Saudi female candidates warned not to meet voters

  • 12 October 2015
A Saudi Arabian woman registers to vote in the city of Jeddah in August 2015 Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The first Saudi women to register to vote submitted their applications in August

All 366 female candidates standing in forthcoming elections in Saudi Arabia have been warned against addressing voters directly, it's been reported.

The country's election commission says that despite women being allowed to stand in the poll on 12 December, the country's strict gender segregation rules will still apply, the Arab News reports. Instead, they will have to appoint male agents to campaign on their behalf, or face a fine of 10,000 riyals ($2,667; £1,737). They're also barred from publishing their photos in their election material, and must provide segregated areas in the election headquarters for men and women. The rules don't just apply to female candidates - election commission spokesman Judiea Al-Qahtani said that both male and female candidates should appoint representatives to present their election policies to male voters, and advertising campaigns need to obtain a special permit.

It's the first time that women have been allowed to vote and stand as candidates in elections in Saudi Arabia, and August saw the first women registering to vote in the kingdom. December's poll will elect new members for municipal councils which have limited powers in the absolute monarchy.

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South Korea: Seoul grapples with smelly gingko problem

  • 12 October 2015
Gingko trees in Seoul Image copyright AFP
Image caption Gingko trees in Seoul produce a beautiful display in autumn, but at a price

Fallen gingko nuts that stink of vomit have provoked articles and editorials in South Korean newspapers as officials in the country's capital grapple with how to get rid of them, it appears.

The gingko tree is famous for its spectacular yellow leaves in autumn which become a tourist attraction in some districts. The problem is that while Seoul's thousands of gingko trees produce nutritious nuts that are tasty when cooked, acid in the husks produces a smell that's offensive to the noses of local residents, the Korea JoongAng Daily reports. With over 114,000 gingko trees in the city, one-in-10 being female trees which produce the nuts, the smell can be overpowering in the autumn months. The problem is made worse by the fact that the trees are city property, and picking the fallen fruit is theft, meaning they are left to rot in the streets, the Korea Herald says.

Read full article South Korea: Seoul grapples with smelly gingko problem

Vanuatu president's anger as stand-in pardons himself

  • 12 October 2015
Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale Image copyright AFP
Image caption Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale says "no-one is above the law" in the Pacific island nation

The president of the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu has expressed his anger after his deputy pardoned himself and 13 other convicts while he was out of the country.

Speaker Marcellino Pipite was one of 14 MPs - half of the country's parliament - who were convicted last Friday of giving and receiving corrupt payments over a vote of no confidence in a previous government. With President Baldwin Lonsdale out of the country on Saturday, Pipite used his delegated powers to gazette a pardon for himself and his fellow defendants, Radio New Zealand International reports. Vanuatu's constitution allows the speaker to assume presidential powers in the absence of the head of the republic, including the power of pardon. Pipite told local media that his action was to maintain "peace and unity" in the country, but as Australia's ABC reports: "When pressed on how the bribery convictions could spark instability, Mr Pipite failed to answer."

Read full article Vanuatu president's anger as stand-in pardons himself

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".

Read full article Serbia: Villagers 'threaten Islam conversion' for church

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