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Prime Minister David Cameron warned Tuesday that Britain could leave the EU if it does not get the reforms it wants before a "once-in-a-generation" referendum to settle its troubled relationship with Europe.

In a major speech outlining Britain's demands for change following pressure from EU leaders, Cameron warned he was ready to "think again" about Britain's membership if he could not strike a deal with Brussels and the bloc's 27 other member states.

But in a sign of the British premier's looming tussle, the European Commission immediately responded, saying it deemed parts of Cameron's EU renegotiation objectives "highly problematic".

Cameron's comments came as he sends a long-awaited letter to EU president Donald Tusk laying out Britain's shopping list for change to avert a "Brexit" in a vote due to be held by 2017 at the latest.

"The referendum... will be a once-in-a-generation choice," Cameron said. "This is a huge decision for our country -- perhaps the biggest we'll make in our lifetime."

 

 

Iran on Saturday announced dates for a three-day oil and gas conference in London in February designed to attract foreign investors awaiting new contract terms to be unveiled next month.

Oil majors have expressed interest in returning to Iran as soon as international sanctions linked to its nuclear programme are lifted, but they are currently still barred from signing any deals.

A nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, struck in July, is due to be implemented in December or January and a top official said the timing had influenced the London event.

The "Iran Oil and Gas Summit Post Sanctions" event in Britain's capital is scheduled for February 22-24, said Seyed Mehdi Hosseini, head of the country's oil contracts re-negotiation team.

"It is predicted sanctions relief will start from January 2016, so the London conference date is in February," Hosseini told SHANA, the oil ministry's news service.

 

 

 

British police on Monday said they will no longer stand guard outside London's Ecuadorean embassy where WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange took refuge in 2012, but will strengthen a "covert plan" to prevent his departure.

Britain's Foreign Office later confirmed that it had summoned the Ecuadorean ambassador to "register once again our deep frustration at the protracted delay" in extraditing Assange to Sweden to face questions over a rape allegation.

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) said Monday that it had "today... withdrawn the physical presence of officers from outside the embassy.

"The operation to arrest Julian Assange does however continue and should he leave the embassy the MPS will make every effort to arrest him.

"Whilst no tactics guarantee success in the event of Julian Assange leaving the embassy, the MPS will deploy a number of overt and covert tactics to arrest him," police said in a statement.

Swedish prosecutors want to question Assange about a rape claim, which carries a 10-year statute of limitations that expires in 2020.

Assange, who faces arrest if he tries to leave the embassy, denies the allegation and insists the sexual encounter was consensual.

The Foreign Office said Monday that the head of the diplomatic service, Simon McDonald, had summoned Ecuadorean Ambassador Carlos Abad Ortiz to insist on a resolution to the impasse.

"The UK has been absolutely clear since June 2012 that we have a legal obligation to extradite Assange to Sweden," said the ministry statement.

"That obligation remains today," it added.

 

 

 

A monkey that sneezes when it rains and a "walking" fish are among more than 200 species discovered in the fragile eastern Himalayas in recent years, according to conservation group WWF. WWF has compiled a survey of wildlife discovered by scientists across Bhutan, northeast India, Nepal, north Myanmar and southern Tibet in a bid to raise awareness of the threats facing the ecologically sensitive region. The species include what the WWF

described as a blue-coloured "walking snakehead fish", which can breathe air, survive on land for four days and slither up to 400 metres (a quarter of a mile) on wet ground.

Others include an ornate red, yellow and orange pit viper that could pass for a piece of jewellery, a fresh-water "dracula" fish with fangs and three new types of bananas.

In the forests of northern Myanmar, scientists learned in 2010 of a black and white monkey with an upturned nose that causes it to sneeze when it rains.

On rainy days they often sit with their heads tucked between their knees to avoid getting water in their snub noses.

 

Dressed in black and carrying black umbrellas, the protesters sang and performed a dramatisation of an oil spill, before sitting down on the floor in the museum's great court in lines forming the word "No".

The demonstrators carried banners reading "end oil" and "no new BP deal".

Protester Yasmin de Silva, who protested at Tate Britain before joining a larger protest at the museum, called BP "one of the dirtiest and most controversial oil companies in the world" and called their cultural sponsorship "incongruous".

"Unfortunately, oil companies like BP are doing all they can to prevent meaningful action on climate change from taking place," de Silva said.

"Tate, the British Museum and other London cultural institutions are explicitly endorsing them in doing it."

 

 

 

Man-made global warming is set to produce exceptionally high average temperatures this year and next, boosted by natural weather phenomena such as El Nino, Britain's top climate and weather body said in a report Monday.

"It looks very likely that globally 2014, 2015 and 2016 will all be amongst the very warmest years ever recorded," Rowan Sutton of the National Centre for Atmospheric Science, which contributed to the report, told journalists.

"This is not a fluke," he said. "We are seeing the effects of energy steadily accumulating in the Earth's oceans and atmosphere, caused by greenhouse gas emissions."

The rate at which global temperatures are increasing is also on track to pick up in the coming years, ending a period of more than a decade in which the pace of warming worldwide had appeared to slow down, the report said.

This "pause" has been seized upon by sceptics as evidence that climate change was driven more by natural cycles than human activity.

Some scientists, however, argue that there was no significant slowdown, pointing instead to flawed calculations.

The 20-page report from Britain's Met Office, entitled "Big changes underway in the climate system?", highlights current transitions in major weather patterns that affect rainfall and temperatures at a regional level.

An El Nino weather pattern centered in the tropical Pacific Ocean is "well underway", the report says, and shaping up to be one of the most intense on record. Very strong El Ninos also occurred over the winters of 1997 and 1982.

Set to grow stronger in the coming months, the current El Nino -- a result of shifting winds and ocean circulation -- is likely to result is dry conditions in parts of Asia and Australia, as well as southern and sub-Saharan North Africa, the Met Office said.

By contrast, the southwestern United States -- including parched California, suffering from an historic drought -- has a strong chance of seeing higher-than-average rainfall.

El Ninos also affect tropical storms, making them less likely in the North Atlantic and more intense in the West Pacific, where they are known as typhoons.

Overall, an El Nino is also likely to add a little heat to the general impact of global warming.

Meanwhile, warming sea surface temperatures along the North American west coast point to a reversal of another natural pattern called the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

 

 

Better known for its lavish stately country homes, Britain's National Trust is changing tack this month by offering tours of concrete buildings seen by many as hideous eyesores.

Large-scale, rugged and mostly grey, so-called brutalist architecture flourished around Britain in the post-war years, partly due to the relatively low cost of construction.

Some architects saw the style as modern and progressive, although many brutalist housing estates are now a byword for urban decay.

"Love it or not, brutalism was the dominant post-war architectural movement that sought to offer the best of design to the masses through public housing schemes, new universities and venues for the arts and education that were accessible to all," the Trust said in a statement.

 

 

Queen Elizabeth II is planning to keep things low-key on Wednesday when she will overtake Queen Victoria as Britain's longest-serving monarch, despite public interest in the historic date.

The queen will ride on a steam train in Scotland to inaugurate a new railway line and will host a dinner at Balmoral Castle with her grandson Prince William and his wife Kate in attendance.

According to calculations by royal officials, at around 1630 GMT Elizabeth will beat her great-great grandmother Victoria's time on the throne: a total of 63 years, seven months and two days which she served between 1837 and 1901.

The exact hour has been difficult to determine because the exact start of her reign -- the moment when her father George VI passed away -- is difficult to work out as the king died at night in his sleep.

The 89-year-old Elizabeth, also the world's oldest monarch, had originally not planned anything special for the day itself but reportedly agreed to a public appearance due to public pressure.

"You need to remember for the queen this is a date whose calculation rests on the death of her father and great-great grandmother. That naturally colours the way she sees it," a royal source said.

"While she acknowledges it as an historic moment, it's also for her not a moment she would personally celebrate, which is why she has been keen to convey business as usual, and no fuss," the source said.

Buckingham Palace will mark the day with a photo display of her reign and the Royal Mint has designed a new silver £20 coin (27 euros, $30) with the five official portraits since she became queen in 1952.

 

- New Elizabethan Age? -

 

Historian David Starkey said the queen's style, inherited from her father King George VI, and grandfather King George V, had helped "established a record of unimpeachable integrity".

He said her refusal to comment on controversial issues had deprived "republicanism of the necessary oxygen of controversy".

However, it also meant she had "done and said nothing that anybody will remember" and she would therefore "not give her name to her age" as Victoria did, the historian wrote in the Radio Times.

By contrast, fellow historian Andrew Gimson argued that Elizabeth's reign "will be seen as an incredible accomplishment," spanning a period "marked by many major social and economic changes".

These changes saw Britain's global influence, which peaked during Victoria's reign, diminish as the empire gave way to independence.

It was a process already under way when Elizabeth came to the throne, as the country was rebuilt after the trauma of World War II.

She then witnessed Europe draw closer together, eventually leading to the formation of the European Union, but also saw turmoil at home as Britain's economy collapsed during the 1970s.

Over the Irish Sea, the Troubles raged in Northern Ireland for decades of her reign, eventually being brought to an end by the 1998 peace agreement, while mass immigration changed the face of the country.

 

 

Islamophobic and anti-Semitic hate crimes in London have soared over the last year, official figures released on Monday showed, with global events apparently contributing to the rise.

Police recorded 816 Islamophobic offences in the 12 months to July, up more than 70 percent from 478 in the previous 12 months.

Anti-Semitic crime surged 93 percent over the same period, with 499 incidents recorded compared with 258 the previous year.

London's Metropolitan Police said "world events" may have contributed to the increase, while there was also a rise in incidents on holy days when Muslim and Jewish communities were more "visible".

A willingness by victims to report such crimes and improved ability of police to identify them were also factors, Scotland Yard said.

"In light of recent world events, we know communities in London are feeling anxious," a spokesman for the force said.

"Local Neighbourhood Policing Teams are providing a more targeted presence in key areas at key times, such as school routes, holy days and prayer times to give extra reassurance."

Fiyaz Mughal, from Tell Mama, an organisation with monitors Islamophobic incidents, said around 60 percent of victims of such offences are women wearing a hijab or headscarf.

"We also realised quite early on that women who wear niqab, the face veil, suffered more aggressive incidents -- there was something about the face veil that in a way brought out the worst in the perpetrator," he told the BBC.

 

 

London Zoo on Wednesday carried out its annual weigh-in as it sought to keep track of more than 17,000 animals in its care.

Ten-week-old penguin chicks and 80-year-old tortoises were among a huge variety of animals that had their vital statistics recorded at the zoo in London's Regents Park.

Each measurement is recorded in the Zoological Information Management System (ZIMS), a database shared with zoos all around the world, helping zookeepers to compare important information on thousands of endangered species.

"With different behaviours, personalities and traits to take into consideration, zookeepers use ingenious tactics to entice the animals in their care to stand up and be measured," said an official from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).