■AUSTRALIA \nPolice probe attack on crops \nPolice yesterday were investigating a mass poisoning of crops, which is expected to send prices soaring. Detectives probed whether vandals or a competitor with a grudge had put herbicide in sprinklers at a nursery near the city of Cairns, wiping out 16 million tonnes of produce, mostly tomatoes. “It could be a grudge, it could be competition-based ... or it could be an act of vandalism by a couple of young hoons [vandals] — we can’t rule that out either,” Townsville detective Dave Miles said. \n \n■CHINA \n Man starts swim to Expo \n \nAn 56-year-old man has begun a bid to swim 1,200km down the Yangtze River to visit the World Expo in Shanghai, state media reported yesterday. China Telecom employee Bao Zhengbing began realizing what he said was a childhood dream to swim from his home in Wuhan to Shanghai on Wednesday, the Xinmin Evening News reported on its Web site. “Now at last, I’ll swim all the way to Shanghai, to fulfil my own dream and to see the World Expo,” Bao was quoted as saying in the Shanghai Daily before starting his journey. “When I was 12, I traveled to Shanghai by ship. The beautiful landscapes along the way impressed me so much that I wished one day I could swim along the route and stop wherever I chose,” he said. Bao may however find the river has changed since he was a boy. Experts have warned it is considered “cancerous,” state media said. \n■THAILAND \n Pianist has left: reports \n \nAcclaimed pianist and conductor Mikhail Vasillievich Pletnev may have left the country days after he was charged with raping a teenage boy, his housekeeper and news reports said yesterday. Pletnev, who was arrested on Monday, left Thailand aboard an Aeroflot flight, Russisan state news agency RIA Novosti said. Another news agency said he was flying to Moscow on an Emirates airliner. His housekeeper in Pattaya said Pletnev left on Wednesday night and was headed for Moscow. Pletnev was released on 300,000 baht (US$9,000) bail following a court appearance on Tuesday and ordered to report to the court every 12 days. \n ■SOUTH KOREA \n \n Computer virus strikes again \n \nGovernment and private Web sites have come under cyber-attack a year after a major attack crippled sites domestically and in the US, officials said yesterday. Five Web sites including those of the presidential Blue House and the foreign ministry were attacked on Wednesday but little damage was done, the Korea Communications Commission said. On July 7, last year, the so-called distributed denial-of-service attacks shut down 25 Internet sites for hours. South Korea’s spy chief has reportedly blamed North Korea for last year’s attacks, although US officials reached no conclusion. \n■CHINA \n Online game ads under fire \n \nAuthorities have ordered online game companies to stop promoting their products in ways that Beijing deems “vulgar.” The order from the culture ministry came after several companies featured scantily clad models in their ads, state media said. Auat \nthorities at all levels are required to step up inspections in order to make sure Web sites delete unwanted “vulgar” game ads, the ministry said in a notice published on Wednesday on its Web site. Officials must “discover and stop in a timely manner any practice that tramples on the moral bottom line,” it said. \n■TURKEY \nSeptember referendum set \nThe Constitutional Court has given the go-ahead for a September referendum on a series of government-backed constitutional reforms by rejecting an opposition request that the measures be canceled. The Court made slight adjustments, however, to two measures that the secular opposition feared would increase the Islamic-oriented government’s sway over the judiciary. The opposition said yesterday that the adjustments made in the ruling late on Wednesday did not go far enough, and has vowed to campaign against the reforms in the referendum. The reforms would increase the number of Constitutional Court justices and members of a council that oversees prosecutors and judges, giving parliament and the president the right to appoint some of them. \n ■FRANCE \n \n Full-face transplant done \n \nDoctors at the Creteil Henri-Mondor hospital are claiming to have carried out the world’s first successful full-face transplant, Le Parisien/Aujourd’hui said yesterday. The operation was conducted at the end of last month on a 35-year-old man whose face had been deformed by a genetic disorder and constituted “a world first,” the newspaper said. The patient “is doing well. He is walking, he is eating, he is talking,” said Laurent Lantieri, head of reconstructive surgery at the hospital in the Paris suburbs, who carried out the operation. A full-face transplant involves the removal of the entire face from a corpse, including mouth and eyelids, and grafting it onto the patient. “We are the first to have done a full-face transplant including eyelids and tear ducts. I am proud because this has been done in France,” Lantieri said. \n ■ITALY \n \n L’Aquila protesters in fracas \n \nProtesters from the region struck by a powerful quake last year have clashed with police near the prime minister’s office in Rome. Hundreds of people staged a demonstration on Wednesday to demand help from the government for the reconstruction of L’Aquila and other places damaged by the quake. The small clashes took place when some of the demonstrators tried to break a police barrier just a few blocks from the prime minister’s office, according to Italian news reports. The ANSA news agency said two protesters were injured. \n ■IRAN \n \n US called a ‘dictatorship’ \n \nPresident Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the US was a “dictatorship” and is trying to control world affairs. Ahmadinejad made the comments on Wednesday night during a speech at the Iranian embassy in Ajuba, Nigeria. He is in Nigeria for a D8 summit of developing nations. The US is “the self-proclaimed leader, and everybody should know that a self-proclaimed leadership is [a] dictatorship. I am going to say, on behalf of you, that the years of dictatorship are over,” he said. \n ■UNITED KINGDOM \n \n Roman coins discovered \n \nTreasure hunter Dave Crisp found a hoard of about 52,000 Roman coins, one of the largest such finds ever in Britain, in a field in southwestern England in April. The British Museum and the Portable Antiquities Scheme announced the find yesterday. The coins were buried in a large jar about 30cm deep and weighed about 160kg in all. They include hundreds of coins bearing the image of Marcus Aurelius Carausius, who seized power in Britain and northern France in the late third century and proclaimed himself emperor Some of the coins are already on display at the British Museum. \n ■UNITED STATES \n \n Conrad Black seeks bail \n \nJailed former newspaper magnate Conrad Black is seeking bail now that the US Supreme Court has kicked his 2007 fraud conviction back to a lower court. Black’s lawyers filed the motion on Tuesday in Chicago, where he was convicted in federal court of three counts of mail fraud and one count of obstruction of justice. Last month, the Supreme Court weakened the “honest services” law that was central to Black’s fraud conviction, and the justices left it up to a lower court to decide whether the conviction should be overturned. Black’s lawyers argue that he should be released pending that decision. \n ■PERU \n \n Activist’s expulsion halted \n \nA judge halted the expulsion on Wednesday of a British religious activist accused by the government of inciting unrest among indigenous groups protesting environmental damage to the Amazon rain forest. Paul McAuley will be allowed to stay in the country while his challenge to the government’s revocation of his residency is considered, his lawyer said. The judge could take two to three months to rule on the appeal, he said. McAuley, 62, is a lay activist with the La Salle Christian Brothers who has worked in Peru for two decades. Both the Roman Catholic Church and human and indigenous rights groups led by Amnesty International backed McAuley in his challenge to the expulsion order. In the order issued last week, Peru’s government said it was revoking McAuley’s residency because he was engaged in activities “that put in risk the security of the state.” McAuley and environmentalists oppose President Alan Garcia’s moves to open up the Amazon to unprecedented mining and oil exploration and drilling. \n ■CHILE \n \n Anti-crime plan unveiled \n \nRiding in a fake funeral procession with a hearse decorated with flower sprays and farewell messages, 280 police officers slipped into the crowded La Legua slum in plain daylight, a theatrical undercover job that suggests a whole new approach to crime-fighting under conservative President Sebastian Pinera. They nabbed 27 drug suspects and seized 2.7kg of cocaine without any trouble from residents. The president was rolling out part of his crime-fighting plan yesterday in a package of proposals to Congress. They will include an additional US$4.5 million in funding this year alone to install video cameras and alarms in known crime areas and to reclaim public squares and playgrounds, an Interior Ministry official said. The plan also envisions more police raids in 100 neighborhoods considered dangerous, and the continued presence of additional officers — for up to three years if necessary — to crack down on robberies and illegal sales of drugs and alcohol, Public Safety Director Jorge Nazer said. Another key aspect of Pinera’s plan is the Centaur Squad — a special unit of 125 officers to enter critical neighborhoods in force. The squad takes its name from the Greek mythological creature — part horse and part human — that Pinera said represents strength and reason. \n ■UNITED STATES \n \n Fire damages historic church \n \nA fire has erupted at a historic New York City church. Firefighters say the blaze was reported on Wednesday night at the Baptist Temple church in Brooklyn. The church was built in the 1890s and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995 for its architectural and engineering significance. Firefighters say the flames didn’t spread beyond the church and a cause of the fire hasn’t been determined.
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting
A squad of gun-toting police officers patrolled Myanmar’s sacred site of Bagan under the cover of night, taking on plunderers snatching relics from temples forsaken by tourists due to COVID-19 restrictions. Each evening as dusk falls, about 100 officers fan out across the plain of Bagan covering 50km2, sweeping flashlights over the crumbling monuments to scour for intruders. “Our security forces are patrolling day and night,” Police Lieutenant Colonel Sein Win told reporters. “We have it under control for the moment, but it’s a challenge.” The central Burmese city is strewn with more than 3,500 ancient monuments — stupas, temples, murals and sculptures
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned against the “hasty” relaxation of anti-coronavirus measures, state media reported on Friday, indicating the country would keep its borders closed for the foreseeable future. North Korea in late January closed its borders as the virus spread in neighboring China, and imposed tough restrictions that put thousands of its people into isolation. Pyongyang insists it has not had a single case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus that has swept the world infecting more than 10.8 million people and killing more than 500,000. Analysts have said that North Korea is unlikely to have avoided the contagion