Christmas tree lit in Bethlehem's Manger Square

BETHLEHEM, West Bank - A 32-foot tall Christmas tree has been lit in Manger Square. The ceremony began the Christmas season in Jesus' traditional birthplace.

About 500 visitors counted down and cheering Monday as red and yellow lights on the cypress lit up. The tree is the centerpiece of elaborate decorations put up around town in anticipation of a booming holiday season.

Mayor Victor Batarseh wished visitors a holiday of love, peace, harmony and forgiveness, but also criticized the Israeli occupation and the separation barrier Israel is building in the West Bank.

Anti-kidnapping expert taken in Mexico

MEXICO CITY - A well-known U.S. anti-kidnapping expert has himself fallen victim to Mexico's wave of abductions as unidentified assailants snatched him from a street in the northern city of Saltillo, one of his employers said Monday.

The kidnapping of U.S. security consultant Felix Batista - who was in Saltillo to offer advice on how to confront abductions for ransom - showed how bold Mexico's kidnappers have become. Attacks on U.S. anti-crime consultants have largely been the stuff of movies.

7 Russians sentenced for 19 hate killings

MOSCOW - Seven young men who murdered 19 people in a series of hate crimes were sentenced to prison Monday amid a surge in racist assaults, xenophobia and neo-Nazism in Russia.

Fears of an explosion in violent racism were further heightened earlier this month with the gruesome beheading of a Tajik migrant worker near Moscow.

Prosecutors charged that the group sentenced Monday preyed on Central Asians, Caucasians and other non-Slavs with distinctly dark skin or Asian features, attacking them on the streets and in pedestrian tunnels with hammers and other weapons.

Rain shuts down Nero's palace in Rome

ROME - Authorities in Rome have closed Nero's Golden Palace to the public after days of heavy rain filled the monument with mud and damaged the electrical system.

Gabriella Gatto, a spokeswoman for the city's archaeological office, said no decision has been made on when the monument will reopen.