Pope John Paul II prepares to celebrate his 84th birthday tomorrow, bouyed by plans for fresh trips abroad despite poor health which had led to fears his trademark foreign travel was over. \nThe pontiff will symbolically blow out the candles on a birthday cake prepared for him by his cook, Sister Germana, and millions of copies of a book of his memoirs will be published in several languages to mark the occasion. \nBut his entourage said that the best present for the ailing pope will be his trip on June 5 and June 6 to the Swiss capital Bern, where he is due to meet with thousands of young Roman Catholics. \nIt will be his first travel out of Italy since a visit last September to Slovakia that sparked fears that it would be his last trip abroad. During the trip the pope was too weak to read out in full any of his speeches and appeared exhausted. \nAnd last October, during celebrations to mark the 25th anniversary of his pontificate, senior church figures began talking openly about the possibility of his death. \nBut John Paul has in recent months appeared in much better form. The improvement is due, according to medical sources, to rest, a better diet, speech therapy, physiotherapy and better-adapted treatment for his Parkinson's disease. \nThe pope is now even considering going to the French shrine at Lourdes in mid-August, a trip that would coincide with the 150th anniversary of the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception. \nJohn Paul, whose confinement to a wheelchair limits his movements, has received other invitations, including ones to Mexico and Austria, but the Vatican has not yet said if he will accept any. \nDespite his poor health, the pontiff has a busy agenda, with regular public appearances and private audiences. \nJohn Paul, who staunchly opposed the US-led war on Iraq, is due to meet US President George W. Bush on June 4. He will tell him that US policy in the Middle East is misguided, a Vatican source said.
HOUSES FLOODED: The ground shook in Tonga as explosions were heard, followed by gushing water and pelting rocks, sending people running to higher ground A massive volcanic eruption in Tonga that triggered tsunami waves around the Pacific caused “significant damage” to the island nation’s capital and smothered it in dust, but the full extent was not apparent with communications still cut off yesterday. The eruption on Saturday was so powerful that it was recorded around the world, triggering a tsunami that flooded Pacific coastlines from Japan to the US. Tonga’s capital, Nuku’alofa, suffered “significant” damage, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said, adding that there had been no reports of injury or death, but a full assessment was not possible with communication lines down. “The tsunami has
Two years ago, Qi Jiayao visited his mother’s hometown of Shaoxing in eastern China. When he tried to speak to his cousin’s children in the local dialect, Qi was surprised. “None of them was able to,” said the 38-year-old linguist, who teaches Mandarin in Mexico. The decline in local dialects among the younger generation has become more apparent in recent years as Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) has sought to bolster a uniform Chinese identity. Mandarin is now spoken by more than 80 percent of China’s population, up from 70 percent a decade ago. Last month, China’s State Council promised to
DEMOGRAPHIC CRISIS: Beijing is attempting to address its population decline, including considering raising the retirement age and allowing more than two children China’s birthrate has fallen to its lowest level in six decades, barely outnumbering deaths last year despite major government efforts to increase population growth and stave off a demographic crisis. Across China, 10.62 million babies were born last year, a rate of 7.52 per thousand people, the Chinese National Bureau of Statistics said yesterday. In the same period 10.14 million deaths were recorded, a mortality rate of 7.18 per thousand, producing a population growth rate of just 0.34 per 1,000 people. The growth rate is the lowest since 1960, and adds to the findings of May last year’s once-per-decade census, which found
‘PRECAUTIONARY MEASURE’: Authorities asked anyone who bought a hamster after Dec. 22 to hand it over after hamsters at a shop tested positive for the Delta variant Hong Kong’s government yesterday faced outrage over its decision to cull hundreds of small animals after hamsters in a store tested positive for COVID-19. Like China, Hong Kong maintains a staunch “zero COVID” policy, stamping out the merest trace of the virus with contact tracing, mass testing, strict quarantines and prolonged social distancing rules. Its latest measures target hamsters and other small mammals — including chinchillas, rabbits and guinea pigs, which authorities on Tuesday said would be culled as a “precautionary measure.” The drastic move came after hamsters sold at the Little Boss pet shop tested positive for the Delta variant of