Stalin voted one of the best
Television viewers have voted Soviet dictator Josef Stalin — who sent millions to their deaths in the Great Purge of the 1930s — the nation’s third-greatest historical figure. Rights activists say authorities are trying to gloss over Stalin’s atrocities and glorify his tyranny. The project, called “The Name of Russia,” culminated with the announcement on Sunday night that medieval leader Alexander Nevsky had been voted the greatest Russian, with more than 524,000 Internet and SMS votes. Nevsky defeated various European invaders during his 13th-century reign and was subsequently canonized. In second place was Pyotr Stolypin, a prime minister early in the 20th century under Czar Nicholas II.
Premarital sex on the rise
Rising numbers of people are spurning marriage and having sex illegally outside wedlock, Iran’s state-run body for youth affairs has said. A survey by the national youth organization found that more than one in four men aged 19 to 29 had experienced sex before marriage. About 13 percent of such cases resulted in unwanted pregnancies that led to abortions. Sex outside marriage and abortion are outlawed under Iran’s Islamic legal code. The survey also revealed that the average marrying age had risen to 40 for men and 35 for women, a blow to the government’s goal of promoting marriage to shore up society’s Islamic foundations.
Unionists blockade shops
Labor union activists blockaded some shops in central Athens that were trying to open on Sunday to make up revenue lost in three weeks of rioting that badly damaged the capital’s retail district. The shopkeepers’ association had asked to keep their businesses open for a second consecutive on Sunday — one more than the customary Christmas exemption to the usual opening hours. They wanted to try to recoup some of their losses from the economic slowdown that has begun to affect the country, and from the riots that followed the police killing of a 15-year-old boy. Outraged unionists said the shopowners wanted an excuse to extend Sunday shopping throughout the year.
Extra second added to 2008
Those eager to put this year behind them will have to hold their good-byes for just a moment this New Year’s Eve. The world’s official timekeepers have added a “leap second” to the last day of the year on Wednesday, to help match clocks to the Earth’s slowing spin on its axis, which takes place at ever-changing rates affected by tides and other factors. The US Naval Observatory, keeper of the Pentagon’s master clock, said it would add the extra second on Wednesday in coordination with the world’s atomic clocks at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC.
Man goes unnoticed in attic
A family did not realize they had an unexpected Christmas guest until a man who had been in their attic for days emerged wearing their clothes, police said. Stanley Carter surrendered on Friday after police took a dog to search the home in Plains Township, a suburb of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, about 160km north of Philadelphia. He was charged with several counts of burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and criminal trespass.
King designates new PM
King Albert on Sunday asked Herman Van Rompuy, a Dutch-speaking Christian Democrat, to take the reins of the Belgian government that quit on Dec. 19 after a scandal over the botched bailout of the Fortis bank. Van Rompuy, 61, is expected to replace Leterme at the head of a quarrelsome alliance of Christian Democrats, Liberals and Socialists in a matter of days. He is currently parliament president. The king named him prime minister-designate at the suggestion of former prime minister Wilfried Martens, who spent six days sounding out political leaders on how to quickly form a new government.