Secular schools coming to Dublin

DUBLIN, Ireland - Ireland's government announced yesterday that it would organize new nonreligious primary schools in the capital, a move that reflects growing immigration and declining church power in this traditionally Catholic nation.

Education Minister Mary Hanafin said two new schools planned in Dublin would not be controlled by the church, which for more than a century has been the main administrator in Irish education. A third school will be transferred to secular control. About 95 percent of those students are non-Catholics, chiefly Muslims and Protestants from Africa.

"The new schools will be open to children of all religions," Hanafin said. The issue has grown since the mid-1990s, when Ireland's booming economy fueled a wave of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia. Immigrants said the non-Catholic schools did not provide a good education.

- AP

Mugabe is picked to seek reelection

HARARE, Zimbabwe - President Robert Mugabe's party nominated him as its candidate for president in voting next year, demonstrating the 83-year-old veteran's hold over Zimbabwe's main political organization despite the country's economic collapse.

During a Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front conference yesterday, all 10 of the party's provincial bodies backed Mugabe. He has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980 and earlier this year thwarted challenges from internal rivals. The elections are scheduled for March.

Power outages, water shortages, empty store shelves and record-setting inflation are seen as symptoms of an economic collapse Mugabe's critics link to his policies. Mugabe also is accused of an undemocratic crackdown on opponents.

- AP

Al-Qaeda tie eyed in Lebanon blast

BEIRUT, Lebanon - Army investigators were investigating the possible involvement of al-Qaeda-inspired extremists in the bombing Wednesday that killed a Lebanese general who had led a major offensive against Islamic militants.

The government sought to reassure the Lebanese people, many of whom were worried that even the military - seen as the sole institution holding the country together - was now a target in Lebanon's political turmoil.

Brig. Gen. Francois Hajj, chief of the military's operations, and his driver were killed when a car bomb went off as he left his home for work in Baabda, a Christian suburb east of Beirut. Four Lebanese who were believed connected to the car used in the blast were being questioned, security officials said.

- AP

Elsewhere:

Israeli high school

teachers ended a two-month strike yesterday after receiving a pay raise and government promises to redress some of the problems in the Israeli school system, including class size.

French President

Nicolas Sarkozy will go to the Vatican next week for talks with Pope Benedict XVI, the president's office said. The trip Thursday will be Sarkozy's first to the Vatican since taking office in May.