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Saturday, December 10

Editor's Note: CNN News Update is a running log of the latest news from CNN World Headquarters, reported by CNN's correspondents, producers and Wires.CNN editors.

Israeli defense minister quits Likud Party to join Sharon

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz has quit the Likud Party to align with the party founded by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, a spokesman for Sharon's Kadima party confirmed Sunday.

Sharon last month left Likud to form Kadima with the aim of reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians. He was followed earlier this month by his political rival, former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who resigned from the Labor Party and endorsed Sharon in the upcoming race for prime minister, also aligning himself with Kadima.

"Kadima is a party today that supports the things that I've supported all my life," Peres, 82, earlier told CNN. "Namely, a solution which is based on a Palestinian state on the side of the Israeli state ... We don't have too much time, and we have to go to work." --CNN Producer Shira Medding contributed to this report. (Posted 4:07 a.m.)

Police treating British blasts, fire as accident

LONDON (CNN) -- Several large explosions, apparently at an oil depot, rocked a town about 25 miles north of London early Sunday, causing some casualties and sparking a massive blaze. Police said the incident was being treated as an accident.

Officials at the Luton Airport told British television network ITN the blast did not involve an aircraft and was not on airport grounds. Hertfordshire police also said there was no plane involved.

About 20 petroleum tanks were thought to be involved in the blaze at the Buncefield Oil Depot in Hemel Hempstead, said Jane Vine, spokeswoman for Hertfordshire (prono: HEART-ford-shur) Fire and Rescue. Ten firefighting units are currently fighting the flames and searching the area, she said.

Vine had no information on casualties. Hertfordshire police earlier told ITN there were casualties but did not elaborate. One witness told ITN he had helped carry a wounded security guard to safety. "What we're really concerned about is toxic smoke from the area," Vine told CNN. "There's a heavy cloud. We don't know if it's toxic, but we're asking people in Hemel Hempstead to keep their windows and doors closed and stay inside."

Residents closest to the depot were being evacuated, she said, and nearby roadways, including the M1 and M10, were closed.

Hemel Hempstead residents reported hearing a loud boom about 6 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET). Two other blasts followed, British television network ITN reported, at 6:26 and 6:27 a.m. The network showed flames shooting an estimated 80 to 100 meters (up to 300 feet) in the air, along with an immense cloud of smoke.

The blast was enough to wake residents of west London, some 40 miles away. (Updated 3:40 a.m.)

Actor in custody after fatal shooting of NYPD officer

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Actor Lillo Brancatto Jr., who played Robert DeNiro's son in "A Bronx Tale" and has appeared on "The Sopranos," was arrested with another man Saturday in connection with the shooting death of an off-duty New York Police officer outside his Bronx home.

Neither man has been charged, according to police.

They gave the following account of the incident.

Officer Daniel Enchautegui (prono: en chow TE ghee) had just come home from a late shift at work when he heard glass break at 5:15 a.m. in a vacant home next door. He called 911 to report a burglary, then went outside where he encountered two suspects.

A fierce gunbattle followed, and all three men were shot. Enchautegui, 28, was found lying in his driveway. All three men were taken to Jacobi Medical Center, where the officer died at 6:09 a.m.

Brancato, 29, of Yonkers, played DeNiro's son in the 1993 film "A Bronx Tale," about a father trying, unsuccessfully, to keep his young son away from the mob in their Mafia-run neighborhood. In "The Sopranos" in 1999-2000, Brancato played a mob wannabe who eventually is murdered.

Pilots report problems with slowing plane in Chicago jet accident

CHICAGO (CNN) -- A preliminary probe into what happened to a Southwest Airlines jet that slid off a runway and into a Chicago intersection reveals that reverse thrusters that slow a plane down after landing didn't immediately deploy, the lead aviation investigator said Saturday night.

"The captain had a problem deploying the thrust reversers, so there was a delay in that particular maneuver," said Robert Benzon of the National Transportation Safety Board. In addition, one of the four thrust reversal stages failed when the plane hit the barrier fence surrounding Midway Airport, he said.

Benzon said the three pilots, interviewed for three hours each Saturday, told investigators they began applying the brakes manually when they saw the plane wasn't slowly properly.

The investigator said it wasn't clear how big a role, if any, the thruster problem played in the accident that killed a 6-year-old boy sitting with his family in a car that was crushed by the jet on the street Thursday. A second car was trapped under a wing.

Flight attendants reported it was "a smooth landing," but they could sense a lack of deceleration, Benzon said.

Tow trucks Saturday moved the Boeing 737-700 jet to a hangar, where it will undergo further examinations by NTSB investigators. A crane lifted a sling around the nose of the aircraft to remove it from the intersection of 55th Street and Central Avenue. (Posted 10:48 p.m.)

Daughter of Iraq hostage, anti-war protester plead for father's release

(CNN) -- The daughter of Tom Fox, one of four Christian peace workers threatened with execution in Iraq, pleaded with his captors Saturday to let him go, and said Iraqis have justified concerns about the U.S. "occupation" of the country.

Another deadline for their executions passed on Saturday, with no communication from the captors. The original execution deadline was Thursday. It was early Sunday in Iraq when Katherine Fox made her appeal.

The Swords of Justice Brigades kidnapped the men Nov. 26, and has threatened to kill them unless all Iraqi prisoners are released.

"Our entire family is making a personal appeal to those who have taken him," Fox told CNN. She added that her 54-year-old father is "not willing to sacrifice his dedication to the Iraqi people for any armed assistance from the U.S. government."

The other captives from the Christian Peacemaker Teams are James Loney, 41, of Ontario; Canadian Harmeet Sooden, 32; and Briton Norman Kember, 74.

Earlier Saturday, high-profile anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan said her "heart goes out" to the four hostages, and urged the kidnappers to "rise above violence and let them go." (Posted 7:51 p.m.)

Comedian Richard Pryor dies at 65

(CNN) -- Comedian and actor Richard Pryor who "turned pain into comedy" died Saturday of a heart attack, just days turning 65.

Pryor, who suffered from multiple sclerosis, died at Encino Hospital at 7:58 a.m. PT (10:58 a.m. ET).

Jennifer Lee Pryor told CNN she tried to revive him before paramedics arrived and took him to the hospital.

"He enjoyed life right up until the end," she said. "At the end there was a smile on his face."

The Pryors remarried in June 2001, 19 years after they divorced. Richard Pryor, who married seven times to five different wives, is survived by three children.

"He was able to turn pain into comedy," Jennifer Pryor said. "He let the world see it, and that was his inspiration too." "People said, 'If he can do it, I can do it.'"

Pryor was born in Peoria, Ill., on Dec. 1, 1940. (Updated, 6:40 p.m.)

Former Minnesota senator Eugene McCarthy dies at age 89

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former Minnesota senator and one-time Democratic presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy died Saturday afternoon at his Georgetown apartment after becoming ill the night before, his son told CNN.

He was 89.

McCarthy was a critic of the Vietnam War who challenged Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 New Hampshire primary and won enough votes -- although not the primary itself -- to become a serious candidate for the nomination.

Johnson's weakness in that primary helped convince New York Sen. Robert Kennedy to enter the race, splitting the anti-war vote.

Michael McCarthy said his father ran for president several times to shed light on the issues of the day.

"I think he wanted to make his point, I don't think he expected to win probably any of his attempts," Michael said. (Posted, 6 p.m.)

Schwarzenegger: No decision today on Tookie Williams

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNN) -- California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger won't make a decision Saturday on whether to grant clemency to convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams who is on death row and scheduled to be executed early Tuesday, his office said.

Schwarzenegger has until late Monday to reach his decision; his office has indicated the governor will likely make it before Monday.

Williams -- who would turn 52 on Dec. 29 -- is to die by lethal injection.

Williams' attorneys have asked Schwarzenegger to grant their client clemency, which would commute his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (Updated, 6:40 p.m.)

Nigerian plane carrying students crash-lands at airport; 103 dead, 7 survivors

(CNN) -- A Nigerian passenger plane Saturday carrying a "large number" of schoolchildren crash-landed at an airport in southern Nigeria, killing 103 of the 110 people on board the plane, according to Nigerian officials.

The Sosoliso Airlines aircraft was coming in from the nation's capital Abuja, when it crashed at Port Harcourt's airport Saturday afternoon during bad weather, acting director of Nigeria's federal aviation authority Femi Shittu said.

The cause of the crash is still unclear.

Deputy government spokesman Honour Sirawoo told journalist David Clarke that at least 65 children were among those killed.

The children were students from a Catholic secondary school in Abuja, returning home for the holidays, according to The Rev. Felix Femi Ajakaye, spokesman for the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria in the nation's capital, Abuja.

Nigeria's air safety record is spotty, with more than 10 crashes since 1995, killing over 470 people -- including Saturday's crash.

A Bellview Airlines plane went down in bad weather near Lagos on Oct. 22, killing all 117 people on board, including one American. (Updated, 640 p.m.)

Bush praises Patriot Act compromise, which faces possible filibuster in Senate

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush Saturday praised House and Senate leaders for reaching a deal last week to extend provisions of the Patriot Act, which are set to expire at the end of the year, and asked lawmakers to quickly approve the measure so he can sign it into law.

"By renewing the Patriot Act, we will ensure that our law enforcement and intelligence officers have the tools they need to protect our citizens," Bush said in his weekly radio address.

The proposal will renew all 16 provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire on Dec. 31, making 14 of them permanent. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., one of the lead negotiators, said Thursday that the compromise measure is "not a perfect bill but a good bill."

Republican Senator John Sununu of New Hampshire told CNN he will join Democrat Sen. Russ Feingold, if the Wisconsin senator filibusters against the proposal.

Sununu and Feingold are among six bipartisan Senators who have rejected the proposal in favor of a bipartisan compromise reauthorization bill that passed the Senate by unanimous consent. (Posted, 3:10 p.m.)

Federal officials hold 'tabletop' bird-flu pandemic 'drill'

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Federal officials conducted a four-hour bureaucratic "drill" on Saturday at the White House to test the government's response to a bird-flu pandemic, an effort that comes amid persistent criticism that the federal government's reflex after Hurricane Katrina was sluggish and poorly organized.

President Bush's homeland security adviser Frances Townsend and other officials held a news conference Saturday to announce the drill had taken place, but would not give specifics on the nature of the "tabletop" exercise.

Townsend did say "it's a drill, it's meant to push federal resources to the breaking point" and to spot "gaps" and then "work to fill them." She gave a thumbs-up to the effort.

Top federal officials and Cabinet secretaries were part of the drill, but President Bush and Vice President Cheney did not partake in the exercise. (Posted, 3:05 p.m.)

Latest Ramadi operation completed ahead of Thursday election

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- The latest in a series of counter-insurgency operations in Iraq's Anbar provincial capital has ended, with U.S. and Iraqi soldiers seizing weapons, detaining insurgents. and finding a bomb-making factory and a roadside explosive, the U.S. military said Saturday.

Operation Skinner, which began Wednesday night in central Ramadi, was completed on Saturday, the seventh such action in the key town since Nov. 16. The purpose of the operations is to keep the city safe for Thursday's Iraqi parliamentary elections. The other operations were called Panthers, Bruins, Lions, Tigers, Shank and Rams.

"The operation netted four weapons caches and several detainees and also two command initiated rocket systems designed to ambush passing convoys in central Ramadi. The combined forces also discovered a roadside bomb that the insurgents planned to use in the rocket attack.

"Iraqi and U.S. forces also disrupted terrorist plans when they discovered an insurgent bomb making factory in the center of the Ramadi Shopping district. Artillery and mortar rounds, timers and remote detonators were found in the bomb making facility," the military said in a statement.

U.S. military officials say insurgents active along the Euphrates River corridor have migrated east from the Syrian border and have established a presence in Ramadi. (Posted 12:35 p.m.)

Polish PM ordering investigation into CIA prison claims

(CNN) -- The Polish prime minister said on Saturday he will order a probe into assertions that terror suspects have been detained and interrogated by the CIA at secret prisons in Poland.

Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz told reporters in Warsaw that said he is ordering "an investigation at all possible locations, to determine whether there is any evidence at all that such events took place on our territory."

The Human Rights Watch group said Friday that it "has not reached final conclusions about CIA operations in eastern Europe" after a report in a Polish newspaper quoting a HRW researcher about alleged CIA interrogations in Poland and Romania.

Human Rights Watch said "it has collected information that CIA airplanes traveling from Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004 made direct flights to remote airfields in Poland and Romania. We are continuing to investigate the issue and are cooperating with ongoing Council of Europe investigations. We urge all governments and agencies to do the same.

Marcinkiewicz said on Saturday that "this matter must finally be closed, because it could prove dangerous for Poland." (Posted 11:35 a.m.)

ElBaradei gives Nobel Peace Prize speech, wants world without nuclear weapons

(CNN) -- Mohamed ElBaradei -- the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency who won the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for his work in battling the spread of nuclear weaponry -- said he wants a world where nuclear weaponry evolves into "a taboo" and a "historical anomaly" in the same category as "slavery" and "genocide."

"If we hope seriously to escape self-destruction, then I believe that nuclear weapons should have no place in our collective conscience and no role in our security," said ElBaradei, who made remarks in an address after he received his peace prize on Saturday. "To that end, we must ensure -- absolutely -- that no more countries acquire these deadly weapons."

ElBaradei shares the award with the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which he heads.

Fifteen or so years after the Cold War, when nuclear weaponry proliferated, ElBaradei said "eight or nine countries" continue to possess such armaments and "27,000" nuclear warheads are "still in existence." "To me," said ElBaradei -- the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, "these are 27,000 warheads too many." (Updated, 641 p.m.)

IDF: First time since disengagement, Israeli forces find Gaza tunnel

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- The Israel Defense Forces on Saturday said its personnel found a tunnel "originating from the Gaza Strip and leading toward Israel," the first such discovery since the Israeli military withdrew from Gaza over the summer.

The tunnel -- described as several meters in depth and about 20 meters in length -- "was uncovered" Friday afternoon during engineering work north of Gaza, the Palestinian territory.

The IDF said in a statement that "terror organizations had intended to use the tunnel in order to infiltrate Israel and carry out terror attacks within the country."

"IDF forces revealed the tunnel shaft near the Erez security crossing. The shaft connected to the tunnel path leading to a garbage dump site, behind which the terrorists had intended to ... enter the tunnel and infiltrate Israel. "

The military says it is working to "render" the tunnel "useless" with controlled detonation procedures. (Posted 9:43 a.m.)

Egyptian kidnapped in Iraq Friday found slain north of Tikrit

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Police in Tikrit told CNN on Saturday they found the slain body of an Egyptian man kidnapped on Friday.

Gunmen on Friday afternoon abducted Mohammed Ibrahim al-Hilali from his house in northern Tikrit, where he lived for more than 10 years, police said.

His body was found Saturday morning on a road between Tikrit and Baiji near a town north of Tikrit.

Al-Hilali was described by police as a contractor doing business with a U.S. military base in Tikrit, located in Salaheddin province north of Baghdad. (Posted 9:27 a.m.)

Election workers from Sunni Arab party shot in Mosul; 1 dead

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- An election worker from a Sunni Arab political party in Iraq was killed in a drive-by shooting while hanging election posters in the northern city of Mosul, police there told CNN.

The victim was a member of the Iraqi Islamic Party. Another was wounded in the incident, which took place at 1:50 p.m. The shooting comes days before the Iraqi parliamentary elections, which will be held on Thursday. (Posted 9:26 a.m.)

Four U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq on Saturday

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Four Task Force Baghdad soldiers were killed on Saturday in separate incidents in and around the capital, the U.S. military said.

An improvised explosive device killed one of them in the Adhamiya district of north Baghdad. Another "was killed by small-arms fire while on patrol northwest of Baghdad. Small arms fire claimed the lives of two more soldiers in in the Yusufiya district southwest of Baghdad. The U.S. military on Saturday also announced two other troop deaths earlier in the week.

A Task Force Baghdad soldier died Friday when a suicide car bomber attacked a unit operating west Baghdad's Abu Ghraib district. Eleven other soldiers and an Iraqi civilian were wounded.

A soldier assigned to the 155th Brigade Combat Team, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), died of a suspected heart attack while on guard duty Thursday at Forward Operating Base Kalsu. Since the war began, 2,141 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. (Posted 9:10 a.m.)

Fugitive Croatian general transferred to Hague

MADRID (CNN) -- Former Croatian general Ante Gotovina has been transferred to the Hague, where he will stand trial for war crimes in charges stemming from the Balkans conflict last decade.

Gotovina was arrested Wednesday night in Spain's Canary Islands. He left Madrid on Saturday morning for the Netherlands, where the Hague is located. He was taken to the Detention Unit of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia -- the full name of the war crimes tribunal.

The tribunal said Gotovina "is charged with persecutions, murder, plunder of property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, deportation and forced displacement, and other inhumane acts, which took place under his command and control, against the Serb population during and in the aftermath of the August 1995 Croatian military offensive known as Operation Storm." (Posted 9:10 a.m.)

Sheehan urges release of four Christian humanitarian workers abducted in Iraq

(CNN) -- A high-profile anti-war activist on Saturday said her "heart goes out" to the four Christian humanitarian workers abducted by kidnappers in Iraq and urged the kidnappers to "rise above violence and let them go."

Cindy Sheehan, answering questions at an anti-war conference in London, said, "the violence and killing has to end at some point." The woman, whose son died in Baghdad combat last year while serving in Iraq, said, "I don't think this is going to help. This won't help the cause of ending the occupation. I know what my government is doing is wrong and we're trying to stop that."

A Saturday execution deadline looms for the four -- two Canadians, an American, and a Briton -- who work with a group called the Christian Peacemaker Teams. (Posted 7:33 a.m.)

Israel: No plans for economic strictures on Gaza

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said on Saturday that Israel does not intend to place Gaza under what amounts to an economic siege, but may consider changing the status of Gaza crossing points into Israel if the Palestinian Authority does not take action against militant groups.

Israeli media had reported a threat to limit the flow of goods across the boundary between Gaza and Israel. Spokesman Ra'anan Gissin said there were no plans to do so. However, he said, Israel may change the status of the Gaza crossings to international borders if action against militants is not taken. And if Gaza's Karni and Erez crossings were given international-border status, he said, Palestinian exports into Israel would be significantly slowed as a consequence.

The Israeli Cabinet will discuss the issue during its weekly meeting on Sunday, Gissin said. -- CNN Producer Yoav Appel contributed to this report. (Posted 7:27 a.m.)

Atomic energy official: Iran will enrich uranium, produce nuclear fuel

(CNN) -- The head of Iran's atomic energy organization said Saturday the country will enrich uranium and produce nuclear fuel, despite efforts to keep it from doing so.

Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the first construction phase of a nuclear power plant has begun in Darkhoin in Khuzestan province, according to a report from the semi-official Fars News Agency. That plant, he told reporters, will use fuel manufactured in Iran, by Iranian specialists, the news agency reported. That would involve enrichment of uranium.

The United States and the European Union have feared that Iran intends to enrich uranium to build nuclear weapons and have threatened to take Iran to the United Nations Security Council over its uranium enrichment program. Iran denies working toward nuclear weapons, saying its goal is to produce civilian energy, but has maintained it has a right to enrich uranium. Talks between Iran and the so-called "EU 3" -- Britain, France and Germany -- on the matter have stalled. -- Journalist Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report. (Posted 6:36 a.m.)

Taliban attack on government, police buildings results in casualties

(CNN) -- Taliban fighters attacked a district center and police headquarters in southern Afghanistan early Saturday, officials said.

At least six Afghan police officers were killed in the attack and the ensuing battle, along with one Taliban fighter, although police and the Taliban gave conflicting accounts.

Bahadur Khan, police chief of the Hazar Jaft district in Helman province, said the attack occurred about midnight and estimated about 100 Taliban fighters participated. Six police officers were killed, he said, and two wounded. About 10 Taliban fighters were also killed, he said. Two government vehicles were burned, Khan said, and a part of the district building was destroyed. The operation in the area against the Taliban will continue, he said.

Taliban spokesman Mohamad Yousf Ahmadi said more than 90 Taliban fighters were involved in the incident. Ten Afghan police officers were killed, he said, along with one Taliban fighter. The Taliban also burned the district center and police headquarters down, he said. -- Journalist Ruhullah Khapalwak contributed to this report. (Posted 4:08 a.m.)

Israeli naval ship kills Palestinian off Gaza coast

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- An Israeli naval ship fatally shot a Palestinian man in the water off the Gaza coast on Saturday, an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman said.

The Israeli ship fired on the two men, who were swimming in the Mediterranean Sea, after a Palestinian boat on the coastline fired shots at the ship, she said.

One of the men was killed, the spokeswoman said, and the fate of the other was unknown. Both men had bags of weapons strapped to them, the IDF said. (Posted 1:19 a.m.)

Iraqi citizens capture, turn in senior member of al Qaeda

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A high-ranking member of al Qaeda in Iraq, wanted in connection with several kidnappings and killings, was captured by local citizens and handed over Friday to American and Iraqi forces, the U.S. military said.

Amir Khalaf Fanus, known as "the Butcher," was the third most-wanted terrorist on the list of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which patrols the area west of Baghdad.

The citizens called a tips line, announced they wanted to get rid of him, then brought him to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi, said U.S. Capt. Jeffrey Pool, division spokesman. The camp is used by U.S. and Iraqi forces.

Pool said that when Fanus was dropped off, he was tightly bound and a little banged up, but not seriously injured. It was obvious that he didn't want to be turned in, the officer added.

Fanus is the highest ranking member of al Qaeda in Iraq to be turned in by civilian Iraqis -- news hailed as a good sign by the military. (Updated 11:45 p.m.)

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