■ JapanChild suicide rate rises
The number of Japanese public schoolchildren who committed suicide rose by 11 percent, marking the first increase in five years, a government survey showed. Of 137 suicides, up by 14 from a year earlier, the number of deaths among boys slipped by one to 81 but among girls jumped by 15 to 56, up 37 percent from a year earlier. The number of suicides among elementary school children rose to five from three while that among high school students jumped to 98 from 84. Some 64 percent of children's suicides was due to "unknown" causes while 12 percent of them was attributed to family problems. Japan registered a record high 34,427 suicides last year.
■ Kuala Lumpur
Python skin smuggler busted
Malaysian officials have arrested a man found in possession of some 1,000 snakeskins believed to be python skins worth more than 16,040 ringgit (16,326 US dollars), a report said yes-terday. Acting on a tip-off, Customs Department officials on Thursday found the 1,034 skins inside a lorry the man was driving in Padang Besar in the northern Perlis state bordering Thailand. "We believe they were bound for (northern) Penang state to be processed into leather products," state customs director Ahmad Akbar Zahari said. Those convicted of python skin smuggling can be fined up to 10 times the value of the seized goods or 50,000 ringgit or sentenced to a jail term of up to three years, or both.
■ Hong Kong
Girl kills self for teacher
A 15-year-old Hong Kong schoolgirl threw herself to her death from a high-rise apartment after exchanging a series of loving e-mails and text messages with her former teacher. On the night of her death, Yip Ying-sin sent a series of text messages to teacher Yung Yin-hung two hours before her suicide telling him: "I will really leave ... you drive me to leave." Yung told an inquest Friday that it was too late at night to call a helpline. The teacher and student had exchanged messages online with Yip writing on one occasion: "You love me very much and I love you very much too."
Don't breed mosquitoes!
Singapore is to fine people who allow mosquitoes to breed in their homes in a bid to curb dengue fever, a sometimes fatal disease that has soared to a 10-year high in the island-state. First-time offenders, previously let off with a warning letter, will be fined S$100 (U$60.72) starting next February, the Straits Times reported yesterday. Singapore, with a population of just over four million, recorded 8,597 dengue cases by Dec. 17 -- a near 80 percent leap over the same period last year. Three people have died from the disease this year. Authorities say mosquitoes breed in stagnant water, notably in plant pots and roof gutters.
Pirates strike again
Pirates armed with machines guns kidnapped two senior crew members from a tugboat in a busy waterway between Malaysia and Indonesia. About 20 men on two fishing boats forced the Singapore-flagged tugboat to stop in the Malacca Straits on Wednesday night, said a police official who declined to be named. The pirates, believed to be Indonesians, fired on the vessel, damaging its communication equip-ment. They robbed the 12 Myanmar and Indonesian crew members of their valuables, then abducted the vessel's Indonesian captain and chief engineer.
■ FranceStorm kills at least six