Souvenir smokes axed
Japan's imperial palace will end its century-old tradition of giving specially made cigarettes as gifts to employees, volunteers and others as an anti-smoking drive gains nationwide momentum, palace officials said yesterday. Although Japan's smoking rate remains one of the highest in the developed world, smoking has been banned in public facilities, hospitals and a growing number of restaurants. New laws require tougher warnings on cigarette packages, and Parliament is considering restrictions on outdoor advertising. Japan's Imperial Household Agency said it will stop giving away the cigarettes as gifts beginning April, 2007. But the palace will not be smoke-free, and the agency said it will continue offering cigarettes to visitors who smoke.
Xinjiang road planned
Chinese security forces plan to build a road across the Taklimakan desert in a northwestern region where Islamic separatists are fighting Chinese rule. The 424km highway will link the towns of Hotan and Aral in the Xinjiang region, crossing a span of blowing desert sands wracked by extremes of heat and cold, the official Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday. Xinhua said about half the highway's length will be built by units of the People's Armed Police, used by Beijing to crush protests and uncover suspected separatist hideouts in Xinjiang. The region's Uighur ethnic majority complain Chinese rule and migration to the region is undermining their distinct language and cultural traditions. China expects this year to complete a railway to Tibet's capital, Lhasa, and last month announced plans to restore a dilapidated World War II road to India.
Four boys lost in jungle
A massive search for four boys missing in the Malaysian jungle entered its third day yesterday with more than 200 rescuers and four helicopters on the lookout. Nine-year-old Jeremy Tio, a Singaporean, and his Malaysian cousins Chew Ser Yee, 16, Chew Ser Han, 14 and Chew Ser Meng, 10, went missing during a jungle walk on Monday. Jeremy's mother, Jeannie Yap, said she and other adults went over a map with the boys and tested the Bishop's Trail before allowing the youngsters to go. "It was not supposed to be a problem," she said. The plan was to stay for four days at the Methodist Lodge. The boys carried no food and had only a few bottles of water. The eldest two were Scouts with jungle training.
Aid policy linked to kids
The government said yesterday it will expand aid to rural couples with only one child to promote family planning, but will not ease its three-decade-old one-child policy to limit population growth. Some poor couples can have a second child if the first is a girl. In a pilot program that will be expanded this year to 1.35 million people, rural couples over age 60 who have one child or two girls will receive at least 600 yuan (US$72) a year in aid. The program will be expanded nationwide next year, said the vice minister for family planning, who refused to characterize it as an incentive program, and denied that Beijing was moving away from penalizing couples who break the rules.
■ New Zealand
Japanese sailor rescued
A solo Japanese sailor whose boat ran aground on a remote reef in the Pacific Ocean was rescued yesterday by the crew of a yacht taking part in a race from New Zealand to Fiji. Shunki Kawano was rescued after his 7.9m vessel Getten ran aground on the north Minerva Reef -- a regular trap for the unwary -- about 500km southeast of Fiji. Help was unusually close at hand thanks to 22 boats taking part in the Astrolabe Rally from the Bay of Islands to Fiji. Usually it would take far longer to rescue someone stranded in that part of the ocean.