Bird flu spreads easier: WHO
WHO officials say a lethal new strain of bird flu that emerged in the country over the past month appears to spread more easily from birds to humans than the one that started killing people in Asia a decade ago. Scientists are watching the H7N9 virus closely to see if it could spark a global pandemic, but say that so far there is little evidence to show the virus can spread easily from human to human. Health officials at a news conference yesterday in Beijing said they believe the infections with the H7N9 strain are primarily taking place at live poultry markets. The virus has infected more than 100 people in the country, seriously sickening most of them, and killing about 20 — mostly near the eastern coast around Shanghai.
Ang Lee joins Cannes jury
Oscar-winning Taiwanese Hollywood movie director Ang Lee and actress Nicole Kidman and will join Steven Spielberg next month on the Cannes film festival jury, organizers said yesterday. Australian Kidman won the best actress Academy Award for her portrayal of author Virginia Woolf in The Hours, while Lee was named best director earlier this year for his fantasy epic Life of Pi. Lee, who has spent almost his entire professional career abroad, also won a best director Oscar for the gay cowboy drama Brokeback Mountain, while his kung fu epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won best foreign language film. The jury, headed by Spielberg, will award the coveted Palme d’Or to one of the 19 films in competition at the May 15 to May 26 festival.
Protest raided, 44 dead
Government forces stormed a Sunni Muslim protest camp on Tuesday, triggering a gunfight between troops and demonstrators that spread to army clashes with Sunni militants and killed 44 people. The fighting was the bloodiest Iraq has seen since thousands of Sunni Muslims started staging protests in December last year to demand an end to perceived marginalization of their sect by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. The defense ministry said fighting erupted when troops opened fire early on Tuesday after coming under attack from gunmen during a raid on the makeshift protest camp in a square in Hawija, near Kirkuk.
Legislators oppose quake aid
Lawmakers fiercely opposed a plan yesterday to donate money to the Sichuan Provincial Government for earthquake victims, underlining widespread public concerns about mainland corruption. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) proposed donating HK$100 million (US$13 million) to the Sichuan Provincial Government for relief efforts following an earthquake on Saturday that struck Lushan County, killing at least 192 people. Lawmakers opposed giving money to government officials because of fears about corruption and misuse of funds. They said they would prefer that the money be channeled to aid groups and non-governmental organizations. The debate marks a sharp change in sentiment compared with reactions to previous disasters, such as the earthquake that struck Sichuan in 2008, killing 90,000 people. Following that quake, “the government donated HK$9 billion in return for scandals and also a lot of substandard projects,” Legislator Kwok Ka-ki (郭家麒) said. Hong Kongers were especially miffed after learning early last year that a Sichuan secondary school built in 2010 with HK$2 million in quake relief funds was later torn down to make way for a luxury housing development.
Suspected gunman caught
Police yesterday announced the capture of a gunman suspected to have killed six people in an attack in a busy town center, after a massive manhunt lasting more than 24 hours. Convicted criminal Sergei Pomazun, 31, was shown on TV pinned down by police who found him trying to board a freight train in the city of Belgorod, close to the Ukrainian border, where the shootings took place. “I didn’t shoot children. I was shooting at hell,” the wild-eyed man said in comments broadcast on the Rossiya 1 channel. He is believed to be the gunman who opened fire in a hunting store on Monday before going outside and shooting passersby, including two girls aged 14 and 16, who both died, before fleeing in a car. Investigators said that Pomazun took a hunting rifle belonging to his father. He shot dead three staff in a hunting store, before taking at least one more gun from the store and shooting passersby who witnessed his getaway in his father’s BMW car. Pomazun seriously wounded one policeman with a knife during his capture late on Tuesday.
Navalny’s trial reopens
A court yesterday reopened the trial on embezzlement charges of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who may face up to a decade in jail if convicted, but says the accusations were drawn up by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The prosecution accuses the 36-year-old, who has emerged as the most charismatic figure in the anti-Putin protest movement, of causing a loss of US$500,000 to a regional government while acting as an advisor in a timber deal. The trial, held about 900km from Moscow in the northern city of Kirov, opened last week, but was quickly adjourned after Navalny’s defense said they needed more time to study the case.
Manhunt victims get millions
Two women hurt during a manhunt for a gunman who staged a deadly revenge plot against Los Angeles police have reached a US$4.2 million settlement, authorities said on Tuesday. On Feb. 7, as the hunt was on for former police officer Christopher Dorner in California, Margie Carranza, 47, and her mother Emma Hernandez, 71, were delivering newspapers. Police shot at their blue Toyota Tacoma, in what turned out to be a major mistake — the women had the same vehicle as the suspect. Hernandez was shot twice, while Carranza was wounded by broken glass shards. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich and Glen Jonas, a lawyer for the women, said the settlement was reached to avoid a long and costly trial, and that the women would share the US$4.2 million. Given the mother’s age, it was preferable to avoid long legal proceedings, Jonas said.
President punches minister
The muscle-bound Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov boasted on Tuesday that he had challenged a minister to a sparring session to punish him for errors, posting photographs of their punch-up on his Instagram page. Kadyrov wrote in a message on Instagram that he held the sparring session as a “pep talk” with the minister, who he accused of poorly maintaining his ministry’s building. “With a left and a right hook I explained to him ... that you need to use your head,” he wrote. Russia’s NTV on Tuesday aired footage of Kadyrov in the ring with Chechen Minister of Sports and Physical Culture Salambek Ismailov, who appeared to pull his punches, while Kadyrov aimed blows at his face and groin.