■ Afghanistan Civilians killed in airstrike \n \nAn American airstrike in an Afghan village earlier this month killed 10 civilians, President Hamid Karzai said yesterday. The US military had said it killed five militants during a Jan. 17 raid against suspected Taliban leaders in southern Uruzgan province and insisted it fired only on armed men. But Karzai said an Interior Ministry investigation into the attack, some 400km southwest of the capital, Kabul, established that 10 civilians had died. At the time of the raid, local officials had maintained that 11 civilians were killed: four men, four children and three women. "There are casualties unfortunately, according to the report that I have received, of civilians, of children and men and women," Karzai told reporters at his palace. \n \n■ North Korea \nGroups vow climactic fight \n \nNorth Korea's youth and female groups vowed a "death-defying" fight against the US while stressing closer ties with South Korea amid a standoff over the communist country's nuclear weapons development. "The most correct option and only way to defend the dignity and sovereignty of the country and the nation is a death-defying fight against the US," the state-run Central Committee of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League and the Central Committee of the Korean Democratic Women's Union said. \n \n■ Singapore \nWife arrested for false claim \n \nA mother of four was charged in Singapore with conspiracy to cheat three insurance firms after the Sri Lankan husband she maintained was dead for 16 years was sighted twice in Colombo. Renuga Devi Sinnaduray, 47, who lives in Singapore, was accused of collecting a life insurance payout of 330,000 Singapore dollars (US$195,000) during her court appearance on Friday, The Straits Times reported yesterday. A former lawyer who helped prepare documents for the insurance claim tipped the authorities off in June that the "dead" man had been sighted at least twice in Colombo. \n \n■ Hong Kong \nMan held over glass charge \n \nA German tourist has been arrested in Hong Kong for allegedly blackmailing several upscale hotels by claiming he was served food mixed with shattered glass, a police spokeswoman said yesterday. Officers arrested the man, who was not identified, on Friday as he picked up a HK$30,750 (US$3,942) check from a five-star hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district, police spokeswoman Margaret Ho said. Lamey Chang, a spokeswoman for The Peninsula, confirmed the arrest and the alleged blackmailing but refused to comment further. The man remains in custody and hasn't been charged, Ho said. \n \n■ Australia \nChina had `secret key' plan \n \nChina's first space traveller had permission to crash-land in the Australian outback, news reports said yesterday. An Australian newspaper said Canberra had a secret agreement with Beijing that provided for China's first astronaut to ditch his craft in the outback in an emergency. The paper said the government didn't tell the public of the disaster plan -- although it alerted emergency services to the possibility of a crash landing. In the event of a crash, a Chinese official from Canberra would have opened the capsule with a secret key. China insisted on having the official present to make sure Australian scientists could not steal any rocket technology secrets, the paper said. \n■ South Africa Snakes let loose in bank \n \nA disgruntled customer in Johannesburg caused chaos when he released five venomous snakes in a bank. A worker at the bank was stable in hospital after being bitten on a finger. The customer, Abel Manamela, had opened a briefcase to take out what was assumed to be yet more documentation in his dispute with the bank, but instead he tipped out the deadly puff adders. Customers and staff scrambled for safety. A bank spokesman said the bank had "a bit of a history with the gentleman" since one of its subsidiaries repossessed his car, prompting a series of confrontations with staff. \n \n■ Mexico \nJuarez killings investigated \n \nMexico appointed a special prosecutor on Friday to investigate the killings over the past decade of hundreds of women in a city on the Texas border. More than 300 women have been killed, one third of them in sexual crimes, in the past 10 years in the city of Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua state. Few of the murders have been solved. The appointment of Maria Lopez, a lawyer with a long career in state and federal criminal investigation, lifts the investigation to a federal level and goes over the heads of state investigators, whom many rights groups consider inefficient. \n \n■ United Kingdom \nWoman `too old' for puzzle \n \nA British mail order company has ruled an 84-year-old woman too old to buy a jigsaw, the Times reported yesterday. The company, Express Gifts, subsequently apologized for the decision by its customer service operator, which it said was a mistake, as the policy applied only to those over 90. "I thought they were joking at first but when I realized they were serious I was furious. I just put the phone down," Iris Milne, a former personal assistant, said. "I think it's discrimination. I'm perfectly capable of doing things for myself so why shouldn't I have a jigsaw?" the widow added. The company later issued a statement saying that the ban applied only to the over-90s because "they have trouble filling out forms." \n \n■ United States \nGibson film sparks outcry \n \nActor-director Mel Gibson says he was surprised by the intensity of controversy spawned by his forthcoming film, The Passion of the Christ, criticized by some Jewish leaders as a work that could incite anti-Semitism. "It kind of put me back on my heels a little bit," Gibson said in an interview featured in the March edition of Reader's Digest that hits newsstands on Feb. 24. The film makes its debut in North America on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday. Jewish leaders in particular have expressed concern for months that the movie could spark anti-Semitism because it portrays Jews as responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. \n \n■ Brazil \nRobbers use Bible \n \nThe Bible is mightier than the gun, at least for a group of Brazilian robbers. Unsure if their weapons had caused enough fear, robbers who broke into a monastery made a priest swear on the Bible that he had handed over all the money, police said on Friday. The 15 hooded men who stole some US$6,200 from a secluded Catholic monastery near the town of Guaratingueta in Sao Paulo state were apologetic. "They were asking the priests to forgive them during the robbery, saying they were only doing it because they needed the money," said a police investigator. \n■ United Nations Council wants terror reports \n \nThe Security Council set a March 31 deadline for nearly 100 countries to report on their enforcement of sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban -- or be publicly named and shamed. A resolution adopted unanimously Friday by the council gives the committee that monitors sanctions new powers to assess what states are doing to implement the asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo against the two groups and terror leader Osama bin Laden. The council has been concerned that almost 100 of the 191 UN member states have failed to submit reports on their actions to enforce sanctions. \n \n■ Saudi Arabia \nHajj reaches focal point \n \nPilgrims converged here Saturday for the central ritual of the hajj -- prayers and soul-searching at Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad preached his last sermon in 632. A pilgrimage to this gentle hill 20km southwest of Mecca is believed to represent the Day of Judgment, when Islam says every person will stand before Allah and answer for his deeds. "I could not wait to reach here; this is primarily what we came for," said Abdel Aziz al-Jezairi, an Egyptian. "This is the worst day for the devil. When he sees thousands of Muslims gathered in such a show of force and piety." \n \n■ Cuba \nCastro vows to `die fighting' \n \nCuban President Fidel Castro vowed on Friday to die fighting "with a gun in my hand" if the US invaded Cuba to overthrow his communist government. "I don't care how I die, but for sure, if they invade us, I will die fighting," the 77-year-old leader said at a meeting of anti-free trade activists from across the hemisphere. Castro, the target of CIA assassination attempts in the 1960s, called on US President George W. Bush to clarify its policy on assassinations. "It's an absurd declaration, as usual. According to Fidel Castro, he's going to die fighting, probably he's going to die talking," said Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. \n \n■ United States \nSwordsman nabs escapee \n \nJoshua Cary heard a noise in the basement, grabbed a sword from his big brother's collection and went downstairs to investigate. "I'm going to give you until the count of three to come out, or I'm going to stab you," he yelled Thursday, according to his mother, Rebecca Cary. Soon, a handcuffed man emerged, saying, "I didn't do it." Joshua led the man upstairs at sword-point. The man, Mark A. Brown, who had broken free after he was picked up on a parole violation, was taken back into custody. Cary said she was proud of her son, who went out afterwards for a celebratory night of bowling in this east-central Missouri town. \n \n■ United States \nLegislator touts feng shui \n \nMore hippy, dippy jokes about California might be on the way, thanks to a state lawmaker who wants building codes to consider feng shui. State Assemblyman Leland Yee, a Democrat representing San Francisco, has introduced a resolution that urges public building officials to accommodate feng shui -- the ancient Chinese art of designing structures and arranging objects to create harmonious energy flow. Yee said Friday he underestimated the controversy the legislation would bring when he introduced it earlier this month.
EVOLVING SITUATION: Of the latest cases, 23 percent were found to be asymptomatic, but the coronavirus strain in Da Nang is more contagious, authorities said A COVID-19 outbreak that began in the Vietnamese city of Da Nang more than a week ago has spread to at least four city factories with a combined workforce of about 3,700, state media reported yesterday. Four cases were found at the plants in different industrial parks in the central city that collectively employ 77,000 people, the Lao Dong newspaper said. Vietnam, praised widely for its decisive measures to combat the novel coronavirus since it first appeared in late January, is battling new clusters of infection having gone for more than three months without detecting any domestic transmissions. Authorities yesterday reported one new
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable