Beware the Migaloo
Officials yesterday warned the public to stay away from “Migaloo,” a much-loved white humpback whale who has reappeared off the eastern coast. Queensland authorities reminded enthusiasts Migaloo was a “special-interest” whale with a 500m exclusion zone for boats, jetskis and aircraft enforced by a maximum fine of US$13,300. “The whale-watching regulations are there to protect the whales, but also to protect people from these huge, unpredictable mammals,” state environment minister Kate Jones said. “Adult humpbacks can weigh more than a fully loaded semi-trailer so you need to stay out of their way.”
Royalty defers ban decision
A council of the royalty has deferred a decision on whether to ban religious conversion of minors by one parent without the spouse’s consent — a source of several interfaith disputes in this Muslim majority country. A meeting of the king and state sultans decided late on Monday that they would consult Islamic authorities first before deciding whether to approve a proposed amendment banning such conversions without both parents’ consent. That puts on hold proposed amendments to laws that were aimed at appeasing non-Muslim minorities, who feel their rights have come under threat and that they lose out in conversion disputes. The endorsement of the monarchs is necessary before the government can push any change in religion-related laws through parliament.
Serial rapist jailed
A serial rapist who dressed his unconscious victims in his collection of women’s underwear and filmed assaults on them was jailed for 28 years yesterday. Victorian Supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Warren said John Xydias, 45, had degraded women in a spree lasting 15 years which media described as one of the country’s worst sex crimes. “Your offending was sustained over a period of 15 years, your conduct was not low-level or less-serious rape,” Warren said. “The worst aspect of your conduct was the degrading and dehumanizing of your victims.” Xydias showed little emotion as the sentence was read out. He pleaded guilty to 25 counts of rape and 61 indecent assaults at the Melbourne house he shares with his parents and at the family holiday home. The crimes were discovered when Xydias’ girlfriend handed a suspicious DVD to police, who searched his home and found 13 videos of his sex assaults as well as recording equipment and women’s underwear. Xydias denied doping his victims with date-rape drug Rohypnol and said they had fallen unconscious after drinking and smoking cannabis. The court earlier heard that one of the women had been unconscious for two days. Xydias will serve a minimum of 20 years before being eligible for parole.
Sihanouk to return home
Former king Norodom Sihanouk will return to his homeland for a two-month visit after being successfully treated for cancer in Beijing, a handwritten message on his personal Web site said. The 86-year-old retired monarch said he would return to Cambodia this month to stay at a royal residence in the northern city of Siem Reap. “Between July 9 and September 2009 I shall have the honor and the joy to live in Cambodia among my beloved relatives,” he said. But Sihanouk said he would have to return to Beijing after two months to continue his medical treatment.
Ancient camel discovered
Researchers said on Monday they had discovered evidence of a previously unknown type of camel that lived in Europe 6 million years ago. The team from the University of La Rioja found 191 fossilzed footprints belonging to a group of between 10 and 15 individuals at a site in the eastern region of Murcia. The animal, which they named Paracamelichnum Jumillensis, lived in the Upper Miocene period. It was “very similar to the present-day camel” but “of a genus and species unknown until now,” the researchers said. The results of the research were published in the International Journal for Plant and Animal Traces.
Pelosse to head IRENA
France’s Helene Pelosse was elected yesterday to head the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) at a meeting in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, state news agency MENA announced. Pelosse, a French ministerial official, was named director-general of the new agency, beating out challengers from Denmark, Greece and Spain. On Monday, delegates in Sharm el-Sheikh voted for Abu Dhabi to host the headquarters of IRENA, after Bonn, Germany, and Vienna withdrew their candidacies, despite criticism of the high carbon footprint of the United Arab Emirates. The UAE proposes to locate the headquarters in Masdar, a US$22 billion city near Abu Dhabi that will have zero carbon emissions. Delegates from 129 countries took part in IRENA’s first working meeting.
Sarkozy sparks outrage
An remark allegedly made by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in which he urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “get rid of” ultra-nationalist Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has sparked outrage. “If the remarks are correct and were indeed said by the president, then the intervention by the president of a respectable democratic state in the affairs of another democratic state is grave and unacceptable,” a statement from Lieberman’s office said. The statement urged all political groupings in Israel to “condemn this blunt meddling of a foreign country in our internal affairs.” Israel’s Channel 2 reported late on Monday that Sarkozy made the comment in a closed meeting with Netanyahu in Paris last week. Two Cabinet ministers of Netanyahu’s hardline Likud party and a lawmaker of the dovish coalition Labor Party were also said to have been present at the meeting and one of them could have leaked the conversation, which was reported by the Israeli TV channel. According to Channel 2, Sarkozy, in last Wednesday’s meeting in Paris, told Netanyahu of Lieberman that: “You need to get rid of this man. You need to remove him from this position.”
Former hostages were shot
Two hostages whose bodies were returned home from Iraq last week had been shot dead, the BBC reported yesterday. Citing detail of a coroner’s report into the deaths of Jason Creswell and Jason Swindlehurst, whose bodies were handed over by their captors in Iraq 11 days ago, the BBC said they had died from gunshot wounds. A spokeswoman for the Foreign Office declined to confirm or deny the report, saying only: “This is an ongoing matter for the coroner.” The two dead men had been among five Britons — computer instructor Peter Moore and four of his bodyguards — seized in May 2007 by an armed Shiite militant group from inside a finance ministry building in a raid in Baghdad.
Colombian sought over raid
An Ecuadorian judge on Monday issued an arrest warrant for former Colombian minister of defense Juan Manuel Santos over allegations he ordered a bloody raid against leftist rebels inside Ecuador, local media reported. The military raid against rebels from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) operating inside Ecuador was denounced by authorities in Quito as a violation of the country’s sovereignty and prompted a diplomatic rift between the South American neighbors. The arrest warrant, which experts said has little chance of being executed, was issued by Judge Daniel Mendez, who is heading an investigation into the raid. The Colombian army raid killed 25 people, including FARC No. 2 Raul Reyes and an Ecuadoran national.
Dog spoils trip to Peru
A teenager from Eay Claire, Wisconsin, using a classic excuse for evading schoolwork missed a class trip to Peru despite his tale being true: The dog ate his passport. Officials at Chicago’s O’Hare airport told 17-year-old Jon Meier the chewed-on document was fine, but authorities in Miami rejected it and wouldn’t let him board the southbound aircraft. His family’s golden retriever, Sunshine, chewed a corner of the document, obscuring some numbers. Meier couldn’t get another passport in time to join the trip with his Spanish class from Eau Claire North High School. The 12-day trip ended on Monday.
Tobacco linked to Taliban
Cigarette and tobacco smuggling finances militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and saps about US$40 billion a year from government budgets, a report and campaigners said in Geneva on Monday. The claims were made as 160 countries resumed talks at the WHO on expanding an international anti-smoking treaty to clamp down on the illicit trade in tobacco. Apart from issues such as enforcement and coordination, the 10-day preparatory negotiations are also examining a possible halt to duty free sales of cigarettes or measures against Internet sales, WHO documents showed. Some 11.6 percent of the global cigarette market was illicit, equivalent to some 657 billion cigarettes a year, the International Union Against Tobacco and Lung Disease estimated in a report. Citing enforcement officials, other researchers also alleged that “half a dozen terrorist” or militant groups rely on black market tobacco and smuggling for revenue. They included the Pakistani Taliban, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Hezbollah, leftwing FARC rebels in Colombia, the Real IRA in Northern Ireland, and a Tutsi rebel group in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ex-rebel to face ex-president
A former leftist guerrilla is set to face an ex-president in October’s presidential election after the unlikely pair won in respective primaries to lead their parties to the polls. Ex-rebel Jose Mujica, 75, triumphed with 53 percent, according to the initial count of Sunday’s primaries, to represent the Frente Amplio (Broad Front) coalition party in the October race to succeed sitting President Tabare Vazquez. Former president Luis Lacalle, who ruled the South American nation for five years in the 1990s, took 57 percent to lead the center-right National Party. The third party candidate, Pedro Bordaberry, son of 1970s Uruguayan dictator Juan Bordaberry, won the liberal Colorado Party’s primaries with a comfortable 72 percent of the vote.
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
A Malaysian student whose cellphone was stolen while he was sleeping has tracked down the culprit: a monkey who took photo and video selfies with the device before abandoning it. Zackrydz Rodzi, 20, on Wednesday said that his mobile phone was missing from his bedroom when he woke up on Saturday. He found the phone’s casing under his bed, but there was no sign of robbery in his house in Johor state. JUNGLE When his father saw a monkey the next day, he searched in the jungle behind his house. Using his brother’s cellphone to call his own device, he found it covered
‘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