Serbia: Villagers 'threaten Islam conversion' for church

  • 9 October 2015
TV footage showing the removal of the bells of the parish church of Sopic, in Serbia. Image copyright GEM Televizija
Image caption The damaged church had its bells removed in September to prepare it for demolition

Residents in a Serbian village have threatened to convert to Islam if no action is taken to save their storm-damaged church, it's reported.

Parish members in Sopic, near the capital Belgrade, made the warning in a letter to the head of Serbia's Orthodox Church, Patriarch Irinej, according to the Alo news website. Asking him to back their campaign for the building to be restored and not demolished, the congregation said: "If we do not receive your support, we will be forced to collectively go over to Islam in order to get better protection for our facilities under Serbian law". It goes on to compare the step to "martyrdom", although it stresses that the converts would "keep Jesus Christ in their heart".

The row began last July, when an unusually powerful storm blew the roof off the 150-year-old church tower. The local priest, Mirko Tesic, believes the old church should be pulled down and replaced with a new building, as its foundations are threatened by a landslip. But the man who penned the letter, Predrag Lazarevic, tells Radio Sarajevo that as a professional geologist, he knows there's no landslip. Mr Lazarevic - a descendant of one of the church's founders - adds that the villagers are not against building a new church, as long as the old one is preserved. "If we can, by all means build five more, but let us first protect what we used to have," he says.

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Japan: Citizens clamour for Tokyo disaster manual

  • 9 October 2015
The cover of the disaster manual Image copyright Tokyo Metropolitan Government
Image caption The bright yellow manual contains helpful advice for all kinds of emergencies

A manual to help people in Tokyo prepare for disasters has proved so popular that local officials have complained that they are being sold on the internet for profit.

The 340-page Tokyo Bousai ("Disaster Preparedness Tokyo") appears in a startling yellow cover, and 7.5m copies are being distributed free of charge to Tokyo residents, the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reports. However, there is a growing interest in the manual from people living outside the capital, with the Tokyo government fielding thousands of calls from citizens of neighbouring towns and cities asking how they can get hold if it. Predictably, some have looked to cash in on the manual's popularity, and are selling theirs on online auction sites for "several thousand yen", the paper says.

Read full article Japan: Citizens clamour for Tokyo disaster manual

UAE: Dubai to hold 'first camel marathon'

  • 8 October 2015
Camel-riders compete in a race on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, in February 2014 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The planned contest is unusually long for camel racing

Dubai is preparing to host what's being billed as its first camel marathon later this year, it's reported.

More than 1,000 camels and their owners are expected to compete in the 50-km (31-mile) race on 3 December to mark the United Arab Emirates' National Day, according to the 7Days website. The first 50 riders to finish will win prizes from a 2m-dirham (£350,000, $540,000) pot, and the top three will get luxury cars. While camel racing is a longstanding part of UAE's sporting calendar, this is said to be the first one to be held over such a long distance, and could be taxing for both camel and rider. Riders must be over 18 years old, ruling out the younger jockeys often favoured in camel racing for their light weight.

Read full article UAE: Dubai to hold 'first camel marathon'

Russia: Chechnya mayor bans cake-cutting at weddings

  • 8 October 2015
Newly-weds cutting a wedding cake

The capital of the majority-Muslim Russian republic of Chechnya has banned cake cutting and "indecent" dance moves from traditional Chechen weddings as being too "Western".

The acts are among several prohibited by an order of the Grozny mayor's office to "safeguard the spiritual and moral development" of young Chechens from what it sees as increasingly Western influences, The Moscow Times reports. Other rules specify that dance partners must be held at arms length, with the bride not even allowed to dance at all. Guests should also not show up drunk at weddings, or be dressed in a way "that does not conform with the Chechen mentality".

Read full article Russia: Chechnya mayor bans cake-cutting at weddings

Belgium: Spy-in-the-car watches young drivers' speed

  • 7 October 2015
File image of a car in a 30kp/h zone Image copyright AFP
Image caption The device is for parents who would rather get a warning than a speeding ticket

Parents anxious about their grown-up children's driving can now buy a handy new gadget to keep them informed, it's been reported.

Belgium-based technology firm Dongle Apps has developed a gadget which notifies parents instantly by email or text when their offspring are driving too fast, Flanders website reports. The "Rookie dongle" plugs into the car's on-board diagnostics port normally used by garage technicians to identify problems and malfunctions in modern cars, and uses GPS and cell phone technology to send real-time information to the internet. The device works by registering the time, location and speed of the driver and comparing it to the current speed limit, sending a tell-tale text message or email when it thinks the car's owners needs to be alerted, De Standaard newspaper reports.

Read full article Belgium: Spy-in-the-car watches young drivers' speed

Tonga: Nearly all public servants 'are obese'

  • 7 October 2015
A man walking walking in a street in Nuku'alofa Image copyright AFP
Image caption Obesity has brought major health problems to the Pacific Islands

Nearly all public servants working in the Pacific kingdom of Tonga are overweight, it's been reported.

According to a survey conducted by the largest hospital on Tonga's main island, 94% of the country's public servants are overweight, Radio New Zealand International reports. This compares unfavourably with statistics released earlier this year that show 88.3% of Tongan women and 83.5% of Tongan men over the age of 20 are obese, giving it the unwelcome title of the fattest country in the world, the Tonga Daily News says. The head of Vaiola Hospital's Health Promotion Unit acknowledged the problem, and said that the challenge facing the kingdom's public servants "is to alter eating habits and make lifestyle changes", but he appears to be fighting a losing battle against sedentary tendencies and poor diet.

Read full article Tonga: Nearly all public servants 'are obese'

South Korea: Office workers head to relaxation parlours

  • 6 October 2015
File image of a man sleeping Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption South Korean office workers need no longer sleep at their desks

Stressed-out office workers are spending their lunch hours asleep in special relaxation parlours in the South Korean capital Seoul, it's been reported.

According to the Chosun Ilbo daily, the establishments are increasing in popularity in the city's business areas, and allow people to relax or take power naps. While some parlours have airline-style reclining seats, others are equipped with hammocks or massage chairs, and always seem to be packed around lunchtimes, the paper says. The relaxation parlours save workers from sleeping in the office, according to one user quoted by Chosun Ilbo: "I used to get some sleep hunched over on my desk at work or sitting on the toilet in the men's room, but here I can lie down and rest much more comfortably."

Read full article South Korea: Office workers head to relaxation parlours

Russia: Soviet anthem annoys prisoners

  • 6 October 2015
Prisoner facing the wall in a cell Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Prisoner abuse is part of the Soviet legacy in Russia

Inmates at a detention centre in Siberia have complained that the administration has been playing the Soviet anthem too often and too loud, reports say.

One of the detainees at Remand Centre No 1 in Ulan Ude reportedly called a local news website to vent his anger. "It reeks of Stalin... I'm a Russian patriot, and I want to hear the anthem of my country, not of the one that fell apart in the last century," he told BMK website. He added that he had a very good reason to dislike Stalin: the dictator sent his grandfather to the Gulag.

Read full article Russia: Soviet anthem annoys prisoners

Serbia: Struggling factory pays off workers in gold

  • 5 October 2015
File image of scrap gold at a factory Image copyright AFP
Image caption Workers were paid in gold coins, others in scrap or broken gold

Serbia's one-time flagship gold production plant, has found an ingenious way of settling five-months' worth of arrears to its employees by paying them off in gold.

The Zlatara Majdanpek plant has given each of its 315 employees about 30 grams of 22-carat gold (worth approximately $1,127; £800), after putting aside aside 8kg (17.6 pounds) for the purpose, the Vecernje novosti newspaper reports. Only one person has declined the offer so far, a local union official told Danas daily. The plant, set up in 1970, has been in financial trouble since 2000 and is undergoing restructuring. If the privatisation process - due to begin on 14 October - fails, it is likely to face bankruptcy in the coming months. It's hoped the gold payments will tide workers over until they find new jobs.

Read full article Serbia: Struggling factory pays off workers in gold

New Zealand: 'Wrong way' tourism video pulled from web

  • 5 October 2015
Still from the promotional video showing a white camper van driving on the right side of the road, with mountains in the background Image copyright Tourism NZ
Image caption Unlike this van in a Tourism NZ video, cars drive on the left in New Zealand

A promotional video commissioned by New Zealand's tourism board has been pulled from YouTube because it features a camper van driving on the wrong side of the road.

The clip was made by an American producer, and Tourism New Zealand wants to speak to him before deciding what to do next, a spokesperson for the government-funded organisation told the New Zealand Herald. "We will seek to have a conversation about whether it's a re-post or whether it's essentially pulled," Deborah Gray said. At the time of writing, the video - viewed over 300,000 times before it was removed - has not re-appeared on the Tourism NZ YouTube channel. Grey later told the news website that the error came after the video producer thought the flipped image "would look better". New Zealand's Tourism Ministry called it "a disappointing mistake."

Read full article New Zealand: 'Wrong way' tourism video pulled from web