Norway freeze still on
The government yesterday signaled there has been no end to a two-year-old frost in ties with Norway prompted by the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to imprisoned writer Liu Xiaobo (劉曉波). Comments from Assistant Foreign Minister Ma Zhaoxu (馬朝旭) were the government’s first on the tensions since Chinese writer Mo Yan (莫言) won the Nobel for literature last month. Ma told reporters it remained up to Norway to repair the rift that has seen trade ties disrupted and political contacts put on hold. “I hope Norway will value bilateral relations and work for the restoration and development of ties,” Ma told reporters at a briefing. Repeating previous statements, Ma accused Norway’s government of supporting the Nobel jury’s 2010 decision, despite the fact that Oslo cannot interfere with its rulings.
Ai starts repayments
Dissident artist Ai Weiwei (艾未未) yesterday said he had begun returning US$1.3 million donated by supporters for his unsuccessful legal battle against tax authorities. Supporters helped Ai raise the cash, which was required as a bond to contest a US$2.4 million fine by the Beijing tax bureau last year. A city court rejected his final appeal last month. “We have made our best effort and gone all the way through the legal procedure as much as we can, but this is the moment that we should pay supporters back because we cannot go any further,” he said. Ai said he would attempt to pay back as many of the 30,000 donors as possible, and made the first installment on Tuesday to those who had donated between one and 10 yuan (US$0.16 and US$1.6). A total of 190 people received payments totaling just over 102 yuan. Ai said it could take many months to repay his supporters.
Sendai Airport reopens
Sendai Airport reopened yesterday after bomb squads barricaded the area around an unexploded bomb from World War II. Flights resumed after military troops worked through the night to pile sandbags around the 250kg bomb, which was uncovered during construction near a runway on Monday. The airport was closed all day on Tuesday. The rust-covered bomb was surrounded by sandbags and the area around it sealed off so that flights could start up again. Officials said that although it was not clear what condition its detonator was in, the fear that it would go off by accident was low.
Presidential poll date set
The Election Commission says the next presidential election will be held on April 5, 2014. Independent Election Commission chief Fazel Ahmad Manawi said yesterday that the country’s provincial elections will also be held on the same date. President Hamid Karzai is not allowed to run for a third term.
Police sent to quash unrest
Hundreds of police and soldiers have been dispatched to restore security in Lampung province after 14 people were killed and dozens wounded in ethnic clashes, police said yesterday. Four people died during a clash on Sunday in Balinuraga village and the death toll climbed to 14 with more people killed when the clashes continued on Monday and Tuesday, National Police spokesman Brigadier General Boy Rafli Amar said. He said the violence was triggered by minor sexual harassment among young men and girls from the Lampung ethnic group and Balinese descendants.
Rhino death toll hits 488
More than 30 rhinos have been killed over the past two weeks, taking to 488 the toll of the animals slaughtered this year to satisfy a booming Asian demand for their horns, the government said on Tuesday. The 33 rhinos “were killed over the past two weeks,” environmental affairs spokesman Albi Modise told reporters. The animals’ distinctive horns are hacked off to be smuggled to the Asian black market, where the fingernail-like substance is falsely believed to have powerful healing properties. Authorities have so far arrested 214 suspects in connection with the killings.
Ferguson wins Giller Prize
Will Ferguson has won one of the nation’s most prestigious literary awards for a novel about a Canadian family’s entanglement in a Nigerian e-mail scam. Ferguson won the Scotiabank Giller Prize for his book 419 on Tuesday. A kilt-wearing Ferguson pulled out a flask during his acceptance speech and raised a toast to the written word. The US$50,000 Giller prize honors Canadian fiction. Past winners have included Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Alice Munro. The prize was created in 1994 by businessman Jack Rabinovitch in memory of his late wife.
Free yoga for voters
A yoga studio in Washington said on Tuesday it would give free classes to anyone who casts their ballot in next week’s elections. Flow Yoga Center said it was throwing open the doors to its Astanga Mysore, Pilates, Prana Flow and Vinyasa Flow classes on Tuesday “to help our United States re-unite again.” “You just need to vote first, and then bring along your ‘I Voted!’ sticker or equivalent to get a free class,” the studio in the trendy Logan Circle neighborhood said in an e-mail flyer. Election time is rife with marketing gimmicks. They include free pizza for life from Pizza Hut and free flights out of the country on JetBlue for voters whose presidential favorite loses.
Coffin stowaways arrested
Border officials have detained three people who tried to enter the country illegally by hiding in a truck full of coffins. The Border Force said a sniffer dog found the three Eritrean nationals among dozens of boxed coffins in the vehicle, which was from Bulgaria. The would-be migrants were not inside the coffins. Officials said the three were found on Monday at the port of Dunkerque in northern France, where the truck was waiting to board a ferry to Britain. They have been handed over to French border police. Border officials said yesterday the discovery was unusual, but added that in the past, the force had found people hiding in strange places, such as in shipments of dog biscuits and bathtubs.
Scotland Yard no more?
It’s not in Scotland, and it is missing a front yard. However, anyone who has read a Sherlock Holmes novel can tell you that Scotland Yard equals the London police. Perhaps no longer. London’s police force may move from its headquarters, known as New Scotland Yard, as it faces making budget cuts of more than ￡500 million (US$805 million). Deputy Commissioner Craig Mackey told the mayor’s office on Tuesday that it plans to save ￡6.5 million per year by moving to a smaller building. Though London’s mayor has the final decision, agreement on the issue between the city’s policing board and the Metropolitan Police makes the move highly likely.