Outside help sought
The Solomon Islands yesterday issued an invitation to an Australian-led intervention force to occupy the main island of Guadalcanal to restore law and order after four years of civil war. New Zealand and Fiji are also expected to join the roughly 2,000-strong force of police and military personal mounting the first wave around July 24. An advance police and military team are already in the capital Honiara. It will be the biggest military engagement by outside forces in the region since 1980 when Papua New Guinea sent its military to newly independent Vanuatu to crush a rebellion.
■ Hong Kong
Bus plunges off bridge
A double-decker bus collided with a truck and plunged off a bridge early yesterday, killing 22 people and injuring 20, according to officials and local news reports. Some people were thrown out of the bus and others were trapped inside as it fell more than 15m and landed on a rural hillside, fire commander Wong Sai-chuen told reporters at the scene. Rescue crews tied injured passengers onto stretchers, then formed a human chain and used ropes to pull them off the slope. Firefighters later lifted the wreckage and said no one had been trapped beneath it.
Gum makes comeback
People will soon be allowed to buy long-banned chewing gum -- but only from pharmacies -- the government said yesterday. Pharmacists will be able to sell without prescription gum that aids "dental and oral hygiene," the Trade and Industry Ministry said in a statement released. The government will allow the sale of Orbit and Orbit White, both made by Chicago-based Wrigley, the world's largest gum maker, the Trade and Industry Ministry said in a statement. A Trade and Industry Ministry spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity that other gum makers would also be allowed to enter Singapore's market of 4 million people. The decision stems from a recently signed free-trade agreement between the US and Singapore, and follows lobbying from the US Congress and American gum makers.
■ New Zealand
Train driver kills girlfriend
A train driver unknowingly killed his live-in girlfriend when his locomotive hit her car at a crossing, news reports said yesterday. The driver of the freight train was grief stricken when he discovered that the 44-year-old woman he lived with was the victim of the accident at Eltham, 56km from New Plymouth on the west coast of the North Island, police said. Police sergeant Shaun Keenan told the Daily News, "There's no suggestion of foul play. The accident's being treated as a tragedy." Another officer said that warning bells and lights were operating at the crossing, which has no barrier arms, at the time of the accident on Wednesday afternoon. The names of the pair were not disclosed.
Flooding toll rises to 298
The death toll from massive flooding in China has risen to 298, with up to 100 million people affected by swelling rivers and torrential rains, the International Red Cross said yesterday. So far 209,000 people have been made homeless. Despite rising flood waters in the north central Huai River basin in the provinces of Anhui, Jiangsu and Henan, the death toll from weeks of downpours has so far been largely confined to south central China.
Twins' bodies in Tehran
The bodies of Iranian twins Laleh and Ladan Bijani, whose bid to lead separate lives after 29 years joined at the head ended in death in a Singapore operating theatre, returned to the Iranian capital yesterday. Around 100 people were at Tehran's Mehrabad airport to watch the two coffins taken from an Emirates plane, put into an ambulance and whisked away to a local morgue.
Bomb kills agent
A Russian security agent was killed early yesterday while trying to defuse a bomb a woman had tried to carry into a cafe just off central Moscow's main street. The woman was detained after her behavior attracted the attention of security guards, officials said. Her bag, which contained the explosive device, was left on the street. Police detained the woman, and the Federal Security Service, or FSB, was called to the scene. When an FSB sapper approached the bag to try to defuse the explosive device, it exploded, killing him, the Moscow police press service said. Moscow Prosecutor Mikhail Avdyukov linked the blast to a double suicide bombing at a weekend rock concert that killed 16 people including the attackers and was believed to be the work of Chechen rebels.
■ United States
Writer allegedly Iraqi spy
A 60-year-old writer and publisher was arrested at his Chicago area home on Wednesday and charged with providing information to Saddam Hussein's intelligence agency about the deposed Iraqi leader's foes. Khaled Abdel-Latif Dumeisi, who has a Jordanian passport but has lived in the US for about 10 years, was described in an affidavit as an "unregistered agent" for the former Iraqi government who reported on Iraqi exile leaders and gave press identification cards to Iraqi intelligence agents. Dumeisi's lawyer, James Fennerty, told reporters his client was merely a journalist, not a spy.
■ United States
Spears no virgin
Pop princess Britney Spears has admitted that she had sex with former boyfriend Justin Timberlake despite once vowing to remain a virgin until she wed. In the upcoming issue of W magazine, Spears details her relationship with Timberlake, the most-watched music industry romance since Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain. The 21-year-old Spears, whose stratospheric rise from Mouseketeer to pop megastar mirrored Timberlake's success, revealed that she had sex with the 'N Sync boy band singer because she believed they would marry someday. For now, Spears said, she's hunting far afield for a new beau -- especially in Australia and Spain where men are less "fuddy duddy."
■ United States
`Global gag rule' repealed
In a major blow to President George W. Bush's foreign aid policy, the US Senate voted late Wednesday to repeal his ban on assistance to international family planning groups that fight for the availability of abortion. By a vote of 53-43, senators rejected a motion to kill an amendment by Democrat Barbara Boxer of California that strikes down the so-called Mexico City Policy, an anti-abortion measure. The Mexico City Policy, often referred to as "the global gag rule," bars the US government from providing assistance to organizations that advocate abortion as a family planning tool and openly counsel women about abortion services.