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Sudan and southern rebels clash in oil border state

KHARTOUM (iBBC News) - Sudan's army fought rebels in the oil-producing state of South Kordofan last week, both sides said on Saturday.

The rebels said they had killed nine government troops, but the army denied this.

Fighting has taken place since last June in South Kordofan between the Sudanese army and rebels from the northern wing of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, who want to topple the Khartoum government.

Clashes spread to neighbouring Blue Nile state, which also borders newly independent South Sudan, in September.

The violence has already forced about 417,000 people to flee their homes, more than 80,000 of them to South Sudan, the United Nations estimates.

Both Blue Nile and South Kordofan contain large groups who sided with the south in a decades-long civil war, and who say they continue to face persecution inside Sudan since South Sudan seceded in July.

The SPLM is now the ruling party in the independent south and denies supporting SPLM-North rebels across the border.

The SPLM-North rebels said they had killed nine soldiers, destroyed three tanks and seized military equipment in clashes at Tees near the southern border on Monday. They also seized three army vehicles in another attack in the same area on Tuesday, they said in a statement.

Army spokesman Sawarmi Khalid Saad confirmed military operations had taken place in the town of Tees to reopen a road but denied any soldiers had been killed.

"These areas are under army control," he said.

Events in South Kordofan and Blue Nile are difficult to verify because aid groups and foreign journalists are banned from areas where fighting takes place.

SPLM-North is one of a number of rebel movements in underdeveloped border areas who say they are fighting to overthrow Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and end what they see as the dominance of the Khartoum political elite.

Sudan and South Sudan, who still have to resolve a range of issues including the sharing of oil revenues, regularly trade accusations of supporting insurgencies on each other's territory.

Their armed forces clashed at Jau in a region claimed by both sides last month in a rare direct confrontation.

Locals have faced air raids and sporadic ground fighting, according to rights groups and refugees, although Sudan denies it is bombing civilian areas.

Man detained after another Calif. homeless killing

LOS ANGELES (iBBC News) — Mourners wept and placed flowers Saturday at the scene of the latest stabbing death of a homeless man in Orange County, and people who knew the victim said he had feared for his safety as police recently sought a serial killer suspected in the slayings.

Police detained a man in connection with Friday night's killing in Anaheim but investigators didn't say if there were any links to the deaths of three other homeless men.

The dead man, described by friends as a Vietnam War veteran in his 60s named John, was found between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. in the parking lot of a Carl's Jr. fast-food restaurant at the intersection of La Palma Avenue and Imperial Highway in Anaheim, police said.

Marilyn Holland, an Anaheim resident who befriended the victim and regularly brought him oatmeal raisin cookies, said he was uncharacteristically nervous since police warned him to stay vigilant in the days after the killings began.

"He told me he thought he was being followed," Holland said. "I told him after pay day I was going to get him a cell phone, so he could call 911 if anything happened. Normally he would refuse help but he was willing to accept the phone because he was scared." Holland was paid Friday but never got the phone to her friend.

Several witnesses reported an assault in progress, and officers arrived to find the homeless man dead near a trash bin in the restaurant parking lot. Witnesses followed a man who ran from the lot and led police to him, Anaheim police Sgt. Bob Dunn said.

"We were having dinner in the area and saw about 40 police cars scream into the parking lot. I ran over and hugged my friend, screaming, 'Please tell me it's not John!' But it was," Holland said, fighting back tears.

Police set up a large containment area at the crime scene in a search for the killer and scoured nearby neighborhoods, including a mobile home park, Dunn said.

The suspect was identified by Anaheim police as Itzcoatl Ocampo, 23, of Yorba Linda. He was held without bail for suspicion of murder, Dunn said.

A police bloodhound later traced the scent from Ocampo's belongings back to the scene where the attack occurred, about ten miles northeast of the Disneyland Resort, authorities said.

A task force of law enforcement officers from Anaheim, Placentia, Brea, Orange County Sheriff's Department and the FBI was formed to investigate the killings of three other homeless men found stabbed to death in north Orange County since mid-December.

James Patrick McGillivray, 53, was killed near a shopping center in Placentia on Dec. 20; Lloyd Middaugh, 42, was found near a riverbed trail in Anaheim on Dec. 28; and Paulus Smit, 57, was killed outside a Yorba Linda library on Dec. 30.

Police suspect all three were victims of a serial killer. It was not known if the latest death was connected to the other killings, but the task force is investigating any possible links.

Authorities declined to speculate if Ocampo was behind the earlier homeless slayings, but Anaheim Deputy Chief Craig Hunter acknowledged that "in a very general sense" he matched the physical description of a person suspected in the killings.

Police had released grainy photographs captured from surveillance video that show a male suspect dressed in dark clothing. A white, late-model Toyota Corolla was also a vehicle of interest.

Authorities planned an afternoon press conference to discuss the details of the case and the arrest.

"We're hopeful that they've got the right guy," said Larry Haynes, executive director of Mercy House, which provides services for the homeless in Orange County. "But until we know if the right person was arrested, we will maintain our vigilance to ensure safety. We are still calling on people who are living out on the streets to come inside tonight."

Haynes said Mercy House shelters had stepped up security in recent weeks and would continue to do so until police say the threat is over.

We have security guards on duty and

Friends of the latest victim lit candles Saturday and made plans to start a fund to give the latest victim a proper burial. They described him as a kind, quiet man who chose a life on the streets.

"He never asked for anything. We'd offer him rooms but he lived the life of a homeless man," said Yvonne Miranda, who said the victim spent most of his time in the parking lot where he was killed. "He was in his comfort zone. This is where he felt safe."

Police and advocates have been urging those living on the streets to head inside or buddy up in the wake of the killings.

Earlier Friday, the Orange County sheriff's deputies union announced a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Out of room, Mass. man gives up 94 hamsters

LAWRENCE, Mass. (iBBC News) — A Massachusetts man has turned over 94 hamsters to a local animal shelter, telling officials he was running out of room in his apartment.

The director of the shelter says the rodents were well cared for and will make nice pets.

Shelter director Mike Keiley tells the Eagle-Tribune (http://bit.ly/xEjiiR) that the hamsters' owner, whom he didn't identify, stopped by this month and said he had a lot of hamsters to surrender.

A Lawrence animal control officer says the man was "overwhelmed" when officials came to get the hamsters Friday, and initially wanted to keep a few. But she says he changed his mind.

Officials say the man started keeping the hamsters about five years ago.

Milan designers tweak the traditional overcoat

MILAN (iBBC News) — Milan fashion designers are sticking to the traditional and familiar in their menswear collection for next winter.

The mood reflects the austerity all around, but it's not all gloom. There are flashes of color and glamour to lighten spirits.

"When you talk about austerity, I don't think it needs to be down in the dumps or dismal," Burberry chief creative officers Christopher Bailey said backstage after his Prorsum menswear collection preview on Saturday.

Coats, from trenches to double-breasted overcoats to fur- or velvet-lapeled evening coats, were the centerpiece of many of the collections previewed the first day of the four-day menswear Milan Fashion Week.

While elegant black and some white are the winter favorites, designers also reached for colors, usually deep purples, teals and midnight blues. Golden details — from brocade underwear to fanciful animal head umbrella handles — celebrate luxury and fun.

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DOLCE&GABBANA

Dolce & Gabbana cast a spell of luxury over their latest menswear collection, adorning every outfit — even humble underwear — with opulent gold embroidery.

Set in a make-believe opera house complete with chandeliers, sumptuous red velvet upholstery, and famous Verdi arias sung by the late Luciano Pavarotti, the extravagant menswear collection was a perfect antidote to the current crisis gloom.

Somewhere between Dorian Gray and the Gattopardo's Sicilian prince, the winter 2013 collection by the designing wizards Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, is an ode to noble dressing from the fur-trimmed evening coats and capes, to the gold brocade jackets, to the gold embroidered breeches.

Never forgetting their penchant for sportswear, the designing duo decorated distressed fabric with gilded fringes and lavish embroidery to create a dandy/grunge effect. The gilded grandpa wooly underwear also fit into the latter category.

"In order to sell well today, a collection has to have the whiff of an old-fashioned trunk," Stefano Gabbana said chatting with reporters before the show.

For their curtain call, the duo sent out 70 models dressed in every imaginable cut of yesteryear's elegant overcoat — all in "de rigeur" black.

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BURBERRY

Ah, the life of a Burberry gentleman, toing and froing from town and country and back again, with just the right look for whatever the moment.

The tailored suit and heritage trench are at the heart of the Burberry Prorsum collection for next fall and winter. So is the umbrella, which features duck and hound animal head handles.

"I wanted the attitude to be polite. I wanted it to feel charming," Burberry's chief creative officer Christopher Bailey said backstage after the show.

In the city, a tailored gray suit with black polka-dotted tie is topped with herringbone patterned tweed cap and a classic Burberry trench thrown over the shoulders. Besides the ubiquitous umbrella, the city persona carries a leather patchwork document case.

In the country, the suit — fabrics ranging from corduroy to velvet — may be worn with a quilted and cropped bomber jacket or an oversized down-filled car coat.

Perhaps inspired buy the English hunt, Bailey incorporates into some garments images of foxes, big, here's-looking-at-you shrewd fox.

"I think it is important to smile. I think that is what fashion is also about, making you think and making you smile. You don't always have to be serious," Bailey said.

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ZEGNA

Ermenegildo Zegna is layering up for next fall and winter with menswear looks to cozy up against the winter chill.

The collection featured slim plaid, checked or houndstooth suits under ample shearling jackets or capes styled for men. Suits are worn with shirts layered underneath with a turtle neck — or, when not, with chunky textured ties.

The colors were warm — camel, sandy browns and midnight blue, playfully evoking the desert in a cold weather collection that also featured winter white — while the tactile, layered look was calibrated for warmth against the elements, suggested at the opening of the show by the crackle of a fire against a whipping winter wind soundtrack.

Zegna states that his man is looking for a break from the global financial turmoil — but keeps his Blackberry handy in case opportunity beckons. Luggage is ready for a quick getaway, including carry-ons clad in plaid; large, flat messenger bags in fine leather, and ample duffels.

The prime destination is clearly the mountains, where polished combat boots will protect against the chill while fringed moccasins await for the fireside.

After a day in the elements, apres-ski evening wear is relaxed. Tuxedos are silky and quilted — quite the opposite of the stiff and formal image they normally evoke. A dark robe coat of a brushed alpalca called Spazzolino billows luxuriously over a white tuxedo shirt.

It's a collection that allows each man to find his own comfort level, even considering whether or not to shave: Zegna made beards a fashion option, from full on to a few days' growth to stubble. Clean shaven, of course, is always in style.

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JIL SANDER

A grass green pullover, a similar style in tobacco brown and a series of collars embroidered with naif animal designs, were the only bright lights in the otherwise total black Jil Sander menswear collection for the winter of 2013.

Pale-faced models walked one-by-one through a stage door onto a dimly lit runway in black coats, black jackets, black trousers, black gloves and classic black laced shoes during the presentation of Belgian designer Raf Simons, latest collection for the label known for its minimalist style.

This round, more than minimalist, the collection is monochromatic and at times monotonous.

The predominant look is tailored, with leather the favorite material. Jackets tend to fit close to the body, while trousers are super wide and cuffed.

As in other shows seen on opening day of the four-day preview showings for next year's chilly season, double-breasted styles make a come back in a season that promises to dwell on the safe past rather than the rocky present.

Focal point of the revisited look is an extra long, black leather trench coat belted at the waist. Paired with the omnipresent black leather trousers, gloves and classic lace-ups, it lends a vaguely cloak-and-dagger feel to the entire collection.

"Great, if you're into serial-killer fashion," one fashionista was overheard commenting after the show.

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COSTUME NATIONAL

Costume National has devised a novel system for hanging onto winter coats after stepping out of the cold and into a warm public place.

Sewn inside coats in next winter's collection are straps, call them suspenders, that can be used to hang a coat on your back, like a backpack, when not needed for warmth. Hands are free to shop, sip coffee, gaze at artwork, whatever has brought you indoors.

Designer Ennio Capasa's seemingly simple solution to an age-old wintertime dilemma was featured in Costume National's menswear preview for next fall and winter.

Capasa's experiments with coats only started with the backside-suspension coat. He also combined bombers with trench coats, and knitwear with tuxedo jackets, so seamlessly that the view from the back suggested a garment completely different than the one seen from the front.

The color scheme was mostly dark or winter white, with accents of teal and green. Knitwear was mostly fine, and not chunky, and Costume National also favored layered turtlenecks and shirts, a look popping up in this round of previews. The collection was set off by heavy-soled boots and shoes, with bold silver accents.

Hurricane center chief to retire June 1

MIAMI (iBBC News) — National Hurricane Center Director Bill Read, who took over the forecasting agency during a time of turmoil and leaves it much calmer, announced Saturday he will retire effective June 1.

Read, 62, said he never intended to stay in the position he has held since 2008 for longer than five years.

"I will have been in charge just shy of four and a half years on June 1," Read said in a letter to hurricane center staff and managers at its parent agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "I had no idea I would ever be considered for such an honor. It's been quite a ride and I'm blessed to hit the exit ramp in my career after working with you all."

Read replaced Bill Proenza, who stirred controversy by repeatedly and publicly criticizing federal officials for what he considered inadequate funding for accurate storm forecasting and failure to replace an aging weather satellite. At one point, most senior and top-line managers at the hurricane center demanded in writing that Proenza be relieved of his duties, contending he was undermining public confidence in their work.

Proenza left the job after only six months. He had replaced the popular Max Mayfield, who was well known around the country because of his frequent TV appearances during major storms such as Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in 2005.

Read's tenure has been far less contentious and, although dozens of tropical storms have formed in the Atlantic Ocean since his appointment, no major hurricanes have struck the U.S. mainland since late 2005.

"Bill has provided superb leadership at the National Hurricane Center as 63 tropical systems formed across the Atlantic basin, including two of the more active seasons on record," said Jack Hayes, director of the National Weather Service. "Bill's departure leaves a noticeable void to fill."

A search for Read's successor will begin immediately.

Read said he chose June 1 in part because it marks the start of the 2012 hurricane season, meaning his replacement will initially tackle those hectic duties and then move into the off-season aspects of the job armed with storm experience. Read also said he has unspecified business opportunities that become available in the summer.

Read has worked in the military or government since 1971, when he joined the U.S. Navy and later became part of the Navy's Hurricane Hunters team. He joined the National Weather Service in 1977 and rose to become meteorologist in charge of the Houston-Galveston office in Texas from 1992 to 2007.

Scholes' goal helps Man United beat Bolton 3-0

MANCHESTER, England (iBBC News) — Paul Scholes scored his first goal since ending his short-lived retirement to help Manchester United to a 3-0 Premier League win over Bolton on Saturday.

In the second match of his comeback, Scholes turned in Wayne Rooney's cross in the 45th minute for his first goal since August 2010. Scholes' 151st league goal helped United pull two points ahead of third-place Tottenham, which drew 1-1 with relegation-threatened Wolverhampton Wanderers.

United trails City on goal difference, although City can restore its three-point lead if it beats Wigan on Monday.

Six months after ending a career during which he only played for United, the 37-year-old Scholes returned in last weekend's FA Cup win over Manchester City. On Saturday, he became the oldest Englishman to score a league goal for United.

Danny Welbeck made it 2-0 in the 74th from an assist by Rooney, and Michael Carrick completed the scoring with seven minutes remaining. Rooney's first-half penalty kick was saved by goalkeeper Adam Bogdan.

Tottenham dominated Wolves at White Hart Lane but Steven Fletcher put the visitors ahead from a rebound in the 22nd minute after U.S. goalkeeper Brad Friedel parried Roger Johnson's header from a corner. Emmanuel Adebayor had a goal disallowed for offside just before halftime before Luka Modric tied it in the 51st.

City and United have 48 points, two more than Tottenham. Chelsea is another six points back in the final Champions League qualifying position after beating Sunderland 1-0 on Frank Lampard's goal.

Liverpool drew 0-0 with visiting Stoke and could be four points behind fifth-place Arsenal if the Gunners win at Swansea on Sunday, when Newcastle could replace Liverpool in sixth place if it beats visiting Queens Park Rangers.

Blackburn lifted itself out of the relegation zone with a 3-1 win over Fulham even though it played 67 minutes with 10 men.

Norwich won 2-1 at West Bromwich Albion, while Los Angeles Galaxy teammates Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane faced each other in Everton's 1-1 draw at Aston Villa. Donovan set up Darren Bent's 69th-minute equalizer for Everton. Keane entered as a substitute in the 81st minute.

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BARCELONA, Spain (iBBC News)— Sevilla's struggles deepened in a scoreless home draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league. The team is winless in its last four league games and was ousted from the Copa del Rey by Valencia this week.

Sevilla failed to convert numerous scoring chances in the first half Saturday. Espanyol, missing several key players, improved after the break to stay unbeaten in four straight league games.

Rayo Vallecano downed Granada 2-1 thanks to goals from Miguel "Michu" Perez and Francisco "Piti" Medina. Last-place Zaragoza's winless run grew to 11 league matches after a 1-1 draw against visiting Getafe.

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GLASGOW, Scotland (iBBC News) — Celtic maintained its two-point lead over defending champion Rangers at the top of the Scottish Premier League with a 2-1 win over Dundee United.

Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama struck in the first 17 minutes for Celtic. John Rankin replied in the 50th minute for Dundee United.

Nikica Jelavic scored twice to give Rangers a 2-1 win at St. Johnstone. Jelavic delivered the winner with nine minutes remaining after American defender Carlos Bocanegra's 68th-minute own-goal threatened to give St. Johnstone a draw.

Hearts beat St. Mirren 5-2; Hibernian downed Dunfermline 3-2; Inverness defeated Motherwell 1-0; and Aberdeen drew 0-0 with Kilmarnock.

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ATHENS, Greece (iBBC News) — Kevin Mirallas scored in each half to help Greek league leader Olympiakos beat visiting Levadiakos 3-1.

Olympiakos opened the scoring on an own goal by Panayiotis Korbos in the 41st minute, and Mirallas scored his first for the champions just before halftime. Stefano Napoleoni scored for Levadiakos in the 65th before Mirallas struck again two minutes later. Olympiakos leads Panathinaikos and AEK by seven points.

Panathinaikos, which has three games in hand on the league leader, visits Giannena on Sunday. AEK missed a chance to gain sole possession of second place by drawing 1-1 at home to Xanthi.

Residents back in Yemen city after months of fighting

ADEN, Yemen (iBBC News) - Hundreds of people displaced by months of fighting in southern Yemen returned to their home city on Saturday as armed Islamist militants and government troops looked on, residents said, in what many hoped could be a step towards ending the conflict.

"The army controls the east of Zinjibar and the Ansar al-Sunna hold the western part of the city," Khalid al Saeed said, referring to a group which the government says is linked to al Qaeda.

"Both sides had agreed with our request to return. The army told us to avoid some areas where there are land mines," Saeed said, adding that there was widespread destruction during eight months of fighting.

Thousands of Yemenis have held protests demanding an end to the fighting that has forced them to flee their homes in the south, holding several 50 km (31 mile) marches from the port city of Aden to Zinjibar, capital of southern Abyan province where the militants have seized swathes of territory.

The southern fighting is one of many challenges facing the impoverished state, which has also been rocked by nearly a year of protests against the 33-year rule of outgoing President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

The United States and top oil exporter Saudi Arabia are both concerned about the growing chaos in the country, which is close to oil shipping routes.

In continued unrest, gunmen believed the be from al Qaeda shot dead a pro-government tribesman outside the city of Lawdar in Abyan province on Saturday, a security official told Reuters.

DEADLINE PASSES

In the capital, a 48-hour deadline given to armed opponents and backers of Saleh to withdraw after months of street fighting passed but there was little change in the armed face off, residents said.

A committee tasked with overseeing the demilitarisation of the capital reiterated on Saturday its demand on rival forces to withdraw, and thanked those which had pulled back, state news agency Saba reported.

Tribal fighters led by Saleh's opponents and Republican Guard troops commanded by the veteran leader's son are still deployed in several areas of Sanaa, including the northern district of Hasaba, scene of some of the heaviest fighting.

In late December, militants shot in the air to stop a march to Zinjibar by activists among the displaced who were calling on both sides to lay down their arms in the south and demanded the government open the Aden-Zinjibar coastal highway, a key trade route closed during the conflict.

Saudi Arabia has backed a Gulf Arab peace plan to resolve the anti-Saleh uprising, under which the president handed power to his deputy. A presidential election is scheduled for February.

But the fighting against the Islamist militants in the south has continued, forcing about 97,000 people to flee. More than 300,000 others have been displaced by a conflict in the north, according to U.N. estimates.

Winn-Dixie CEO Lynch to step down

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (iBBC News) — The chief executive officer of Winn-Dixie is stepping down as the Florida-based supermarket chain merges with Bi-Lo LLC.

CEO Peter Lynch told employees in a letter Friday that he'll stay on for another 60 to 120 days. South Carolina-based Bi-Lo purchased Winn-Dixie for about $560 million in December.

The combined company will have about 690 stores and 63,000 workers in eight southern states. Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. will become a privately held Bi-Lo subsidiary.

Replacing Lynch as Winn-Dixie's chief will be Randall Onstead, currently Bi-Lo's chairman.

Lynch has been Winn-Dixie CEO since 2005. In his letter Lynch says he helped the chain return to profitability after it emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2006.

That included remodeling more than half of Winn-Dixie's stores and new marketing campaigns.

Yemenis return to area run by Islamic militants

SANAA, Yemen (iBBC News) — Thousands of displaced Yemenis have returned to a restive area in the country's south that has been under the control of al-Qaida-linked militants since May.

They say the militant group, Ansar al-Shariah, welcomed them Saturday with carbonated drinks and cookies then slaughtered cows to feed them dinner. The group told them it has established an Islamic emirate that will be ruled according to strict Islamic Shariah law.

Security has collapsed across Yemen during 11 months of mass protests calling for the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who is supposed to leave power this month under a U.S.-backed deal.

Islamic militants seized areas in the southern Abyan province in May. Security forces have so far failed to push them out.

Arfa Karim Randhawa Has Died

Arfa Karim Randhawa : World's Youngest Microsoft Certified Professional, 2004-2008 , Died in Lahore CMH.
she has suffered brain damage, leaving her in a coma at the CMH.
On January 14, 2012 16 years old Arfa Karim passed away at 9:50 PM (Pakistan Standard Time) at Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Lahore.

Iran sends rare letter to U.S. over killed scientist

TEHRAN (iBBC News) - Iran said on Saturday it had evidence Washington was behind the latest killing of one of its nuclear scientists, state television reported, at a time when tensions over the country's nuclear program have escalated to their highest level ever.

In the fifth attack of its kind in two years, a magnetic bomb was attached to the door of 32-year-old Mostafa Ahmadi-Roshan's car during the Wednesday morning rush-hour in the capital. His driver was also killed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton denied responsibility and Israeli President Shimon Peres said Israel had no role in the attack, to the best of his knowledge.

"We have reliable documents and evidence that this terrorist act was planned, guided and supported by the CIA," the Iranian foreign ministry said in a letter handed to the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, state TV reported. The Swiss embassy represents U.S. interests in a country where Washington has no diplomatic ties.

The spokesman for Iran's Joint Armed Forces Staff, Massoud Jazayeri, said: "Our enemies, especially America , Britain and the Zionist regime (Israel), have to be held responsible for their actions."

Iran in the past has accused Israel of causing a series of spectacular and sometimes bloody mishaps to its nuclear programme. Israeli officials do not comment on any involvement in those events, although some have publicly expressed satisfaction at the setbacks.

Feeling the heat from unprecedented new sanctions, Iran's clerical establishment has brandished its sword by threatening to block the main Mid-East oil shipping route, starting to enrich uranium at an underground bunker and sentencing an Iranian-American citizen to death on spying charges.

State TV said a "letter of condemnation" had also been sent to Britain, saying the killing of Iranian nuclear scientists began after the head of Britain's MI6 spy service announced intelligence operations against states seeking nuclear weapons.

The West says Iran's nuclear programme is aimed at building a bomb. Tehran says it has the right to peaceful nuclear power.

Tehran has urged the U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to condemn the latest killing.

After years of international sanctions that had little impact on Iran, U.S. President Barack Obama signed new measures on New Year's Eve that, if fully implemented, would make it impossible for most countries to pay for Iranian oil.

Washington is requiring that countries gradually reduce their purchases of Iranian oil in order to receive temporary waivers from the sanctions.

The European Union is expected to unveil similar measures next week, and announce a gradual oil embargo among its member states, who collectively buy about a fifth of Iran's exports.

The combined measures mean Iran may fail to sell all of the 2.6 million barrels a day of exports it relies on to feed its 74 million people. Even if it finds buyers, it will have to offer steep discounts, cutting into its desperately-needed revenue.

On Tuesday shipping sources told iBBC News Iran was storing an increasing supply of oil at sea - as much as 8 million barrels - and was likely to store more as it struggles to sell it.

Iran denies it is having trouble: "There has been no disruption in Iran's crude exports through the Persian Gulf ... We have not stored oil in the Gulf because of sanctions as some foreign media reported," oil official Pirouz Mousavi told the semi-official Mehr news agency on Friday.

The sanctions are causing real hardship on the streets, where prices for basic imported goods are soaring, the rial currency has plummeted and Iranians have been flocking to sell rials to buy dollars to protect their savings.

The pain comes less than two months before a parliamentary election, Iran's first since a presidential vote in 2009 that was followed by eight months of street demonstrations.

Iran's authorities successfully put down that revolt by force, but since then the "Arab Spring" has shown the vulnerability of authoritarian governments in the region to protests fueled by anger over economic difficulty.

CLASH THREAT

Iran has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz leading to the Gulf if sanctions are imposed on its oil exports, and has threatened to take unspecified action if Washington sails an aircraft carrier through the strait, an international waterway.

Military experts say Tehran can do little to fight the massive U.S.-led fleet that guards the strait, but the threats raise the chance of a miscalculation that could lead to a military clash and a global oil crisis.

The Pentagon said on Friday that small Iranian boats had approached close to U.S. vessels in the strait last week, although it said it did not believe there was "hostile intent."

The United States and Israel have not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the nuclear dispute. Iran says it would retaliate if attacked.

The tension has caused spikes in global oil prices in recent weeks, although prices eased at the close of last week's trading on the prospect of reduced demand in economically stricken European countries. Brent crude fell 82 cents to settle at $110.44 a barrel on Friday.

The chances for an imminent easing of tension look even more remote as the nuclear deadlock continues because of Iran's refusal to halt the sensitive nuclear work.

Last week Iran began enriching uranium underground - the most controversial part of its nuclear programme - at a bunker deep below a mountain near the Shi'ite holy city of Qom.

Nuclear talks with major powers collapsed a year ago. Iran says it wants the talks to resume, but the West says there is no point unless it is willing to discuss a halt to uranium enrichment, which can be used to make material for a bomb.
 
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