Majority support whaling
More people support the nation’s controversial whale hunt than oppose it, a survey carried out on behalf of animal rights activists showed yesterday. Of 1,200 people questioned for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), 26.8 percent said the country should continue its hunt, compared with 18.5 percent who opposed it. The remainder expressed no opinion. The hunts are carried out using an exception allowed by a global moratorium. The government says it kills the mammals for scientific research even though the meat is later sold openly in shops and restaurants. Environmentalists routinely condemn the hunt and maintain it does not have the support of the people. In a press release, IFAW tried to put a positive gloss on the survey. “The good people of Japan are taking whalemeat off the menu,” said Patrick Ramage, director of IFAW’s global whale program, citing the 88.8 percent of respondents who said they had not bought whalemeat in the past year.
Chinese bus drivers strike
About 60 Chinese bus drivers stayed off-duty yesterday in the second day of a rare labor stoppage in the city-state. State-linked transport firm SMRT said that of the 102 who refused to work on Monday over a pay dispute, 60 did not turn up yesterday despite an agreement to do so. One of the drivers who refused to work on Monday said the workers felt aggrieved over a disparity in pay between Chinese and Malaysian bus drivers. After talks with SMRT management, with police on standby, the protesting drivers said they would report for work yesterday. The government has been hiring bus drivers from China and Malaysia because of a chronic shortage of manpower. The Ministry of Manpower issued a stern warning to the drivers, saying it “takes the workers’ actions very seriously.”
Islamists call for Elton ban
An Islamic political party yesterday urged the government to ban a concert by Elton John, saying the openly gay British pop icon promotes “immoral” values. John, who is popular in the country, is scheduled to perform on Thursday at a resort outside Kuala Lumpur. “This concert must be canceled. Artists who are involved in gay and lesbian activities must not be allowed to perform in Malaysia, as they will promote the wrong values,” Nasrudin Hassan Tantawi, chief of the youth wing of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, told reporters. The legendary singer-songwriter, who is on the Asian leg of a worldwide tour, performed in the country in November last year to a sell-out crowd despite a similar protest from the Islamic party.
N Korea talks announced
Senior Japanese and North Korean diplomats will meet in Beijing next month following rare talks earlier this month, Tokyo’s top spokesman said yesterday. The talks will be held on Dec. 5 and Dec. 6, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura said. Top of the agenda is expected to be North Korea’s kidnapping of Japanese in the Cold War era and its arms program, amid media reports that Pyongyang is preparing for a long-range missile test. Japan’s top negotiator will be Shinsuke Sugiyama and North Korea will be represented by Song Il-ho. They held two-day talks in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator in the middle of last month, marking the first senior-level meeting between the two nations in four years. After the meeting, Sugiyama said the atmosphere was “not acerbic.”
Bacteria found in lake
Scientists have found life in a lake that was sealed off from the outside world by a thick sheet of ice several thousands of years ago. Brine collected from boreholes drilled into Lake Vida contains scores of bacteria that clung on to life despite making their home in one of the harshest environments on Earth. The lake lies in a barren region called the McMurdo Dry Valleys, in the east of the continent. The water in Lake Vida is acidic, starved of oxygen and so salty that it remains liquid despite its temperature hovering around the minus–13?C mark all year round. The discovery of the ecosystem pushes the boundaries of what life can endure, and may inform the search for alien microbes on other planets, such as Mars. Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Alison Murray at the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nevada, describes Lake Vida as “a potential analogue for habitats on other icy worlds.”
Prison boss fired for party
The head of a maximum security prison was fired on Monday after video footage showed jubilant inmates drinking and dancing to live music with outside guests on a prison patio. The Nov. 10 party was to celebrate the birthday of Julio Rubio Roldan, who is serving time at the Miguel Castro Castro prison, according to America TV, which aired the footage late on Sunday. The video shows guests, including women and children, dancing and mingling with the inmates. Two bands equipped with concert-sized speakers provided live music. Rubio dances, laughs, drinks whiskey, takes a telephone call and accepts a birthday cake in the video. The crowd sings along when one of the bands plays Happy Birthday. Prison warden Jose Luis Mendoza and all of the guards on duty the day of the party were fired, said Julio Magan, head of Peru’s prison system. “These are corrupt, mafia-type personnel,” Magan said on Monday. “This is a scandal that we are not going to allow.” Rubio is on the 14th year of a 20-year prison sentence for kidnapping.
Beauty queen killed
A 22-year-old beauty queen was killed in a gunfight between soldiers and a suspected gang in the northwestern state of Sinaloa over the weekend, prosecutors said on Monday. The body of Maria Susana Flores, who was Miss Sinaloa 2012, was found in the car used by the armed group that exchanged fire with soldiers on Saturday, said an official from the state prosecutor’s office. Authorities suspect that Flores was part of the gang and may have fired a gun in Saturday’s violence. An AK-47 assault rifle was found next to her body in the car. The skirmish left five civilians and one soldier dead in the town of Mocorito. Media say Flores was traveling with her boyfriend, a suspected hitman, when the shootout erupted. The boyfriend also died.
Joke proves no joke
A concourse at Miami International Airport was partially evacuated after a man allegedly joked that he had dynamite in his luggage. Miami-Dade police say 63-year-old Alejandro Hurtado, of Guatemala, made the remark on Monday when a TACA Airlines ticket agent asked if he was carrying any hazardous materials. Police say that when the agent told him he was calling police, Hurtado said he was only joking. Bomb squad officers responded and searched Hurtado’s bag but found no explosives. Hurtado was taken into custody and charged with falsely reporting a bomb at an airport.