UK Cabinet reshuffle

LONDON: British Prime Minister Gordon Brown began a shakeup of his ministerial team on Friday, as he attempted to recover from a scandal over lawmakers’ expenses, a string of high-profile resignations and poor election results that have seriously weakened his authority. Brown was likely to promote key allies as he sought to head off attempts to oust him by critics within the ranks of his Labour Party. Some legislators view Brown as an obstacle to the party’s hopes of avoiding defeat in the next national election, which must be held by mid-2010. Work and Pensions Secretary James Purnell, a 39-year-old fast rising star in Brown’s government, dramatically quit on Thursday and urged Brown to step aside. “I now believe your continued leadership makes a Conservative victory more, not less likely,” he told Brown in a

resignation letter. Defence Secretary John Hutton — regarded as one of

the Cabinet’s best performers —

announced on Friday he was

quitting his post. — AP

Bus mishap: 25 killed

BEIJING: At least 25 people died and dozens were hurt on Friday when a packed commuter bus burst into flames and was destroyed within minutes during the morning rush hour in the southwestern Chinese city of Chengdu. Videos posted online and shown on state television showed thick black smoke and flames pouring from the bus on the side of a busy highway. One badly burned woman was shown lying on the road with a man standing nearby, his clothes burned off. A total of 76 people were injured, with six of them in intensive care, city government spokesman Ma Zhixiong said. State broadcaster CCTV cited witnesses as saying the sealed, air-conditioned bus caught fire without an explosion and then burned rapidly. Like many vehicles in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, the bus ran on natural gas rather than gasoline. — AP

Holland defies China

THE HAGUE: The Dalai Lama met Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen on Friday along with other religious leaders to discuss human rights and inter-faith harmony. They met at a Catholic church in The Hague

despite a warning from China that government contact with the Tibetan leader could hurt Dutch relations with Beijing. “The Netherlands decides the way it speaks to people,” Verhagen said. “Because we are supporters of freedom of religion and

expression and human rights, we want to speak to religious leaders.” Verhagen said the Dutch government regards the Dalai Lama as a

spiritual leader, not the head of a Tibetan independence movement. Even so, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende declined to meet him. — AP