Official warns judiciary
Security chief Luo Gan (羅幹) has warned judicial departments to stand firm in the face of what he described as "hostile forces" of reform, but also urged the judiciary to improve its handling of social unrest. In a wide-ranging essay published in Seeking Truth, the Chinese Communist Party's journal, dampened reformists' hopes for moves toward an independent judiciary and reaffirmed the party's guiding role in law enforcement. "Hostile forces have been trying their best to attack and fundamentally transform our judicial system," Luo wrote in the essay seen yesterday.
Family of five killed
Police are probing an apparent murder-suicide after finding seven bodies drenched with blood in a village near the Hong Kong border. Police found the victims, aged between 14 and 81 and including a family of five, in Baishayun village, Guangdong Province, on Monday night, Xinhua news agency reported. A man identified as Yan Zhongxi and his wife are believed to have cut the throats of the family following a dispute over money and then committed suicide.
Education fees cut
Beijing will exempt all rural students from paying compulsory education fees starting from the spring semester this year, state media reported. Students in rural areas of western China were exempted from compulsory education fees last year and now the program will be expanded that to the poorer central and eastern regions, State Councilor Chen Zhili (陳至立) was quoted as saying late on Thursday by the Xinhua news agency.
Political prisoner near death
A prisoner who is believed to be a victim of political purges by the nation's late dictator is in urgent need of medical treatment, Amnesty International (AI) said. Geldy Kyarizov is severely malnourished and weak and may be ``in grave danger if he does not receive adequate treatment immediately,'' AI said late on Thursday. Kyarizov was arrested in 2002 and reportedly tortured by electric shocks to his genitals before being sentenced to six years in prison following an unfair trial. Kyarizov's wife visited him on Monday in a Turkmenabad prison and said "he is a skeleton with skin, his weight now is 45 to 50kg. He is like a walking dead body."
`Jesus loves Osama'
A sign saying "Jesus Loves Osama" outside some churches drew criticism from officials and religious leaders on Thursday. "I hope they [the churches] will understand that a lot of Australians, including many Australian Christians, will think that the prayer priority of the church on this occasion could have been elsewhere," Prime Minister John Howard said. Anglican Archbishop Peter Jensen said churches that posted the sign were obviously trying to illustrate Christian teaching that God loves everybody, no matter how evil their sins, but that he found the sign ``a bit misleading'' and potentially offensive.
Ex-rocker may be released
Disgraced British ex-rocker Gary Glitter, imprisoned for sexually molesting two young girls, is on a list of inmates to be possibly released this month, his lawyer said yesterday. Glitter, 62, was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison during a one-day trial in March last year and subsequently lost an appeal. Every year at major national holidays, the Vietnamese president authorizes amnesty for prisoners. "My client is on the list for Tet [Lunar New Year] amnesty consideration and I expect to hear the final decision in a few days," Glitter's lawyer Le Thanh Kinh said in Ho Chi Minh.
Militants kill `US spy'
Suspected pro-Taliban militants cut the throat of an Afghan refugee accused of being a US spy in the restive North Waziristan region, and dumped the body in a sewer, witnesses said yesterday. "His throat was slit and a note pinned to his body read `American spy, Gafoor Tani,'" Mohammad Hanif, a local resident said. During the past three years, militants in North and South Waziristan have killed dozens of people suspected of being pro-government or of spying for the US, and many families have fled the region.
Actor saved by a turban
Bollywood's iconic actor Amitabh Bachchan is thanking an elaborate Indian headgear for saving his life after he was kicked on the head by a camel while shooting for a film, a newspaper reported on Thursday. The 64-year-old actor, playing a royal guard in Eklavya, a period film about palace intrigue, was shooting a scene in which he had to pass through a herd of 400 camels. The Mumbai Mirror newspaper said one of the camels suddenly landed a kick on Bachchan's head, leaving him dizzy for a few minutes. "Mr Bachchan kept saying `the turban saved my life,'" director Vidhu Vinod Chopra was quoted as saying by the daily. "I would have never believed it happened, but then we spotted the camel in action on the monitor," he said.
Teams search for leopards
Russian and Chinese conservationists began searching for signs of the last remaining Amur leopards in Russia's Far East and adjacent Chinese border regions, as part of a triennial census of the nearly extinct cats. The leopards are one of the most endangered species on Earth, with only around 30 remaining in the wilderness of the Russian Primorye region and in China's northeastern provinces, the World Wide Fund for Nature said in a statement on Thursday. The animals and their habitat face encroachment from development, poachers, logging and other threats, said Dmitry Pikunov, an ecologist with the Russian Academy of Science.
Women drive taxis
Twenty full-time female drivers have been recruited for a new service dedicated to female passengers. Taxi Bisim Banovan -- Ladies' Wireless Taxi -- has been formed to provide a safe environment for female travelers in Tehran, where an estimated 60,000 to 70,000 women use private cabs each day. No male passengers are allowed and only female job applicants are accepted. The initiative comes against a backdrop of rising instances of rape and sexual assault. Police estimate that 30 percent of offences are committed by men working as taxi drivers and have advised women not to travel alone in private cabs.
Nurses gagged babies
Prosecutors are investigating claims that staff at a hospital gagged babies with tape because they were fed up with hearing them cry. A patient at the hospital in Yekaterinburg reported the case after allegedly hearing the children's muffled cries. She used her mobile phone to film a baby lying in a cot with his mouth taped, while others had dummies taped to their mouths. The children at Hospital Number 15 were all orphans. Prosecutors said they had opened a criminal investigation and had discovered sticking plasters had been used on babies at the hospital.
An elderly woman has taken animal protection too far by sheltering 11 full grown swans in her small, city center apartment, police said on Thursday. She said she had been looking after the birds in her 25m2 apartment in Stockholm since 2001 after they had been injured. Police took the swans to a shelter and the woman could face charges under animal protection laws. "It is a real feat to be able to transport 11 large swans, which are not known to be the most serene of animals," police officer Bjorn Engstrom said.
■ United States
Crook stiffs spas
Police are looking for a man who used at least 20 day spas in and around Chicago and left without paying. "Pedicures, manicures, facials, those are the standards," Algonquin Police Detective Andrew Doles said. The man got away with several thousand dollars' worth of services. Police said the man had visited the spas and left the building under the pretense of using his cellphone, but did not return to pay the bill. Nail technician Lisa Marach was one of those snubbed. "I just want to look at him like, `You jerk, you didn't even tip me. You made me rub your gross feet and listen to you for an hour and a half,'" she said.
■ United States
`Valdez' oil still polluting
Crude oil is still polluting Alaskan waters almost 18 years after the tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground, according to a study by government scientists to be published in two weeks. The study, an advance of which was released on Wednesday, found more than 26,600 gallons of oil remaining at Prince William Sound. Researchers say it is declining at a rate of only 4 percent a year and even slower in the Gulf of Alaska. The disclosure came as Exxon Mobil posted the nation's largest annual profit, US$39.5 billion on Thursday.
■ United States
Paper ballots may return
The state that became infamous for its role in the 2000 US presidential election may make a return to the paper election ballot. Governor Charlie Crist said on Thursday he wants to spend US$32 million to get rid of touch-screen voting technology adopted after the 2000 election and go to a voting system that would leave a paper trail. It was paper ballots, with their dimpled, pregnant and hanging chads on punch cards tied up in recounts, that held up a final count in the 2000 election. Florida was eventually decided by 537 votes after the US Supreme Court stepped in, handing the election to US President George W. Bush. Punch cards in Florida elections have since been banned.
Congress safe for now
The government said on Thursday that it does not plan to dissolve Congress, despite a bitter fight over a push to overhaul the Constitution that led protesters to storm the capitol this week. Armed with clubs and rocks, thousands of supporters of President Rafael Correa invaded the congressional building on Tuesday to demand that lawmakers call a March 18 referendum on whether the Constitution should be rewritten. Correa says the referendum is necessary to limit the power of Ecuador's traditional parties, which he blames for the country's problems. Opposition lawmakers have raised fears that a constitutional assembly with unlimited powers might move to close the legislature.
■ United States
Herpes halts wrestling
An outbreak of a contagious rash called herpes gladiatorum among Minnesota high school wrestlers led the state to suspend matches and halt contact practices, authorities said on Wednesday. The eight-day suspension affecting 7,500 wrestlers on 262 teams was the first time a US state's entire high school program in a sport has been shut down, authorities said. The Minnesota State High School League acted after 24 wrestlers from 10 schools contracted the rash, which was first noticed and spread at a tournament in December.
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
The scarcity of commercial flights landing at Sydney Airport has been a disaster for airlines and workers, but for hobby pilots the COVID-19 pandemic has provided the opportunity of a lifetime. The quieter-than-usual runways mean that private pilots have been given the chance to land at the international airport for the first time. When Sydney Flight College club captain Tim Lindley put out a call, he received an overwhelming response. He eventually organized for 14 light aircraft to fly into Sydney airport on Sunday. “For a lot of the pilots involved, including myself, it was a childhood dream to land in a big