Space agency seeks funding
Japan's space agency plans to seek private investors to fund up to two dozen projects including the development of Earth observation satellites and spacesuits, a news report said yesterday. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, is seeking outside funding due to a decline in government outlays for space programs and the agency's desire to promote space-related businesses, the Nihon Keizai newspaper reported. The funds will be used to create public-private joint venture companies this year to develop up to 24 projects ranging from observation satellites to spacesuits, the paper said.
US embassy remains closed
The US embassy in Malaysia remained closed yesterday following the New Year holiday, with officials saying they feared the facility was under surveillance. The sprawling mission in Kuala Lumpur, was closed on Friday due to "recent suspected surveillance incidents," US embassy spokeswoman Kathyrn Taylor said. It was supposed to reopen yesterday following a three-day holiday, but officials decided against it. "We are still evaluating the situation. As far as we concerned, the threat still applies and we are not at a place where we are ready to reopen yet," she said. The embassy is working closely with Malaysian police to resolve the matter and is hopeful of reopening some time this week, she added.
Water supply resumed
A waterworks in south China has resumed supplies to tens of thousands of people after being shut down for more than a week following a dangerous toxic spill, state media reported yesterday. Normal operations were resumed late Sunday at the Nanhua Waterworks, near Yingde, a city of one million residents in Guangdong Province, the Beijing Times newspaper said. The spill from a state-owned smelting works in Guangdong on Dec. 15 had threatened water supplies to several cities in the province. Tens of thousands along the Beijiang river lacked drinking water after the smelting works released excessive amounts of cadmium, which can cause neurological disorders and cancer.
■ North Korea
North won't go to nuke talks
Pyongyang reaffirmed yesterday it would not attend the six-way nuclear talks unless US sanctions are lifted on the Stalinist state for its alleged illegal counterferting and money laundering. Rodong Sinmun, the North's ruling communist party mouthpiece, urged the US to unblock talks by removing the sanctions. "It is impossible to go to six-way talks and sit face-to-face with a counter-part who seeks to isolate and stifle us," it said in a Korean-language dispatch monitored by Yonhap news agency.
AIDS death toll plunges
The country's death toll from AIDS last year was down 67 percent from 2004 figures when nationwide access to anti-retroviral treatment had not yet been offered, media reports said yesterday. Tawat Suntharacharn, director general of the government's communicable diseases control department, attributed the dramatic drop in AIDS-related deaths to the government's decision to make cheap anti-retroviral drugs available to some 80,000 HIV-positive patients last year, said The Nation newspaper. Last year there were 1,640 AIDS-related deaths, compared with 5,020 in 2004, when subsidized treatment was made available to a limited number of HIV cases.
■ United States
Two-headed snake for sale
For sale: One snake. Albino. Has two heads. Asking US$150,000 or best offer. The World Aquarium in St. Louis has been home to We, a one-of-a-kind two-headed albino rat snake, since 1999. Aquarium president Leonard Sonnenschein has decided to sell the six-and-half-year-old snake on e-Bay. The aquarium paid US$15,000 for the snake a few days after its birth, knowing full well that most two-headed snakes don't live more than a few months. But We has survived and thrived. At 2.5cm thick and 1.2m long, she is a healthy size for a rat snake. We has survived because, unlike some two-headed animals, both mouths are connected to the same stomach, Sonnenschein said.
Mitterrand tops poll
Francois Mitterrand emerged in an opinion poll on Monday as the Fifth Republic's best president, pipping Charles de Gaulle by a head and the incumbent Jacques Chirac by several lengths. Mitterrand, whose death 10 years ago this Sunday will be commemorated with a nostalgia fest, won the support of 35 percent of respondents in a poll for the left-leaning daily Liberation. Despite the scandals that have surfaced since his death, Mitterrand, who led France for 14 years from 1981, finished five points ahead of de Gaulle on 30 percent and 23 points clear of Chirac on 12 percent.
■ United Kingdom
African toad sneaks into UK
A toad unwittingly hitched a ride from Gambia to the UK in the training shoe of a British tourist returning to Birmingham. Farres Powell, 40, from Small Heath, was unpacking after a winter break at Kotu when the toad waddled out. "I was chatting with my partner about how good the holiday had been when we heard a rustling and looked down to see this toad emerge. We couldn't believe it -- it was the same toad we'd seen on the hotel balcony the night before while we were playing cards," he said. The Hollytrees Animal Rescue Trust came to collect the toad.
Iran bans paper, magazine
The government on Monday ordered the closure of a daily newspaper and banned a planned women's publication in the first media crackdown since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in August. "The Supervisory Board on the Press agreed to the temporary closure of Asia newspaper and Nour-e Banovan and ordered their cases sent to court," the Culture Ministry said in the ban. No reason was given for the closure and ban, although a journalist at the economic daily Asia said the paper had been given a warning recently for printing photographs of women considered to have been improperly dressed.
■ Ivory Coast
Attack on army base foiled
Government troops crushed an assault on a major military base west of Abidjan, with three soldiers and seven of the attackers killed in the action, the army said. Heavy fighting took place at the Akouedo base near the city following the pre-dawn assault on Monday, but soon after 10am army chief of staff General Philippe Mangou said on national radio and television "the situation is under control" and later denied rumors of a mutiny. The army took 32 prisoners, soldiers told reporters at the base. Dead bodies in civilian clothes were identified only as being some of the attackers. The corpses wore good-luck charms known as gris-gris.
Likud to quit Cabinet
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu ordered his Cabinet ministers yesterday to quit Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government, a spokesman said. The ministers will hand in their letters of resignation at Sunday's weekly Cabinet. Sharon is expected to appoint new Cabinet ministers from his centrist Kadima party to replace the outgoing Likud ministers. Netanyahu was elected last month to head the Likud Party after Sharon quit the hard-line faction and formed a new centrist party. Sharon's appointments to the Cabinet will give an idea of what a future Sharon-led government would look like.
■ United States
Jesus thieves nabbed
Four New Jersey teenagers were arrested on Monday and charged with stealing around 25 baby Jesus figurines, which they planned to burn in a bonfire, the police said. The police in Sayreville arrested Michael Payne, 19, and Christopher Olson, 18, Nicholas Hess, 18, and a 15-year-old boy whose identity was not disclosed because of his age. The investigation began when vandals destroyed a cross and a large statue of Jesus at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, police said. The boys were charged with theft, conspiracy, criminal mischief and desecration of a place of burial.
FARC attack oil wells
Rebels dynamited eight oil wells and an electricity tower near the Ecuadorean border, police said on Monday, the latest attack in a series that killed 37 soldiers and police last month. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, destroyed the wells on Sunday, said regional police commander Humberto Guatibonza. The guerrillas also destroyed an electricity tower in Putumayo, leaving 300,000 people without power. The 17,000-strong FARC has been fighting for socialist revolution for 41 years.
■ United states
Muddy man to be charged
A man who had a rendezvous with a prostitute is facing charges after he got stuck in waist-deep mud and required a helicopter to pull him out. Thomas Bruno, 49, will be charged with trespassing, criminal solicitation and patronizing a prostitute, the Wilmington News Journal reported. Corporal Jeff Oldham, said that Bruno met a male prostitute in a bar and agreed to pay for sex with him. But the two got into an argument, and Bruno got lost while trying to leave the area. About 4am, Bruno called emergency officials, but could not provide a description of his whereabouts. Troopers using night-vision goggles found Bruno's vehicle, then followed his footprints about 3km and found him stuck in the mud.
UN oil bribes to be probed
An investigation into alleged bribery in the Iraq oil-for-food program under former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein will be carried out after a UN report found several firms were involved, the prosecutor's office said on Monday. A UN panel last year reported that around 2,200 companies, including Volvo, had paid US$1.8 billion to the former Iraqi regime. "In the [UN] report a number of firms were named and we have decided to initiate a probe after reading the report," said Karin Rosander, spokeswoman for the prosecutors' office. Truck maker Volvo has said many firms paid to do work in Iraq and that it was accepted practice, although it did not allow bribes. The prosecutors' office said the investigation was likely to take several months but gave no details.