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Sunday, December 11

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.

Car bombing kills opposition politician

BEIRUT (CNN) -- A journalist and anti-Syrian member of Lebanon's parliament was killed Monday morning when a massive car bomb exploded in an eastern Beirut suburb, opposition officials told CNN.

A Red Cross worker at the scene said the blast killed four people.

Gebran Tueni, the head of An-Nahar newspaper, died in the explosion that destroyed more than half a dozen vehicles and shattered windows in buildings for hundreds of meters.

A high-ranking Lebanese security source said Tueni's cell phone and laptop computer were found at the site of the bombing. (posted 4:35 a.m.)

U.S. soldier dies in suicide car bomb attack

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- A U.S. soldier was killed Sunday in a suicide car bombing in Iraq's Anbar province west of Baghdad, a military statement said.

The soldier, "assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), was killed ... while conducting combat operations against the enemy," near Ramadi, about 65 miles (105 km) west of Baghdad.

Several U.S. Army units are attached to II MEF (Fwd) during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Since the start of the war, 2,143 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. (posted 2:25 a.m.)

Explosion rocks central Athens; terrorism suspected

ATHENS (CNN) -- A massive explosion shook central Athens Monday morning, causing extensive damage to an area near the Finance Ministry and the central post office, a ministry spokesman said.

There were no reports of casualties and no claim of responsibility.

A senior police source said investigators are treating the blast as if it were a terrorist attack and deem it "a very serious incident."

Authorities had advance notice of the blast as an anonymous warning call was placed at 5:30 a.m. to Eleftherotytia, a left wing newspaper, and were able to clear a four to five block area. (posted 2:20 a.m.)

California Supreme Court rejects stay for death row inmate awaiting clemency decision

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNN) -- California's Supreme Court late Sunday rejected an emergency request to stay the execution of convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams, who is scheduled to be executed early Tuesday.

Jonathan Harris, an attorney for Williams, confirmed the court's decision. Williams' team of attorney's had asked the state Supreme Court for the stay to allow for new arguments to be presented.

Williams also is awaiting California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision on clemency, which would commute his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. (posted 12:40 a.m.)

Delta pilots accept 15 percent pay cut amid bankruptcy

ATLANTA (CNN) -- Leaders of the 6,500 unionized pilots for Delta Air Lines have agreed to a 15 percent pay cut, the company announced Sunday, temporarily averting a threatened strike that analysts warned might kill the bankrupt carrier.

Sunday's interim deal must be approved by the union's membership by Dec. 28. It calls for a 14 percent cut in hourly pay and another 1 percent in other pay and cost items, according to a statement issued by the airline.

Delta had asked a bankruptcy court judge in New York to suspend its contract with the pilots. Members of the Air Line Pilots Association decided Thursday to strike if the move was successful and authorized leaders to call a strike vote if no deal was reached by Dec. 16. (Posted 10:20 p.m.)

Bachelet faces runoff in bid to become Chile's first female president

SANTIAGO, Chile (CNN) -- A onetime political prisoner vying to become Chile's first female president will face a conservative airline and broadcasting tycoon in a Jan. 15 runoff after falling short of a majority in Sunday's presidential election.

Defense Minister Michelle Bachelet, a Socialist, led her rivals by a wide margin in Sunday's election, but fell short of the 50 percent-plus needed to avoid a Jan. 15 runoff.

With 98 percent of the votes counted, Bachelet had 45.9 percent of the vote. Her closest rival was Sebastian Pinera, a Harvard-trained economist and the owner of the Chilean airline LAN, with 25.5 percent.

Another conservative, Joaquin Lavin, conceded defeat after garnering just 23.3 percent and endorsed Pinera in the runoff. Leftist candidate Tomas Hirsh trailed the pack with 5.4 percent, according to results from the country's Interior Ministry.

Bachelet (prono: BASH-a-lay) spent five years in exile after the 1973 coup that brought Gen. Augusto Pinochet to power. Her father, an air force general, was tortured to death after the coup, and Bachelet herself was tortured before being sent into exile in Australia. (Posted 10:10 p.m.)

Britain charges 3 in terror plot

LONDON (CNN) -- Three men charged with violating British anti-terrorism laws, including the suspected ringleader of an undisclosed plot, are scheduled to appear in court Monday, British police announced.

Police disclosed only the ages of the men -- 39, 42 and 34 -- and would release no details of the charges against them. The 39-year-old is charged with directing an organization that plotted to commit a terrorist act, while the 42- and 34-year-old co-defendants are charged as co-conspirators.

All three are accused of providing "money or other property, knowing or having reasonable cause to suspect that it may be used for the purpose of terrorism," a police statement said. (Posted 10 p.m.)

Attorneys seek court stay for death row inmate awaiting clemency decision

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CNN) -- Attorneys for convicted killer Stanley Tookie Williams -- who is scheduled to be executed early Thursday -- have asked the state Supreme Court for a stay to allow new arguments to be presented.

Attorney Verna Wefald said Sunday the attorneys are asking for a stay on the basis that Williams should have been allowed to argue that someone else killed one of the four people he was convicted of slaying.

Williams also is awaiting California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision on clemency, which would commute his death sentence to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Schwarzenegger's office said there would be no decision Sunday.

Williams -- who would turn 52 on Dec. 29 -- is to die by lethal injection. He co-founded the Crips street gang in Los Angeles and was convicted of killing four people in 1979, but has become an anti-gang crusader while on death row. (Posted 5:40 p.m.)

At least 40 dead in Pakistani bus fire

ISLAMABAD (CNN) -- At least 40 people died Sunday when fireworks sparked a fire on a bus in downtown Lahore, officials there said.

At least 30 were injured in the fire, officials said. -- From CNN's Syed Mohsin Naqvi (Posted 2:58 p.m.)

Iraq shuts down borders, imposes curfew ahead of elections

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Iraq has closed its international borders and imposed a 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. curfew in 5 km "demilitarized zone" along those borders, the country's interior minister said Sunday.

Minister Bayan Jabr said the restrictions went into effect on Dec. 2 for 30 days around the Dec. 15 elections.

"The international crossing borders and the borders and passageways for travelers between Iraq and Syria will be closed with the exception of the commercial trucks authorized by the Iraqi government," Jabr said.

"We didn't only close the Syrian borders, we closed all the borders," he said.

Jabr told reporters the government expected "clean and even elections" and would not allow any interference.

"We have a security plan for each city which will guarantee the transfer of the ballot boxes safely to the electoral commission," he said. (Posted 12:03 p.m.)

Sunni voting in Iraqi elections could lead to less violence, U.S. envoy says

BAGHDAD (CNN) -- Predicting that "very large numbers" of Sunnis -- including some from the ranks of the insurgency -- would cast ballots in the Iraqi parliamentary elections this week, the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq said their participation could lead to the isolation of terrorists and reduced violence.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, appearing on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer," said he is talking to Sunnis "who have been part of the environment in which the insurgency has been active" in an effort to draw them into the political process and away from violence."

With chances slim that one group will win a majority of the 275 seats when Iraqis go to the polls Thursday to elect a permanent National Assembly, Khalilzad said the Sunnis would be "important players" in forming a ruling coalition.

"That is really the single most important development of the past several months politically," he said. "Sunnis seem to be developing confidence in the political process. They believe that their grievances can be dealt with politically." (Posted 11:26 a.m.)

Police: Blasts, fire at British oil depot accident; 43 injuried; 2 remain hospitalized

LONDON (CNN) -- Several large explosions at an oil depot rocked a town about 25 miles north of London early Sunday, lighting up the predawn sky, injuring 43 people and sparking a massive blaze.

"All indications are, at this stage, that this was an accident," said Hertfordshire Chief Constable Frank Whiteley, though he added that it was too soon to determine the cause of the explosions.

Forty-three people taken to hospitals for their injuries, Whitely said, but the majority were "walking casualties." All but two have been released, he said, and those two do not have life-threatening injuries.

Although firefighting units were on the scene, authorities said the fire may have to burn itself out. "Given the latest info on the fire, the fire is likely to continue for the next 24 hours or so," Whitely said. "It could go into days," Roy Wilsher, fire department spokesman, told reporters. (Posted 11:12 a.m.)

Death toll in Nigerian plane crash rises to 107; 3 survivors

(CNN) -- Four people who initially survived a passenger plane crash in southern Nigeria died Sunday, bringing the death toll to 107, officials in Nigeria told CNN.

Three people still survive from the Sosoliso Airlines aircraft, which was en route 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.

At least 65 students from a Catholic secondary school in Abuja were among those killed, deputy government spokesman Honour Sirawoo said.

Father Marc J. Roselli, principal of Loyala Jesuit College, said the students, who ranged in age from 10 to 18, were on their way home for the holidays, but he wasn't certain how many were actually aboard the flight. (Posted 10:30 a.m.)

Iranian FM says U.S. can take part in bidding for building new nuclear plant

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- The United States can bid for construction of a new nuclear plant in Iran, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman said Sunday in his weekly press briefing.

Hamid Reza Asefi said America can take part in international bidding to build the plant at Darkhoin in Khuzestan province if they meet standards and quality expectations, according to a report from Fars News Agency.

Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said on Saturday the first construction phase of the 360-megawatt light water nuclear plant had begun, Fars reported. That plant, he said, will use fuel manufactured in Iran by Iranian specialists -- something that would involve the 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. --Journalist Shirzad Bozorgmehr contributed to this report. (Posted 6:18 a.m.)

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.)

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 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.

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.)

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