Aid workers missing in Syria
Aid group Gruenhelme e.V. said three of its staff have been missing in Syria for 45 days and were likely kidnapped. The group said Bernd Blechschmidt, Ziad Nouri and Simon S — whose last name was not provided — were taken by unknown persons from the town of Harem in Idlib District on May 14. The group’s founder, Rupert Neudeck, told reporters on Saturday that a fourth staff member managed to avoid capture and is safe. Neudeck said the group kept the kidnapping secret so as not to jeopardize the three staff’s safety, but all efforts to determine who they are being held by were unsuccessful. Gruenhelme e.V. specializes in reconstructing schools and medical facilities in war zones.
Police seize illegal medicine
Police on Saturday said they had seized hundreds of thousands of packets of unlicensed medicine illegally imported from China and India, including erection aids and slimming products. The Civil Guard “seized more than 250,000 units of illegal medicine, mostly related to erectile dysfunction, slimming and abortion practices,” it said in a statement. About one-quarter of the drugs seized came from India and more than half from China, which the police said were mainly destined for the large Chinese expatriate community. Police seized the medicines throughout three weeks of raids at shops and airports after an operation in 30 countries coordinated by Interpol and Europol. They shut down 26 Web sites selling unauthorized medicines. On June 23, police said they had broken up a network selling sports doping products imported from China, Portugal and Greece. They arrested 84 people and seized hundreds of thousands of doses of drugs.
Rail staff sentenced for crash
A court in Assiut sentenced two railway workers to 10 years in prison on Saturday over a train crash that killed 52 people when a bus full of schoolchildren was hit in November last year. The court found Sayed Radwan and Hussein Abdel Rahman guilty of manslaughter and endangerment of public transport. It sentenced each to 10 years prison and fined them about US$14,000. In The speeding train crashed into a bus carrying children to their kindergarten. The crash led to local protests and accusations from outraged citizens that President Mohammed Morsi was failing to respond to demands for basic rights made in the 2011 uprising.
Officer killed in Chechnya
Rebels have killed a policeman and injured 14 others in Chechnya, police said on Saturday, in a rare clash in the now mostly calm North Caucasus republic which is close to the venue for next year’s Winter Olympics. Moscow waged two wars against separatist rebels in mainly Muslim Chechnya in the 1990s, but the province has been fairly peaceful in recent years as Islamist insurgents have turned their focus to the nearby regions of Dagestan and Ingushetia. This month, President Vladimir Putin put security forces on high alert to safeguard the Games due to take place in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. A police spokesman said by telephone from Grozny, the Chechen capital, that a police patrol had run into a band of rebels in the southern Shatoi District. “They [the rebels] were ordered to put down their weapons, but instead they opened fire,” he said. The Ministry of the Interior said security forces were pursuing the rebels in a mountainous forest region.
Suspected rapist arrested
Authorities say they have arrested a 23-year-old lifeguard accused of raping seven people since April. Police said in a statement late on Friday that Jermaine Bowen was already out on bail on previous abduction and rape charges when he was arrested. It is unclear if he has an attorney. Police said he was arrested on Wednesday in the northwest parish of St James.
Columbus statue taken down
Workers in Buenos Aires took down a controversial statue of Christopher Columbus for restoration on Saturday. The engineer in charge of the operation, Juan Arriegue, says the 38 tonne, 6m-high statue of the Italian explorer was lifted using cranes and will be stored beneath its pedestal behind the Government House. Arriegue told the newspaper La Nacion that the statue “will not be moved to another location, we are only going to submit it to a restoration process.” The statue has become a political flashpoint between the leftist government of President Cristina Fernandez and conservative Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri. Fernandez’s government sought to have the statue moved and replaced by a statue of guerrilla leader Juana Azurduy donated by Bolivia. However, both the country’s Italian community and officials in Buenos Aires said the statue belonged to the city, not the federal government. A court issued an injunction temporarily blocking its transfer to another location.
Beaver causes outage
Officials have finally identified the culprit behind a 20-hour Internet and cellphone outage last week in northern New Mexico — an eager beaver. CenturyLink spokesman David Gonzales said on Friday that a beaver chewed through the fiber line. He says the evidence was discovered by contractors who worked to repair the outage. Officials say more than 1,800 Internet users were affected by the blackout. The number of cellphone users without service during that time is still unknown.
AMPAS invites Prince
Pop veteran Prince and singer-actress Jennifer Lopez are among the artists that have been invited to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), the body that runs the Oscars announced on Friday. Lucy Liu, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and British actress Emily Mortimer were also among 276 new members invited to join the film industry’s most prestigious club, as was veteran French actress Emmanuelle Riva. Directors invited include Benh Zeitlin, who made last year’s Oscar-nominated Beasts of the Southern Wild, and Todd Phillips, of the blockbuster Hangover movies, the last of which came out last month. “These individuals are among the best filmmakers working in the industry today,” said Hawk Koch, head of the Academy, which has about 6,000 members who vote annually for the Oscars, the climax of Hollywood’s awards season. “Their talent and creativity have captured the imagination of audiences worldwide. I am proud to welcome each of them to the Academy.” The new members, in categories including everything from cinematographers and producers to make-up artists and publicists, “have distinguished themselves by their contributions to theatrical motion pictures,” the Academy said. The new members will be welcomed into the Beverly Hills-based Academy at an invitation-only reception in September.