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Briton backs ban on public smoking

England's chief medical officer called for a ban on smoking in public places Thursday to combat the threat of illnesses caused by secondhand smoke.

Sir Liam Donaldson, publishing his annual report on the state of public health, said that he favored legislation to end smoking in such places as pubs, restaurants and shopping centers.

"Tobacco has had an unrivaled, unchallenged run as the major killer in this country over the last 50 years," Donaldson said. "It has been the David of health against the Goliath of tobacco."

AGE BIAS TARGETED: The British government unveiled proposals aimed at ending age discrimination in the workplace, moving to comply with a European Union directive.

Trade and Industry Secretary Patricia Hewitt said the proposed legislation would abolish mandatory retirement ages and ban discrimination on the basis of age in hiring and firing.

The proposals aim to give workers more flexibility when deciding when to retire, although they would still be able to claim a state pension at age 65, Hewitt said.

U.N. agency adds sites to World Heritage List

PARIS _ Afghanistan's Bamiyan Valley, home to the fabled Buddha statues destroyed by the Taliban, and the ancient Iraqi city of Ashur were among 24 sites added to UNESCO's World Heritage List on Thursday.

Threatened by ongoing civil unrest, the sites in Iraq and Afghanistan also were placed on the organization's endangered list, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization said in a statement.

Among the new sites was London's Kew Gardens _ officially the Royal Botanic Gardens _ for its plant diversity, and a district of the Israeli city of Tel Aviv famous for its Bauhaus architecture, the statement said.

And, for the first time, sites in Gambia, Kazakstan, Mongolia and Sudan were listed.

EU lifts ban on altered foods, keeps labels

BRUSSELS _ Seeking to avoid a trade battle with Washington, the European Parliament on Wednesday paved the way for new biotech foods to be sold in Europe if they are clearly labeled.

But the Bush administration complained that the labeling requirements are onerous. Under the new laws, hundreds of American-made foods would have to be labeled as having genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, because many of them contain starches or syrups derived from genetically engineered corn.

European consumers might not buy the genetically modified products because of widespread public fears of what critics deride as "Frankenfood." The 626-member EU assembly gave final approval to legislation introducing the tougher labeling of new genetically altered food products.

Also . . .

SANCTIONS IMPOSED: The Bush administration on Thursday imposed economic sanctions on five Chinese companies and a North Korean company that it said had assisted Iran's weapons programs.

GERMAN SCHOOL SHOOTING: A 16-year-old student armed with a pistol and a revolver opened fire in his classroom Wednesday, wounding a school psychologist and fatally shooting himself. Two students were slightly injured in the rush to flee the public school in Coburg, Germany.

DRACULA THEME PARK: Romania's prime minister has reassured investors that the government plans to back the building of a Dracula theme park, despite discouraging comments from his new tourism minister.

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