China city unveils parking spaces for toilet breaks

  • 20 January 2017
A close up of on of the parking spaces with text in Chinese reading: Special toilet use Image copyright Xi'an city press office
Image caption The spaces are clearly marked as being for toilet users only

A city in central China now has free parking spaces reserved for drivers who need to answer the call of nature while on the road.

Spaces have been marked in yellow on main roads in Xi'an, close to 50 of the city's public toilets, the Hua Shang Bao newspaper reports. Each one is designated as a "special toilet use" space and there's a 15 minute time limit for drivers who park in them, so anyone who tries to take advantage of the spots to go shopping will be fined. The city's traffic police are also asking people to report any cars that occupy the spaces long-term.

One local driver told China Daily that he was pleased to find a place where he could pause for a quick toilet break without having to pay. And this is only the first phase of city's plan for loo-friendly spaces. Xi'an has more than 1,300 public toilets and traffic police say they're looking to create more reserved parking so that people can easily make use of the facilities.

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New Zealand imports insects to fight plant invader

  • 19 January 2017
Giant reed Image copyright Forest and Kim Starr
Image caption The giant reed - Arundo donax - can grow up to 8m high

New Zealand appears to be taking a calculated risk with its otherwise strict environmental policy by using foreign species to fight an invasive and destructive plant.

The country is well known for its strategy of protecting its wildlife and flora from species introduced from abroad, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to relax these rules to combat the reed Arundo donax, otherwise known as elephant grass or giant reed, New Zealand Herald reports. The government agency has approved a scheme where two species of insect from the Mediterranean will be introduced to New Zealand's northernmost Northlands region where the reed, which can grow up to 8m (26ft) tall, is displacing native plants and causing flooding.

Read full article New Zealand imports insects to fight plant invader

Japan city sorry for offensive welfare team jackets

  • 19 January 2017
An official holding up one of the jackets Image copyright Nippon TV
Image caption City officials displayed the jacket, with its possibly offensive acronym, at a press conference on Tuesday

A Japanese mayor has apologised after it emerged that staff at his city's welfare department owned jackets emblazoned with an offensive message about benefits cheats.

Featuring a crest on the front labelling the wearer part of an "eradication" team, the jackets also have a passage of broken-English text on the back which refers to chasing people to "punish injustice", The Asahi Shimbun reports. It ends with the sentence: "If they try to deceive us for gaining a profit by injustice, 'WE DARE TO SAY, THEY ARE DREGS!'"

Read full article Japan city sorry for offensive welfare team jackets

China city bans second-time wedding banquets

  • 18 January 2017
A couple dance at their wedding banquet Image copyright China Photos/Getty Images
Image caption Chinese weddings are often lavish affairs but the authorities want people to tone them down

A city in south-western China is banning wedding banquets for people marrying for a second time, in an attempt to curb public extravagance.

The authorities in Kaili, Guizhou province, have issued rules saying that only funerals and first-time weddings can be celebrated with banquets. They have also banned multiple feasts, and the use of different locations for one marriage ceremony, the Guizhou Evening Post reports.

Read full article China city bans second-time wedding banquets

Italy pizzeria hands out free pizzas to traffic jam

  • 18 January 2017
A margherita pizza Image copyright ROBERTO SALOMONE/AFP/Getty Images
Image caption Facebook users saluted Mr Di Maria for acting in a way that others may not have done

A pizzeria owner in northern Italy has won plaudits from his compatriots after handing out free pizzas to drivers stuck in a huge traffic jam.

Motorists in Genoa were caught in long tailbacks during the evening rush on Monday because of a large fire raging in nearby hills. Local roads - including the motorway - were closed due to smoke, leaving many drivers stuck in their vehicles for hours.

Read full article Italy pizzeria hands out free pizzas to traffic jam

Russian region debates Nutcracker 'occult' row

  • 17 January 2017
Two ballet dancers perform as the prince and Clara in The Nutcracker Image copyright EPA
Image caption The classic ballet is widely performed in Russia and beloved around the world

The authorities in a major region of Siberia are to discuss accusations by a local archbishop that The Nutcracker ballet is not a children's Christmas treat but rather a "work of the occult".

Novosibirsk Governor Vladimir Gorodetsky has told reporters they're welcome to attend a round table on the comments by Metropolitan Tikhon, who also thinks the nutcracker that comes to life in the ballet is a "prince shape-shifter", Tass news agency reports.

Read full article Russian region debates Nutcracker 'occult' row

Sweden midwives offer training for car births

  • 16 January 2017
Close-up of a newborn baby's feet Image copyright Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Image caption The midwives want to prepare women who may go into labour en route to the hospital

Expectant parents in a town in Sweden are being offered training on how to deliver a baby in a car after the local maternity ward was earmarked for closure.

Two midwives at the hospital in Solleftea came up with the idea in order to help mums- and dads-to-be feel safer during the long journey to the nearest maternity unit, The Local reports. From February, that will be in either Ornskoldsvik or Sundsvall - both more than 100km (62 miles) away.

Read full article Sweden midwives offer training for car births

Samoa minister defends new rules on old cars

  • 16 January 2017
Traffic in Samoa Image copyright Alamy/DPA
Image caption The minister says Samoans need newer cars - and fewer cars

Samoa's transport minister has rebuffed criticism over a new law blocking imports of cars that are more than eight years old.

The change comes into force this week and some fear it'll make vehicles unaffordable for local people, the Samoa Observer reports. But Minister of Transport Papali'i Niko Lee Hang says the shift will be good for the environment and ease the Pacific state's traffic woes, which he blames on low prices. "The roads are so congested, there are so many cars. That's because people can afford cheap cars," he says.

Read full article Samoa minister defends new rules on old cars

Russians mock 'Uber-like' funeral app

  • 13 January 2017
A screenshot shows the website of Russian funeral app Umer Image copyright Umer
Image caption Umer's website describes it as "the app that helps when someone has died"

A newly-unveiled smartphone app that allows people to organise funerals on the go has prompted scepticism and even ridicule in Russia.

Its developers say the app - to be launched in two months' time - is designed to make it easier for grief-stricken relatives unfamiliar with the process to arrange the funerals of their nearest and dearest, the Lenta.ru website reports. It is modelled on the ride-sharing service Uber, and is even called "Umer" - which is the Russian for "he's dead".

Read full article Russians mock 'Uber-like' funeral app

Austria village churches hire bouncers to block tourists

  • 13 January 2017
Tourists in Hallstatt Image copyright EPA/CHRISTIAN BRUNA
Image caption Hallstatt's Alpine charm makes it a magnet for tourists

A picturesque Austrian village has brought in "bouncers" at its churches in order to stop tourists disturbing services, it's reported.

Visitors from all over the world flock to the lakeside village of Hallstatt, a Unesco World Heritage Site, and it's particularly popular with tour groups from Asia. But some have been riling the locals with their eagerness to document church proceedings, even whipping out cameras and selfie sticks during funerals and photographing the mourners, the Heute website reports.

Read full article Austria village churches hire bouncers to block tourists