Gondoliers fight over pope
Pope Benedict XVI was rowed across Venice’s spectacular Grand Canal in a luxury gondola on Sunday, with his four “gondoliers” fighting off fierce competition for the honor. The days leading up to the 84-year-old pope’s visit have been fraught ones for the gondolier community, with one rower even invoking a vision of Catholic saint Padre Pio in his bid for a coveted spot on the gondola. The pope eventually chose two rival pairs out of Venice’s 425 gondoliers to restore peace, rejecting the possibility of using the only woman gondolier. Bruno and Francesco Dei Rossi are brothers whose father Albino rowed late pope John Paul II during his visit in 1985. The other pair, Gianpaolo d’Este and Igor Vignotto, are two famous participants in the Venice regattas. Rowing for the pope gives the highly competitive gondoliers huge publicity in Venice and can be a source of pride for a family for generations.
Libyans kept at bay
Cairo has imposed visa restrictions on Libyans, the foreign ministry said on Sunday, in a move that will block Libyans trying to escape the conflict from entering the country. “All Libyans wishing to enter Egypt must first obtain a visa from any Egyptian embassy,” the ministry told the official MENA news agency. It said the move was in response to similar measures imposed by Tripoli two years ago. Officials at air, land and sea ports began implementing the directive immediately, an airport source said. Protests that broke out in Libya on Feb. 15 have escalated into a violent conflict that has claimed hundreds of lives and driven many to flee into neighboring Egypt and Tunisia.
Article slams US over killing
A pro-Pyongyang newspaper yesterday slammed the US killing of Osama bin Laden, describing the attack on the al-Qaeda leader as “arrogant imperialism.” The Japan-based Choson Sinbo, which normally reflects the North’s official thinking, also said the covert military mission against bin Laden’s home was “a gross violation” of Pakistan’s national sovereignty. The incident was more evidence that the US was the leader in state terrorism, the paper said on its Web site. The North’s official media has not commented on the news of the al-Qaeda chief’s death. Choson Sinbo’s editorial also said there was no clear evidence that bin Laden masterminded the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington. “If the US sees him as a suspect, they should have put him on trial instead of killing him,” it said.
Frontline shelters fortified
The government is fortifying shelters on five frontline islands near its tense sea border with the North in case of any future attacks, an official said yesterday. The move follows an artillery and rocket barrage by the North in November against Yeongpyeong Island, which killed two marines and two civilians. More troops and weaponry have been sent to the islands since the attack. “We are strengthening military shelters in the northwestern border islands to guard against coastal artillery attacks from the North,” a defense ministry spokesman said without elaborating. The new corrugated steel structures would produce fewer fragments when hit than existing concrete shelters, Yonhap news agency quoted a defense ministry official as saying. “Construction will cost about 5 [billion (US$4.6 million)] to 10 billion won and will be completed by the end of June,” the official said.