Dhaka toll tops 800; fire strikes

DHAKA, Bangladesh - A fire has raced through an 11-story building housing a garment factory and residential complex in Bangladesh's capital, killing at least eight people.

Officials said the fire broke out late Wednesday. By early Thursday, firefighters had found eight people dead. They said the factory was on the first and second floors, while the uppers floors were used as a residential complex. The factory was closed during the accident. A police official and the owner of the factory were among the dead.

The fire comes just two weeks after a factory building housing garment factories collapsed in Dhaka, killing at least 803 people, the nation's worst industrial disaster.

Police said 803 bodies had been recovered from the wreckage of the eight-story Rana Plaza building by late afternoon, and more were expected as salvage work continued two weeks after the April 24 collapse. - AP

Berlusconi's verdict upheld

MILAN, Italy - Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's tax-fraud conviction and four-year prison sentence were upheld on the first appeal Wednesday in a case that could see him barred from public office for five years.

In Italy, defendants are legally considered innocent until all appeals are exhausted, and Berlusconi's lawyers are expected to appeal the case to the nation's highest Court of Cassation once the reasoning for the decision is published.

Still, the ruling, which comes just days before prosecutors wrap up closing arguments in his sensational sex-for-hire trial, raises the question of whether Berlusconi's days as a political force are numbered.

His center-right forces are allied with the Democratic Party in a grand coalition, and although Berlusconi holds no governmental posts he remains influential. - AP

Putin dismisses key operative

MOSCOW - Vladislav Surkov, a masterful political operative and propagandist known as the "gray cardinal" of the Kremlin, was fired Wednesday in a move that was widely seen as a reflection of a deepening rift in the relationship between President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

While the decree signed by Putin said that Surkov was being relieved of his duties at his own request, most Russian political experts agreed that the 38-year-old deputy premier was the unwilling victim of larger political forces - although "victim" seems an unlikely term to describe a man who has drawn comparison to Machiavelli and Rasputin.

"The bottom line is that the Kremlin no longer needs to rely on ideologues and propagandists," said Andrei Piontkovsky, a prominent political analyst. "Putin needs butchers, not image makers anymore." - Los Angeles Times