News in Brief

Assad's message to Pope; Fire on India train; Iraq arrests MP; Death toll in Beirut blast rises.

Fire on express train in India kills at least 26

A fire engulfed a coach of an express train in southern India on Saturday, killing at least 26 passengers, many of whom became trapped and suffocated after the doors failed to open, officials said. As the inferno and thick black smoke raced through the car at about 3:45 a.m., panicked passengers broke the windows and many saved themselves by jumping from the train. Sixty-seven passengers were in the carriage when the fire broke out about 2 kilometers (1 mile) from the small town of Puttaparthi in Andhra Pradesh state, said railways spokesman C.S. Gupta. The train was brought to a halt and the burning coach was delinked from the rest of the cars to prevent the fire from spreading, Gupta said. (AP)

Iraq troops arrest Sunni MP in violent raid

Iraqi security forces arrested a prominent Sunni Muslim lawmaker and supporter of anti-government protests in a raid on his home in the western province of Anbar, sparking clashes in which at least five people were killed, police sources said. Police sources said a two-hour firefight broke out on Saturday when bodyguards and members of Alwani’s tribe resisted police and soldiers who went to arrest Alwani on charges of “terrorism” from his house in the center of the city of Ramadi. They said those killed in the fighting included three of Alwani’s bodyguards, his sister and his brother. Parliament speaker Usama al-Nujaifi, a Sunni, called the operation a “blatant violation” of Iraq’s constitution and a “dangerous precedent.” (Reuters)


Death toll in Beirut blast rises to 7

Lebanon’s state news agency says a 19-year-old man wounded in Friday’s car bombing in central Beirut has died, raising the death toll in the attack to seven. The National News Agency says Mohammed Shaar died on Saturday from massive wounds sustained in the blast, which targeted prominent Lebanese politician Mohammed Chatah. The 62-year-old Chatah, who was a critic of Syria and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, also was killed in the explosion. Officials say Chatah is to be buried at noon today in the towering Mohammed Al-Amin Mosque in downtown Beirut. (AP)

Pro-democracy party to contest Myanmar poll

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party said on Saturday that it will contest 2015 parliamentary elections even if the country’s constitution barring her from running for president is not amended. It was the first time the National League for Democracy party announced it would take part in the polls, which Suu Kyi had said cannot be fair unless the constitution is changed. Myanmar is a republic where the president is chosen by parliament rather than directly elected. The NLD expects to do well enough in the 2015 polls to offer its own presidential candidate, and Suu Kyi has expressed an interest in running. (AP)

Syria’s Assad sends message to Pope Francis

Syrian President Bashar Assad has sent Pope Francis a private message, the Vatican said on Saturday, without disclosing its contents. It was the first known time Assad has sent a direct message to the pontiff since the start of Syria’s civil war in 2011. Pope Francis has made numerous appeals for an end to the conflict, the latest on Christmas Day. Vatican sources said the message likely included the Syrian government’s position ahead of peace talks due to start on Jan. 22 under UN auspices in Geneva. The Vatican, which has permanent observer status at the United Nations, also has a representative to UN organizations in Geneva. (Reuters)