Mayor sorry over toxic leak
The mayor of Changzhi in Shanxi Province has apologized for taking five days to report a chemical leak that has affected another city’s drinking water supply, Xinhua news agency said yesterday. The mayor said the polluter had informed the municipal government of the leak on Dec. 31, but that they had underestimated its severity. Xinhua said the city was required to report the leak to the provincial environmental authority within two hours. About 9 tonnes of aniline had leaked into a river and contaminated the water supply in Handan City, Hebei Province, by the time the incident became public on Saturday. The water still could not be used yesterday, Xinhua said.
Girl finds ‘human head’
Police were carrying out forensic tests yesterday after a young girl found what is believed to be a human head washed up on a beach in a plastic bag. The gruesome discovery was made at Porpoise Bay on Sunday by the girl, who was holidaying on Rottnest Island off Perth in Western Australia with her family. “We believe it to be the remains of a human head,” Inspector Denise Grant said, the West Australian newspaper reported. “However, we are yet to confirm this. We can’t confirm it until the forensic pathologists have finished their examination.” Police would not confirm what the remains were held in, but reports said it was “double bagged.”
Infant survives python attack
A toddler had a lucky escape after being attacked by a python. Snake handler Tex Tillis said the two-year-old girl’s mother woke at 3am on Saturday to find the 1.85m reptile attached to her child as they lay in bed in Lismore. “She saw three coils of what looked like a snake around her baby’s arm,” Tillis said yesterday. “She went for what she thought was the snake’s head” in the dark, but ended up grabbing the snake below the head, he said. “It immediately started to constrict the baby’s arm and to bite the baby,” he said. “The mother then very, very courageously ... pulled the snake off the baby.” Tillis said the mother did not know the snake was non-venomous when she ripped it off her child and flung it into the corner of the room. The toddler was taken to hospital, but suffered only three superficial wounds, said Tillis, adding that he later took the reptile to visit the child and her mother, who named it Cecil.
Customs seize rhino horns
Authorities seized 18 million baht (US$586,000) worth of rhino horn from a passenger’s luggage at a Bangkok airport. Customs officer Khanit Isdul said on Sunday that officials acting on a tip-off found four rhino horns in the passenger’s luggage at Suvarnabhumi International Airport. Officials arrested Phan Quangloc, a 56-year-old Vietnamese passenger who arrived with the case from Ethiopia on Sunday. He is expected to face a jail term if convicted of smuggling.
Kim sends sweets on b-day
Leader Kim Jong-un has sent 1kg of sweets to every child to mark his birthday today, carrying on a tradition started by his grandfather, state media reported. A radio report by the North Korean Central Broadcasting Station, monitored in Seoul yesterday, said Kim had mobilized aircraft to ensure that each child in the country aged 10 or under received the candy gift in time. Villagers in outlying islands “exploded with joy” at the confectionery airlift, the report said.
Obama signs Sandy aid bill
President Barack Obama signed a bill on Sunday approving US$9.7 billion in emergency disaster aid for victims of Hurricane Sandy, after a delay sparked outrage among East Coast Republicans against their own party leadership. The new law provides the Federal Emergency Management Agency with funds to pay the flood insurance claims of thousands of victims of last year’s killer storm. It also boosts the borrowing authority of the depleted National Flood Insurance Program, which is meant to cover the roughly 120,000 Sandy-related claims filed to date. Yet it is just a small wedge of the comprehensive US$60.4 billion package sought by the White House for victims of the storm. The Senate approved a larger bill on Dec. 28, but House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, stung by negotiations over the “fiscal cliff,” refused to bring it to the floor. The remaining US$51 billion in aid is to be put to a vote on Tuesday next week.
Lizard smuggler convicted
A court has convicted a German tourist of trying to smuggle four threatened iguanas out of the Galapagos Islands in his luggage, authorities said on Sunday. Dirk Bender was convicted “of having altered the local ecosystem of the archipelago,” park authorities said. The Galapagos National Park has requested the maximum four-year jail term for Bender, who should be sentenced in the coming days. Bender was arrested at the airport on Baltra Island on July 8 last year after park officials noticed him carrying a suspicious package. The reptiles in the package were Galapagos Land Iguanas (conolophus subcristatus), which the International Union for Conservation of Nature ranks as “vulnerable” on its Red List of Threatened Species. The yellowish lizards can grow to be more than 1m long, and weigh up to 13kg.
Riots continue in Belfast
Violence flared for the fourth night running in Northern Ireland on Sunday, hours after politicians and church leaders held talks in a bid to quell a row over Belfast Council’s decision to limit the days it flies the British flag each year. The ruling is viewed by pro-British groups as a concession too far to republicans. After three nights of rioting and attacks on police, Northern Irish chief police officer Matt Baggott said 52 officers had been injured, but warned that his force would deal firmly with the violence for as long as it was necessary. The discussions aimed at ending the violence took place at a Belfast church, but Robin Newton of the Democratic Unionist Party said a lack of engagement from protest organizers was making it difficult to see an end to the unrest.
Putin celebrates Christmas
President Vladimir Putin visited a convent as millions of Russians celebrated Orthodox Christmas overnight from Sunday. The Orthodox Church still follows the Julian calendar, meaning that Christmas Day falls on Jan. 7 instead of Dec. 25. In a televised Christmas message to Russians, Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill called on followers to preserve their faith “to ensure a progressive development of history, to prevent ruptures, disintegration and breaches of the historic fabric.” Putin lit a candle bare-headed and in an open-collared shirt along with parishioners in an icon-lined church outside of Sochi. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and his wife, Svetlana, attended the main Christmas service led by Patriarch Kirill in Moscow’s Christ the Saviour cathedral, along with more than 5,000 worshipers.