Thousands arrested for porn
More than 5,000 people were arrested in a crackdown on Internet pornography last year, officials said, vowing tougher online policing in the New Year as a key element of “state security.” China maintains strict censorship of the Internet to curb what the government deems to be unhealthy content, including porn and violence — an effort that has become known as the “Great Firewall of China.” Authorities last month offered rewards of up to 10,000 yuan (US$1,465) to Internet users who report Web sites that feature pornography. Figures published by the Ministry of Public Security late on Thursday showed that 5,394 people were arrested last year under the Internet porn crackdown and 9,000 illegal porn-related sites were shut down.
Explosives maker sentenced
An explosives maker has been sentenced to death for supplying an illegal iron mine camouflaged as a wild boar farm with material that ignited in the tunnels, killing 26 miners, state media said. Xinhua news agency said Gao Huailiang was sentenced on Thursday by an intermediate court in Handan, a major mining area in Hebei Province, for making, selling and transporting illegal explosives. Twenty others were also sentenced to prison time for running the mine, which was hidden behind high walls and purported to be a wild boar farm, or for supplying it with homemade explosives, the report said.
Abbot refutes reports
The abbot of the ancient Shaolin temple — famous for its kung fu monks — has refuted reports that the monastery will go public as part of a travel joint venture, Xinhua news agency reported. Shi Yongxin (釋永信) — known as the “CEO of Shaolin” for aggressively pursuing commercial ventures since taking over as abbot a decade ago — also said the temple would not be a shareholder in the new firm created to promote tourism. The temple’s core functions are to “organize religious activities to meet the demand of religious followers,” Xinhua quoted Shi as saying at a press conference in Henan Province. The abbot said that the temple’s “legal rights and interests” would not be affected by the creation of the new tourism firm.
Population falls by 75,000
Japan’s population fell by an estimated 75,000 people last year, the biggest fall since World War II amid soaring elderly welfare costs, data released yesterday showed. The welfare ministry estimated 1,069,000 Japanese citizens were born last year on Japanese soil, while 1,144,000 died. It marked the third straight year of population decline for Japan, whose seniors enjoy increased life expectancy while many young people continue to defer starting a family because of the burden on their lifestyles and careers.
Mayon alert may be lowered
Volcanologists yesterday said they may lower the alert level around the Mayon volcano in the coming days amid signs it appeared to be in a lull, three weeks after it began spewing ash and lava. The Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology said no ash explosion was observed over the past 24 hours and rumblings have lessened significantly. If no significant events occur during the next few days, the agency said it would “consider the possibility of lowering the alert level.” About 50,000 people living within an 8km radius of Mayon were evacuated after the institute raised the alert level to four on Dec. 20.
Wulfrunians slam guidebook
Wolverhampton city council leader Neville Patten slammed travel guide book publisher Lonely Planet after the West Midlands city was ranked the fifth-worst city in the world based on feedback from its Web site users. Patten told the BBC it was obvious Lonely Planet had not visited and described Wolverhampton as “progressive.” Detroit in the US was voted the worst city, followed by Accra in Ghana, Seoul in South Korea and Los Angeles. Lonely Planet said Wolverhampton was so bad it had not even made it on to the reviews of cities on its site. However, a number of local celebrities leapt to the city’s defense. Soul singer Beverley Knight, 36, who grew up in the city, told British tabloid the Sun: “To think it is worse than war-torn Kabul, in Afghanistan, and cities with slums in India, is just a joke. I’m not saying it’s blessed with stunning looks but, boy, does it have personality. I can’t think of a better evening than cheering on Wolves at the Molineux Stadium. And the city has brightened the world in ways the Lonely Planet guides never will.”
In hindsight, it does seem unlikely that the famously private — some would say curmudgeonly — Van Morrison would have chosen to bugle the news that he had joined Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney and Rod Stewart in becoming a father again in late middle age. Or that he would have cooed online that the child was “the spitting image of his daddy.” Or, come to think of it, that Van the Man would have bestowed upon the helpless infant the name George Ivan Morrison III. So it was not altogether surprising to discover on New Year’s Eve that, despite a slew of features and discussions on the reproductive habits of 60-something rockers over the last few days, the reports were, as Morrison himself put it, “completely and utterly without foundation.” The Belfast-born singer interrupted what a family friend termed a “lovely quiet family Christmas” to release a statement on Thursday rubbishing the widely picked-up story. He said the hoax was the result of some mischievous hacking into the site, the second time in three months.
Thieving cop dismissed
The Supreme Court has upheld the dismissal of a highway patrolman who confessed to stealing a dead man’s credit card and using it to buy gasoline, go shopping and eat at restaurants. The court said the officer’s behavior was “utterly incompatible” with his responsibility as a public servant to protect people and their property. The Civil Guard officer acknowledged using the credit card 69 times after taking it from a man who died in a road accident in the northwest Galicia region in 2002. He spent 1,323 euros (US$1,900), but returned the money after getting caught.
Saunas could be fatal
Authorities urged revelers celebrating the New Year in saunas on Thursday night to refrain from popping open the champagne until they have left the steam houses, warning it could prove fatal. “I would like to make the following recommendation: Drink after being in the sauna, not when inside,” Interfax news agency quoted Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying on New Year’s Eve. “Maybe this sounds funny ... But many people die in saunas,” he said. Enthusiastic sauna visitors often drink beer or vodka in the wood-paneled huts and hold alcohol-fueled New Year’s celebrations in the thousands of steam rooms and bath houses across the country.
Young Disney busted again
A 42-year-old grandson of Walt Disney pleaded not guilty to charges of illegal possession of guns and drugs on Wednesday in a California court and was remanded in custody, authorities said. Patrick Disney Miller, who already has a 2005 conviction for drug possession, was detained on Dec. 9 after police searched his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Woodland Hills, prosecutors said. Miller had been freed on US$35,000 bail, but at Thursday’s arraignment the judge raised the amount to US$550,000 and Miller was taken into custody. Miller was originally charged with a single felony count, but prosecutors on Wednesday filed 19 additional felony charges against him. Police allegedly recovered an arms cache comprising 13 handguns, a rifle and an illegal assault rifle during the search. Various drugs were also found. As a result of his 2005 conviction, Miller is barred from owning guns or ammunition, prosecutors said. Miller is the youngest child of Diane Disney Miller, who is Walt Disney’s only biological daughter.
Police not a taxi service
Authorities say a Florida man who called police claiming that he had been beaten and shot at was hoping the tale would get him a ride to a bar. Instead, Gregory Oras, 37, is facing charges of misusing the emergency call system and battery of a law enforcement officer. The St Petersburg Times said an arrest report says Oras called police three times before his arrest early on Tuesday in Oldsmar, northwest of Tampa. He told the dispatchers he had a broken nose and bleeding ears, and said people were shooting at him. Authorities say he was actually looking for a ride to another bar. The report also says Oras kicked a sheriff’s deputy in the knees and a Taser was used to subdue him.
Woman in cremation mix-up
A grieving family learned their 95-year-old great-grandmother had been cremated when they found a stranger’s body in her casket, and a funeral home is being investigated in the incident. Relatives of Aurelie Tuccillo noticed the wrong body when they arrived at the Buckmiller Brothers Funeral Home in Prospect, Connecticut, for calling hours on Tuesday night. Police said Wednesday that state and local officers found Tuccillo had “inadvertently been cremated.”
Fugitive on reality show
Police say a man who appeared in a Discovery Channel reality show about crab fishing off Alaska is wanted for three bank robberies and has been arrested. Police in Illinois say they arrested 23-year-old Joshua Tel Warner early on Thursday on the Oregon bank robbery warrant after a vehicle he was riding in was pulled over for a routine traffic stop. He was being held on US$30,000 bail in the Tazewell County Jail. Police in Oregon say he is the same Josh Warner who appeared as a greenhorn deckhand on the king crab fishing boat Wizard in Deadliest Catch earlier this year.
Inmates paid to shovel snow
Washington paid prison inmates to shovel sidewalks, crosswalks and bus stops after the biggest December blizzard in the city’s history, the Department of Corrections said on Thursday. Two work crews comprising 20 prisoners convicted of minor offenses were deployed around the city on Dec. 18 and 19, along with two prison guards to watch over them, DOC spokesman Michon Parker said. Each inmate was paid US$7.50 per hour for their work, he added.
FOX HUNT: To suppress dissent, Chinese living abroad that Xi Jinping sees as threats are told to either return to China or commit suicide, Christopher Wray said Chinese agents have been pursuing hundreds of Chinese nationals living in the US in an effort to force their return, as part of a global campaign against the country’s diaspora, known as Operation Fox Hunt, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Tuesday. In a speech about the security threat posed by China, during which he said Beijing’s counterintelligence work was the “greatest long-term threat to our nation’s information and intellectual property, and to our economic vitality,” Wray gave the example of one Fox Hunt target who was given a choice of going back to China or killing themselves. Fox Hunt was launched
‘WOULD NOT COMPLY’: The company’s user data are kept in Singapore and it would not turn the data over to Beijing even if asked, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said Social media app TikTok has distanced itself from Beijing after India banned 59 Chinese apps in the country, according to a correspondence seen by Reuters. In a letter to the Indian government dated on Sunday last week and seen by Reuters on Friday, TikTok chief executive Kevin Mayer said the Chinese government has never requested user data, nor would the company turn it over if asked. TikTok, which is not available in China, is owned by China’s ByteDance, but has sought to distance itself from its Chinese roots to appeal to a global audience. Along with 58 other Chinese apps, including Tencent
INTERNET CURBS: People are rushing to erase their digital footprints after police given powers over online activity, although it might take years for the full effect to be felt At midnight on Tuesday, the Great Firewall of China, the vast apparatus that limits the country’s Internet, appeared to descend on Hong Kong. Unveiling expanded police powers as part of contentious new national security legislation, the Hong Kong government enabled police to censor online speech, and force Internet service providers to hand over user information and shut down platforms. Many residents, already anxious since the legislation took effect last week, rushed to erase their digital footprint of any signs of dissent or support for the past year of protests. Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok (莫乃光), a pro-democracy member of the Legislative
‘FIGHT FOR FREEDOM’: Hong Kongers will never bow to Beijing, the advocate said, while the US’ envoy to the territory called China’s new security law a ‘tragedy’ The world must stand in solidarity with Hong Kongers after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on the semi-autonomous territory, advocate Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) said yesterday, vowing to continue campaigning for democracy. Wong, one of the territory’s most prominent young advocates and a figure loathed by Beijing, was speaking outside a court where he and fellow advocates are being prosecuted for involvement in last year’s pro-democracy protests. China last week enacted sweeping security legislation for the restless territory, banning acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. The legislation has sent a wave of fear through the territory, and criminalized dissenting