A little too much Christmas spirit

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - A luxury hotel that boasts a Christmas tree decorated with $11 million in gold and gems admitted Sunday that it may have taken the holiday spirit a bit too far.

The Emirates Palace hotel, in a rare bit of reflection on the gulf's echoes of excess after criticism that the tree was in bad taste, said in a statement that it regretted "attempts to overload" the Christmas tree tradition by adorning it with gold, rubies, diamonds, and other precious stones.

The tree was unveiled last week with fanfare. The hotel already features a gold-bar vending machine and a one-week $1 million package that includes private-jet jaunts around the Middle East.

The hotel said the tree was an effort to boost the holiday mood for its guests based on the United Arab Emirates' "values of openness and tolerance." Although officially Muslim, the UAE features many signs of Christmas for its huge foreign population. - AP

Chinese premier lauds Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Pakistan's sacrifices in the global fight against terrorism should be recognized and respected by the international community, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao told lawmakers in Islamabad on Sunday.

Wen was addressing a joint session of Pakistan's National Assembly on the final day of a state visit that mainly focused on trade ties between the longtime Asian allies.

"Pakistan was at the front of the international fight against terrorism and made big sacrifices and important contributions, which were obvious to all," Wen said. "The international community should affirm that and give great support as well as respect the path of development chosen by Pakistan."

He said the fight against terrorism should not focus on specific religions or ethnic groups, but rather on eradicating the "root factors breeding terrorism." - AP

Solo sailor, 15, makes progress

PHILIPSBURG, St. Maarten - A Dutch sailor on Sunday completed the longest leg so far of her attempted circumnavigation, saying it felt "really weird" to be on dry land after nearly three weeks in the ocean.

Laura Dekker, 15, aiming to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world, was in good spirits after completing the 2,200-nautical-mile trip from the Cape Verde Islands off West Africa to this Dutch territory in the Caribbean.

Dekker, who left Cape Verde on Dec. 2, docked her twin-masted sailboat in Simpson Bay Lagoon after what she called "a very nice trip."

Her circumnavigation attempt started Aug. 21, two months after 16-year-old American Abby Sunderland had to be rescued in a remote section of the Indian Ocean during a similar attempt. - AP

Elsewhere:

A fire swept through a hotel in Tuguegarao city in the Philippines, burning to death 15 people. Nine of the victims were nursing students in town to take a licensing exam.

Britain's Prince Harry paid tribute to Germans who were killed while trying to escape communist East Germany across the Berlin Wall in the years before it fell in 1989.

Guatemala's military declared a state of siege in Alta Verapaz, a northern province that authorities said is overrun by Mexican drug traffickers.