Food subsidy plan passed
The upper house of parliament on Monday approved a US$20 billion scheme to distribute subsidized wheat and rice to 800 million people, backing anti-malnutrition drive that investors fear will mean missing the fiscal deficit target. The Food Security Bill is seen as a vote winner by the ruling Congress party as it prepares for elections due by May next year. Investors are worried that the government will struggle to contain the cost of subsidies. Before the bill becomes law it must be signed by the president, but that is a formality.
Warm winter sets record
Scientists yesterday said the nation had its warmest winter since record-keeping began more than a century ago. The average nationwide temperature was 9.5?C for June, July and last month. That is about 1.2?C above average and 0.3?C above the previous record set in 1984, the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research said. Record-keeping began in 1909. The winter had a pattern of warmer winds from the north, but fewer southerly winds, which typically bring cold air from Antarctica, institute climate scientist Brett Mullan said. He said he believes that global weather remains variable but is in a warming pattern.
Search set for dead miners
The government yesterday announced plans to re-enter a coal mine where 29 men died in an explosion three years ago, but Resources Minister Simon Bridges warned there was little chance of finding any remains. The proposal follows lobbying by families of the men killed in the blast at the Pike River colliery in November 2010 to recover the victims of the nation’s worst mining disaster in almost a century. Bridges said the government had agreed to fund a NZ$7.2 million (US$5.6 million) plan to send a recovery team more than 2km up the mine shaft. He said a rockfall had blocked the shaft at that point and the team would not go beyond it to the coalface, where most of the bodies are believed to be located. Work to allow re-entry into the mine is set to begin next month.
Former development secretary minister Mak Chai-kwong (麥齊光) has appealed against a conviction for housing allowance fraud, his lawyer said yesterday, in a case which has put the territory’s clean image under scrutiny. Mak, 63, was last month given an eight-month suspended prison sentence for defrauding the government of HK$700,000 (US$90,300) by “cross-leasing” apartments with a colleague when he was a civil servant in the 1980s. The pair leased apartments from each other’s wives in order to claim the government rental allowance. The appeal hearings are expected to begin next year. Mak’s arrest in July last year, less than two weeks after he was sworn in, rocked the territory. He is the highest-ranking former government official to be convicted of a criminal offence since the 1997 handover to China.
Xi heads to Central Asia
President Xi Jinping (習近平) headed to Central Asia yesterday ahead of a G20 summit in Russia that begins tomorrow. His first stop was Turkmenistan, but he will also visit Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, Xinhua news agency and the China Daily newspaper said. Xi was set to sign agreements on oil, natural gas, transport and investment during his visits.
Militia leader survives attack
Wisam al-Hardan, a prominent militia leader opposed to al-Qaeda, on Monday escaped an assassination attempt in Baghdad, which killed six of his body guards and one civilian and wounded eight people, authorities said. Ozturk Yilmaz, the head of the Turkish consulate in Mosul, also avoided injury when a roadside bomb exploded as he traveled in a convoy in the northern city. No one was hurt in the bomb blast that damaged one of the vehicles, said a police official and a consulate official, who both spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. Seven more people were killed and 15 wounded on Monday in separate bouts of violence.
‘Walkie Talkie’ melts car
A cluster of new skyscrapers transforming the London skyline are often blamed for spoiling the view. Now one has been accused of “melting” a car. Motorist Martin Lindsay told the BBC that intense sunlight reflected from the “Walkie Talkie” — one of several flashy towers under construction in the City, London’s historic financial district — warped the wing mirror, panels and badge of his Jaguar, which he had parked across the road. The developers of the 37-floor skyscraper said they were seeking to rectify the problem.
Menem faces more charges
Another trial began on Monday for former president and convicted arms trafficker Carlos Menem. This time he is charged with falsifying his official declaration of wealth in 2000. Menem allegedly failed to mention four bank accounts, two properties, two ultra-light airplanes, stock in telecom companies and two vehicles. One of the bank accounts was opened in Liechtenstein with US$6 million while he was president in the 1990s. The 83-year-old senator faces a six-year sentence if convicted, but his defense argues that too much time has passed to try him now. For now, Menem remains free despite the seven-year sentence he received in June after being convicted of smuggling weapons while he was president to Croatia and Ecuador when those countries were subject to international embargos.
Cabinet reshuffle approved
Parliament approved late on Monday a reshuffled Cabinet of Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, tasked with reviving the country’s ailing economy and leading it closer to EU membership. After a three-day debate, the 250-seat parliament approved the government reshuffle including 11 new ministers. The reshuffle comes 13 months after Dacic’s government, praised for reaching a historic EU-mediated accord with breakaway Kosovo in April, took over.
Frogs hear with mouths
Some of the tiniest frogs on Earth have no middle ears or eardrums, but can hear by using their mouths, scientists said on Monday. Researchers thought that Gardiner’s frogs, which are about 1cm long and live in the rainforests of the Seychelles, might be deaf. However, advanced X-ray images showed that unlike other frogs, neither the lungs or the muscles of the Gardiner frogs help transmit sound to their inner ears. Instead, scientists realized that the frog’s mouth acts as an amplifier for the frequencies the frog emits. “The combination of a mouth cavity and bone conduction allows Gardiner’s frogs to perceive sound effectively without use of a tympanic middle ear,” Renaud Boistel of the University of Poitiers said.