■ Japan \nCompensation fund to close \nA private fund used to compensate women forced into World War II brothels run by the Japanese army will be dissolved in March 2007, officials said yesterday. Critics decried the decision, saying it reflected Japan's refusal to take responsibility for the former "comfort women." Since its establish-ment in 1995, the fund has raised a total of ?560 million (US$5.4 million) and given ?2 million each in compen-sation to 285 women. \n■ China \nN Koreans flee to school \nEight North Koreans believed to be asylum seekers entered a Japanese school in Beijing yesterday morning, Japan's Jiji Press reported, quoting Japanese Embassy officials. \nThe eight North Koreans -- one man, five women and two children -- entered the Japanese school at 4am and they were later sent to Japanese Embassy in Beijing, the report said. It was the fourth time North Koreans entered the school. \n■ Hong Kong \nMassager traps woman \nFirefighters came to the rescue when a woman's foot was trapped in a massage machine that she tried out at a Hong Kong department store, police said yesterday. The 44-year-old woman surnamed Lau was testing the OTO Big Foot massage machine on Sunday when she felt a sharp pain in her left foot and couldn't remove it, police spokeswoman Trish Leung said. Firefighters dismantled the machine and Lau was sent to a hospital and later discharged, Leung said. OTO Bodycare, the machine's manufacturer, withdrew the product following the incident, newspapers reported. \n■ Thailand \nPM says `no quarelling' \nThai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has turned down calls for pre-election debates with his opponents on the grounds that "quarrelling in public" is un-Thai, media reports said yesterday. "It's not Thai to have senior people quarrelling in public," Thaksin said in response to challenges by his opponents in the upcoming Feb. 6 polls to face off in public debates. Thaksin, who head the Thai Rak Thai party, won the January 2001 election on a populist platform and is slated to easily win next month's polls given his strong performance in office. "People don't want debaters. They want someone who works," Thaksin told The Nation newspaper. \n■ New Zealand \nIsraeli spoilt milk \nA 30-year-old Israeli working in New Zealand could be jailed for 10 years after becoming the first person to face a charge of deliberately contaminating food, crops or water intended for human consumption. The man was charged after antibiotics were detected in a silo of 40,000 liters of milk on a South Island dairy farm, the New Zealand Press Association reported. The contamination was discovered when a sample of the milk was routinely tested as it was being taken away for processing. \n■ China \nTycoon sentenced to death \nAn entertainment and property tycoon in southeast China has been sentenced to death for running a prosti-tution and gambling ring in a case that exposes the close ties between organized crime and officialdom. Chen Kai, who also sought a political career, was senten-ced over the weekend at a court in Fuzhou, the city where he committed his crimes and bribed 50 offic-ials to look the other way, the China Daily reported. \n■ Ireland \nEx-minister faces jail \nA former justice minister and leading member of Ireland's Fianna Fail party faced a possible prison term yesterday after he admitted evading tax. Ray Burke, who resigned from Prime Minister Bertie Ahern's administration in 1997 after being accused of accepting bribes, pleaded guilty last year to filing false tax returns in 1993 -- a year when the government gave people hiding money from tax collectors the chance to declare it without penalty. Burke admitted failing to declare cash deposits of 91,980 Irish pounds (about US$140,000) and failing to reveal about US$40,000 in other income, including secret donations from property developers. \n■ United States \nSecurity official to resign \nAsa Hutchinson yesterday told an Arkansas newspaper he plans to resign his post with the Homeland Security Department after he was passed over twice by the Bush administration to be secretary of the department. Hutchinson, a former Arkansas congressman and former federal drug czar, is the undersecretary for border and transportation security issues. He said his resignation would be effective from March 1 to allow a more seamless transition when secretary-designate Michael Chertoff takes over the department from Tom Ridge. \n■ United States \nCancer-test warning issued \nA new US study suggests a man's weight may affect the accuracy of a common test to detect prostate cancer, leading researchers to warn that doctors could be missing the dangerous cancer in obese men. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio studied 2,779 men without prostate cancer from 2001 until last year. In the study released online yesterday in the journal Cancer, they reported finding that the more obese the men were, the lower their levels of prostate-specific antigen (PSA). A PSA of 4.0 or lower usually means no cancer. \n■ United Kingdom \nThatcher plot thickens \nThe prospect of Sir Mark Thatcher being allowed to return to the US to rejoin his wife and children in Dallas, Texas, became more uncertain as new evidence emerged that his role in an African coup attempt may have been more central than has been admitted, and involved questionable activities in the US. A senior former State Department official in Washington, Joseph Sala, has disclosed he was hired by the plotters to gain US support for the coup. Sala was to tell a BBC TV program yesterday that he was offered US$40,000 to promote the plotters' cause there. Records for Thatcher's mobile phone show that he was among those placing calls to a London businessman accused of masterminding the Washington plot. Sir Mark is in limbo, staying at his mother Baroness Thatcher's house in London after fleeing South Africa following his conviction there for financing a helicopter gunship to be used in the coup. \n■ Nigeria \nOil unions may go on strike \nOil unions said they would decide yesterday whether to go ahead with a threatened strike in a key petroleum center, over demands that two oil executives blamed for cutting workers' benefits leave the country. A strike could cut off more that 500,000 barrels per day of oil production in and around the oil hub city of Port Harcourt. \n■ Venezuela \nUS accused for crisis \nThousands of demonstrators backed President Hugo Chavez, who on Sunday accused US and Colombian officials of provoking a diplomatic crisis between the Caribbean neighbors. "I know where this provocation comes from: from Washington, not from Bogota!" Chavez said before a crowd of cheering supporters. Chavez said that the US was behind Colombia's arrest on Venezuelan territory of a Colombian rebel, triggering a diplomatic crisis with Bogota. Pro-government demonstrators demanded respect for Venezuelan sovereignty as they walked through the capital and rejected the US role in the capture of the rebel leader. \n■ United Kingdom \nStraw goes to Washington \nBritish Foreign Secretary Jack Straw yesterday visited Washington amid reported tensions over a US hardline on Iran's nuclear program and British support for lifting the European arms embargo on China. Straw was due to hold talks with US secretary of state-designate Condoleezza Rice. The Sunday Times reported that Straw has drawn up Britain's case against a military strike on Iran amid fears US President George W. Bush may seek support for a new conflict. Straw has produced a 200-page dossier that rules out military action and makes the case for a "negotiated solution" to thwart Iran's suspected ambition to produce nuclear weapons. \n■ United States \nRose Mary Woods dies \nRose Mary Woods, the devoted secretary to former US president Richard Nixon who said she inadvertently erased part of a crucial Watergate tape that had an 18-and-a-half-minute gap, has died. She was 87. Woods died on Saturday night at a nursing home in Alliance, south of Cleveland, Ohio. The gap in the tape of a June 20, 1972, conversation between Richard Nixon and chief of staff H.R. Haldeman was critical to the question of what Nixon knew about the break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate complex three days earlier -- and when he knew it. Woods, who left the disgraced president's staff in 1976, never talked much about her years with the only US president to resign the office. \n■ United States \nIntelligence unit denied \nThe US defense department denied a report Sunday by the Washington Post detailing the creation of a new US intelligence unit. The Post said US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is behind the alleged Pentagon-based agency that has entered the traditional domain of the US' CIA by focusing on foreign human intelligence gathering. The unit, known as the Strategic Support Branch, has operated for two years in Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations, the Post said. \n■ West Bank \nMiddle East closer to truce \nMilitant groups have agreed to halt attacks as they near a final cease-fire deal with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and await Israel's response to their moves, a senior Palestinian official said. Now Israel must take concrete steps -- withdrawing troops from Palestinian cities, stopping military operations, home demolitions and arrest raids, Abu Amr said. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz both said Israel would refrain from conducting military operations in Palestinian areas if the militant groups halt attacks. In the past month, Israeli military officials have indicated the army would withdraw troops from West Bank and Gaza Strip areas under Palestinian control.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and