■ Hong Kong
Journalists appeal to China
Journalists took to the streets yesterday to urge China to release their jailed colleague Ching Cheong (程翔), convicted of spying for Taiwan, on medical parole due to his health. Waving banners and shouting slogans, a small group of Hong Kong Journalists Association members marched to government headquarters to hand in a petition signed by 3,000 people during a two-week worldwide online campaign. The protest was timed to coincide with the 57th birthday of the chief China correspondent for Singapore's Straits Times. Ching was sentenced on Aug. 31 to five years in jail following a one-day trial.
PM warns of holiday threat
Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont yesterday warned of large-scale attacks by Islamic militants in the Muslim-majority south during New Year holidays. "I have been informed by local security units that there may be large-scale attacks before or after the New Year," Surayud said, adding he had received reports that militants were "assembling their forces."
HIV tests planned
The southern state of Andhra Pradesh is planning to make HIV testing mandatory for couples planning to get married. It is the latest move by the state hit hardest by HIV and AIDS, with over a million of the country's 5.7 million cases. "This is an attempt to say that HIV is not a problem of truckers and the lower segment of society. Anybody can be affected and everybody should be tested," G. Ashok Kumar, director of the Andhra Pradesh Aids Control Society, said late on Thursday.
Airlines fight complaints
The food's bad, the airport coffee costs too much, the in-flight service is terrible, the flight's delayed and your suitcase got destroyed in transit -- well, it's your fault for having unrealistic expectations. The civil aviation authority, seeking to head off an upsurge in consumer complaints about domestic air travel, this week issued a plea to long-suffering travelers to stop complaining so much. "We hope to increase consumers' understanding about the special nature of the civil aviation industry," the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China said.
Police block nude run
Police in Henan Province have scotched a wine maker's plans for a mass Christmas Eve "nude run" that the company said was a public interest event to discourage the use of "excessive packaging" in the industry. Jixiang Ruyi Tobacco and Alcohol Co offered 284 people US$1,280 in cash and prizes to participate in a naked dash through Zhengzhou the People's Daily reported on its Web site yesterday. The company called for "auspicious" men and women under the age of 30 with "healthy bodies" to apply. "The goal of this streaking event is to raise consumer awareness and declare war on the excessive packaging of baijiu through the language of the body," a manager said.
Journey to pole continues
Two New Zealand men walking to the South Pole and back have only one wish for Christmas -- a smooth ice sheet. "The best Christmas present we could have would be a nice, flat surface," as it will involve "a lot of walking," adventurer Kevin Biggar said yesterday as they prepared to reach the pole by early next month. Biggar and Jamie Fitzgerald were on their 40th day of walking, dragging sleds behind them. After a short celebration, they plan to turn around and head back to the Antarctic coast, to complete their journey. The two men hope to become the first to walk to the Pole and back unaided.
■ East Timor
Aid arrives three years late
A shipment of emergency aid for residents of East Timor was unloaded from a port in the capital yesterday, three years after it was sent by Australian donors. A statement issued by the government apologized for the hold-up, apparently caused by excessive bureaucracy, saying "only the intervention of Prime Minister Ramos-Horta led to the `liberation'" of the container. "It is a totally unacceptable delay," Ramos-Horta said. "Many of the goods, including cooking oil, sugar ... have now deteriorated."
■ United Kingdom
Beshenivsky killers get life
Two men yesterday were sentenced to jail for at least 35 years for the murder of policewoman Sharon Beshenivsky during a bungled armed robbery. Yusuf Jama, 20, and Muzzaker Shah, 25, were given life sentences for killing the mother-of-five, shot dead as she answered a 999 call last year. Senior police officers said they and Beshenivsky's husband Paul were pleased with the length of the sentences. "Both men are very, very dangerous ... and incredibly ruthless," Detective Superintendent Andy Brennan, of West Yorkshire Police, told reporters. A third member of the gang, Faisal, 25, was given a life sentence for manslaughter and was told he will serve at least 11 years.
■ United Kingdom
Queen's new podcast
Queen Elizabeth's televised Christmas message is being offered as a podcast for the first time, Buckingham Palace said on Thursday. The palace said that the message will be available as a download from her Web site www.royal.gov.uk from 3pm on Christmas Day. Listeners can even subscribe in advance on the site to receive the broadcast automatically. This year's broadcast, recorded at Southwark Cathedral.
Army says rebels killed
The army said it killed 200 rebels while repelling an attack in Darfur, the deadliest single military operation reported in the war-torn region since fighting started there four years ago. The bloodshed came amid intensified efforts to reach an agreement on the deployment of UN peacekeepers in Darfur as Washington warned Khartoum had until the end of the year to accept or face coercive action. The army charged that rebels attempted to launch an assault on the town of Kutum. Government troops repelled the attack near Shak al-Nakhra, 12km south of the town, and "killed 200 rebels, including two commanders, destroyed six cannons and 18 vehicles and seized eight others," a statement said.
New city to be built
The growing demand for housing is to be fed by building a new US$10 billion city for half a million people close to Moscow. Great Domodedovo is being billed as a saviour for young families who cannot get on the property ladder. Promoters say the new city will be an urban paradise free of traffic jams and air pollution where "every person will make his or her dream come true." It will have kindergartens, schools, supermarkets, fitness centers, hospitals, parks, restaurants, and houses and apartment blocks for up to 450,000 residents.
Surgeons more handsome
Ever wondered why, in hospital dramas, surgeons are usually tall, handsome and confident? An offbeat research paper that appeared in the British Medical Journal puts this anecdotal evidence to the test. Four doctors at the Hospital Clinic at the University of Barcelona, Spain, recruited 12 surgeons and 14 physicians, all of them men, for a quirky study into medical looks. Their pictures were matched against photographs of a "control" group of movie stars. Both sets were assessed for handsomeness by a female jury. Unsurprisingly, the actors -- George Clooney, Harrison Ford, Patrick Dempsey and Hugh Laurie -- came out tops, gaining an average score of 5.96. That compared with 4.39 for the real-life surgeons, whereas the physicians trailed rather pitifully, with 3.65.
■ United States
Teen drug use down
Teen drug abuse fell by 23 percent in the last five years, but use of prescription drugs is on the rise, according to a government-funded annual study published Thursday. The nationwide study conducted by the University of Michigan found that among children aged 14, 16 and 18, marijuana use dropped by 25 percent, methamphetamine use by 50 percent, and LSD and Ecstasy by 50-66 percent. Cigarette use and consumption of alcoholic beverages were also down among teenagers, the study found. "That's good news," said Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, who presented the study's findings to the press.
■ United States
License prank uncovered
With bright red painted skin, spray-on hair and oversized fake teeth, the men looked like teenagers from outer space -- but the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) gave them driver's licenses all the same. But after videos of the prank hit the Internet, it was the state's turn to be red-faced. It has ordered the men to pose for new license photos or lose their driving privileges. Posted on video-sharing Web site Youtube.com, the video features Will Carsola spray-painting his face and neck bright red and Dave Stewart painting the top of his head black and sticking fake buckteeth in his mouth in an Asian caricature.
■ United States
Study discovers `fat bacteria'
Body weight could be down to more than simply what you eat -- according to a new study, how you digest your food is also an important factor. Scientists have found that the bacteria in the human gut, which help to break down food, differ in lean and obese people. "Our findings suggest that obesity has a microbial component, which might have potential therapeutic implications," wrote the researchers, led by Jeffrey Gordon of Washington University in Missouri, in yesterday's issue of Nature. Worldwide, there are an estimated 300 million obese people and obesity is linked to heart disease, diabetes and premature death.
Video clip suspect charged
Police who posted surveillance video from a murder scene on the popular YouTube Web site have been rewarded -- a suspect has turned himself in. Two weeks after the 72-second clip on the video-sharing site drew international attention from as faraway as Singapore, George Gallo, 24, turned himself into police. He appeared in court on Wednesday on second-degree murder and attempted murder charges in the stabbing death of Ryan Milner, 22, outside a hip-hop club last month. The clip did not bring forward any witnesses, but the extra online attention likely encouraged Gallo to turn himself in, police said.
■ United States
Indian guilty of UN bribes
An Indian businessman pleaded guilty on Thursday to bribing a UN purchasing official with two luxury apartments in return for being given more than US$50 million in the world body's contracts. Nishan Kohli pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to one count of bribery of an official of an organization receiving more than US$10,000 in federal funds, US Attorney Michael Garcia said in a statement. Kohli, an Indian, faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, Garcia said. Kohli is alleged to have sold Sanjay Bahel, the head of the UN commodity procurement wing from 1998 to 2003, two luxury condominium units just blocks from the UN' Manhattan compound.
FRENCH AID: Paris has sent a navy ship and aircraft from Reunion Island with some pollution control equipment, but rough seas are spreading the oil spill The operator of a Japanese bulk carrier which ran aground off Mauritius in the Indian Ocean yesterday apologized for a major oil spill, which officials and environmentalists say is creating an ecological disaster, as police prepared to board the ship. The MV Wakashio, operated by Mitsui OSK Lines, struck the reef on Mauritius’ southeast coast on July 25. “We apologize profusely and deeply for the great trouble we have caused,” Mitsui OSK Lines executive vice president Akihiko Ono said at a news conference in Tokyo. The company would “do everything in their power to resolve the issue,” he said. At least 1,000 tonnes of
They stand as eyesores to most passers-by and potential public health risks to authorities, decaying buildings wrapped in tangles of exposed wire, studded with protruding leaky plastic pipes, vegetation billowing from cracks and terraces where particulates from polluted air have accumulated over time. With skyscrapers and ultramodern developments on every side, some of these “nail houses” are also sitting on land worth millions of dollars in Shenzhen’s inferno of a property market, where new-unit and second-hand home prices rival London. In battles over land and development, the nail house phenomenon has become widespread throughout China over the past two decades, with owners
An Italian alpine resort on Friday remained on high alert over fears that a vast chunk of a glacier on the slopes of the Mont Blanc massif could plummet in high temperatures. “No one gets through! No cars, bikes or pedestrians,” was the message at a checkpoint where an automatic barrier and two guards blocked the small road snaking up into a lush valley below the Planpincieux glacier, near the town of Courmayeur and the Italian-French border. The blockade has largely been greeted with contempt by the locals, one of whom said: “It’s a joke.” The huge ice block measuring around 500,000 cubic
SHOW OF SOLIDARITY: The publisher’s ‘Apple Daily’ newspaper has had to raise the number of copies printed from 70,000 to 550,000 to meet a huge surge in demand They have occupied Hong Kong’s central business district, marched by the hundreds of thousands through the territory’s streets and endured tear gas and pepper spray in pitched battles with riot police. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy supporters are now wielding a new protest weapon: their stock-market trading accounts. To show support for Jimmy Lai (黎智英), the publisher and outspoken government critic who was on Monday arrested under the territory’s new national security legislation, Hong Kongers have been piling into shares of his media company Next Digital. The result: a more than 1,100 percent surge in two days that propelled the stock to a seven-year