Debt-swap goes to nature
Jakarta committed to the conservation of its dwindling tropical forests in a multimillion dollar debt-swap deal signed on Tuesday with the US government, the US embassy said. Jakarta’s payments to Washington will be reduced by US$30 million over the next eight years under the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act, the embassy said in a statement. The Indonesian government will donate the money it saves to the charities Conservation International and the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation, which will deposit the money into a local forest conservation fund.
Drinking water threatened
The fifth-largest freshwater lake in China is at risk of a massive algae outbreak that could jeopardize drinking water for millions of people, reflecting systemic pollution in China as it rushes to modernize. Satellite photos show that about 30km2 of Chaohu lake in eastern Anhui Province are already covered in algae, the Xinhua news agency reported on Tuesday. The waters of Chaohu often turn slimy in the summer as algae fed by sewage, farm and factory runoff bloom, leaving it toxic and undrinkable. The lake is flanked by two industrial cities that together house some 5 million people and whose industrial and residential waste is tipped directly into the very body of water that provides their drinking water. China has a national goal of restoring its severely polluted lakes by 2030.
No emission caps: minister
New Delhi will not sign up to targets to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions but will instead focus on fighting poverty and boosting economic growth, the environment minister said on Tuesday. India is one of the world’s biggest emitters alongside China, the US and Russia, and the second most populous nation. But India’s per capita emissions lag far behind rich countries and it feels the developed world should take the lead on tackling climate change. “India cannot and will not take emission reduction targets because poverty eradication and social and economic development are first and over-riding priorities,” a statement on behalf of Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said. A legally binding emission reduction target endangers India’s energy conservation, food security and transport, he said.
Bhutto inquiry begins
A UN commission appointed to investigate the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto began work yesterday, a spokesman said. The panel, which has a six-month mandate, is being led by the Chilean ambassador to the US, Heraldo Munoz, and includes an Indonesian ex-attorney general and an Irish former police official. Bhutto, the first woman to become prime minister of a Muslim country, was killed on Dec. 27, 2007, in a gun and suicide attack after addressing an election rally in Rawalpindi, a garrison city near the capital Islamabad.
Police car yields cash
Police discovered about 10 million baht (US$290,000 dollars) in cash hidden in the doors of a car belonging to an alleged drug trafficker that had been impounded and driven by officers for the past two years, media reports said yesterday. Department of Special Investigation chief Thawee Sodsong told a press conference on Tuesday that police in Udon Thani Province had recently found 9,998,000 baht packed inside the back doors of a Toyota Fortuner.
Art dealer convicted of fraud
The Copenhagen City Court has convicted an art connoisseur of defrauding a 92-year-old woman by telling her a painting she owned was worth only 200,000 kroner (US$37,800), then selling it for 25 times that amount. The court, which sentenced Svend Erik Olsen to eight months in prison, says her bought the 1906 oil canvas by French painter Andre Derain in 2004 by telling the woman it was just a copy of the original. He then resold the painting a month later for 5 million kroner to a French art gallery that had certified it was genuine. The landscape was eventually sold by Sotheby’s for US$6.8 million.
‘Ugly’ veggie ban dropped
A two-decade ban on wonky fruit and vegetables ended yesterday after standards that keep misshapen mushrooms and curvy cucumbers out of supermarkets were dropped. The EU said dropping rules that only allow beautiful-looking produce to hit shop shelves would reduce waste and allow farmers to sell more of their crop. British supermarket chain Sainsbury’s called for the rule changes last year after it was prevented from launching a Halloween range of twisted vegetables. Ugly versions of the 10 most popular fruit and vegetables — including apples, citrus fruit and tomatoes — will have to be labeled as nonstandard.
Britons hunt for bad pence
A specialist firm has offered to buy faulty 20 pence pieces for £50 (US$82), sending Britons scrambling in search of one of the approximately 50,000 undated coins. However, other coin dealers have advised people to hold on to them because they may be worth as much as £300 within the next decade. The London Mint Office made its offer for 20 pence pieces that had been cast with a new tails design, but with the old head design, resulting in a batch of coins with no date on them. The letters “F.D.” have been printed where the date “2008” should have been. A coin with mismatched sides is known as a “mule” and they are extremely rare. The last time one appeared in circulation was during the reign of Charles II more than 300 years ago. The Royal Mint says the coins are legal tender, but has not commented on their current or potential value.
China offers US$950m loan
The government has won US$950 million in credit lines from China, the largest loan secured by the unity government since it was formed in February, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai said on Monday. “While I was away, government through Finance Minister Tendai Biti also secured lines of credit from China totaling US$950 million,” said Tsvangirai, who returned to Harare at the weekend from a three-week tour to Europe and the US. He said the tour was an “overwhelming success” in re-engaging with foreign donors.
Man ordered hit to save job
Police have arrested a man whom they suspect hired a contract killer to murder his boss in a desperate bid to avoid being laid off, El Pais reported on Tuesday. The head of audiovisual services at the Barcelona International Convention Center contracted a Colombian man who shot and killed the center’s director on Feb. 9, police said. The suspect, through his sister, contracted a team of six Colombians who planned and carried out the killing, El Pais reported. Police have also detained the sister and six Colombians.
Ex-CIA agent charged
A former CIA station chief charged with raping an unconscious Algerian woman last year surrendered to federal agents on Tuesday. Andrew Warren, 41, was fired from the CIA earlier this year, agency spokesman George Little said. A grand jury issued a one-count indictment against Warren on June 18 that was unsealed on Tuesday. If convicted he faces up to life in prison, the Department of Justice said. Two Algerian women came forward separately last year to say they had been sexually assaulted by Warren while at his home in Algiers, papers filed in federal court in January by a State Department investigator showed.
Cash, sex for lost puppy?
Los Angeles County prosecutors alleged that a convicted sex offender tried to extort a teenager by demanding cash or sex for the return of her lost dog. Deputy District Attorney Jan Perlstein said 27-year-old Alfredo Dempkey was scheduled for arraignment on Tuesday afternoon on a count of attempted extortion. Prosecutors said the Lancaster resident found the dog on Friday and used information on its tags to contact the owner. A meeting was arranged at a fast-food restaurant, where Dempkey was arrested. The dog was returned to its owner.
H1N1 death toll rises
Authorities in the capital and Buenos Aires Province declared health emergencies and extended school vacations on Tuesday as the nation’s swine flu death toll surged to 35. Together the areas comprise almost half of the population and they joined four other provinces that have already declared health emergencies in a country that in Latin America is topped only by Mexico in number of swine flu deaths. Health authorities have warned that while the swine flu peak has passed in Mexico, the Southern Hemisphere is at risk as it heads deeper into its winter flu season.
‘Bad writer’ wins prize
A shambling sentence about screaming seafarers on the sturdy whaler Ellie May stood shoulders above the rest in an annual bad writing contest. David McKenzie, 55, of Federal Way, Washington State, won the grand prize in San Jose State University’s annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest with this: “Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin’ off Nantucket Sound from the nor’ east and the dogs are howlin’ for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the Ellie May, a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin’ and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.” The contest, a parody of prose, invites entrants to submit bad opening sentences to imaginary novels.
Pensions boosted for moms
The government yesterday launched a new pension system aimed at boosting retirement funds for mothers, correcting a “historic discrimination” for millions of women who put careers on hold to raise their children. This year, a bonus of 286,000 pesos (US$530) will be awarded to 13,000 mothers who reach retirement age by yesterday, at a total cost of some US$13.4 million. Next year, 42,000 will receive the pension bonuses. Official calculations showed that under the new plan, a mother of two who is 30 years old today could, at retirement age 60, see her pension boosted by an additional US$7,000.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and