Tourist aid trip launched
A travel company plans to start running three-day coach tours to the most devastated areas of Thailand's Andaman Sea coast this week to inject cash into villages wrecked by last month's tsunami. The trips, organized by Bangkok-based World Class On Tour, will start at a town just north of the devastated resort of Khao Lak where tourists will offer rice and canned food to survivors. The tourists will drive past a temple used as a makeshift morgue for thousands of bodies and stop near Khao Lak for a small memorial service and Buddhist "merit making" ceremony for the spirits of those swept to their death by giant waves on Dec. 26.
Bird flu spreads in Vietnam
One man died of suspected bird flu in Vietnam over the weekend and three people were hospitalized as news reports showed the virus has spread across the entire country. In neighboring Thailand, health workers have been put on alert and ordered to conduct stringent surveillance measures but it is Vietnam that has emerged as the epicenter for the deadly H5N1 virus. A 48-year-old man died, and his younger brother and a 62-year-old man were hospitalized on Saturday with acute pneumonia, which doctors in Hanoi suspected could be caused by bird flu.
■ New Zealand
Kiwis give a lot of aid
New Zealanders have donated over NZ$13 million (about US$9.1 million), or more than three New Zealand dollars for every man, woman and child to victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami. Rae Julian, who heads the umbrella group for aid organizations, the Council for International Development, told Radio New Zealand it was an unprecedented response to appeals for relief funds. The New Zealand government, which has committed about US$7 million so far, is expected to announce an expanded aid package soon.
Loyalists face charges
Myanmar's military government has initiated criminal cases against several military intelligence officers who were detained after the ouster last year of former Prime Minister General Khin Nyunt, officials said. Criminal charges concerning illegal economic activities, including illicit possession of foreign exchange, were filed against several officers earlier this month, officials familiar with the police investigation said. The officials, said the officers, all of whom face multiple charges, would be tried at dates yet to be set.. Khin Nyunt was also chief of the military intelligence service, which served as his power base. Leaders of the country's ruling junta later accused him of insubordination and being responsible for a major corruption scandal involving his subordinates.
Baby's head found
A severed head of an infant was found Monday in a parking lot of a company office in central Japan, police said. An employee at the shipping equipment manufacturer found the head at around 8:30 am, said a spokesman at the Oyama precinct of Tochigi prefecture, 75km north of Tokyo. "The head was not cut with a knife. It appears that the head was pulled from the body," he said, adding that the police believed the baby was only two to three days old. No other details were available immediately.
President cosies up to West
Croatia's incumbent President Stipe Mesic promised to align the ex-Yugoslav country more closely with the West after overwhelmingly winning a second term in a runoff election. Mesic, 70, won 66 percent of the vote on Sunday, the state-run Electoral Commission said after nearly all the votes were counted. His conser-vative rival, the Cabinet minister in charge of families and war veterans, Jadranka Kosor, garnered 34 percent. Mesic called on all Croatian parties to help build "a modern and just Croatia, a country of all of its citizens."