Demining experts released
The border police commander for the eastern part of the country said yesterday seven demining experts kidnapped on Wednesday have been released. They were the last to be released of a team of 16 seized on Wednesday near the Pakistan border. The others were released several hours after the attack near the Torkham border crossing in Nangarhar Province. General Aminullah Amerkhail said two of the seven had been beaten. They were released on Friday evening.
Drunk elephants rage
Binge-drinking elephants, drunk on local hooch, have killed three people and destroyed 60 homes in a four-day rampage in eastern states of Orissa and West Bengal. On Thursday they were reported by local officials to be sleeping off hangovers as shocked communities tried to clear the wreckage left by the 70-strong herd in remote villages on the borders of the two states. With a local festival approaching, villagers had stockpiled the fermented rice-based drink, which is stored in earthenware vessels and, according to Bijay Kumar Panda, a local administrator, the elephants found and drank it. They then staggered through the surrounding area and began “to fall asleep hither and thither, throwing life completely haywire.” According to the Pioneer newspaper, the “jumbos” are known “for their love of local country-made brews,” which they “gulp down and make merry at the expense of the villagers.”
Conde declared victor
The Supreme Court confirmed early on Friday the election victory of opposition leader Alpha Conde, who won 52.52 percent of votes compared with rival Cellou Dalein Diallo’s 47.48 percent. “The candidate of the RPG [Rally of the Guinean People], professor Alpha Conde, is elected president of the Republic,” Magistrate Mamadou Sylla, who presides over the court’s constitutional chamber, announced in front of scores of journalists. Voter turnout was 67.81 percent. The results were anxiously awaited under a state of emergency placed two weeks ago after the announcement of Conde’s victory led to violent election clashes and a crackdown by security forces in Diallo’s strongholds. Three days of violence claimed at least seven lives and left hundreds more injured. On Thursday afternoon both candidates launched separate appeals for calm in interviews on public radio. In his third shot at the country’s top job, Conde has won what has been hailed as the country’s first free and democratic election since independence, after a string of despotic and military regimes.
Threat to woman condemned
The Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti has condemned a hard-line cleric for offering cash to anyone who kills a Christian woman convicted of blasphemy against Islam. Bhatti said the offer is “immoral, unjust and irresponsible” and should be condemned in the “strongest possible manner.” A Pakistani court sentenced Asia Bibi to death last month, triggering protests from human rights groups and Christian organizations. Islamist political parties have demonstrated in support of the sentence and the blasphemy laws. Cleric Yousef Qureshi said on Friday that if the government did not execute Bibi, his mosque would pay anyone who killed her US$5,800.
Ex-MP guilty of fraud
David Chaytor became the first former MP to be convicted over a parliamentary expenses scandal after pleading guilty on Friday to three charges of false accounting, days before he was due to stand trial. The former Labour MP for Bury North constituency in England had previously denied fraudulently claiming parliamentary expenses. His eleventh-hour change of plea at the Old Bailey court in London came as he exhausted legal avenues to stop his case, due to reach trial tomorrow, being heard in the criminal courts. The 61-year-old stood in the dock of court 11 as the three charges were read aloud, answering “guilty” to each of them. He was mobbed by photographers as he left court, making no comment. He faces a maximum of seven years in prison, but is expected to receive a more lenient sentence in view of his guilty pleas.
Streaker felled by wet floor
Caught in the buff, a drunken 19-year-old Australian man led police on a chase through Munich’s main train station late on Wednesday before slipping on a wet floor where he was later apprehended unhurt. The Sydney native wore only his shoes and held his underwear in his hand during the chase in freezing temperatures, a spokesman for the Bavarian state police said. The teenager quickly changed into his underwear once he fell and police later covered him in a blanket. During questioning the teenager told police that he was carrying out a bet with friends that he could travel through Europe naked. The Bavarian capital was the 11th city on his tour and the first in which he was caught out, police said. “I simply like to be naked,” the police spokesman quoted him as saying. The teenager was fined 100 euros (US$132).
Conductor defends Wagner
Israeli conductor Daniel Barenboim said that the perception of Richard Wagner is unjustly influenced by the fact he was Hitler’s favorite composer, infuriating a Holocaust survivors group, which blasted the argument as a “moral failure.” “We need one day to liberate Wagner of all this weight,” Barenboim told reporters on Friday. He is conducting Wagner’s Die Walkuere for the gala premiere of La Scala’s season in Milan next week. “I think a bit of the problem with Wagner isn’t what we all know in Israel, anti-Semitism, etc ... It is how the Nazis and Hitler saw Wagner as his own prophet, he said. “This perception of Wagner colors for many people the perception of Wagner.” Wagner, who died in 1883, was politically on the left and could not have foreseen the Nazi Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews during World War II, Barenboim said. The conductor’s comments angered a leader of a Holocaust survivors group. Barenboim’s comments “sadly represent an act of moral failure and [are] a disgraceful abandonment of solidarity with those who suffered unspeakable horrors by the purveyors of Wagner’s banner,” Elan Steinberg, from the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said in a statement sent by e-mail.
King’s operation successful
The royal palace said yesterday King Abdullah has had a second successful back operation in New York City. The palace said the 86-year-old king would start physical therapy following Friday’s surgery to stabilize a number of vertebrae. Abdullah flew to New York on Nov. 22 for medical treatment for what the palace said was a slipped disk and a blood clot pressing on nerves in his back. His first surgery at the Presbyterian Hospital was to extract the clot and correct the disk.
Helen Thomas award pulled
Wayne State University says it will no longer offer the Helen Thomas Spirit of Diversity Award, citing recent comments made by the longtime journalist. In a statement on Friday, the Detroit school says it “encourages free speech and open dialogue,” but strongly condemns what it says are “anti-Semitic remarks” made by Thomas on Thursday. According to The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press, the Wayne State alumna said during a speech in Dearborn that Congress, the White House, Hollywood and Wall Street are owned by “Zionists.” Thomas resigned in June as a Hearst Newspaper columnist over comments she made calling on Israelis to get “out of Palestine.”
Man arrested over mail
A German man who allegedly shipped hundreds of live tarantulas into the country through the mail was charged on Friday with illegally importing wildlife. Sven Koppler, a 37-year-old German national, was arrested by federal agents late on Thursday, shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, US Attorney’s spokesman Thom Mrozek said in a written statement. Koppler, who prosecutors believe lives in Wachtberg, Germany, was scheduled to make his initial court appearance later on Friday and faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and a US$250,000 fine if convicted.
Congress intervenes in cases
The Senate took the unusual step on Friday of intervening to normalize the immigration status of two people born in Japan whose unique personal tragedies left them in legal limbo. In one case, the Senate recognized the marriage of a woman from Okinawa to a late Marine, allowing her to move to the country with their young son. Separately, the Senate normalized the immigration status of Shigeru Yamada, a California resident in his late 20s who entered the country as a child. He lost legal status in 1995 when his mother was killed in a car accident. So-called “private bills,” which only affect individuals, are rare in Congress.
Obama to sign settlement
Decades-old claims from African-American farmers and Native Americans that the government mistreated and swindled them out of billions of dollars can finally be settled starting on Wednesday. President Barack Obama is set to sign the bill authorizing payment of US$4.6 billion to settle claims that arose in class-action lawsuits. The White House said the president would sign the Claims Resolution Act of 2010 and make remarks at the ceremony next week, but offered no further details.
Mexican aid questioned
Washington is supplying intelligence and crucial training to elite units of Mexican marines who are engaged in an operation against drug cartels, The Washington Post reported on Friday. Citing unnamed diplomats and law enforcement officials, the newspaper said the effort includes more information-sharing and training than previously known. A wave of suspected drug-related violence has left more than 28,000 dead across Mexico since 2006, according to official figures. More than 2,700 people have been killed this year alone in Ciudad Juarez, a city of about 1.3 million. More than 50 killings in the border city in the past two years were of US citizens. Mexican officials deny the US military is training Mexican marines, and the Pentagon declines to discuss the training, the Post said.
India has moved additional troops along its northern border as it prepares for an extended conflict with China, after several rounds of talks failed to ease tensions between the nuclear-armed rivals. China has already placed about 5,000 soldiers and armored vehicles within its side of the disputed border in the Ladakh region, an Indian government official said, asking not to be identified, citing rules. India is adding a similar number of troops as well as artillery guns along the border to fend off the continuing incursions by the Chinese army, the official said. The standoff began on May 5, when troops clashed
CLOSELY TRACKED: A US officer said that the warplanes were watched as they flew from Russia by way of Iran and Syria to Libya and were photographed multiple times The US Africa Command flatly rejected Russian claims that Moscow did not deploy fighter jets to Libya, saying on Friday that the 14 aircraft flown in reflect Russia’s long-term goal to establish a foothold in the region that could threaten NATO allies. US Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of intelligence, said that the US tracked the MiG-29s and Su-24 fighter bombers flown in by Russian military, passing through Iran and Syria before landing at Libya’s al-Jufra air base. The base is the main forward airfield for Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar and his self-styled Libyan National Army, which has been waging an
Singapore’s otters, long adored by the city-state’s nature lovers, are popping up in unexpected places during the COVID-19 lockdown, but their antics have angered some and even sparked calls for a cull. With the streets empty, the creatures have been spotted hanging out by a shopping center, scampering through the lobby of a hospital and even feasting on pricey fish stolen from a pond. While many think of tiny Singapore as a densely populated concrete jungle, it is also relatively green for a busy Asian city, and has patches of rainforest, fairly clean waterways and abundant wildlife. There are estimated to be about
Indonesian officials are forcing people who break social distancing rules to recite Koran verses, stay in “haunted” houses and submit to public shaming on social media as the country battles to contain surging novel coronavirus infections. The Southeast Asian archipelago began deploying about 340,000 troops across two dozen cities to oversee enforcement of measures aimed at halting transmission of the disease, such as wearing masks in public. However, provincial leaders are buttressing these efforts with their own zealous campaigns to fight the coronavirus. Police in western Bengkulu Province have assembled a 40-person squad to find lockdown scofflaws and force them to wear