■ Hong Kong
Protesters kowtow to court
Supporters of 14 people arrested during violent anti-WTO demonstrations made a plea for their early release yesterday by repeatedly kneeling outside the court where the protesters are being held. A Korean farmer and representatives from Japan, Taiwan and Hong Kong will keep up the demonstration until the accused -- 11 Koreans, a Japanese, a Taiwanese and a Chinese -- go on trial today, Hong Kong activist Mabel Au said. The 14 supporters repeatedly performed the kowtow, a traditional gesture of respect involving kneeling and touching the forehead and hands to the ground. The 14 accused were charged with unlawful assembly. If convicted they face a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
Rebels refuse ceasefire
Communist rebels said yesterday that they will not observe the traditional Christmas ceasefire and step up attacks in the countryside. "We don't see any basis to declare a ceasefire," rebel spokesman Gregorio Rosal said in a mobile phone text message to reporters. "This is in response to the relentless attacks being waged by government forces against the unarmed civilians and abuse of the peace negotiations," he said. Philippine security forces say they want a shorter-than-usual truce with the 8,000-member Maoist-led New People's Army over the holidays due to concerns about increased violence in the countryside. They have suggested one-day ceasefires on Christmas Day and on New Year's Day, but President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has to announce whether her government will declare a unilateral truce. Rosal said about 110 leftist activists had been killed since March this year.
US warns of holiday attacks
The threat of terrorist attacks in Indonesia targeting Westerners over the Christmas and New Year holidays is high, the US embassy said yesterday, warning of possible kidnappings, shootings or suicide bombings. Maps and explosives obtained in a police raid on a terrorist's hideout last month indicated the al-Qaeda-linked militant group Jemaah Islamiyah was in the advanced stages of planning attacks, the embassy said in an e-mailed message to citizens. Indonesian authorities also warned recently that Islamic extremists may be planning to kidnap foreigners over the holidays, and a recently discovered Web site provided step-by-step instructions on how to gun down Westerners in the streets of Jakarta. The world's most populous Muslim nation has been hit by five suicide bombings targeting Western interests since 2002, the most recent on the resort island of Bali three months ago.
World War II medal found
A valuable British war medal discovered on an Australian beach has been traced to a London family who reported the treasured piece of history stolen nearly two decades ago. The George Cross medal, valued at about ?15,000 (US$35,700), was found on a beach in Queensland state in February and police were able to present it to the British Consulate in Brisbane yesterday so it could be returned to its owners. Australian Associated Press reported that the medal had been awarded to Flying Officer Anthony Tollemache in 1940 after his plane crashed during an exercise in England and he risked his life to save a passenger. The medal was one of several stolen from the Tollemache family home in London in 1988.