Officials face Hendra scare
Health officials urged tourists who visited a popular adventure ranch west of the Great Barrier Reef over the weekend to come forward after a horse died from from the killer Hendra virus. Passed from fruit bats (flying foxes) to horses and highly fatal to humans, Hendra claimed the life of a horse at the Blazing Saddles adventure farm on Monday, west of the Reef gateway city Cairns. At least six people were known to have had contact with the sick animal and Queensland health officials said they were working to determine how many others could have been exposed at the popular tourist site. “I would like to reassure any tourists or visitors to the property over the weekend that transmission of the virus requires close contact with body fluids of the sick horse,” Queensland health chief Jeannette Young said. At least 48 people have been exposed to Hendra in the past month in an outbreak that has spread from Cairns to within 500km of Sydney, worrying the city’s thoroughbred race trainers. No humans have yet been infected.
Beijing refusal causes doubt
China’s refusal to allow a UN-backed tribunal to rule on a South China Sea territorial dispute indicates Beijing’s claim stands on shaky legal ground, Manila said yesterday. Beijing and Manila have overlapping claims to parts of the South China Sea, which is believed to hold vast gas and other natural resources, along with Taiwan, Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia. Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario called in his meetings with senior officials in Beijing last week for the dispute to go before a UN tribunal, but China on Tuesday rejected the proposal. “China’s hesitation to accept the Philippine suggestion ... could lead to the conclusion that China may not be able to validate their stated positions in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” del Rosario said in a short statement. Manila wants the dispute brought before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, an independent judicial body set up by the UN convention in 1982 to handle such matters.
Church sets dress code
Goa’s most historic church is to follow the example of some local Hindu temples and enforce a dress code for tourists, following complaints over foreigners’ inappropriate clothing. The rector of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, Father Savio Barretto, said officials would screen pilgrims and visitors coming to the 16th century church starting in September. Anyone “improperly dressed” will be given shawls to cover up, he said. Photography would also be banned inside the church, he added. The move follows that of Goa’s Mahalasa Narayani temple, which last month banned foreign tourists entirely after complaints from worshipers about scantily clad women sightseers.
Cement truck destroys house
A cement truck plowed into a house, killing 16 people, including a young child, who had gathered there for an art show, a hospital source said yesterday. The accident happened late Tuesday in Ngawi, a town in East Java Province, the doctor said. “The truck overturned and hit a gathering. The sacks of cement toppled on people, killing them,” Indah Pitarti said. She said one of the victims was a three-year-old girl and the others were men. Four people were injured. It was not clear how the driver lost control of the truck.
Spy service left red-faced
The Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), or Federal Intelligence Service, is facing embarrassing questions after it emerged that it could not even keep the plans for its new high-tech offices in Berlin from going astray. According to a report in Focus magazine, the blueprints contained sensitive information relating to the security of the new headquarters, such as anti-terror installations, emergency exits and alarm systems. The data, most likely stored on a USB stick, was stolen a year ago, public broadcaster ARD reported on Tuesday, citing an unnamed government official. The core of the building may now have to be redesigned, the TV station reported. BND boss Ernst Uhrlau told a rare press conference on Tuesday that the leak was not a major security concern and an investigation into the leak was underway. However, he said he didn’t know if Focus had any more sensitive information.
‘Heartstealer’ is pregnant
The 18-year-old nightclub dancer at the center of a sex trial against Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said she is pregnant and plans to marry soon, in interview excerpts released on Tuesday. “I will be a mother this December,” Karima El-Mahroug, better known by her stage name of “Ruby the Heartstealer,” reportedly told the weekly gossip magazine Chi, saying the father was her boyfriend Luca Rizzo. “Our son will be born in Italy. Then we will get married and we will go and live abroad,” she said. Berlusconi is on trial on charges related to underage prostitution and abuse of power for allegedly putting pressure on police to release El-Mahroug from custody so she would not reveal their liaisons.
‘Pastafarian’ gets license
Pasta strainers are now considered suitable religious headgear in Austria ... at least as far as the transport authorities are concerned. Three years after applying for a new driver’s license, an Austrian man has finally received the laminated card and the picture shows him sporting an upturned pasta strainer on his head. Nothing to worry about: authorities ruled the kitchen utensil was a suitable religious accessory for a Pastafarian. Niko Alm, an entrepreneur, told the Austria Press Agency he had the idea when he read that headgear was allowed in official pictures only for “confessional” reasons. The atheist says he belongs to the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, a light-hearted “faith” whose members call themselves Pastafarians and whose “only dogma ... is the rejection of dogma,” according to its Web site. Accordingly, Alm sent his application for a new driver’s license in 2008 along with a picture of himself with a colander on his head. The stunt got him an invitation to a doctor to check he was mentally fit to drive, but after three years, Alm’s efforts have paid off. He now wants to apply for Pastafarianism to become an officially recognized faith in Austria.
Two-headed snake on show
A two-headed snake has gone on display at a zoo in the Crimean city of Yalta on the Black Sea. The “Skazka” (Fairytale) zoo yesterday said the albino California Kingsnake has two heads that think, react and eat separately, though one is more passive than the other. Dmytro Tkachov, a zoo worker taking care of the snake, said he puts a barrier between the heads when feeding the snake lest one eats the other. The snake will be on display at the zoo until mid-September. The zoo would not provide further details.
Bad neighbor sentenced
A man who hacked into his neighbors’ Wi-Fi network and tried to frame them with child pornography and threatening e-mails to the vice president has been sentenced to 18 years in jail. District Judge Donovan Frank sentenced Barry Ardolf, 46, on Tuesday after listening to the tearful testimony of Bethany Kostolnik, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. “My husband and I had to explain to our young, innocent children way too early that there are evil people in the world — and to never go in Barry Ardolf’s yard,” she said, according to the newspaper. The trouble began in August 2008 when the Kostolniks, who had just moved into the neighborhood, reported Ardolf to police after he picked up their four-year-old son and kissed him on the mouth, according to US attorneys. Ardolf then began exacting revenge by hacking into their Wi-Fi network and creating fake e-mail addresses, which he used to send crude messages and child pornography to Matt Kostolnik’s coworkers and boss, the prosecution said. After Ardolf sent threatening e-mails in Kostolnik’s name to Vice President Joe Biden and others, investigators discovered the hacking following a search of Ardolf’s home in the summer of 2009.
Twins will not be indicted
Twin brothers who for three months lived with their elderly mother’s bug-infested corpse in their Houston home won’t be indicted, a grand jury decided on Tuesday. Edward and Edwin Berndt, 48, remain under guardianship of a relative after a judge previously decided they didn’t possess mental capacity to care for themselves. “This is the proper outcome in this case, once their diminished mental capacity was realized,” the brothers’ lawyer Robert Scardino said. Police found Sybil Berndt’s body during a welfare check in April. The brothers told police she sustained injuries after falling on Jan. 10 while they watched football. They left her on the floor because neither had money for medical treatment. She died three days later, one day after her 89th birthday. Scardino said the brothers had been disabled after being born oxygen-deprived and their mother had always taken care of them and her husband, who died five years ago of Alzheimer’s.
‘Dead’ woman sues bank
A Florida woman said she’s having numerous financial troubles because of a bank error that caused Chase Bank USA to declare her dead in November last year. Wrenella Pierre has filed a lawsuit and Chase officials said on Monday they’re investigating how the mistake happened. When Pierre and her husband built their home in 2007, they got two mortgages through Chase. According to the lawsuit, the bank notified credit-reporting agencies last year that Pierre had died. Pierre said she notified bank officials that she was alive and also went to a local branch to correct the mistake. A month later, the lawsuit alleges, credit agencies still reported her dead.
Guatemala Mormon mauled
A 20-year-old Mormon missionary from Utah is in a Guatemalan hospital with serious arm and leg injuries after being mauled by two lions at a zoo. Spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Scott Trotter said in Salt Lake City that doctors are evaluating Paul Richard Oakey’s condition after he was rushed to a hospital on Monday for surgery. He said Oakey was attacked by two lions when he stood too close to an exhibit at a Guatemalan zoo while trying to take a photo.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘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
‘SUICIDE’: Media reports said Park Won-soon went missing on Thursday after a staff member filed a sexual harassment claim against him this week Seoul mayor Park Won-soon, viewed as a potential candidate for the 2022 presidential election, was found dead of an apparent suicide hours after he was reported missing, police said, adding that he was the subject of an undisclosed investigation. In a note he is thought to have left behind on his desk, Park offered his apologies. “I thank everyone who was with me in my life. I apologize to my family for only making them suffer from pain,” according to the note that was released by his office yesterday. Park, in his letter, asked to be cremated and have his remains spread