Russia threatens travel ban
The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday said that it will ban visa-free travel for the country’s officials to the disputed Kuril islands if it continues to make statements assuming ownership of the islands. The two countries have been involved in a decades-old dispute over islands north of Hokkaido, known as Kuril in Russia and referred to as the Northern Territories in Japan. “If for some reason Japanese politicians cannot refrain from making public statements on the subject of the islands after a visit to Russian territory, we reserve the right to limit their participation in such trips,” the ministry said in a statement.
Murder ‘scapegoats’ freed
Two men wrongly convicted for the 2004 murder of a prominent opposition activist walked free yesterday, one day after the country’s Supreme Court ordered their release. The court’s decision to drop all charges came amid renewed calls to free the men, whom leading international rights groups have called “scapegoats” in the murder of Chea Vichea and one of many examples of the country’s corrupt judicial system. Chea Vichea was the leader of the largest labor union, the Free Trade Union of Workers, and an outspoken critic of government corruption and human rights abuses. He was gunned down in broad daylight on Jan. 22, 2004. Within a week, two men — Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun — were arrested. The investigation that followed the pair’s arrest nearly a decade ago sparked local and international outcry, as did the trial. None of the prosecution witnesses appeared, providing only written testimonies that could not be challenged in court. Several of those present for the defense were rejected. In 2005, the men were convicted and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Copter crashes near Everest
A helicopter crashed while attempting to land near Mount Everest yesterday, injuring all four people on board, Nepalese police said. The helicopter belonging to local Dynasty Airlines was attempting to land at Lukla airport when it got caught in a wire fence, police official Badri Bikram Thapa said. The helicopter crashed and caught fire, but the four on board — all Nepalese nationals — managed to escape. One of them was critically injured and has been flown by rescue helicopter to Kathmandu for treatment. The tiny airstrip at Lukla carved out of the side of the mountain and located at an altitude of 2,843m, has earned a reputation as one of the most extreme and dangerous airports in the world.
Blow-up concert hall to open
A giant purple structure believed to be the world’s first inflatable concert hall is to open on the country’s disaster-hit northeastern coast, promoters said on Wednesday. British sculptor Anish Kapoor and Japanese architect Arata Isozaki created the unusual Ark Nova, a balloon made of a coated polyester material that has been erected at a park in the town of Matsushima. The structure, which organizers say is a world’s first, measures about 18m high and 35m wide when fully inflated, with room for about 500 guests. It can be easily deflated and travel around the region to host events that “help bring people together,” a press statement said. Wood from the area’s damaged cedar trees will be used for seating. The first event will run from Friday through Oct. 14, including performances by the Sendai Philharmonic Orchestra and traditional kabuki theater.
FBI releases shooter video
The FBI released surveillance video and photos of Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis on Wednesday and said he believed electromagnetic waves had been controlling him for months before the rampage that killed 12 people. There are no signs that Alexis, 34, was targeting anybody in the Sept. 16 shooting at the Navy Yard in southeast Washington, said Valerie Parlave, the FBI assistant director in charge of the Washington field office. “We have found relevant communications on his electronic media, which referenced the delusional belief that he was being controlled or influenced by extremely low frequency electromagnetic waves for the past three months,” Parlave told a press conference.
Bush a witness at wedding
A spokesman said former president George H.W. Bush was an official witness at the same-sex wedding of two longtime friends in Maine. Jim McGrath said Bush and his wife, Barbara, attended the ceremony on Saturday joining Bonnie Clement and Helen Thorgalsen. He said they were there as private citizens and friends. A photo posted on Sunday on Thorgalsen’s Facebook page shows Bush signing the marriage license as a witness. She captioned the photo: “Getting our marriage license witnessed.” The 41st president has deep ties to the area and owns a compound in Kennebunkport. Thorgalsen and Clement own a general store in neighboring Kennebunk.
Tax office rocked by blast
A bomb exploded early yesterday outside a tax office in northern Athens, causing material damage, but no injuries, police said. The explosion in Kifissia district was preceded by telephone warnings placed by an anonymous caller to a news Web site, a daily newspaper and police said. According to the Web site Zougla.gr, which received one of the calls, the explosive was placed in a bag outside the building. Such attacks are often blamed on the local extremist or anarchist movement.
Pigs terrorize neighborhood
Wild pigs have descended on a suburban Atlanta neighborhood where they are scaring children, making a general nuisance of themselves and acting as they if they own the place. One large specimen was sighted on Monday morning rummaging through garbage it had strewn across Taneisha Danner’s front yard in Lithonia, east of downtown Atlanta. It then trotted into the backyard, taking a nap, before returning with three other pigs from a patch of nearby woods, Danner said on Tuesday. “This is their home,” Danner joked. “We’re just visiting.” However, she said the animals are no laughing matter for neighborhood children, noting that some are now afraid to leave the safety of their homes.
Feces protects termite nests
Scientists trying to understand why destructive wood-eating termites are so resistant to efforts to exterminate them have come up with an unusually repugnant explanation. Termites’ practice of building nests out of their own feces creates a scatological force field that Florida scientists now believe is the reason biological controls have failed to stop their pestilential march all over the world. A nine-year study concluded that termite feces act as a natural antibiotic, growing good bacteria in the subterranean nests that attack otherwise deadly pathogens, according to the findings published this month in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.