Minister arrested for bribes
Macau's transportation minister, Ao Man-long (歐文龍), has been arrested for allegedly accepting bribes, the government said yesterday. The rare arrest of a senior official was announced by Edmund Ho (何厚鏵), the Chinese territory's leader. Ao, who has held his position for seven years, was arrested by the Commission Against Corruption agency on Wednesday night, Ho told reporters. The Macau government said in a statement that Ao had taken bribes and engaged in illegal financial activities. It did not elaborate. Ao is one of the most senior officials arrested since the Portuguese enclave returned to Chinese rule in 1999.
Ex-cop gave `false' testimony
An ex-policeman convicted of murdering one of Kazakhstan's leading opposition politicians told an appeal hearing on Wednesday senior officials put pressure on him to give false testimony in his trial. Rustam Ibragimov was sentenced to death in August for the murder of Altynbek Sarsenbaiuly, a leading opponent of long-serving President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Ibragimov told the Central Asian state's Supreme Court his original testimony was made under duress. "The general prosecutor and interior minister stood over me and told me there was no one higher than them... I was scared of what would happen, not to me but to my family," he said.
Koizumi a willing diplomat
Former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi has said he is willing to visit North Korea for a third time to help break a diplomatic stalemate between the two countries, domestic media reported yesterday. Koizumi, who left office in September, visited Pyongyang as prime minister in 2002 and 2004 for summit meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. "I want to revive the Pyongyang Declaration," Koizumi was quoted as saying by a fellow lawmaker in the Yomiuri newspaper.
`Playboy' editor on trial
The editor-in-chief of Playboy Indonesia went on trial yesterday on charges of publishing indecent material, a move cheered by religious groups in the predominantly Muslim country. A prosecutor told the South Jakarta District Court that Erwin Arnada oversaw photo shoots and selected revealing pictures of female models in underwear, some showing partially exposed breasts. Arnada has argued that his magazine contains no nudity and is much tamer than Indonesian versions of Western and local men's lifestyle magazines that have been on sale for several years with little outcry.
New head of construction
A new supervisor for construction projects has been installed for the 2008 Beijing Olympics as part of efforts to prevent corruption, following the dismissal of a vice mayor in charge of Games construction, an official said yesterday. Xu Bo (徐波), an engineer in the Ministry of Construction, was transferred to Beijing's 2008 Projects and Construction Headquarters Office to ensure the quality of Olympics construction, the office's spokesman, Wu Jingjun (吳競軍), said at a news conference. The office, Wu said, has also stepped up its auditing of projects to make sure Olympics funds are not misused. The promotion of Xu comes amid a general anti-corruption drive in Beijing and other major Chinese cities.
Photo blackmail probed
Actors, singers, showgirls and soccer players on Italy's celebrity circuit on Wednesday were taking in the news that a prosecutor in the south of the country is investigating a black market in compromising photographs. Italian media reported that the cost of keeping a paparazzi picture out of the press ranged from US$200,000 for a sleazy party snap to US$10,500 for a stolen nose-pick. Among those said to have refused to pay up is the Brazilian striker Adriano Leite Ribeiro.
Thief uses priest guise
A bogus priest and his girlfriend tricked a pensioner out of US$200 after promising him a naked bathtub session with the woman. "The bogus priest and his girlfriend ran a bath for the pensioner, who undressed and got in straight away," a police spokeswoman in Linz said on Wednesday. The pensioner waited in the tub for about 10 minutes, but then he heard cupboards being opened and closed in the living room. "The credulous 65-year-old pensioner was waiting in vain in the bathtub ... while the suspect stole about US$200 in cash from his living room," a police statement said.
■ United Kingdom
No creationism in school
The British government is to write to state-run schools throughout the nation telling them that teaching materials promoting creationism should not be used in science lessons. DVDs and written materials promoting intelligent design, a creationist alternative, were sent to every school in the country by Truth in Science. Advocates of the theory argue that some features of the universe and nature are so complex that they must have been designed by a higher intelligence. Last week, the Guardian revealed that 59 schools had told Truth in Science the materials were a "useful classroom resource."
Sabbath flights disputed
El Al, the Israeli airline, is locked in a dispute with the country's powerful ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, which has threatened a boycott over flights on the sabbath. The row broke out after a labor dispute prompted stoppages across the country last week. As the dispute wound down, El Al flew a number of planes on the sabbath to transport passengers who had been stranded. Several senior rabbis immediately complained and threatened a potentially costly ultra-Orthodox boycott. Private negotiations between the national carrier, which was privatized less than two years ago, and some senior rabbis are thought likely to lead to a compromise.
Georgia vote `democratic'
The lower house of the parliament on Wednesday passed resolutions supporting two separatist regions of Georgia, a move sure to increase tensions between Tbilisi and Moscow. Abkhazia and South Ossetia fought wars in the 1990s to break off from Georgia. Since then they have been run by unrecognized governments, and Russian soldiers are deployed in both regions as peacekeepers. The regions want to gain independence or be absorbed into Russia. Moscow passed a resolution saying it regarded South Ossetia's recent independence referendum as conforming with international democratic standards.
Tourism body hails critics
The nation's state tourism body applauded US film critics on Tuesday for trashing a horror movie in which tourists get slaughtered in the country. Some Brazilian media went into a frenzy over Turistas, quoting disgusted Brazilian viewers who went to see it in the US where it hit the screens last Friday. In the movie, young US backpackers are attacked and mugged by locals, lured by bikini-clad beauties only to get drugged by spiked caipirinha cocktails. They then have their internal organs removed by a crazy surgeon who runs a human organ trafficking ring.
Workers admit to grisly video
Three employees of a funeral home in the city of Reynosa have acknowledged making and distributing a grisly video showing the autopsy of murdered banda singer Valentin Elizalde, authorities said Wednesday. Elizalde died in a hail of bullets on Nov. 25 shortly after finishing a performance. The video, filmed with a cell-phone camera and posted on Friday on YouTube.com, shows Elizalde's bloody body on an autopsy table and the clothes and boots he wore during his last performance. The footage was used in several subsequent videos posted on the site, at least one with bouncy background music.
Paramilitaries dump peace
The nation's far-right paramilitaries pulled out of a peace process with President Alvaro Uribe's government late on Wednesday following the decision to transfer jailed militia leaders to a maximum security prison. "This is simply a matter of ending a process where there is no confidence, [a process] filled with tricks, no honor of agreements and where there is no commitment," said Ernesto Baez, a spokesman for the paramilitaries, in an interview with the television station CMI. The peace agreement was thrown into crisis on Friday when the government transferred 59 imprisoned paramilitary warlords from their special prison to a high-security installation on rumors of a possible prison break.
■ United States
Practical joke backfires
A man who created a "winning" lottery ticket and planted it at work as a practical joke was sentenced to a year of probation for forgery and tampering with public records. James Koons Jr, 38, also was fined US$2,500 on Tuesday and may have to pay the legal fees of the co-worker who was arrested after trying to redeem the ticket at Pennsylvania Lottery headquarters. Koons' lawyer said his client meant to play a prank on co-workers when he left the bogus US$853,000 ticket underneath a newspaper in his trucking company's break room in November last year. Koons pleaded guilty. "In hindsight, it was a terrible joke," said Koons' attorney, Stephen Ellwood.
■ United States
Portion distortion increasing
A Rutgers University study supports earlier research that people in the US today eat bigger servings than they did 20 years ago. "People aren't realizing how much they are eating," said Jaime Schwartz,one of the study's authors. The research replicated a 1984 Penn State University study. Both studies asked students to take portions of various foods. Diners were offered three sizes of plates, bowls and cups in a buffet-like setting. In a comparison of breakfast servings, the students in 2003 took 20 percent more cornflakes than students took in 1984, Schwartz said. The same for milk. The glass of orange juice grew by more than 40 percent compared to 20 years ago.
Since her personal telephone number was posted online, Hong Kong democracy advocate and Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions chairperson Carol Ng has received menacing calls from strangers and been bombarded with messages calling her a “cockroach.” She is not alone. A sophisticated and shady Web site called HK Leaks has ramped up its “doxxing” — where people’s personal details are published online — of Hong Kong democracy advocates, targeting those it says have broken Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Promoted by groups linked to the Chinese Chinese Communist Party and hosted on Russia-based servers, HK Leaks has become the most prominent “doxxing”
‘CONFESSED’: A court in Beijing said that former CCP member Ren Zhiqiang abused his power at a state firm and embezzled almost US$7.14 million of public funds A Chinese tycoon who called Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) a clown and criticized his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic was yesterday jailed for 18 years for corruption, bribery and embezzlement of public funds. Ren Zhiqiang (任志強) — once among the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) inner circle — disappeared from the public eye in March, shortly after penning an essay that lambasted Xi’s pandemic response. His outspokenness had earned the former chairman of state-owned property developer Huayuan Group the nickname “Big Cannon.” Yesterday’s verdict said that Ren embezzled almost 50 million yuan (US$7.4 million) of public funds and accepted bribes worth 1.25 million
AUSTRALIAN SITE: China has had a contract with SSC’s Yatharagga station since at least 2011, but the last time it used it was in June 2013. No final date has been given China would lose access to a strategic space tracking station in Western Australia when its contract expires, the facility’s owners said, a decision that cuts into Beijing’s expanding space exploration and navigational capabilities in the Pacific region. The Swedish Space Corp (SSC) has had a contract allowing Beijing access to the satellite antenna at the station since at least 2011. The station is located next to an SSC satellite station primarily used by the US and its agencies, including NASA. The Swedish state-owned company said it would not enter into any new contracts at the Australian site to support Chinese customers after
Australia is notorious for its venomous spiders, snakes and sea creatures, but researchers have now identified “scorpion-like” toxins secreted by a tree that can cause excruciating pain for weeks. Split-second contact with the dendrocnide tree, a rainforest nettle known by its Aboriginal name gympie-gympie, delivers a sting far more potent than similar plants found in the US or Europe. A team of Australian scientists said that they now better understand why the gympie-gympie’s sting haunts those unlucky enough to brush up against its leaves. Victims report an initial sting that “feels like fire at first, then subsides over hours to a pain reminiscent