Italian ferry fire forces evacuation

ROME - Fire broke out yesterday on an Italian ferry carrying more than 500 people to the island of Sicily, forcing all passengers to evacuate by lifeboat to another ferry and a coast guard vessel.

The Vincenzo Florio ferry was traveling from the mainland port of Naples to Palermo, the Sicilian capital, when the fire erupted in its car hold as the boat came within 25 miles of its destination. The fire continued to rage as the ferry was towed toward Palermo, Sicily's fire department said.

The ferry's 526 passengers were evacuated to the coast guard ship that came to the rescue and another ferry, said Palermo port official Cosimo Seminara. More than 50 passengers were taken to a hospital and were soon released, officials said.

- AP

Serb priest faces torture charges

BELGRADE, Serbia - Police filed torture charges yesterday against a Serbian Orthodox priest who allegedly beat a drug-rehab patient with a shovel.

The former head of the church-backed Crna Reka rehab center in southern Serbia, Branislav Peranovic, has been removed from his position by a local bishop after a video broadcast on national television allegedly showed him swinging a shovel at a patient's lower back.

An employee of the center, shown in another video punching a patient with brass knuckles and kicking him until he nearly was knocked unconscious, was also charged by police for "harassment and torture." Crna Reka priests have said the beatings were a necessary part of the therapy.

- AP

Shell fragments hit Russian town

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - A Russian naval ship carrying out target practice off the Baltic Sea coast accidentally rained shell fragments on a village near St. Petersburg, officials said yesterday.

Nobody was injured when the fragments from shells fired by an antisubmarine ship in the Gulf of Finland fell on houses in the village of Zelyonaya Roshcha, close to the border with Finland, regional military prosecutor Igor Lebedev said.

Russia's NTV television said that the ship fired its six-barrel antiaircraft gun near the shore, and the exploding shells rained shards of metal on the village. "Some people thought that a war started," one villager, Yuri Mikhailov, was quoted as telling the RIA Novosti news agency. "It was like a hail of steel."

- AP

Elsewhere:

Fighting between rival Arab tribes in western Sudan killed almost 250 people over two days earlier this week, including 75 policemen, Sudan's interior minister said. The Messariah and Rezeigat tribes straddle the border region between southern Kordofan and neighboring Darfur, where a separate conflict has claimed 300,000 lives.

U.S.-led coalition forces killed 35 militants and wounded 13 others in southern Afghanistan, officials said yesterday. A joint Afghan-U.S. coalition patrol was ambushed Thursday in Zabul province, before returning fire and calling in air strikes.