Indonesian fires foul air
Thick haze from fires in Indonesia has caused the air quality over parts of Malaysia's Sarawak State on Borneo Island to hit unhealthy levels and visibility to plunge, officials said yesterday. In Sarawak's capital Kuching, the Air Pollutant Index hit 113 yesterday morning, reaching into the unhealthy range of 101-200, a Department of Environment official said. In oil-rich Bintulu it measured 105, while in the town of Samarahan it posted at 117 and Sri Aman had 119.
■ Hong Kong
Fugitive croc finds a home
A saltwater crocodile that became a global media star after successfully evading capture for months in 2003 was given a new home yesterday in a wetland park. Pui Pui, who was caught after more than seven months of living in a dirty drainage channel, was moved after the completion of new quarters at the park in Tin Shui Wai, the same area where the crocodile was initially discovered.
■ South Korea
North urged back to talks
South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun urged North Korea yesterday to return to stalled talks on its nuclear weapons program and said Seoul was ready to provide assistance to the North to achieve a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula. "North Korea should return to the six-way talks without conditions," Roh said in speech marking the 61st anniversary of the peninsula's liberation from Japan's 1910 to 1945 colonial rule.
■ New Zealand
Maori queen passes away
Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu, the queen of the indigenous Maori population, died yesterday, her family announced. She was 75. Te Ata was the seventh Maori sovereign, a direct descendant of a royal line that began in 1858 when the Maori responded to Britain's colonization of New Zealand by choosing a monarch of their own. The role carries only ceremonial powers but is very respected by most Maori.
Looking for `Xtreme sheep'
Scientists have called on the country's farmers to report any ugly sheep found in their flocks. A campaign called "Xtreme sheep" aims to study sheep with undesirable wool features in order to unlock the genetic makeup of the prized merino and ensure production of its high quality fleece. The South Australian Research and Development Institute said yesterday its search for "Australia's ugliest merino lambs" may hold the key to securing the nation's A$2.8 billion (US$2.1 billion) wool industry. The institute said ugly lambs -- those that have uneven wool, strange fibers, clumps of wool that fall out, bare patches, no wool, or highly wrinkled skin -- are usually culled from herds by farmers.
Hicks should be charged
Australian Guantanamo Bay inmate David Hicks should face new charges before a US military tribunal by November or be returned home, the government said yesterday. Lawyers for Hicks, who has been held at the US camp in Cuba for four years, have called for his release after the US Supreme Court ruled in June that planned military trials for Guantanamo inmates were illegal. US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said on Aug. 2 that plans were being drafted to try enemy combatants based on military court martial procedures, with a number of key changes.
■ United States
National Guard plan panned
In an unusual act of bipartisan and regional unanimity, 51 governors have joined to voice their strong opposition to legislation to let the US president federalize National Guard troops in a disaster without local authorities' consent. In a letter to congressional leaders last week, the governors detailed their argument that the measure, drawn up after Hurricane Katrina and tucked into a military authorization bill that the House of Representatives recently passed, would undermine their authority and autonomy. "This provision ... represents an unprecedented shift in authority from governors as commanders and chief of the Guard to the federal government," the letter states.
■ Gaza Strip
Abbas tries to calm factions
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas traveled to Ramallah on the West Bank on Monday to try to end infighting between Palestinian factions and to work with the Hamas-led Cabinet to form a national unity government. Abbas adviser Nimr Hamad said the president would also try to persuade Hamas and other militant factions to stop firing rockets at Israel from Gaza and to release Corporal Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier that Hamas-backed militants captured on June 25, sparking a widescale Israeli offensive in Gaza. Abbas hoped to bring about an end to Israel's offensive in Gaza, Hamad said.
■ United Kingdom
Groping prince exposed
The drunken frolics of princes Harry and William at a party in a London nightclub, on display in photographs published by the Sun tabloid yesterday, have created a sensation. The front-page photograph shows Prince Harry, 21, grabbing the breasts of a voluptuous blonde. The exclusive picture showed Harry and his former girlfriend Natalie Pinkham, 28, at a party in London's trendy Boujis nightclub, the tabloid said. The South African girlfriend of the prince, Chelsy Davy, 21, was said to be very disappointed at his behavior.
Pot pitched at AIDS expo
The light scent of marijuana wafted among exhibits at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto on Monday, as activists took advantage of Canada's comparatively pot-friendly policies to make a pitch for the herb as a painkiller. "This is the first time that an exhibit of this kind has been at the AIDS conference," said Hilary Black, spokeswoman for the Medical Marijuana Information Resource Center, which along with the Canadian AIDS Society sponsored the display. Researchers say marijuana can ease some types of severe and chronic pain as well as symptoms like nausea better and with fewer side effects than many prescription remedies.
Marriage banishes blues
Getting married enhances mental health, especially if you're depressed, according to a new US study. The benefits of marriage for the depressed are particularly dramatic, a finding that surprised the professor-student team behind the study. "We actually found the opposite of what we expected," said Adrianne Frech, a doctoral candidate at Ohio State University who conducted the study with Kristi Williams, an assistant professor of sociology. "Just mattering to someone else can help alleviate symptoms of depression," Frech said.