‘Christmas spirit’ vandalized
Vandals have burned down for the 27th time a giant straw goat meant to symbolize the Christmas spirit. The 13m high and 3.6 tonne heavy straw goat was engulfed in flames early on Saturday after unidentified assailants attacked it in the town of Gavle, 150km north of Stockholm. The straw goat is a centuries-old Scandinavian yule symbol that preceded Santa Claus as the bringer of gifts. Since 1966, when the tradition of erecting the giant straw goat in the town square was introduced, vandals have burnt it down 27 times.
Gandalf scene re-enacted
It is almost like in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring: Gandalf stands in the way of the Balrog and tells him to “go back to the shadow” to buy time for fleeing Frodo Baggins and his companions. However, the scene is Warsaw, not the Mines of Moria. A prankster dressed as Gandalf stops a city tram, which represents the Balrog, and recreates the scene with several others dressed as Middle-earth characters. Tolkien’s Gandalf almost died in the confrontation, but the Warsaw practical joker, called SA Wardega, just irritated the tram driver. A YouTube video of the prank posted last week has gone viral with nearly 3 million views by Saturday, just days before Poland’s premiere of the The Hobbit film sequel.
Factory owners charged
Police yesterday charged the owners and 11 others over the nation’s worst garment factory fire that killed 111 people, after wrapping up an investigation 13 months after the tragedy. Police charged owners Delwar Hossain and his wife, along with security guards and managers over the blaze in November last year that gutted the Tazreen factory where workers stitched clothes for Western retailers including Walmart. “[Owners] Delwar and his wife Mahmuda Akter ... and 11 others have been charged with death due to negligence,” said A.K.M. Mohsinuzzaman Khan, police investigator in the case. The factory, on the outskirts of Dhaka, supplied clothes to a variety of international brands including US giant Walmart Stores Inc, Dutch retailer C&A and ENYCE, a label owned by US rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs.
Military removes Nazi image
The military has removed a picture from an army Web site in which one of its soldiers deployed in the Central African Republic was sporting an insignia with a Nazi slogan. The picture showed a soldier with his gun in his hand wearing a shoulder insignia bearing the French flag, the number 32 and the motto of Adolf Hitler’s SS — “My honor is called loyalty” — news channel BFMTV said. The army took the photo down on Friday. “This is an unacceptable attitude that doesn’t reflect the reality of the armed forces,” army spokesman Colonel Gilles Jaron said. He said the soldier would be “immediately suspended” as soon as he had been identified. “This soldier was wearing a shoulder insignia that isn’t part of the military uniform and which bore an inscription concerning an ideology that is unequivocally condemned,” he said. BFMTV said the army had posted the photo on its Facebook page for its overseas operations. The nation has deployed 1,600 soldiers to the Central African Republic, a former French colony, to bolster an African peacekeeping force that was struggling to deal with an outbreak of Christian-Muslim violence following a March coup by a mainly Muslim rebel group.
People smugglers caught
Authorities said on Saturday that they broke up a trafficking ring that brought foreigners, mostly Asians, into the nation intent on smuggling them into the US. Prosecutors said they detained seven Mexicans and three Bangladeshis accused of moving the migrants to the northern border with the US at a huge cost and in grim conditions. The migrants came from places like India, Bangladesh, Nepal and Pakistan, as well as Iran and Somalia, officials said. The ring was based in Mexico City and the Caribbean coastal state of Quintana Roo, prosecutors said. In a raid police found 13 people — two from India, five from Bangladesh and six from Nepal — held in unhealthy conditions waiting to be moved by traffickers. It was not immediately known how many people were trafficked over what time period. At least 140,000 people enter the country every year trying to reach the US, according to official estimates.
Manatee deaths rise
The number of manatee deaths in Florida has topped 800 for the first time since such record-keeping began in the 1970s. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in St Petersburg said 803 manatee deaths have been recorded this year. That is about 16 percent of the state’s estimated population of 5,000 manatees. Martine DeWit of the institute’s Marine Mammal Pathology Laboratory told the Tampa Bay Times that 173 of the dead animals were breeding-age females. It was unclear what effect these deaths will have on the endangered species’ population. The previous record for manatee deaths was 766, set in 2010 after a lengthy cold snap. Scientists blame a massive bloom of red tide algae in southwest Florida and a mysterious ailment affecting manatees in the Indian River Lagoon for this year’s deaths.
Sacked pastor invited west
A United Methodist pastor from central Pennsylvania who was defrocked after officiating his son’s gay wedding has been invited by a California Methodist bishop to serve in her region. Frank Schaefer says he is deciding whether to accept the offer from Bishop Minerva Carcano to join the California-Pacific Annual Conference. The region includes California, Hawaii and the Pacific Islands. Carcano does not have the authority to restore his credentials, but he says he would have the same rights. Schaefer on Friday appealed the decision of the church’s regional Board of Ordained Ministry to defrock him. A church jury suspended him for 30 days last month and told him to decide whether he would uphold the church’s Book of Discipline or resign. Schaefer refused to surrender his credentials.
Girl dies after shooting
A Colorado hospital said a suburban Denver high-school student has died more than a week after being shot by a classmate who then killed himself. Seventeen-year-old Claire Davis had been in critical condition after being shot at point-blank range at Arapahoe High School on Dec. 13. Friends and well-wishers had been posting prayers online and raising money to help pay for her medical care. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said Davis appeared to be a random target. Authorities said 18-year-old Karl Pierson was likely targeting a librarian, who had disciplined him, when he entered the school with a shotgun, a machete and three Molotov cocktails. Robinson said Pierson shot Davis before killing himself. The librarian escaped the school unharmed.