Couple to be reunited
A Japanese woman abducted to North Korea decades ago headed for Indonesia yesterday to be reunited with the former US soldier she married and left behind when she returned to Japan two years ago. Hitomi Soga, 45, wants to persuade her husband, Charles Robert Jenkins -- who Washington says deserted 40 years ago -- and the couple's two North Korean-born daughters, aged 21 and 18, to come and live with her in Japan. Jenkins fears he would be handed over to the US military for court martial if he did. Soga, who was spirited away from her homeland in 1978 by North Korean agents, returned in October 2002 with four other Japanese abductees. All five had to leave their families behind but Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi won the release of the others' five children in May at a summit in Pyongyang.
Loansharks want kidney
Talk about extracting a pound of flesh. Alleged loansharks tried to force a Shanghai man to sell one of his kidneys to pay back a 30,000 yuan (US$3,600) debt, the Shanghai Daily reported Thursday. The two men kidnapped habitual gambler Lu Ronfeng and demanded doctors at a city hospital remove the organ, the Shanghai Daily reported yesterday. Turned away, they decided to take him to the inland province of Anhui for the operation, but Lu escaped in the hospital parking lot and ran to a policeman. One of the alleged loansharks, Li Shenghe, was arrested on the spot and has been charged with illegally holding Lu, it said. Li denied trying to make Lu sell his kidney. His accomplice escaped.
Miracle slobber for sale
Thousands of ill Cambodians are flocking to a northern village to be licked by a mystical cow named Preah who is curing their complaints, its owner has claimed. Farmer Puch Pich said up to 400 people have been turning up daily for the past fortnight to be slobbered over, after the 13-month-old white beast apparently cured his wife Kong Mich of a chronic illness. They have been braving Cambodia's notoriously bad rainy season roads to travel from around the kingdom, paying 500 riel (US$0.13) per person for four licks on the limb or body part of their choice. "The cow won't lick people who don't put in their money ... and if he doesn't think you believe in his powers, he won't lick you either," Puch Pich quipped.
■ Hong Kong
'Queen of Piracy' nabbed
A Hong Kong housewife suspected of running a multi-million US dollar software and computer game piracy syndicate has been arrested, customs officers said yesterday. The 49-year-old woman -- nicknamed "Queen of Piracy" -- was arrested along with one of her three sons in an operation that began Wednesday. Pirated discs and copying equipment worth US$2.5 million were seized by a team of 150 customs officers who raided more than 10 locations around Hong Kong. The housewife is believed to be the mastermind of a family-run syndicate which made US$30,000 a month profit from manufacturing and selling pirated discs. The syndicate is believed to have been running for four years and has an annual turnover of millions of U.S. dollars. "We have arrested the mastermind and she is a housewife," Customs spokesman William Chau said.
China-Russia games set
China and Russia will hold joint military exercises next year, state media said yesterday. The games emerged from a visit to Moscow by Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of China's central military commission, but the scope and timing of the exercises had yet to be decided, the China Daily said. The two country's navies held their first joint exercise in October 1999 when a Russian destroyer and a cruiser visited China. Guo said the exercises would "jointly confront current challenges to safeguard world peace."
Guide dog dodges rule
A blind French-speaking student barred from an English language course because his guide dog understands commands only in French was admitted after the University of New Brunswick reversed its decision. The move Wednesday allowed Yvan Tessier to take a course during which students may only speak in English. The university had insisted that Tessier could not attend the course unless he promised to speak English to the dog. Tessier said it would be impossible to retrain the dog and that it would have been dangerous for him because the dog might not respond properly to a command.
Secret Medici crypt found
A secret crypt of Italy's Medici family was discov-ered by scientists on Wednesday after a hunt reminiscent of an Indiana Jones movie. The vaulted chamber was found under a stone floor in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence. American and Italian researchers have been digging up the bodies of 49 Medicis buried in the church. Researchers opened the tomb of grand duke Gian Gastone de' Medici and were astonished to find it empty. In trying to locate Gian Gastone, they stumbled on the secret crypt, which held several other bodies.
■ United Kingdom
Tomb speaks for dead
A US inventor wants to patent a way of sending a message from beyond the grave -- a video-screen tombstone. New Scientist reports in tomor-row's issue that a Californian has designed a hollow headstone housing a computer with a hard disc or memory chip that allows the deceased to relay a video message via a flat LCD touch screen. "They might relate their life stories ... or worse: they could confess to lurid indiscre-tions," the story says. To avoid disturbing other visitors, people could listen to the message through wireless headphones.
■ United States
Jackson seeks dismissal
Michael Jackson's lawyers asked a judge to throw out his indictment on molestation charges, claiming prosecutors bullied witnesses. The motion was released Wednesday after being heavily edited by Judge Rodney Melville. One witness was identifiable as Russell Halpern, the lawyer for the father of Jackson's teenage accuser. Halpern accused District Attorney Tom Sneddon of withholding information, saying, "I found the D.A.'s office to be hostile when I called." Halpern added that Sneddon is improperly using a gag order to silence him. ``Mr. Sneddon has misused his powers as district attorney to try to keep me from talking at all. I am not a potential witness, and his description of me as a potential witness is disingenuous.'' Jackson, 45, has pleaded not guilty to committing a lewd act upon a child and several other charges.
US Congress scoffs at rules
The US House of Representatives dealt an election-season setback to President George W. Bush by voting to overturn restrictions his administration has issued on the gift parcels that Americans can send to family members in Cuba. The 221 to 194 vote Wednesday would block new rules that took effect July 1 barring people from shipping clothing, seeds, veterinary medicine and soap-making ingredients to Cubans. Under the new Commerce Department rules, no items at all could be shipped to people how are not immediate relatives such as parents, grandchildren or spouses. And non-food gifts cannot be shipped more than monthly to each household of relatives -- down from the current limit of once a month per individual relative.
■ United States
Why won't Johnny read?
The reading of books is on the decline in America. A report released yesterday by the National Endowment for the Arts says the number of non-reading adults increased by more than 17 million between 1992 and 2002. Only 47 percent of American adults read "literature'' (poems, plays, narrative fiction) in 2002, a drop of 7 points from a decade earlier. Those reading any book at all in 2002 fell to 57 percent, down from 61 percent. NEA chairman Dana Gioia, himself a poet, called the findings shocking and a reason for grave concern. "We have a lot of functionally literate people who are no longer engaged readers," Gioia said. "This isn't a case of `Johnny Can't Read,' but `Johnny Won't Read.'" The likely culprits, according to the report: television, movies and the Internet.
`Free Speech' ended
One of Russia's most popular television hosts has been pulled from the air and his show canned after speaking out against the Russian government -- the second such sacking in the last month. Savik Shuster, host of the highly rated Svoboda Slova (Free Speech) television program on the channel NTV, was relieved of his duties and offered a behind-the-scenes post of deputy general director, less than a week after criticizing politicians for refusing to debate new legislation that replaces social benefits for veterans and the poor with cash. Shuster said yesterday that while he was surprised by the decision to cancel the show, he wouldn't comment until he had decided whether to accept the new position.
■ United States
Mechanic scoops story
The American political scoop of the year came not from some hotshot journalist, but an airplane mechanic in Pittsburgh. Bryan Smith, a 39-year-old US Airways employee, found out that Senator John Kerry had chosen Senator John Edwards as his vice presidential candidate several hours before journalists -- and even before Edwards was asked Tuesday. On duty Monday night, Smith rode a golf cart through a hangar where Kerry's 757 was resting, waiting for a trip from Pittsburgh to Indianapolis the next day. He was later told the hangar was off limits. He looked in and saw "Edwards" decals being attached to the airplane's fuselage, then quickly covered up with brown paper and masking tape. Smith later went home and posted a one-line message on USaviation.com, using the code name Aerosmith: "John Kerry's 757 was in hgr 4 pit tonight John Edwards decals were being put on engine cowlings and upper fuselage."
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic
SHOW OF SOLIDARITY: The publisher’s ‘Apple Daily’ newspaper has had to raise the number of copies printed from 70,000 to 550,000 to meet a huge surge in demand They have occupied Hong Kong’s central business district, marched by the hundreds of thousands through the territory’s streets and endured tear gas and pepper spray in pitched battles with riot police. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters are now wielding a new protest weapon: their stock-market trading accounts. To show support for Jimmy Lai (黎智英), the publisher and outspoken government critic who was on Monday arrested under the territory’s new national security legislation, Hong Kongers have been piling into shares of his media company Next Digital. The result: a more than 1,100 percent surge in two days that propelled the stock to a seven-year