PM appeals to lawmakers
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh yesterday urged lawmakers to engage in “responsible” debate as the government seeks to push the annual budget and controversial economic reforms to spur the economy through parliament. Past parliamentary sessions have been stormy with lawmakers accusing the government of corruption, resulting in the passage of little legislation. “The way we conduct financial business before parliament will be a crucial test of how we deal with the formidable challenges we face,” he said, referring to an economy growing at a decade low and sharply deteriorating public finances. The nation is struggling to avert a ratings downgrade of its sovereign debt to junk status due to its worsening finances and growth expected to be as low as 5 percent in the fiscal year ending next month.
People told to flatten tombs
Villagers in Henan Province who secretly rebuilt tombs after they were flattened by officials to provide more farmland are being forced to pull them down again, local media reported yesterday. Local authorities caused an uproar last year when they demolished 2 million tombs, and residents re-erected hundreds of thousands of them over the Lunar New Year holiday, the Southern Metropolis Daily said. Officials halted the “flatten graves to return farmland” policy in November in the wake of the outcry. However, a report in the official Henan Daily newspaper said residents had “misunderstood” new rules on burials, wrongly believing that authorities would not act to remove rebuilt tombs. A local official quoted in the Southern Metropolis Daily said: “The action of flattening the tombs for the second time is proceeding. This started on Feb. 14 and is nearing completion.”
Netizens angry over trial
Netizens yesterday cried foul over the trial of an elderly man for an alleged murder decades ago during the Cultural Revolution. “The biggest murderer in the Cultural Revolution has no responsibility, while a common murderer is held accountable decades later,” attorney Liu Xiaoyuan (劉曉原) wrote on his microblog. The state-run China News Service reported on Wednesday that a man in his 80s, surnamed Qiu, had gone on trial in Zhejiang Province this week for the 1967 murder of a doctor suspected of being a spy. It said Qiu was a member of “an armed group” during the Cultural Revolution and was arrested in July last year. Another microblogger called Qiu a “pawn,” adding: “You don’t dare punish” people who should be held accountable such as senior officials. A woman at the People’s Court in Zhejiang City yesterday said the trial had been completed and a verdict could come in the next few days. “There is a high chance we will give him a suspended sentence,” she said, citing Qiu’s advanced age.
Gunmen kill eight soldiers
Unidentified gunmen yesterday shot dead eight soldiers and seriously wounded another in two separate incidents in Papua, provincial military spokesman Jansen Simanjuntak said. The first incident took place in Puncak Jaya District at 9:30am, when an armed group opened fire on a military post in Tingginambut Village, killing one soldier and injuring another, he said. The second attack occurred an hour later in the neighboring district of Sinak, about 60km away, when armed attackers shot at nine soldiers walking to a nearby airport, killing seven. Simanjuntak said the perpetrators had not been identified.
Man held over manatee pics
A Florida man who posted photographs on Facebook showing himself hugging a baby manatee was arrested on charges of harassing the endangered sea cow, wildlife officials said on Wednesday. A tipster saw the photos and alerted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which arrested Ryan William Waterman on a misdemeanor charge punishable by up to six months in jail and a US$500 fine. Waterman told television station WPEC that he meant no harm and did not know it was illegal to touch a manatee. The Florida Manatee Sanctuary Act prohibits molesting, harassing or disturbing manatees, which are classified as endangered in Florida and are also protected by federal laws.
Woman, 104, lies about age
Marguerite Joseph can be forgiven for lying about her age on Facebook. The 104-year-old Michigan woman’s granddaughter says Joseph is unable to list her real age on the social media site. Gail Marlow says when she tries to enter her grandmother’s birth year as 1908, Facebook changes it to 1928. So for the past two years, the centenarian has remained 99 — online, anyway. Joseph is legally blind and cannot hear well, but Marlow reads and responds to all of her Facebook messages. A Facebook official did not immediately respond to a message on Wednesday seeking comment.
Bear killed by gamekeepers
A brown bear dubbed Mike has been shot and killed by gamekeepers in a mountainous region in the southeast of the country after several run-ins with locals, officials said on Wednesday. Gamekeepers said Mike, given the name by creators of a Twitter account set up to track him, had increasingly pushed into populated areas and shown no fear of people, presenting a major safety risk. Mike’s adventures, such as breaking into beehives belonging to a school in the town of Poschiavo, were closely monitored after he was fitted with a tracking device in June. Last year, the bear unwittingly led Austrian police to a murder victim when he started a fire by knocking a tree onto a power line. Authorities decided he had to be put down after he broke into a Graubuenden home in November.
Royal penguin rescued
A thirsty and thin royal penguin has been found stranded on a beach more than 1,609km from its sub-Antarctic home. The penguin was found by hikers on Sunday and is now being cared for at the Wellington Zoo. Staff say it remains in a critical condition, emaciated and suffering from kidney failure. However, it has made small improvements each day. The penguin’s arrival has revived memories of another penguin, an emperor nicknamed Happy Feet, that arrived in 2011 and whose recovery at the zoo captured the hearts of many.
UK to hold on to Koh-i-Noor
British Prime Minister David Cameron says a giant diamond his country forced Indians to hand over in the colonial era that was set in a royal crown will not be returned. Speaking on the third and final day of a visit to the nation aimed at drumming up trade and investment, Cameron ruled out handing back the 105-carat Koh-i-Noor diamond, now on display in the Tower of London. The diamond had been set in the crown of Queen Elizabeth II’s late mother. One of the world’s largest diamonds, some Indians have demanded its return to atone for Britain’s colonial past.