Fire erupts in busy Costa Rican hospital

SAN JOSE, Costa Rica - A pre-dawn fire swept the top floors of a hospital in Costa Rica's capital Tuesday, killing at least 18 people as it engulfed the central staircase of a building without adequate fire exits or a sprinkler system.

The fire - the second this year at the 62-year-old Calderon Guardia Hospital - raised questions about safety precautions in other medical facilities throughout the country.

The 2:20 a.m. blaze broke out on the fifth floor and quickly spread, consuming the top three stories until it was brought under control three hours later, the fire chief said.

Explosion targets, wounds Lebanon's defense minister

BEIRUT, Lebanon - A car bomb blasted the motorcade of Lebanon's outgoing pro-Syrian defense minister Tuesday, wounding him and killing one person in an attack that deepened fears of increasing violence.

The assassination attempt against Elias Murr was the latest in a string of bombings that have killed or wounded politicians and other prominent figures in Lebanon. But while the others targeted opponents of Syria - prompting accusations that Damascus was behind the killings - Tuesday's explosion was the first to hit one of Syria's strongest allies.

Suicide bomber kills two near mall

JERUSALEM- A suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of teens near a shopping mall in the seaside city of Netanya on Tuesday, killing himself and two others in the second such attack since a truce was declared five months ago.

About 30 people were wounded, two seriously, police said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility from a Palestinian militant group.

Four bombs explode at Spain power plant

MADRID, Spain - Four small bombs exploded Tuesday outside a power plant in the Basque region following a warning call from the separatist group ETA, but no one was injured by the blasts, the Basque Interior Ministry said.

In the power plant blasts, a caller claiming to represent ETA telephoned the Basque pro-independence newspaper Gara and warned four bombs would go off at the plant.

About 250 workers at the facility, located in the town of Amorebieta in Vizcaya province, were evacuated before the explosion, the ministry said. The plant was not damaged, and no one was injured.

Prince Albert takes throne in Monaco

MONACO - Prince Albert II acceded to the throne Tuesday of a 700-year-old dynasty, a bachelor prince coming into his own as a modern ruler who wants to clean up the image of this Riviera tax haven and has unblushingly acknowledged fathering a child.

After a lifetime in the shadow of his father Prince Rainier III, who died in April, Albert emerged as an assured leader in his first speech to his subjects, hours after a solemn Mass to mark his ascension to the throne.

Albert was proclaimed ruler of Monaco at a Mass in the cliff-top cathedral where his father and mother, Hollywood beauty Grace Kelly, are buried.

Suspect on trial in

Van Gogh slaying: 'I would do it again'

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands - The man on trial in the slaying of filmmaker Theo van Gogh admitted his guilt in court Tuesday, declaring he acted out of religious conviction and would do it again if given the chance.

Bouyeri, 27, who faces life imprisonment in the Nov. 2 killing of Van Gogh, who was found shot and stabbed. He has not mounted a defense.

''I did it out of conviction,'' Bouyeri said. ''If I ever get free, I would do it again.''

Iraq ready to control some cities, rejects withdrawal timetable

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Iraqi troops are ready to take control of some cities as a first step toward sending home American and other foreign soldiers, Iraq's prime minister said Tuesday. But he rejected any timetable for a pullout.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari warned against setting a timetable for foreign troops to leave ''at a time when we are not ready'' to confront the insurgents.

But he said security in many of Iraq's 18 provinces has improved so that Iraqi forces could assume the burden of maintaining order in cities there.

- From wire reports