Iran classroom fire kills 16


A teacher and 15 schoolchildren were killed when their classroom went up in flames in a village in southwestern Iran on Thursday, IRNA reported. “Unfortunately 15 students and their teacher were killed in the classroom blaze when the oil heater caught fire,” said an education official in the village of Safilian in Chahar-Mahal Bakhtiari province. The fire intensified after students rushing out of the room knocked over an oil drum, the official added. — AFP

Thatcher Jr pleads guilty

Cape Town:

Sir Mark Thatcher pleaded guilty on Wednesday to unwittingly helping to finance a foiled coup plot in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, accepting a $506,000 fine and suspended jail sentence. Thatcher, the son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, admitted in the Cape High Court that he paid to charter a helicopter, which mercenaries planned to use in their attempted takeover. But he maintains he believed it was to be used for humanitarian purposes, according to his lawyers. — AP

Seven killed in Spain blast


An explosion killed seven workers at a warehouse on Thursday in the northern city of Burgos, officials said. The blast rocked a warehouse containing equipment and fuel owned by a company building a bicycle lane in Burgos, the Interior Ministry office there said. — AP

Court nod to extradition


A Japanese court on Thursday agreed to send a murder suspect to South Korea in the first extradition under a landmark 2002 treaty between the two countries. Cui Xuezhe, a 27-year-old Chinese national suspected of killing a man in February 2002 in Seoul, smuggled himself a month later to Japan where he was arrested in August 2004 for not having a passport. Japan reported the case to South Korea, which in December officially asked for his extradition. — AFP

US for full HK democracy


The United States’ envoy to Hong Kong on Thursday called for full democracy in the autonomous Chinese territory, adding that he felt the city was ready for political change. “I am very much in favour of representative government in Hong Kong,” James Keith, United States consul general to the former British colony, said. “Therefore I think someone for whom the Hong Kong people have voted should represent them.” — AFP

Talks with Nagas expected


Government negotiators and northeastern separatists are expected to meet later this month for talks on ending India’s longest-running insurgency, a rebel spokesman said on Thursday. “We expect the talks to be held at the month-end and issues pertaining to integration of all Naga-inhabited areas in the northeast will be discussed,” said VS Atem, a senior leader of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland. Dates for the talks in New Delhi are yet to be finalised. — AFP