Pastor’s release requested
Preacher Gong Shengliang (龔聖亮) led a popular Christian group that spiraled into violence under persecution by authorities and the temptations of power. Now Gong has suffered an apparent stroke in prison, and his family members are calling for his release. In an emotional open letter that calls for prayers, Gong’s family members said prison authorities rebuffed a request that he be given medical parole that they raised after seeing his condition. An impassioned speaker and effective organizer, Gong built the following of his South China Church to an estimated 100,000 across the small corn and rice farms in the center of the country before the government closed in. Its popularity, along with its refusal to join the state-backed Christian church with its ban on proselytizing, brought the South China Church into conflict with the government, which labeled the group a cult in 1995.
Border Christmas tree lit
Christian groups have lit a Christmas tree-shaped tower near the tense border with North Korea for the first time in two years following Pyongyang’s rocket launch. Seoul’s Defense Ministry yesterday said it allowed Christian groups to light the massive steel tower on Saturday. It is to stay lit until Jan. 2. Pyongyang views the tower as propaganda warfare, though it has not yet responded to this year’s lighting. The lighting came 10 days after the North placed a satellite into orbit aboard a long-range rocket. Seoul and the US said the launch was a test of banned missile technology. The tree was not lit last year after officials asked Christians to refrain from doing so to avoid tension following the death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in December last year.
Toad stowaway rehomed
They say cats have nine lives. Now a Chinese toad has joined that club of wily survivors. The public is marveling at the endurance of a toad that got trapped in a cargo shipment from China to Cape Town after jumping into a porcelain candlestick. Officials reportedly planned to put down the creature, fearing it would cause harm as an invasive species if it were let go in the wild. However, the toad got a last-minute reprieve. Mango Airlines, a local airline, transported the toad on Friday to Johannesburg for delivery to an animal sanctuary after officials decided to find a way to let the globe-trotting toad live. The two-hour flight was a breeze compared to the trip from China, an odyssey of many weeks and thousands of kilometers across the Indian Ocean.
Two killed in office fire
Two people were killed and 20 injured when a fire swept through a 14-story office tower on Saturday, state media reported. Flames tore through the World Trade Building in downtown Yan’an in Shaanxi Province for about 10 hours, Xinhua news agency reported. Seventeen of the injured, aged seven to 51, were guests of a hotel occupying the upper floors of the building, while the other three were staff members, Xinhua said. They had suffered burns and carbon monoxide poisoning and all were in a stable condition after receiving treatment, Xinhua quoted an officer with the city’s fire department as saying. A total of about 1,700 residents living next to the building were evacuated. More than 460 firefighters had brought the blaze under control after noon, the report added. The fire’s cause was under investigation.