City looking to sell itself
A debt-ridden city is offering to rename itself after the highest bidder, an official said yesterday. Izumisano in Osaka Prefecture owes its creditors well over ￥100 billion (US$1.25 billion), the official said, adding the presence of Kansai International Airport was partly to blame. “The city spent a lot of money building roads and other infrastructure because the airport was built in this relatively remote place,” he said. “The mayor believes the city government needs to seek new ways to make profit.” Suitors will also need to sign a 10-year contract affirming a connection with the city, for example by moving their headquarters there. Officials originally announced the plan in June, but had no takers, the official said, adding so far the bulk of inquiries had been from city residents annoyed about the plan.
Woman crushed by elevator
A hotel cleaner was crushed to death in front of a colleague when she stepped into a moving elevator, police said yesterday. The 63-year-old woman was trapped between the floor of the elevator and the ceiling of the building. “The doors opened and she went to get in, but the cage was still moving up,” a police official in Kanazawa said. “She stumbled over the rising lift floor and fell.” The lift’s manufacturer, Switzerland-based Schindler, said in a statement it was cooperating with a police probe into the incident.
President’s brother quizzed
The brother of President Lee Myung-bak appeared before a special prosecutor yesterday over alleged irregularities in a project to build the president’s retirement home. Lee Sang-eun, 79, was called to testify about a 600 million won (US$542,000) loan he gave to his nephew and the president’s only son, Lee Si-hyung. “I’ll explain everything in there,” Lee, the eldest of the president’s two brothers, told reporters before entering the prosecutor’s office in southern Seoul. The case centers around the joint purchase last year by the president’s son and the presidential security service of a plot of land on the southern edge of the capital for a now-scrapped retirement home project.
Government points finger
The government says it has evidence that some individuals and organizations instigated recent deadly violence in the western state of Rakhine, but did not name them. State television broadcast an announcement on Wednesday night from the office of President Thein Sein saying the suspects include a group or groups that previously signed a ceasefire agreement with the government. The announcement said 89 people were killed, 136 were injured, and 32,231 were made homeless when more than 5,000 houses were burned down in violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims between Oct. 21 and Oct. 30. It did not report any new clashes.
Bounty offered for leopard
The government yesterday offered a bounty for anyone who could hunt down a leopard that has killed more than a dozen people in the past year in the remote west. The 25,000 rupee (US$300) prize will go to anyone who can bring in the animal dead or alive, after more than 100 police and soldiers failed to capture it. “In the beginning, we wanted to capture it alive. But the security personnel who returned from the search said that thousands of villagers have been terrorized,” said Hariraj Bista, a local government official.
US-held man’s bid rejected
Britain’s top court on Wednesday rejected a legal bid by a Pakistani man in US custody in Afghanistan to force the British government to do more to seek his release. Yunus Rahmatullah, 30, was captured in Iraq in 2004 by British forces which then handed him to US authorities. He was later transferred to Afghanistan’s Bagram jail where he has been held without charge ever since. The Supreme Court said on Wednesday that it had dismissed appeals by Rahmatullah and by legal charity Reprieve on the grounds that the British government was unable to force his return from US custody.
It said “the response by the US was sufficient to demonstrate that the UK could not secure his release.”
Parliament bans masks
The parliament passed a ban on Wednesday on masks at riots that punishes violations with up to 10 years behind bars in a bid to crack down on radical groups. The measure, adopted 153 to 126, aims to target the “growing threat” of vandalism and violence, said MP Blake Richards, who sponsored the bill. The bill sets 10 years in prison for people who wear a mask during a riot without legitimate excuses, and five years if it is an illegal protest.
Opposition members said the law was not necessary because the criminal code already sets punitive measures.
Fence-climbing Jeep found
Suspected smugglers tried to use ramps to drive an SUV over a 4.25m fence along the US-Mexico border, but they abandoned the effort when it got stuck on top. US Border Patrol spokesman Spencer Tippets says agents spotted the SUV perched atop the fence early on Tuesday near the border between Arizona and California. Two people on the Mexican side were trying to free the Jeep when the agents approached. They ran further into Mexico. The Jeep was empty, but agents say it was probably filled with contraband like marijuana before it got stuck. The smugglers had built ramps that looked like long ladders to drive up and over the fence.
Poker player wins US$8.5m
A professional US player, Greg Merson, became World Series of Poker champion Wednesday after a marathon 13-hour final session, organizers said. The 24-year-old took home US$8,531,853 and the series’ gold bracelet following an all-night game in Las Vegas involving 400 hands, against fellow finalists Jesse Sylvia and Jake Balsiger. Merson said he plans to travel to Chinese gambling capital Macau to play in high-stakes cash games, instead of traveling the circuit to compete in grueling tournaments.
Prostitution ring dismantled
Police said on Wednesday they had dismantled a network that imported Thai women and men and forced them to work as prostitutes in several Swiss cities. The main suspect, a 42-year-old Thai woman with a Swiss residence permit, was arrested during the second half of last year in Germany and had been extradited to Switzerland, Bern police said. Most of the victims came from poverty in Thailand and had known they would be working as prostitutes in Switzerland, police said, but because of the massive fees the network charged to get them to the country and for being allowed to work in its brothels they basically became sex slaves.