World briefs 2/15/06

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Britain approves ban on smoking in all pubs

LONDON -- Britain's lower house of Parliament voted on Tuesday to ban smoking in all public places in England -- including pubs, both public and private. Prime Minister Tony Blair had allowed all lawmakers from his Labour Party to vote their conscience on the issue -- rather than toeing the party line -- following widespread criticism of the party's earlier plans to exempt private clubs and pubs that do not serve food. The measure, which will take effect by summer 2007 if ratified by the upper chamber, extends the no smoking law to public places such as cinemas, offices, factories and shopping malls. Health officials hailed Parliament's decision, saying the legislation would lead to fewer deaths from smoking-related illnesses.

Man arrested in alleged copycat fire at Ala. church

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- A man described as mentally disturbed was jailed Tuesday on suspicion of setting fire to an abandoned church in what authorities said was a copycat of the recent church arsons in rural Alabama. Calhoun County Sheriff Larry Amerson said the arrest was "absolutely not" otherwise linked to the fires that have destroyed or damaged 10 rural Baptist churches since Feb. 3 in central and west Alabama. The man lived beside the old White Plains Church of God, where flames heavily damaged a storage room Monday night, and has a brother who is a volunteer firefighter, Calhoun County chief deputy Matthew Wade said. "He wanted to see his brother put out a fire," Wade said.

Saddam, co-defendants announce hunger strike

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- After shouts, insults, arguments and walkouts, Saddam Hussein and three of his co-defendants unveiled a new show-stealing tactic Tuesday: They announced in court that they had gone on hunger strike. Saddam said the strike was called to protest the tough way chief judge Raouf Abdel-Rahman has conducted the court since he took over last month. "For three days we have been holding a hunger strike protesting against your way of treating us -- against you and your masters," the former Iraqi leader said. Their claims could not be independently confirmed. Abdel-Rahman has tried to impose order in a court where outbursts and abuse, mostly by Saddam and his former intelligence chief and half brother Barzan Ibrahim, have often overshadowed the proceedings.

Cartoon protesters torch Western businesses

LAHORE, Pakistan -- With one important exception, angry demonstrations by Muslims across Asia and the Middle East against published cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad have fallen off in recent days. That exception is Pakistan, where protests have gathered momentum this week and intelligence officials suspect that outlawed Islamic militant groups are inciting the violence in an attempt to undermine President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's U.S.-allied government. On Tuesday, thousands rampaged through two cities in the country's worst violence yet over the issue, burning buildings housing a hotel, banks and a KFC, vandalizing a Citibank and breaking windows at a Holiday Inn and a Pizza Hut. The largest and most unruly protests were in the eastern city of Lahore, where at least two people were killed.

-- From wire reports

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