■ SRI LANKA
Fighting claims 53 lives
The navy sank two Tamil Tiger boats off the northeast coast as fighting in the embattled north killed 47 rebels and six soldiers, the military said yesterday. The sea battle broke out on Monday night off the northeast coast, with the navy destroying two small boats in the area and killing eight rebel sailors on board, military spokesman Brigadier Udaya Nanayakkara said. Battles in the rebels’ heartland in the Kilinochchi district killed 19 rebels and three soldiers, while fighting in Vavuniya and Welioya killed 20 rebels and three soldiers, he said. With nearly all communications to the north severed, rebel spokesmen could not be contacted for comment.
Chubby dolphins on a diet
Dolphins at a marine park are going on a low-fat diet after developing pot bellies and failing to look sharp in their aquatic performances. Kinosaki Marine World in western Japan said yesterday that its 19 dolphins have been on a low-fat diet since late August, when they started failing to hit jumping targets and keep upright while treading water. The weight-loss program includes feeding them more white fish and less fatty mackerels, while instituting a routine exercise regime, a park spokesman said.
Four more miners rescued
Rescuers pulled four more miners out of a flooded tunnel in Itogon town yesterday, raising hopes that eight others might still be found alive after a week underground, officials and rescuers said. The pale, haggard miners were found after they responded to the yells of rescue teams. They were rushed to a hospital in the northern city of Baguio, rescuers said. Two others were rescued on Monday, bringing to six the number rescued from the mine after Typhoon Hagupit lashed the area last Tuesday, washing mud into the tunnels. Two other miners were earlier found dead. Gerry Munyodda, one of those rescued, said they survived by drinking water dripping through the cracks of the rocks.
■ SOUTH KOREA
Online gambling site busted
Prosecutors have busted an online gambling ring operated by South Koreans in Manila who cleared about US$100 million over 18 months, officials said yesterday. The Seoul Central Prosecutors’ Office said four South Koreans have been charged. Two others have fled abroad, but prosecutors will seek to have them extradited. Online gambling is illegal in South Korea. The ring allegedly opened a casino in Manila in February last year. They hired 30 Filipino dealers and webcast baccarat games being staged at the casino to domestic online participants. In order to assure online gamblers they were taking part in real-time games, the ring depicted CNN broadcasts in its online coverage.
Loot too much for robbers
Two armed robbers hijacked a security van with US$1.3 million inside, but were forced to abandon more than half the cash because their small getaway car could not carry it all, police said yesterday. The robbers and their compact getaway car were still at large with 1.8 million ringgit (US$524,000) following Monday’s heist near Kuala Lumpur, police said. The robbers stole a small car then held up guards in the security van at a shopping mall. One robber drove the van away and the other followed in the car. The van was recovered nearby with nine bags containing 2.7 million ringgit inside — evidently because they did not fit in the compact car, police said.
Prisoner shot dead
A prisoner facing questioning in a murder case has been shot dead by a sniper from a hill overlooking his prison in Grenoble, the latest in a series of murders in France’s overcrowded prisons. Sghair Lamiri, 29, who was serving an eight-year sentence for armed robbery, was shot by a sniper as he stood in the exercise yard at Varces prison, outside Grenoble, southeast France, on Sunday. Five shots were fired from 300m outside the prison. A suspected sniper, 58, with robbery convictions was captured nearby. “He denies the facts, but he was caught getting on to a motorbike with false number plates and he had a rifle with telescopic sight, which was still warm,” said Justice Minister Rachida Dati. The shooting has reopened the debate over the country’s unsafe and overcrowded prisons, which the UN human rights committee and the Council of Europe have criticized as dirty and inhumane. Last year a prisoner was suffocated by a cellmate, who then ate part of his chest and lungs.
Venice forgoes Disney plan
A proposal to turn the lagoon city of Venice into a Disney-style theme park has won a prize from a famed Venetian academy, even though it rejected the idea. The venerable Istituto Veneto described the scheme by British economist John Kay as a thought-provoking critique of the Italian city’s unwieldy tourist economy. Kay won 5,000 euros (US$7,315) from the nearly 200-year-old institute for writing that Venice would be better off as a theme park, complete with a 50 euro (US$72) entrance fee.
“Only one man can save Venice: Mickey Mouse,” read the headline for his article explaining the concept, published in March in British newspaper the Times. “The city is already a theme park and should be handed over to Disney — they would do a better job of running it.” Its population long dwindling, Venice’s remaining 70,000 residents are far outnumbered by the millions of tourists who flock to the city every year — creating an artificial economy that cheats tourists and sends locals packing.
■ UNITED KINGDOM
No Glitter for France, Spain
A British court has banned convicted pedophile and 1970s glam rocker Gary Glitter from traveling to France and Spain, it emerged on Monday. A magistrates court imposed the ban, which runs until March 25, at a hearing last Thursday following a request from the police, the court said. Kent Police refused to explain its request but a spokesman said it would “do everything necessary to protect children in this country, or abroad.” Glitter was convicted in Vietnam in March 2006 of “obscene acts” with two girls aged 11 and 12, and returned to London in August after his release from jail.
Mobster suspects arrested
Police have arrested scores of suspected mobsters, including three men believed to be involved in the slaying of six African immigrants near Naples earlier this month. The Carabinieri police in Caserta, near Naples, said the three were picked up early yesterday. The Camorra crime syndicate is based in the Caserta area. A further 26 suspects were arrested in raids involving hundreds of police. The killing of the six African immigrants in a gangland-style shooting sparked rioting in the Naples area and prompted Italian authorities to order the deployment of 500 more soldiers there. Police believe the Camorra engineered the slayings to punish the Africans for getting involved in drug trafficking, one of its criminal activities.
■ UNITED STATES
Ex-CIA man pleads guilty
A former third-ranking official at the CIA pleaded guilty on Monday to fraud charges, the Justice Department said. Former CIA executive director Kyle “Dusty” Foggo admitted steering contracts to friend Brent Wilkes, who is serving a 12-year sentence for bribing former Republican congressman Randall “Duke” Cunningham, the department said. It said Wilkes, a one-time Republican fundraiser, had made Foggo a standing offer of a high-paying job, and the two hid their relationship from the CIA and used shell companies to conceal Wilkes’ interest in CIA contracts. Foggo faces a 20-year sentence after his guilty plea, the department said.
Sixteen bodies found
Police found 16 corpses in the border city Tijuana on Monday, 12 of which were stacked together in a vacant lot, authorities in the northwest state of Baja California said. The discovery of the apparent murder victims was the latest in a wave of violence across northern Mexico with rival cartels battling for control of drug smuggling operations. In Tijuana authorities are focusing on the Arellano Felix brothers, also known as the Tijuana cartel, as prime suspects. More than 3,000 people have been reported murdered so far this year across the country, according to estimates by journalists.
■ UNITED STATES
Sex offender mayor ousted
A city council in South Texas unanimously voted to remove a registered sex offender as mayor, hours after the man was released from jail on new child sex charges. The Poteet City Council on Monday declared Mayor Lino Donato’s position vacant because he has missed three consecutive council meetings, city attorney Frank Garza said. Earlier in the day, Donato was released on US$200,000 bond from the Atascosa County Jail. He was arrested last week on child sex charges involving a girl younger than 14.
■ UNITED STATES
Man admits drug charges
A man from New Zealand who preserved his dead girlfriend’s body on dry ice for a year has pleaded guilty to felony drug charges in Newport Beach, California. Stephen Royds pleaded guilty on Monday in Orange County Superior Court and faces four years in state prison. Royds was arrested in March at a Newport Beach hotel room after police found him with 54g of cocaine. Police also found 33-year-old Monique Trepp’s body stuffed in a plastic tub, surrounded by dry ice. Royds told police he found Trepp dead a year before but didn’t report it because there was an outstanding warrant for his arrest. Officials say she died of a drug overdose.
No clemency for prisoner
A decision by the Conservative government to stop seeking clemency for a Canadian man on death row in the US was arbitrary and unfair, his defense lawyer said on Monday. Prime Minister Stephen Harper is proposing stricter anti-crime initiatives as he fights for re-election next month. Ronald Smith was sentenced to die in 1983 after he pleaded guilty to killing two men in cold blood during a drug and alcohol-fuelled trip across Montana with two friends. “We evaluate these on a case-by-case basis,” Harper said during a recent campaign event in Ottawa. “The facts here indicate to us that intervention would not be appropriate, particularly when the governor linked any clemency to repatriation of Mr. Smith.”
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