■ South Korea
Three killed in collision
Three Chinese were killed and nine were missing after their ship collided with a South Korean vessel and sank, a South Korean coast guard official said yesterday. Five Chinese crew members were rescued by South Korean authorities. The collision of the two commercial vessels took place in the predawn hours yesterday a few kilometers west of South Korean islands in the Yellow Sea near the port of Inchon. A coast guard official gave no cause for the collision.
Legislation proposed by Muslim legislators to ban pornography and obscene acts will not affect whether scantily clad tourists can sunbathe on Bali, Vice President Jusef Kalla said yesterday. Kalla was responding to fears among members of the island's Hindu community that the bill would affect the tourism industry by criminalizing sunbathing, as well as being incompatible with its Hindu culture. The bill, drawn up by Muslim parties and clerics, also calls for prison terms and fines for kissing in public, among others.
Arroyo to ride out crisis
Embattled President Gloria Arroyo has rejected calls to resign and call snap elections to resolve a political standoff, her aides said yesterday. Critics and members of the opposition have been pressing Arroyo to quit over allegations she stole the presidential election in May 2004. Arroyo's political adviser Gabriel Claudio said on local television yesterday that the only way for snap elections to happen was if the Constitution was amended and for a change in the system of government to take place.
Buddha boy still AWOL
Hundreds of volunteers and police searched yesterday in a jungle of southern Nepal for a missing teenage boy who many believe is the reincarnation of Buddha, but failed to find any trace of him, an official said. Searchers have covered a large area around where the boy, Ram Bahadur Banjan, 15, was last seen on March 11 in a forest where he had meditated for the last 10 months, allegedly without food and water, local government official Harihar Dahal said. Dahal rejected claims by some of Banjan's followers that he had briefly appeared on Sunday about 3km from where he had been meditating and said he would return in six years. Banjan had been sitting cross-legged and motionless with his eyes closed since last May 17. Buddhist priests who visited him said the boy was not the incarnation of Buddha, but believed he had been meditating for months.
Mold menaces cherry trees
Japan's cherry trees are in danger of being wiped out in a decade unless measures are taken quickly to control a mold attacking them, the Flower Association of Japan reported in a survey yesterday. The contagious disease, known as witches' broom, slowly devours cherry trees by first taking away their ability to produce flowers, Kyodo News Agency reported. The demise of a national symbol of Japan would disappoint many who routinely gather under the cherry trees around the nation in March and April during the short blossom season.
■ South Korea
Bogus diploma ring busted
Some musicians may be singing the blues after prosecutors said they had broken up a crime ring selling bogus music diplomas from Russia, which helped many land university jobs and seats in orchestras. A 51-year-old woman, identified by her family name Do, was arrested at the weekend on suspicion of working with a dean of a Russian music college to provide fake master's degrees to about 120 South Koreans, Seoul prosecutors said. They said that Do operated a music academy in Seoul which helped students obtain a fake degree from a school in Vladivostok.
Peasant advocate on trial
A Chinese peasant who led his community in a two-year campaign to get better compensation for farmland seized by the government went on trial yesterday, a local court said. The case against Huang Weizhong (黃維忠), 46, opened in southeast China's Fujian Province amid rising frustration among the nation's farmers over their land being taken for commercial projects. "The trial started this morning," an official at the Chengxiang District Court told reporters by telephone yesterday. He declined to provide details or give his name. Prosecutors have charged that Huang "gathered crowds to disturb social order," according to Chinese Rights Defenders, an online network of Chinese citizens.
■ New Zealand
Attorney general resigns
David Parker, New Zealand's top lawmaker, resigned his Cabinet post as attorney general yesterday after admitting he had filed false documents on behalf of a property company he held shares in. Prime Minister Helen Clark told a news conference Parker had no sinister intent, did not harm anyone and did not gain personally from his action. But she said it was a mistake incompatible with his role as the country's top lawmaker and she had accepted his resignation.
A court sentenced a man to two years in prison on Sunday for operating a fake clinic that offered penis enhancements and so-called medical treatments to make people taller, which failed to work. Simon Sofer told dozens of clients he was a doctor and said he could add up to 10cm to their height or 6cm to their genitals, the Tel Aviv court said. His clinic, in operation since 1999, was not medically supervised, a government prosecutor had told the court. Sofer has appealed the conviction. He pre-charged patients 5,250 and 16,000 shekels (US$1,125 and US$3,430) to increase their height with a Russian-made treatment method.
Birth dearth prompts action
Political leaders vowed at the weekend to push through new policies to encourage people to have more children after alarming new data showed the country is bottom of the world's birth rate rankings. Figures issued by the Federal Statistics Office on Friday estimated that between 680,000 and 690,000 children were born in Germany last year, among the lowest birth rates per woman in the 25-nation EU and the lowest total since the office began measuring births in 1946. A separate demographic study published last week by the Berlin Institute for Population and Development put the country last in the global rankings of births per citizen.
■ United States
Woman stands trial again
A Houston, Texas woman accused of drowning her children in her bathtub went on trial a second time starting yesterday. Andrea Yates was convicted of capital murder in 2002, but the conviction was overturned because a forensic psychiatrist gave false testimony. Based on the appeals court ruling that overturned her conviction, prosecutors will be unable to seek the death penalty against her. If Yates is convicted again, the only possible sentence will be life in prison unless a lesser charge is considered. Yates, 41, who faces two capital murder charges, has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity, as she did in her first trial.
■ United States
Amazon yields to pressure
Amazon.com last week modified its search engine after an abortion rights organization complained that search results appeared skewed toward anti-abortion books. Until a few days ago, a search of Amazon's catalog of books using the word "abortion" turned up pages with the question, "Did you mean adoption?" at the top, followed by a list of books related to abortion. Amazon removed that question from the search results page after it received a complaint from a member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national organization based in Washington.
Overeating kills wildlife
A long-running drought has devastated livestock and wildlife but now a spurt of rains is killing animals too. Wardens at the Hell's Gate National Park, in Kenya's Rift Valley, say hungry animals ate too much when rains finally fell on parched lands in recent days. "Once the grass sprouted, the animals fed excessively and many died owing to bloat," Charles Muthui, senior warden at the park said. At least 70 animals in the wildlife park, mostly gazelles, have died from over-eating, the wardens say. Hell's Gate is dotted with carcasses of gazelles, zebras and buffaloes amid the newly-green vegetation.
Man held for `impaling' train
The director of a Moscow advertising company was arrested yesterday after his workmen drove a concrete post through a tunnel roof and impaled a speeding underground train. The company was erecting a billboard on the city's main Leningradsky Prospekt carriageway when they broke through to the metro system and hit the train, causing one car to burst into flames. Nobody was injured in the incident, which led to the closure of the line. Around 500 passengers were evacuated to a nearby station. The director of the company later admitted to police that his men were operating without necessary permits, prosecutors said.
Terror suspects trial starts
Twenty-six people were to go on trial yesterday for their suspected roles in helping Islamic militants in Chechnya, and possibly planning an attack in France. The defendants -- including a mother, a father and two of their children -- face charges of criminal association with ties to a terror group. The group's alleged chemicals expert, Menad Benchellali, has signaled unwillingness to appear in a Paris court. Deciding whether he must be present will be one of the first tasks of the presiding judge. Investigators feel certain the group planned an attack in Paris, but could not define the target. The Russian embassy, a police station or even the Eiffel Tower were mentioned in questioning, documents show.
`Al-Qaeda' trial begins
A court began trying a key Syrian al-Qaeda suspect yesterday on charges of masterminding suicide bombings that killed 58 people in Istanbul. Loa'i Mohammad Haj Bakr al-Saqa is standing trial along with 72 other suspected al-Qaeda militants blamed for a series of suicide bombings in Istanbul in 2003. Turkish prosecutors claimed that Osama bin Laden personally ordered al-Saqa, 32, to carry out terror attacks. Al-Saqa is accused of serving as a point man between al-Qaeda and Turkish militants behind the November 2003 bombings, which destroyed a British bank, the British Consulate and two synagogues, an indictment said.
■ United Kingdom
Internet campaign backfires
Two weeks ago Steve Williams became so fed up with his daughter's messy bedroom that he built a Web site featuring pictures of the room in an attempt to shame her into action. While it did spur his daughter, Claire, into tidying up her room, it also whetted her appetite for revenge. With the help of her father's friends, the 20-year-old has now set up a rival Web site that displays photos of her father in a variety of silly situations. Williams' site (www.shameit.com) has proved hugely popular, with nearly 40,000 hits to date.
■ United Kingdom
Car-share lane approved
The go-ahead has been given for the first car-share lane to be built on a UK motorway in a bid to ease mounting congestion, Transport Secretary Alistair Darling said yesterday. The 1.6km stretch -- which can only be used by vehicles carrying two or more people -- will open next year at the junction of the M606 and M62 motorways near Leeds in West Yorkshire. Highways Agency studies have shown that during rush hour periods, 84 percent of vehicles using the M62 and M606 motorways on this stretch had only one occupant. Darling said the police would rigorously monitor the lane to ensure the restrictions were enforced.
UNCERTAINTY: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken did not specify measures NATO might take, but many believe that the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project could be canceled The US has said it has evidence that Russia has made plans for a “large scale” attack on Ukraine and said NATO allies are “prepared to impose severe costs” on Moscow if it attempts an invasion. Speaking at a NATO ministers meeting in Latvia, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that it was unclear whether Russian President Vladimir Putin had made a decision to invade, but added: “He’s putting in place the capacity to do so in short order, should he so decide.” “So despite uncertainty about intention and timing, we must prepare for all contingencies while working to see to
‘TRAVEL APARTHEID’: Biden’s top medical adviser said the US was considering lifting restrictions on travel from African nations imposed after the variant was discovered The Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 is rapidly spreading throughout the US, but early indications suggest it might be less dangerous than the Delta variant, which continues to drive a surge of hospitalizations, US health officials said on Sunday. US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci told CNN’s State of the Union that scientists need more information before drawing conclusions about Omicron’s severity. Reports from South Africa, where it emerged and is becoming the dominant strain, suggest that hospitalization rates have not increased alarmingly. “Thus far, it does not look like there’s a great degree of severity to it,” Fauci
South African hospitals are bracing for a surge in admissions as the Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 drives a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections and as more evidence emerges about the severity of the illness caused by the strain. The seven-day moving average of daily new cases in the country rose to 10,055 last week, from fewer than 300 three weeks earlier. Hospitalizations also picked up, but remain relatively low, with admissions standing at 3,268 on Sunday. Whether there would be a deluge of new patients is the biggest question. Severe symptoms in patients who contracted earlier variants typically developed between one and three
SURGE: South African infections increased to a record 3 million on Friday, data for the 24-hour period showed, with 16,055 bringing the cumulative total to 3,004,203 South Korea again broke its daily records for COVID-19 infections and deaths, and confirmed three more cases of the new Omicron variant of SARS-CoV-2 as officials scramble to tighten social distancing and border controls. The 5,352 new cases reported by the Seoul-based Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency yesterday marked the third time this week that the daily tally exceeded 5,000. The country’s death toll was at 3,809 after a record 70 people died in the most-recent 24-hour period of tallying, while the 752 people in serious or critical conditions were also an all-time high. Amid the Delta variant-driven surge, there is also