on the main road between Kirkuk and Irbil, capital of Iraq's Kurdish region.

The Kirkuk police official said the restaurant has a play area for children and is busy during the holiday period. Authorities are not saying which group they believe was behind the assault, CNN reported.

An Iraqi Interior Ministry official offered a lower casualty figure, reporting 47 dead and 102 injured.

Kirkuk has had a tense undercurrent for years as Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens vied for power in the oil-rich city. Kurds say the city is historically Kurdish and should be incorporated into the Kurdish region, a move opposed by Turkmens and Arabs.

The Iraqi Constitution called for a referendum on whether Kirkuk and the surrounding area should be incorporated into the Kurdish region, but that vote has been delayed.

U.S. helps bar claims against Iraq

BAGHDAD, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- The United States has joined an effort to block claims against Iraq, which Iraqi officials argue could shut down the fledgling democracy.

U.S. President George Bush has signaled U.S. backing of extending legal measures enacted by the U.N. Security Council five years ago to protect Iraq's coffers and has indicated support for Iraq's request to renew the protections for another year, The New York Times reported Thursday.

"With oil revenues generating more than 95 percent of the government's resources, these claims could affect reconstruction and economic transformation taking place in Iraq and consequently constitute a grave threat to Iraq's stability and security, and therefore to international peace and security," Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki wrote Tuesday to the U.N. Security Council in a letter obtained by the Times.

Hoshyar Zebari, Iraq's foreign minister, said his country wants to settle the claims if they could be reduced through negotiations.

"This extension will give us some relief for another year, give us some breathing space," he said.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe, said the administration supported the extension for now but also "made it clear to the Iraqis that it is important to address the legitimate claims of our citizens."

Without considering legal challenges for compensation, Iraq owes roughly $26 billion for claims handled by the U.N. Compensation Commission and is about $50 billion in debt to other countries, Iraqi officials said.

Israel braces for Hamas-tied violence

JERUSALEM, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- Israeli troops raised their alert level on the Gaza border Thursday ahead of a demonstration marking the founding of Hamas, officials said.

The order by Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant was intended to avoid attacks against Israeli civilians or soldiers deployed along the border before and during Sunday's celebration of the start of the Palestinian Sunni paramilitary organization and political party, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The Israeli military also has resumed military operations against Hamas in the Gaza Strip ahead of the expiration of the Islamic resistance movement's cease-fire with Israel next week.

Israel imposed a nearly full closure of the Gaza Strip in early November, prompting a resumption of Palestinian rocket attacks into Israeli border towns.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni Wednesday to discuss whether to renew the Egyptian-brokered cease-fire, which went into effect June 19 and expires Dec. 19.

The 25-mile-long Gaza Strip borders Egypt on the southwest and Israel on the north and east.

Illegal immigrants cleaned Chertoffs' home

WASHINGTON, Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A housekeeping company used by U.S. Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff used illegal aliens to clean Chertoff's home, records indicate.

The company's owner said nothing suspicious popped up during employment screenings, even though federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators later found several employees were undocumented, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Company owner James D. Reid told the Post he's in a pickle because he has been fined after ICE investigators said he failed to document his workers. While admitting mistakes were made, Reid said he did check the workers' documentation.

Reid told the Post it is unreasonable to expect businesspeople to distinguish between fake and genuine documentation, adding he may have to close the company because of the $22,880 fine.

In this type of investigation, ICE focuses on employers, not where employees are sent, Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said, meaning contractors are responsible for ensuring the legal status of their workers.

The Chertoffs were assured by Reid that workers sent to their home were legal, Knocke said. Once they learned that Reid may have hired illegal immigrants, the Chertoffs fired him, and the secretary recused himself from subsequent enforcement actions.

"This matter illustrates the need for comprehensive immigration reform and the importance of effective tools for companies to determine the lawful status of their workforce," he said.

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