CHINA

Reeducation labor camps are formally abolished

In a step toward rule of law, China's national legislature on Saturday voted to abolish a much-criticized penal system that allowed police to lock up people for up to four years without due process.

The standing committee of the National People's Congress adopted a resolution to abolish the reeducation labor system, formalizing a November decision by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, according to the official Xinhua news agency and the state-run China Central Television.

State media said all those serving time in the labor camps would be set free starting Saturday, but that the penalties handed out before the abolition would still be considered legitimate, a provision aimed at preventing the victims from suing the state and seeking redress.

Established to punish early critics of the Communist Party, the penal system was retooled to focus on petty criminals. In recent years, however, it had been used by local officials to deal with people challenging their authority on issues including land rights and corruption. - AP

IRAQ

Seven killed in shootout

Iraqi troops detained a Sunni lawmaker sought on terrorism charges Saturday and killed his brother and five of his guards after they opened fire on the arresting officers. The incident, which will likely to add to the nation's sectarian tensions, also left one Iraqi soldier dead. The arrested lawmaker, Ahmed al-Alwani, has been prominent among the organizers of Sunni protests against Iraq's Shiite-led government. As military and security forces arrived at his home in Ramadi, Alwani's guards and tribesmen opened fire, prompting a shootout that lasted nearly an hour, an officer said. - AP

ITALY

Francis, Benedict dine

Retired Pope Benedict XVI has shared a holiday meal with his successor, Francis, at the Vatican. Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano said Saturday that Benedict took up a luncheon invitation from Pope Francis, and the two men dined together at Francis' residence, at the Santa Marta hotel on Vatican City's grounds. The newspaper gave no details of the meal, except to say the two popes' personal secretaries and two other Vatican officials joined them at the lunch on Friday. - AP