World briefs 12/03/02

British firefighters suspend national strike

LONDON -- Firefighters said Monday they were suspending their national strike and would begin talks on settling a pay dispute amid signs that their protest was having little impact.

Fire Brigades Union leader Andy Gilchrist said the union's executive council decided to suspend an eight-day strike scheduled to begin Wednesday and to seek independent arbitration with employers.

The government welcomed the move.

The unexpected decision came after the government said Monday that the rolling strike was causing "minimal" disruption to normal life in Britain because emergency coverage by soldiers with outdated equipment was providing adequate protection.

A government report on the impact of the strike praised the 19,000 personnel from the army, navy and air force for their work as temporary firefighters.

American convicted in killing of billionaire

MONTE CARLO, Monaco -- An American male nurse was convicted Monday in the arson deaths of billionaire banker Edmond Safra and a nurse, and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Ted Maher was convicted of arson leading to death. The 1999 fire in this wealthy Mediterranean enclave also killed one of Safra's other nurses, Vivian Torrente.

The prosecution had requested 12 years in prison for Maher. The charges carried a maximum penalty of life in prison.

"He directly caused the deaths of Mrs. Torrente and Mr. Safra," said head prosecutor Daniel Serdet. "He trapped the victims."

The defense said Maher -- who admitted setting the fire -- did not intend for Safra and the nurse to die. His intention was merely to trigger the fire alarm and pose as Safra's rescuer.

Smallpox vaccine in store for some British workers

LONDON -- Key British military and health personnel will be vaccinated for smallpox as a precaution against bioterror, the government said Monday, but stressed it has no evidence of a specific threat.

Those vaccinated would be emergency responders on the front lines in the event of a smallpox attack under Britain's new plans for reacting to possible bioterrorism.

"Since the tragic events of Sept. 11, the Department of Health has strengthened its plans against any deliberate release of biological agents, including smallpox," Health Minister John Hutton said in a written statement to Parliament.

New archbishop of Canterbury confirmed

LONDON -- Rowan Williams became leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans on Monday as he was confirmed as the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury in a special service at St. Paul's Cathedral.

The soft-spoken intellectual, who has called on the church to debate the thorny issues of homosexuality and the ordination of women, replaces the Most Rev. George Carey as leader of the Church of England and the Anglican Communion worldwide.

Dressed in traditional black, white and purple, Williams pledged allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II, who as monarch is temporal head of the Church of England. He also declared his loyalty to the historic practices of the church.

"It's a very humbling thing to be included in this long succession of archbishops, and a very humbling thing to be aware of the trust that has been placed in my hands," Williams, 52, said afterward.--From wire reports

Russia, China vow to deepen cooperation

BEIJING -- The leaders of Russia and China vowed Monday to strengthen their "strategic partnership" and declared common positions on key foreign policy fronts, urging peaceful solutions in Iraq and North Korea and promising to support each other's battles with Muslim separatists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and China's Jiang Zemin signed a 13-page joint declaration calling for a "multipolar world" -- a phrase used by both to express dissatisfaction with U.S. global dominance.

Putin emphasized that Russia -- which spans Europe and Asia -- wants partners and power in both the East and West.

-- From wire reports