River awash with dead fish
Authorities have scooped up about 100,000kg of dead fish they say were poisoned by ammonia from a chemical plant, environmental officials and state media said on Wednesday, in a reminder of the pollution plaguing the country. The Hubei Province Environmental Protection Department, notified of the piles of dead fish in the Fuhe River on Monday, pointed the finger at local company Hubei Shuanghuan Science and Technology Stock Co. Officials said sampling of its drain outlet showed that ammonia density far exceeded the national standard. The incident has affected the nearby fishing village of Huanghualao, where 1,600 residents make a living from fishing. The environmental department warned the public not to eat the dead fish, but said drinking water was not affected.
First robot speaks in space
A pint-sized android has uttered the first robotic words in space, showcasing Japan’s drive to combine cutting-edge technology with cuteness. The wide-eyed and bootie-wearing “Kirobo” — roughly the size of a chihuahua — broadcast a message from inside the International Space Station, greeting citizens of Earth and paying cheeky tribute to Neil Armstrong. “On Aug. 21, 2013, a robot took one small step toward a brighter future for all,” Kirobo said in a video that showed the humanoid creation drifting weightlessly onboard the pace station as it moved its legs in the air.
Tourist handed jail sentence
A 24-year-old American tourist was sentenced to nine months in prison on Wednesday for a series of sexual offenses against women at backpacker hostels. Michael Williams faced multiple charges of molesting and invading the privacy of five women between April and June this year. District Judge Eddy Tham said the stiff jail sentence took into account the fact that the offenses took place while the victims were in a “vulnerable position.” Court documents said one victim, a 23-year-old Chinese, caught Williams filming her with his mobile phone from an adjacent cubicle while she was showering. At another hostel, Williams was caught stroking the buttocks of a 29-year-old Singaporean woman while she was sleeping. In another incident, a Polish female tourist staying at a hostel felt her blanket being lifted while she was asleep on June 13 and someone gently stroking her back. Lawyer Amarjit Singh Sidhu said the American said he was “drunk and foolish” when he committed the offenses. He had refused legal representation because he wanted to complete his sentence and return to the Philippines where he lives with his wife, the lawyer said.
Spiritual guru denied bail
A court on Wednesday denied bail to a popular spiritual guru charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old schoolgirl at a religious retreat, officials said. Asaram Bapu, 72, a self-styled Hindu “godman” who has a large number of followers, was arrested on Sunday in Indore, Rajasthan State. The court in Jodhpur rejected his petition for bail on the grounds that the girl was under age, court officials said. Asaram has insisted the victim was like his “granddaughter” and that he had never sexually assaulted her. The alleged attack took place on Aug. 15, police said. He told the parents he needed to meet their daughter alone after being told of concerns she was possessed by evil spirits, police said. Once alone in his room, the guru allegedly sexually assaulted the girl, who told her parents two days later.
Woman, money disappear
Authorities have been scrambling to track down a bank employee who has vanished along with US$1.1 million. Shokofa Salehi, 22, worked in the money transfer division at the headquarters of Azizi Bank, a major lender in Kabul, officials said. She disappeared around two months ago, according to Azizi chief executive Inayatullah Fazli. Investigators say she is suspected of transferring about US$1.1 million out of the bank’s coffers to accounts of relatives. Besides Salehi, at least nine people are believed to be involved in the case. An Interpol red notice describes authorities as seeking Salehi on charges of fraud and misusing her authority. Afghan officials believe Salehi used fake documents to reach India after transferring the money; her current whereabouts are unknown.
Hygiene, Alzheimer’s link
Improvements in hygiene could partly explain increased rates of Alzheimer’s disease seen in many developed countries, according to research into the link between infections and the condition. The researchers studied the prevalence of the disease across 192 countries and compared it with the diversity of microbes in those places. Taking into account differences in birth rate, life expectancy and age structure, the scientists found that levels of sanitation, infectious disease and urbanization accounted for 33 percent, 36 percent and 28 percent respectively of the discrepancies seen in Alzheimer’s rates between countries. They concluded that hygiene was positively associated with risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Countries with a greater degree of sanitation and lower prevalence of pathogens had a higher burden from the disorder. Countries with a greater degree of urbanization and wealth also had higher Alzheimer’s burdens. Exposure to micro-organisms is important for the body to develop proper immune responses. The research’s hygiene hypothesis suggests that as societies have become cleaner, the reduced level of contact with bacteria and other kinds of infectious agents might stall the development of elements of the immune system.
Parliament computer scandal
Parliamentary authorities monitored nearly 300,000 attempts to access pornography from their computers in the past year, official records show. The figures, released by the IT department for the Houses of Parliament, cover computers used by more than 1,300 lawmakers, their staff and other parliamentary employees. However, officials insisted the figures were inflated by Web sites automatically refreshing, while pop-up adverts not requested by users could also have added to the count. They are also investigating huge variation in the monthly number of attempts to access pornographic Web sites, with nearly 115,000 attempts in November last year, but only 15 in February this year.
Patient kills psychiatrist
Investigators say a patient stabbed his psychiatrist about 40 times, killing the woman during their appointment at a public health facility. Police said the attacker, a man in his 40s with a history of drug and alcohol abuse and a criminal record for drug dealing, was subdued by a colleague of the 52-year-old doctor. She had been meeting privately with the patient on Wednesday in Bari, in the southern region of Puglia. Prosecutors said investigators were examining the attacker’s medical records to learn why he was under treatment. No motive for the attack was immediately known.