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Briefly: Great Britain’s Houses of Parliament could close for repairs

- - Sunday, August 26, 2012

Great Britain

LONDON — Britain's iconic Houses of Parliament in London could close for up to five years while essential repairs are carried out, the Sunday Times newspaper said.

The broadsheet said several options were on the table while the plumbing and electrical system are refurbished and the building is purged of asbestos. The options including leaving the Palace of Westminster for good.

"Officials are undertaking an initial study into options for the long-term upkeep of the palace," a spokesman for parliament's lower House of Commons said.

"It is anticipated that the results of the initial study will be considered by the House of Commons commission and the House of Lords committee by the end of the year."

The Sunday Times said the Commons and the upper House of Lords could be evacuated for the first time since World War II, when the palace was repeatedly hit in Nazi air raids.

Options include leaving the palace, selling it and constructing a new building; constructing a temporary replica chamber on the palace grounds; or spreading the repair work out across decades of parliamentary breaks.

The interiors of the riverside Perpendicular Gothic palace, completed in 1870, have not been refurbished since the 1940s.

Parliament and the Treasury would have to approve the plans, the report said.

Russia

Punk rock activists on the run, band says

MOSCOW — A controversial Russian punk band says two activists who were being sought by police have left the country.

Five members of the feminist group took part in a provocative performance inside Moscow's main cathedral in February to protest President Vladimir Putin's rule and his cozy relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church.

The women wore their trademark balaclavas, but only three were identified and arrested. After a trial that drew international attention and support from major pop singers such as Madonna, they were sentenced Aug. 17 to two years in prison.

Days later, Moscow police said they were searching for the others in what was seen as a warning to the group to stop its anti-Putin protests.

The band tweeted Sunday that the two activists had fled Russia and are "recruiting foreign feminists to prepare new protest actions."

Italy

Pierre Cardin designs sky scraper for fashion

MILAN — French fashion designer Pierre Cardin has designed a gift meant as an economic catalyst for Venice and the region: an 800-foot-tall glass skyscraper housing a fashion university, luxury hotel suites and shops.

But the proposed $3 billion project faces criticism for the size and appearance of the skyscraper.

The "Palace of Light" has been described alternatively as a spaceship that crashed into a lagoon, a shiny fishing lure or an illuminated mushroom.

To help win over Venetians, Mr. Cardin will open an exhibit on the project Monday at an international architecture exhibition in Venice.

Mr. Cardin, who turned 90 in July, intends the project to be a gift to his native Veneto, the Italian region he left at age 2 to move to France.

United Kingdom

Hackers hit supporter of WikiLeaks founder

LONDON — Hackers claiming allegiance to the Anonymous movement of cyberrebels have defaced the website of a former British Cabinet minister in solidarity with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

But former Wales and Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain said Sunday that the attackers don't seem to have done their homework.

"If the reason is revenge for Assange's treatment, it's weird to attack me," Mr. Hain said in comments carried by the BBC. "They have not done their research because I have supported Assange and opposed his extradition."

Mr. Assange, whose website outraged U.S. officials with its spectacular leaks of classified data, is wanted in Sweden over allegations of sexual assault against two women he met there in 2010. The nearly two-year effort to extradite him from Britain has drawn worldwide attention, in part because Mr. Assange and his supporters have suggested that the Swedish sex case is a part of a Washington-orchestrated plot to drag him to the United States, where officials are weighing whether to charge him over the disclosures.

The Swedish government -- and the women involved -- deny the claims.

Mr. Assange's fight to avoid extradition took a dramatic turn in June, when he fled to the Ecuador Embassy seeking refuge. The ensuing standoff sparked a diplomatic crisis between Britain and Ecuador and could potentially drag on for years.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports