■ HONG KONG
High-wire smugglers caught
Hong Kong and Chinese customs have cracked an audacious smuggling operation that saw goods worth millions of dollars ferried along a long cable straddling the border, reports said yesterday. The cable was suspended from a high-rise building in Shenzhen and goods were moved 300m to the top of a small village house in Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported. For weeks, gang members wrapped cellphones, SIM cards and computer parts in black plastic bags and moved them using a pulley and line in loads of 3kg to 5kg at a time. However, the pulley made so much noise it alerted neighbors who complained to police. The suspects were arrested on Tuesday after a one-week surveillance operation, a customs spokesman said.
Gamblers getting younger
Singaporeans are starting to gamble at a younger age, triggering fears that the city-state could face a wave of betting addicts, a published study said yesterday. Nearly one-quarter of respondents started gambling when they were under 18, up 10 percent over 2005. About 70 percent began wagering regularly before they turned 30, up from 60 percent in 2005, said the findings in the Straits Times. With Singapore’s first two casinos scheduled to open within two years, experts warn the number of addicts could rise. Studies have shown that youth who gamble are up to four times more likely to become addicts than adults.
■ SOUTH KOREA
Woman kills self on plane
A 29-year-old Japanese woman was found hanging from the wall with a scarf around her neck inside the toilet of a Korean Air flight, the airline said yesterday. When the passenger failed to return to her seat as the plane was preparing to land at Incheon airport near Seoul, a flight attendant checked the toilet where she found the woman. She did not respond to emergency medical procedures performed on the plane and was pronounced dead on arrival in hospital. “We’ve heard no suicide note was found,” a Korean Air spokesman said.
Gujjars threaten shutdown
An ethnic group threatened yesterday to bring New Delhi to a halt, blocking key highways and paralyzing trains in a bitter and deadly campaign for more government aid, police and reports said. Thousands of Gujjars squatted on roads into New Delhi at the start of a day-long shutdown, a police spokesman said. Others crowded railway tracks, as several thousand police and paramilitary personnel deployed across New Delhi kept a sharp eye on protesters to prevent violence, reports said. The protest yesterday marked the seventh straight day of the agitation which began in Rajasthan state last week. The Gujjars are demanding classification as a tribe that allows them easier access to government jobs and education.
More grants for non-Malays
The government said yesterday it would double the number of scholarships it gives non-Malays to study abroad, an apparent move to mollify disgruntled ethnic minorities. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Nazri Abdul Aziz said 900 of the 2,000 government scholarships awarded this year to study at foreign universities will go to ethnic Chinese, ethnic Indians and other minorities. Previously, only about 20 percent of all scholarships went to minorities while the rest went to Malays. Now, minorities will get more than 40 percent of the scholarships, Nazri said.
Students strip for education
Two students stripped off their clothes and posed for a sketch session in a Vienna tram on Wednesday to call for free and unrestricted access to higher education. The stunt was part of a countrywide campaign by students to end university tuition fees and to focus on problems such as overflowing lecture halls and run-down campuses. As the tram toured central Vienna, organizers handed astounded passengers pencils and paper to sketch the two male models, who wore nothing but G-strings. One of them had “Education is free” printed across his chest; the other had “Access to All” emblazoned on his torso.
■ SIERRA LEONE
Jail terms extended
A UN-backed war crimes court on Wednesday more than doubled the prison terms for two former militia leaders convicted of overseeing hundreds of killings and mutilations during the country’s 11-year war. An earlier ruling sentencing Moinina Fofana to six years and Allieu Kondewa’s sentence to eight years was far too light, the judges ruled. Fofana’s term was increased to 15 years, Kondewa’s to 20. The two men were leaders of the pro-government Civil Defense Forces, which used a network of tribal-based hunters known as the Kamajors to fight various rebel groups during the 1991 to 2002 war.
■ UNITED KINGDOM
Murder trial opens
The husband of a part-time police officer faces life in prison after a British court on Wednesday convicted him of organizing her murder to pay for his extravagant extramarital affair. Fadi Nasri, 34, asked a drug dealer to kill 29-year-old Nisha Patel-Nasri so he would profit from a £350,000 (US$690,000) life insurance policy. The Old Bailey court in London heard Nasri wanted to clear massive debts and fund his affair with a Lithuanian prostitute. A jury also found 38-year-old Rodger Leslie, a drug dealer, and Jason Jones, the 36-year-old nightclub bouncer who carried out the killing, guilty of murder. The three men will be sentenced on June 20.
Islamic agency under fire
A state body regulating the role of Islam has come under fire over an article on sexual behavior that equated flirting with adultery and condemned women for wearing perfume. Secularists and women’s groups hit out after the directorate of religious affairs published the article on its Web site setting out recommendations for proper sexual conduct. Invoking the prophet Mohammed, it put the onus squarely on women by urging them to cover up and behave modestly to avoid provoking male sexual desires. “Women have to be more careful, since they have stimulants,” the article said.
Police in Sharjah arrested a German doctor of Arab descent on Wednesday for performing hymen reconstruction surgery and illegal abortions. Police investigation indicated that the 61-year-old gynecologist carried out surgery to restore a broken hymen for about US$1,000, a police statement said. The surgery known as hymenoplasty is illegal in many countries in the Middle East and the Gulf where women are required to prove their virginity when they get married. The surgery is usually done under local anesthetic.
Ten bodies found
Ten people were found shot execution style, including three beheaded bodies, in 24 hours of drug-related warfare in the north, the Juarez prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday. A police officer’s head was found inside a plastic bag with a note warning the Sinaloa drug cartel: “So you know we’re not playing around.” It was signed by La Linea, a drug group fighting for control of Ciudad Juarez, a city on the US border, the office said. The 10 bodies found late on Tuesday and on Wednesday included two in Ciudad Juarez, two in Loma Blanca, two in and around Durango, two on roads leading to Chihuahua, one in Casa Grandes and one in Ignacio Zaragoza, the office said. One of the decapitated bodies was topped by a pig’s head and laid out in a cemetery.
Rio vows to stay tough
The state government for Rio de Janeiro vowed on Wednesday to maintain its tough campaign against organized crime despite criticism from Amnesty International that human rights were being violated. “Not respecting human rights is the taking of innocent people hostage by criminals who set their own rules ... Being warlike is criminals terrorizing citizens at gunpoint,” the state secretary for public security, Sergio Cabral, told reporters. An Amnesty report released on Wednesday accused Rio authorities of “warlike and draconian” measures in their battle against the gangs that control many city slums.
Illegal logging gang nabbed
Federal police said they arrested at least 40 members of an illegal logging operation in an Amazon tribal Indian reservation on Wednesday amid growing concern over destruction of the world’s largest rain forest. The operation cleared the equivalent of 70,000 football fields of virgin forest in the Vale do Guapore Indian reserve in Mato Grosso state, the police said. Among those arrested were loggers, highway and military police officers, farmers and state civil servants.
■ UNITED STATES
Same-sex wedding date set
Barring a stay of a historic California Supreme Court ruling, same-sex couples will be able to wed in the state beginning June 17. California said on Wednesday it chose June 17 because the state Supreme Court has until the day before to decide whether to grant a stay of its May 15 ruling legalizing gay marriage. The guidelines from the chief of California’s office of vital records to the state’s 58 county clerks also contained copies of new marriage forms that include lines for “Party A” and “Party B” instead of bride and groom. A group opposed to gay marriage has asked the court to stay its decision until after the November election. Meanwhile, same-sex unions might soon be recognized in New York, where the governor has directed state agencies to do so.
■ UNITED STATES
Space plumber needed
NASA said the toilet on the International Space Station (ISS) became blocked on Tuesday, forcing the three astronauts on board to go next door — to use the toilet at the Soyuz capsule moored at the station. The liquid waste handling function of the toilet broke down, NASA said, adding that the two Russians and one American at the station were able to fix a “urine bypass” on the ISS toilet. NASA spokeswoman Nicole Cloutier said the space shuttle Discovery, scheduled to arrive at the ISS on Monday with seven astronauts aboard, would be carrying toilet parts to help repair the station’s prickly plumbing.