‘Mummy smuggler’ arrested
An Australian man has been arrested after allegedly attempting to leave Egypt with a 2,000-year-old mummified cat and other antiquities in his suitcase, reports said yesterday. Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade confirmed that a 61-year-old man was arrested and detained in Cairo on Tuesday. The man was receiving consular support while in detention but had yet to be charged with any offense, a spokesperson said. Australian media reported that the man was a teacher who had been attempting to leave with some ancient animal mummies and religious figurines wrapped as gifts in his luggage. His cache of antiquities included mummies of a cat and an ibis believed to be more than 2,000 years old and 19 figurines of ancient Egyptian gods that had been wrapped as gifts, national news agency AAP reported.
Gas leak death toll rises
The death toll has risen to 17 in a gas leak from a blast furnace at a steel plant in Hebei Province, the government said on Thursday. A total of 44 people were working near the furnace at the time of the gas leak on Wednesday in the city of Zunhua, 150km east of Beijing, the State Administration of Work Safety said. Two steel workers died instantly, five more died shortly afterwards and another 10 died when emergency hospital treatment failed to save them, the administration reported on its Web site.
Official sentenced to death
A former provincial official was given a suspended death sentence after being convicted of corruption and bribery, a state news agency has reported. Cai Wenlong (蔡文龍) committed his crimes between 1998 and 2006, when he served in top posts of several state-owned companies, the Xinhua news agency said late on Wednesday. He was promoted to deputy head of the Anhui Province commerce department in January last year. Cai, 55, embezzled 17 million yuan (US$2.5 million) for personal profit and misappropriated more than 14 million yuan, Xinhua said, citing the Intermediate People’s Court of Chaohu city. The court was also cited as saying that Cai took 3 million yuan in bribes and lost 300 million in state-owned assets in the stock market.
■ SRI LANKA
Military beats back attack
The military beat back a Tamil Tiger counter-offensive, killing at least 18 guerrillas, the defense ministry said yesterday. The rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam mounted the offensive outside their besieged political capital of Kilinochchi on Wednesday, the ministry said. “Well prepared troops engaged the advancing terrorists with armor, tanks, artillery and infantry causing heavy damage,” the ministry said in a statement. It said 18 rebels were killed and another 34 wounded, but did not give details of casualties on the government side. The pro-rebel Tamilnet.com Web site said there was heavy fighting in the area.
■ UNITED NATIONS
UN to broker Fiji deal
The UN has agreed to work with the Commonwealth of former British colonies to try to get an agreement on the timing of parliamentary elections that would return military-ruled Fiji to full democracy, a spokesperson said late on Wednesday. The announcement follows an escalating rift between Fiji and New Zealand over a broken promise by Fiji military leader Commodore Frank Bainimarama to restore democracy by April next year.
Missionaries plead guilty
Two British missionaries pleaded guilty to sedition charges on Wednesday, asking the court for a lenient sentence. David and Fiona Fulton were arrested late last month in the predominantly Muslim nation after allegedly sending a letter to individuals and groups criticizing Gambia’s government. The pair have been held separately — David in solitary confinement at Gambia’s high-security Mile Two prison and Fiona at a the police station, the Web site of the Westhoughton Pentecostal Church in Bolton, UK, said, which has supported the couple in the past and is lobbying for their release. The Fultons had originally maintained their innocence. Westhoughton’s pastor, Martin Speed, said the changed plea caught him off guard. “I was surprised they’d pleaded guilty,” he said, adding that neither he nor the family member he spoke to knew why. In a statement read out in court, David Fulton apologized to the public and to Gambian President Yayha Jammeh.
King’s ancestor not amused
A French heir of Louis XIV has taken the current management of his ancestor’s palace to court to ban an exhibition by modern US artist Jeff Koons that he feels dishonors his family’s illustrious past. Since September, half-a-million non-aristocrats have visited the Palace of Versailles to see several of Koons’ major works displayed amid the former royal family’s formal gardens and magnificent galleries. His playful pop art — including a giant topiary puppy’s head, an inflatable lobster and a figurine of Michael Jackson and his pet chimp Bubbles — has proven so popular that the show has been extended until Jan. 4. But Prince Charles-Emmanuel de Bourbon-Parme is not amused. On Wednesday, judges at Versailles’ administrative court were examining his request for an emergency injunction to halt the show.
Nine hanged for murder
A state-owned newspaper said yesterday that Iran hanged nine people, including a woman, convicted of murder. A report by the IRAN newspaper said all the convicts were hanged in Evin prison, north of Tehran. They were identified only by their first names. The hangings took place on Wednesday after the country’s Supreme Court approved the death sentences. The woman, whose first name was Tayyabeh, was found guilty of burying her eight-year-old stepdaughter alive in a forest near a Tehran suburb.
Impotent but not firing blanks
A man shot and wounded a saleswoman in a sex shop on Wednesday after the impotence tablets he bought failed to have the desired effect, Russian media quoted police as saying. The man walked into the “Intim” shop in a Moscow suburb on Wednesday evening and demanded a refund for the tablets he had bought there a day earlier, Interfax news agency quoted law enforcement sources as saying. He shot the shop assistant with a pistol when she refused to give him back his money, the agency said.
Homeless tuck into caviar
Down-and-outs and hard up pensioners in Milan received a rare Christmas treat this year — choice beluga caviar confiscated from traffickers. Italian police seized more than 40kg of the delicacy, worth some 400,000 euros (US$558,000), from two men who last month smuggled it into the country from Poland for sale in the shops of Milan and the rest of the wealthy Lombardy region.
■ UNITED STATES
NORAD tracks Santa
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which monitors air and space threats against the US and Canada, is in charge of the annual Christmas mission to keep children informed of Santa’s worldwide journey to their homes. NORAD said Santa began his latest flight early on Wednesday at the International Date Line in the Pacific Ocean. Historically, Santa visits the South Pacific first, then New Zealand and Australia. NORAD points out that only Santa knows his route. Last year, NORAD’s Santa tracking center answered 94,000 calls and responded to 10,000 e-mails. About 10.6 million visitors went to the Web site (www.noradsanta.org), which can be viewed in English, Spanish, French, Italian, German, Japanese and Chinese.
■ UNITED STATES
China to miss ‘Dark Knight’
Batman blockbuster The Dark Knight won’t be screened in Chinese cinemas, Warner Bros said in a statement on Wednesday. The studio said that the film — the second highest-grossing movie in US box-office history — would be canned in China, with “cultural sensitivities” cited as one of the reasons for the no-show. “Based on a number of pre-release conditions that are being attached to The Dark Knight as well as cultural sensitivities to some elements of the film, we have opted to forego a theatrical release of the film in China,” an e-mailed statement said. It was not clear what “cultural sensitivities” were at issue but the movie includes an action sequence shot in Hong Kong where Batman, played by Christian Bale, apprehends a Chinese money-launderer.
■ UNITED STATES
Snow globes recalled
Some 7,000 jumbo-sized snow globes were recalled by Hallmark Cards because the holiday decorations can act as a magnifying glass when exposed to sunlight and ignite nearby combustible materials, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission said on Tuesday. The snowman-shaped snow globes were sold in October and last month at Hallmark Gold Crown stores nationwide for about US$100 each.
Ex-police chief charged
A former small town police chief is facing drug and organized crime charges for allegedly protecting drug smugglers who paid him a monthly fee. The Attorney General’s office says the former police chief in San Mateo Atenco, a town outside of Mexico City, has acknowledged accepting between US$1,500 and US$1,900 a month from alleged members of “La Familia” drug gang. Antonio Careaga was arrested last month for alleged links to the executions of 24 men in several states. A former police commander and alleged drug hitmen have also been charged in connection with the massacre, one of the worst in the country. It was not clear if Careaga is still being investigated for the killings.
■ UNITED STATES
Suspect traced by spit
A trail of tobacco spit has led investigators to a suspect in at least five burglaries in Oklahoma, police said. Randy Lee Shoopman Jr., 33, was charged with 11 counts of second-degree burglary after a sample of his DNA matched that taken from expectorant left behind at the scene of several burglaries, Tahlequah police department spokesman Brad Robertson said. Shoopman was taken into custody Friday in Merced, California, on an unrelated stolen property charge, Robertson said.