■ Afghanistan Civilians killed in airstrike \n \nAn American airstrike in an Afghan village earlier this month killed 10 civilians, President Hamid Karzai said yesterday. The US military had said it killed five militants during a Jan. 17 raid against suspected Taliban leaders in southern Uruzgan province and insisted it fired only on armed men. But Karzai said an Interior Ministry investigation into the attack, some 400km southwest of the capital, Kabul, established that 10 civilians had died. At the time of the raid, local officials had maintained that 11 civilians were killed: four men, four children and three women. "There are casualties unfortunately, according to the report that I have received, of civilians, of children and men and women," Karzai told reporters at his palace. \n \n■ North Korea \nGroups vow climactic fight \n \nNorth Korea's youth and female groups vowed a "death-defying" fight against the US while stressing closer ties with South Korea amid a standoff over the communist country's nuclear weapons development. "The most correct option and only way to defend the dignity and sovereignty of the country and the nation is a death-defying fight against the US," the state-run Central Committee of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League and the Central Committee of the Korean Democratic Women's Union said. \n \n■ Singapore \nWife arrested for false claim \n \nA mother of four was charged in Singapore with conspiracy to cheat three insurance firms after the Sri Lankan husband she maintained was dead for 16 years was sighted twice in Colombo. Renuga Devi Sinnaduray, 47, who lives in Singapore, was accused of collecting a life insurance payout of 330,000 Singapore dollars (US$195,000) during her court appearance on Friday, The Straits Times reported yesterday. A former lawyer who helped prepare documents for the insurance claim tipped the authorities off in June that the "dead" man had been sighted at least twice in Colombo. \n \n■ Hong Kong \nMan held over glass charge \n \nA German tourist has been arrested in Hong Kong for allegedly blackmailing several upscale hotels by claiming he was served food mixed with shattered glass, a police spokeswoman said yesterday. Officers arrested the man, who was not identified, on Friday as he picked up a HK$30,750 (US$3,942) check from a five-star hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui tourist district, police spokeswoman Margaret Ho said. Lamey Chang, a spokeswoman for The Peninsula, confirmed the arrest and the alleged blackmailing but refused to comment further. The man remains in custody and hasn't been charged, Ho said. \n \n■ Australia \nChina had `secret key' plan \n \nChina's first space traveller had permission to crash-land in the Australian outback, news reports said yesterday. An Australian newspaper said Canberra had a secret agreement with Beijing that provided for China's first astronaut to ditch his craft in the outback in an emergency. The paper said the government didn't tell the public of the disaster plan -- although it alerted emergency services to the possibility of a crash landing. In the event of a crash, a Chinese official from Canberra would have opened the capsule with a secret key. China insisted on having the official present to make sure Australian scientists could not steal any rocket technology secrets, the paper said. \n■ South Africa Snakes let loose in bank \n \nA disgruntled customer in Johannesburg caused chaos when he released five venomous snakes in a bank. A worker at the bank was stable in hospital after being bitten on a finger. The customer, Abel Manamela, had opened a briefcase to take out what was assumed to be yet more documentation in his dispute with the bank, but instead he tipped out the deadly puff adders. Customers and staff scrambled for safety. A bank spokesman said the bank had "a bit of a history with the gentleman" since one of its subsidiaries repossessed his car, prompting a series of confrontations with staff. \n \n■ Mexico \nJuarez killings investigated \n \nMexico appointed a special prosecutor on Friday to investigate the killings over the past decade of hundreds of women in a city on the Texas border. More than 300 women have been killed, one third of them in sexual crimes, in the past 10 years in the city of Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua state. Few of the murders have been solved. The appointment of Maria Lopez, a lawyer with a long career in state and federal criminal investigation, lifts the investigation to a federal level and goes over the heads of state investigators, whom many rights groups consider inefficient. \n \n■ United Kingdom \nWoman `too old' for puzzle \n \nA British mail order company has ruled an 84-year-old woman too old to buy a jigsaw, the Times reported yesterday. The company, Express Gifts, subsequently apologized for the decision by its customer service operator, which it said was a mistake, as the policy applied only to those over 90. "I thought they were joking at first but when I realized they were serious I was furious. I just put the phone down," Iris Milne, a former personal assistant, said. "I think it's discrimination. I'm perfectly capable of doing things for myself so why shouldn't I have a jigsaw?" the widow added. The company later issued a statement saying that the ban applied only to the over-90s because "they have trouble filling out forms." \n \n■ United States \nGibson film sparks outcry \n \nActor-director Mel Gibson says he was surprised by the intensity of controversy spawned by his forthcoming film, The Passion of the Christ, criticized by some Jewish leaders as a work that could incite anti-Semitism. "It kind of put me back on my heels a little bit," Gibson said in an interview featured in the March edition of Reader's Digest that hits newsstands on Feb. 24. The film makes its debut in North America on Feb. 25, Ash Wednesday. Jewish leaders in particular have expressed concern for months that the movie could spark anti-Semitism because it portrays Jews as responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus. \n \n■ Brazil \nRobbers use Bible \n \nThe Bible is mightier than the gun, at least for a group of Brazilian robbers. Unsure if their weapons had caused enough fear, robbers who broke into a monastery made a priest swear on the Bible that he had handed over all the money, police said on Friday. The 15 hooded men who stole some US$6,200 from a secluded Catholic monastery near the town of Guaratingueta in Sao Paulo state were apologetic. "They were asking the priests to forgive them during the robbery, saying they were only doing it because they needed the money," said a police investigator. \n■ United Nations Council wants terror reports \n \nThe Security Council set a March 31 deadline for nearly 100 countries to report on their enforcement of sanctions against al-Qaeda and the Taliban -- or be publicly named and shamed. A resolution adopted unanimously Friday by the council gives the committee that monitors sanctions new powers to assess what states are doing to implement the asset freeze, travel ban and arms embargo against the two groups and terror leader Osama bin Laden. The council has been concerned that almost 100 of the 191 UN member states have failed to submit reports on their actions to enforce sanctions. \n \n■ Saudi Arabia \nHajj reaches focal point \n \nPilgrims converged here Saturday for the central ritual of the hajj -- prayers and soul-searching at Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Muhammad preached his last sermon in 632. A pilgrimage to this gentle hill 20km southwest of Mecca is believed to represent the Day of Judgment, when Islam says every person will stand before Allah and answer for his deeds. "I could not wait to reach here; this is primarily what we came for," said Abdel Aziz al-Jezairi, an Egyptian. "This is the worst day for the devil. When he sees thousands of Muslims gathered in such a show of force and piety." \n \n■ Cuba \nCastro vows to `die fighting' \n \nCuban President Fidel Castro vowed on Friday to die fighting "with a gun in my hand" if the US invaded Cuba to overthrow his communist government. "I don't care how I die, but for sure, if they invade us, I will die fighting," the 77-year-old leader said at a meeting of anti-free trade activists from across the hemisphere. Castro, the target of CIA assassination attempts in the 1960s, called on US President George W. Bush to clarify its policy on assassinations. "It's an absurd declaration, as usual. According to Fidel Castro, he's going to die fighting, probably he's going to die talking," said Roger Noriega, assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. \n \n■ United States \nSwordsman nabs escapee \n \nJoshua Cary heard a noise in the basement, grabbed a sword from his big brother's collection and went downstairs to investigate. "I'm going to give you until the count of three to come out, or I'm going to stab you," he yelled Thursday, according to his mother, Rebecca Cary. Soon, a handcuffed man emerged, saying, "I didn't do it." Joshua led the man upstairs at sword-point. The man, Mark A. Brown, who had broken free after he was picked up on a parole violation, was taken back into custody. Cary said she was proud of her son, who went out afterwards for a celebratory night of bowling in this east-central Missouri town. \n \n■ United States \nLegislator touts feng shui \n \nMore hippy, dippy jokes about California might be on the way, thanks to a state lawmaker who wants building codes to consider feng shui. State Assemblyman Leland Yee, a Democrat representing San Francisco, has introduced a resolution that urges public building officials to accommodate feng shui -- the ancient Chinese art of designing structures and arranging objects to create harmonious energy flow. Yee said Friday he underestimated the controversy the legislation would bring when he introduced it earlier this month.
OFF BORDER ISLAND: The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel wearing a life jacket and leaving behind his shoes, indicating an intentional move, Seoul said North Korean soldiers shot dead a suspected South Korean defector at sea and burned his body as a COVID-19 precaution after he was interrogated in the water over several hours, Seoul military officials said yesterday. It is the first killing of a South Korean citizen by North Korean forces for a decade, and comes with Pyongyang at high alert over the COVID-19 pandemic and inter-Korean relations at a standstill. The fisheries official disappeared from a patrol vessel near the western border island of Yeonpyeong on Monday, the official said. More than 24 hours later, North Korean forces located him in their waters and
ACADEMIC FREEDOM: One professor told her students to submit anonymized papers and not to record any online classes. Some US schools have announced similar steps Students at Oxford University specializing in the study of China are being asked to submit some papers anonymously to protect them from the possibility of retribution under the sweeping new security law introduced three months ago in Hong Kong. The anonymity ruling is to be applied in classes, and group tutorials are to be replaced by one-to-ones. Students are also to be warned that it will be viewed as a disciplinary offence if they tape classes or share them with outside groups. The Hong Kong National Security Law was imposed on June 30 by Beijing after more than a year of pro-democracy
Japan’s government yesterday urged people to seek help if they were struggling to cope, following Sunday’s death of the popular actress and Miss Sherlock star Yuko Takeuchi, 40. News of her death shocked the nation and follows other recent cases of Japanese celebrities taking their lives, with figures showing a recent rise in suicides. Takeuchi was a household name in Japan and had given birth to her second child in January. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato did not mention a particular case, but said that some people were struggling to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There has been an uptick in the number
China on Thursday lashed out at the US at a high-level UN meeting over its criticism on the COVID-19 pandemic, with its envoy declaring, “Enough is enough.” Two days after US President Donald Trump used his annual address to the General Assembly to attack China’s record, US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, also took an outraged tone — after which her Chinese counterpart showed palpable anger. “I must say, enough is enough. You have created enough troubles for the world already,” Chinese Ambassador to the UN Zhang Jun (張軍) told a Security Council meeting on global governance attended through videoconference