Internet cafe crackdown
The government closed 47,000 Internet cafes over a 10-month period last year in a campaign aimed at creating a more wholesome environment for children, a news report said yesterday. China's leaders encourage Internet use for business and education, but have expressed growing concern that it gives children access to violent or sexually explicit material, and have tried to block online criticism of their Communist rule. About 21,000 of the closed cafes might be allowed to re-open after making unspecified changes. The business licenses of 2,131 were revoked. The government said last October that it had detained 445 people for operating Web sites deemed pornographic, and fined Internet cafe operators a total of 100 million yuan (US$12 million) for letting children play violent games.
A special UN investigator on human rights in North Korea urged Pyongyang yesterday to address Japanese claims that there still are Japanese kidnap victims alive in that country. North Korea has admitted to abducting about a dozen Japanese in the 1970s and 1980s, but says only five are still alive and all of them have returned to Japan. Japan says there are several more suspicious cases, and has questioned the North's explanation of how some of the eight others died. North Korean agents reportedly kidnapped the Japanese to be used as language teachers for the North's spies.
Return of crown sought
A 78-year-old man, Li Kasemsang, has confessed to being involved in the robbery of an ancient crown. Li said that he and 20 others raided a temple in the former capital of Ayutthaya in 1956, stealing the crown and other precious items from inside a hollow Buddha image. Eight of the group were arrested and some of the items returned, but Li evaded arrest, and the crown, believed to be made in 1424, "was passed on until it reached a foreign buyer." Li blamed his unhappy life on his theft. The foreign affairs ministry said it would unearth more information about the crown before contacting US authorities to seek its return. Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has spearheaded the investigation. It is on display at San Francisco's Asian Art Museum as part of an exhibition.
■ United Kingdom
Prince stops short at grubs
Prince Charles, known to be a keen environmentalist and nature lover, drew the line at swallowing a live witchetty grub during a visit to Australia. The 56-year-old heir to the British throne held the wriggling bug up to his mouth during a visit to Alice Springs Desert Park, pretending to eat it, before choosing not to devour the delicacy. Turning to photographers, he said: "There are limits." Park worker Doug Taylor told him that the witchetty grubs, found in the roots of the Acacia bush, had to be eaten head first to stop their tails moving. "The last time I was here I had raw seal -- I'm older and wiser now" Charles said.
A city official was killed yesterday in a daylight attack by a lone assassin outside the municipal hall. Abel Ladera, a councilor of Tarlac City, 105km north of Manila, was pronounced dead on arrival at hospital due to a single gunshot wound. Ladera had just left his city council office when he was shot.
■ United Kingdom
Convict freed by armed men
A dangerous criminal was on the run in Britain yesterday after he escaped his guards while travelling from prison to hospital in a taxi, police said. Two armed men ambushed the taxi to free Neil Brennan, 21, who was serving a six-year sentence at a prison in Salford, northern England, for conspiracy to commit robbery. They made off in a silver get-away vehicle without firing a shot, but the guards who had been in the taxi were left in a state of shock, police said. As a man hunt was launched, detective chief inspector Sam Haworth said it appeared to be normal practice at the privately-run prison to ferry convicts around in a taxi cab.