Bush offers a world view

in farewell to Tony Blair

President Bush yesterday took British reporters to task for not appreciating Tony Blair, his friend and defender of the U.S.-led war in Iraq.

The British prime minister allowed not a single regret about the war alliance that cost him his popularity and perhaps his job. The U.S. president, losing his best friend on the world stage, bristled at suggestions Blair should already be out the door.

"Trying to do a tap dance on his political grave, aren't you?" Bush said yesterday at Blair's side in the White House Rose Garden, admonishing British reporters looking beyond Blair's tenure six weeks before he leaves office. "You don't understand how effective Blair is, I guess."

More Japanese workers

commit suicide, report says

TOKYO - More Japanese workers than ever claimed compensation for mental-health problems caused by workplace stress last year and a similar trend was seen for families of employees who died from work-related suicides.

A government study found the number of employment-related suicides hit a record 65 in 2006, compared to 42 the previous year, Health Ministry official Junichiro Kurashige said.

The number of workers who received compensation for work-induced mental illness was 205, also a record and up 61 percent from a year earlier, he said. The number of applications for compensation for mental illness or suicide also rose sharply, to 819 cases, a 24 percent jump.

Japan's suicide rate is among the highest in the industrialized world. More than 32,000 Japanese killed themselves in 2004, the bulk of them older Japanese suffering financial woes as the country struggled through a decade of economic stagnation.

In response, the Japanese government has increased efforts to help those with depression and other mental illnesses.

In land of few firearms,

a deadly hostage situation

TOKYO - A man went on a shooting rampage in his central Japan home yesterday, killing a policeman, wounding three other people - including his son and daughter - and taking his wife hostage.

Hundreds of police surrounded 50-year-old Hisato Obayashi's tree-shrouded house in a tense standoff in Nagakute city overnight and into this morning. One news report said Obayashi was a former mobster.

As the violence in the suburb of Nagoya erupted, an unidentified emergency caller to police cried, "My father has gone berserk with a gun!" Kyodo News agency reported.

The shooting was the latest in a series of unusually violent attacks in Japan, a country known for its low crime rates and tight gun laws. Last month, the mayor of Nagasaki was shot and killed, a crime that a mobster confessed to, police said.

The sequence of events was still unclear, but Obayashi appeared to have taken his wife hostage, shot his children and then shot at police responding to the emergency call.

Police confirmed that police officer Kazuho Hayashi, 23, was shot and killed while trying to evacuate a wounded policeman. Hayashi was a member of a special assault team handling hijacking and hostage crises, according to Kyodo.

Pakistani with al Qaeda ties

reportedly renounces violence

KHAR, Pakistan - A Pakistani militant leader suspected of ties with al Qaeda's No. 2 leader promised yesterday to renounce violence and cooperate with the government, a regional official said.

Maulvi Faqir Mohammed made the pledge to tribal elders who met with him on behalf of Pakistan's government in Bajur, a tribal region bordering Afghanistan, said Bajur's top administrator, Shakil Qadir Khan.

The meeting was held in Damadola, the scene of a January 2006 U.S. missile strike that missed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri and killed at least 13 villagers.

In the aftermath of the attack, the government said it was hunting for Mohammed, believing he had survived the assault and could provide clues about a dinner attended by senior al Qaeda operatives before the missile strike. *

-Associated Press