Students flee poison gas
A poisonous gas leak from a chemical factory in southwest China has led to the evacuation of more than 4,000 students from a local school complex, state press reported yesterday. The leak occurred early on Tuesday in Sichuan Province's Shuangliu City, forcing the evacuation of a middle school, an elementary school and a kindergarten, the Huaxi Metropolitan Daily reported. Children complained of burning eyes, nausea and difficulty breathing after a white cloud of gas entered the schools from a chemical plant nearby, the paper said.
■ Hong Kong
Zen arrives for Vatican talks
Cardinal Joseph Zen (陳日君) has arrived in the Vatican to discuss Sino-Vatican relations, recently soured by China's appointment of bishops without approval from the Holy See, a church spokesman said yesterday. Zen plans to stay in the Vatican for at least 10 days and will attend a meeting about relations between China and the Holy See, the spokesman said.
■ Hong Kong
Pregnant Chinese barred
Authorities are ready to turn away pregnant women from mainland China under new measures to stem an influx of expectant mothers criticized for taking up hospital resources, officials said. The Immigration Department said the policy, announced on Tuesday and effective from Feb. 1, would bar mainland women who are at least seven months pregnant from entering Hong Kong unless they are booked in at a hospital. There has been an influx of mainland Chinese pregnant women coming to Hong Kong to give birth. The number grew from 3,600 in 2004 to 8,800 in 2005 and to 11,716 in the first half of last year, overwhelming the city's hospitals.
■ United Kingdom
French laud Harold Pinter
British playwright Harold Pinter, an outspoken critic of the Iraq war, is to be given a top French award, the Legion d'Honneur. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was to present the "chevalier" version of the honor -- the lowest version -- to Pinter in a ceremony in London yesterday. Pinter won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. Although ill-health kept him from attending the ceremony, he used the occasion to deliver a video-taped lecture criticizing British and US politicians for the war in Iraq.
Politician starts to strip
A ruling party politician started to undress in parliament on Tuesday in protest at proposed constitutional amendments which perpetuate many of the president's vast powers. In a debate on the amendments member of parliament Mohamed Hussein objected to the article which gives the president the right to dissolve parliament. "Enough of that, enough. Should I take my clothes off?" he added, using a sarcastic popular expression used in response to someone's excessive expectations. When Hussein unbuttoned the waistcoat of his suit, speaker Fathi Sorour threatened to have him thrown out of the chamber. Colleagues persuaded Hussein to withdraw from the chamber voluntarily.
■ United Kingdom
Mittal makes big donation
Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal has donated ?2 million (US$3.92 million) to Prime Minister Tony Blair's governing Labour Party, according to statement a statement released on Tuesday. Mittal is a major backer of the party and donated a similar amount in 2005, Labour said. Blair, who has been questioned by police investigating allegations he inappropriately rewarded party donors with honors said the donation was generous. Mittal said in a statement he had offered the funding to assist Labour's work "to improve the overall prosperity and prospects of the country."
■ United Kingdom
Think tank says collaborate
The country must fight against rising "techno-nationalism" and collaborate with China, India and South Korea on scientific research to avoid being sidelined within a decade, a report warned yesterday. "Britain needs to ready itself for a world of global innovation networks, in which ideas and technologies will come from many more places," said the report by the left-of-center think tank Demos. "It needs to act now, while India and China's innovation capacity is still developing, and not in ten years' time when it is already too late." According to the report, Britain "must work to prevent a global retreat into techno-nationalism, and instead evangelize for a cosmopolitan approach to innovation."
■ United Kingdom
Crooks face `super-ASBOs'
Criminals could face anti-social behavior order (ASBO)-style orders banning them from traveling or using a mobile phones, under new powers due to be unveiled yesterday. The Serious Crime Bill will propose using civil orders against known criminals or associates as a way of restricting their activities before a trial or to discourage them committing an offense in the first place. The court-authorized powers, similar to existing ASBOs, would be quicker to impose and would not require the level of evidence needed in full criminal prosecution.
■ United States
Defense official apologizes
A Pentagon official who criticized US law firms for defending detainees at the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay apologized in a letter to the editor published in the Washington Post yesterday. Charles Stimson, deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said last week in a Washington radio interview he found it "shocking" that major US law firms would agree to represent Guantanamo detainees pro bono. He suggested they would suffer financially when corporate clients learned of their involvement in Guantanamo cases. "Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo. I do not," Stimson wrote in response to the furor over his remarks. "I apologize for what I said and to those lawyers and law firms who are representing clients at Guantanamo," he wrote.
■ United States
Former Iraqi official returns
A former Iraqi Cabinet minister was home on Tuesday in suburban Chicago, a month after escaping from the Baghdad prison where he was serving time on corruption charges. Ayham al-Samaraie, the former minister of electricity, arrived on Monday night at O'Hare International Airport aboard a flight from Jordan. He has both US and Iraqi citizenship. Al-Samaraie was serving a two-year sentence on charges related to about US$2 billion in missing funds for contracts to rebuild Iraq's electrical infrastructure when he escaped on Dec. 17 from an Iraqi-run jail inside the heavily fortified Green Zone. "All the time I thought I would probably never make it," he told WTTW-TV, the PBS affiliate in Chicago. "But it was faith. ... I made it home." He has argued that his departure from jail was legal because an Iraqi court had ordered his release Dec. 17.
■ United Nations
Oil-for-food chief charged
The former UN oil-for-food chief was charged on Tuesday with bribery and conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly accepting US$160,000 to illegally influence the US$64 billion program. Benon Sevan, 69, of Nicosia, Cyprus, countered through his lawyer that he was a political scapegoat and had accounted for every penny as he successfully ran the largest humanitarian program in UN history, helping to save "tens of thousands of innocent people from death by disease and starvation." The charges were contained in a rewrite of an indictment stemming from the scandal over the program set up from 1996 to 2003 to permit the Iraqi government to sell oil primarily to buy food and medicine for suffering Iraqis.
■ United States
Much of nation hit by storm
A massive winter storm has covered swathes of the US in a mantle of snow, sleet and ice, killing 42 people, threatening millions of US dollars in citrus crops and leaving hundreds of thousands without electricity, officials said on Tuesday. "This is a big one, affecting all the way from New Mexico to Maine," said Dennis Feltgen, a spokesman for the National Weather Service. The worst-hit areas were Oklahoma, where freezing rain left behind a sheet of ice, and Missouri, hard hit by sleet, he said. "With the ice, the trees come down on the power lines, and in Oklahoma it's going to take the rest of the week to get all that restored," he said. "The lines are completely down. It's not like it's a transformer here and there -- it's the whole grid."
Henry Tong (湯偉雄) and Elaine To (杜依蘭) were preparing to spend their first wedding anniversary in separate prison cells until their acquittal for rioting during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests. There were gasps and tears of relief in court on Friday last week as a judge declared prosecutors had failed to prove that the couple took part in clashes with police in July last year. The pair walked free in a ruling that has potential consequences for hundreds of other protesters facing similar charges. However, they have a long journey ahead as they try to rebuild their lives and business. “We have already been punished,”
WARNINGS OVER COMPLACENCY: The curves of new infections in numerous countries is climbing, while others see the the first new infections in months Spikes in COVID-19 infections in Asia have dispelled any notion that the region might be over the worst, with Australia and India yesterday reporting record daily infections, Vietnam fretting over a new surge and North Korea urging vigilance. Asian nations had largely prided themselves on rapidly containing initial outbreaks after the coronavirus emerged in central China late last year, but flare-ups this month have shown the danger of complacency. “We’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters. Australia recorded its
‘COVIDIOTS’: Politicians condemned the protest that came amid surging infections in the country, while a marcher said government-induced fear weakened the body Loudly chanting their opposition to masks and vaccines, thousands of people on Saturday gathered in Berlin to protest against COVID-19 restrictions before being dispersed by police. Police put turnout at about 20,000 — well below the 500,000 organizers had announced as they urged a “day of freedom” from months of virus curbs. Despite Germany’s comparatively low toll, authorities are concerned at a rise in infections over the past few weeks and politicians took to social media to criticize the rally as irresponsible. “We are the second wave,” shouted the crowd, a mixture of hard left and right and conspiracy theorists, as they converged
The Australian government yesterday said that it plans to give Google and Facebook three months to negotiate with media businesses fair pay for news content. In releasing a draft of a mandatory code of conduct, Canberra aims to succeed where other nations have failed in making tech firms pay for news siphoned from commercial media companies. Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said that Google and Facebook would be the first platforms targeted by the proposed legislation, but others could follow. “It’s about a fair go for Australian news media businesses, it’s about ensuring that we have increased competition, increased consumer protection and a sustainable