Japan's hanami cherry blossom ritual 'under threat'

  • 27 May 2016
People admire cherry blossoms at Chidorigafuchi, Tokyo, in March 2007. Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Admiring cherry blossoms is a popular spring ritual in Japan

There are fears that Japan's iconic cherry blossom festivals could be a thing of past as the trees are threatened by an invasive pest, it's reported.

The culprit is the red-necked longhorn beetle - or aromia bungii - a species of beetle whose larvae feed on cherry and peach trees, often killing them, the Asahi Shinbun newspaper reports. Up to 4 cm (1.5 inches) long, the insect is thought to be native to China and South Korea, but has already been making its presence felt in Japan in the past few years. The Japanese government has classified it as harmful to the ecosystem, and in February sent guidance urging local governments to take action to bring it under control, according to Asahi Shinbun. One pesticide tested has reportedly shown promise.

Loss of the trees could endanger hanami - literally "flower viewing" - Japan's much-loved spring tradition of holding outdoor parties under flowering cherry trees to admire their transient beauty. "If no measures are taken to address the issue, the culture of hanami will vanish from Japan within 20 to 30 years in the worst case," says Ryutaro Iwata, a professor of forestry and entomology at Nihon University.

The beetle was first spotted in Japan in 2012, but is thought to have entered the country earlier, as the larvae can take up to three years to mature into adults. As far back as 2013, of 2,600 cherry trees surveyed in one town - Soka in central Saitama Prefecture - 100 had already been affected by the pest, and some had died. The news prompted wanted posters to go up in the town urging people to tread on the beetles. Since then, they've been spotted across Japan, including Tokyo and Osaka.

Next story: New Zealand's Maori 'emotiki' join emoji crowd

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New Zealand's Maori 'emotiki' join emoji crowd

  • 27 May 2016
The Te Puia cultural centre in New Zealand launched a set of Maori emoji on its Facebook page. Image copyright Te Puia
Image caption Guess which of these means "pukana"

People wanting to text in a Maori "accent" will soon to be able to do so with the release of a special set of emoji in New Zealand.

Called "emotiki", the distinctive green symbols will be officially available for iPhone and Android users in July, but are already doing the rounds on social media, Radio New Zealand reports. Along with more usual ideas and emotions, the 150-character keyboard will also reflect Maori-specific concepts such as moves of the ritual haka warrior dance, as well as flax skirt, outrigger canoe and whanau - the term for the extended family typical of traditional Maori social organisation. There'll also be a small number of animated gifs, including one for pukana - a fierce expression with stuck-out-tongue used during the haka.

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Malaysian teachers confused by clapping practice order

  • 26 May 2016
North Korean troops applauding Image copyright AFP
Image caption The 'joke' instruction has been compared to living in North Korea

Teachers in Malaysia have reportedly been taking part in "hand-clapping practice" sessions after an apparent joke by an education director was taken at face value.

Terengganu state director of education, Shafruddin Ali Hussin, reportedly told a WhatsApp group of headteachers and educators that teachers should take part in five-minute practice sessions every week. It came after a lacklustre display of support for the state's chief minister at a recent Teacher's Day function where some teachers reportedly didn't clap, the Malaysia Star news website reports.

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Canadian police ready for 'bear season'

  • 26 May 2016
File image of a black bear in a town Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Black bears are attracted to human communities by easy access to food

Police in one Canadian city are setting up a "triage" system to prioritise their response to bear sightings, it's been reported.

Such are the numbers of black bears seen in the Ontario city of Sudbury, the local force want to be able to direct resources toward the most dangerous scenarios, national broadcaster CBC reports. With the "bear season" starting, where the animals have a habit of coming into town in search for food, the emergency services have their work cut out dealing with calls from concerned members of the public. In 2015, police had to deal with 1,700 incidents due to a poor crop of berries in the wild, forcing bears closer to towns to find food, the Sudbury.com news website says.

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Russians could face jail for insulting anthem

  • 25 May 2016
Vladimir Putin and Russian pop singer Larisa Dolina sing the Russian national anthem at a rally in central Moscow in 2015 Image copyright AFP
Image caption Choose your words carefully when you sing the Russian national anthem

Russia's Supreme Court has cleared the way for a new law to make it a criminal offence to insult the national anthem.

This will bring it into line with the state flag and coat of arms, insulting which is already a crime, the Gazeta.ru website reports. The bill says "intentionally distorting the words or music of the anthem in public performance, social media, and on the internet" will be punishable by up to a year in jail. At present insulting the anthem is a civil offence that involves a fine of $45-$2,200 (£30-£1,500).

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New Zealand launches mouse eradication scheme

  • 25 May 2016
File image of mice Image copyright Laurana Serres-Giardi
Image caption Mice were introduced to the islands by human activity in the 1800s

New Zealand has launched an ambitious programme aimed at ridding its remote Antipodes Islands of over 200,000 mice.

Dubbed the "Million Dollar Mouse" project by the country's Department of Conservation, the aim is to exterminate the mice and restore the ecological balance on the volcanic sub-Antarctic islands which form part of New Zealand territory. An eradication team has left the South Island city of Dunedin, and expect to be on the main island for up to five months as helicopters spread rodent bait, the Otago Daily Times says.

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Finland to free up strict drinking laws

  • 24 May 2016
Street cafes in Helsinki, Finland Image copyright Getty Images/Education Images
Image caption Happy hour is here again

Finland's centre-right government has agreed to free up the country's notoriously strict rules on the sale and advertising of alcohol, including the right to buy a round of drinks in most establishments.

The three parties which form the governing bloc plan to reform the Alcohol Act in a way that the National Coalition Party calls "less patronising, more sense", Helsingin Sanomat newspaper reports. The party's deputy chairwoman, Outi Makela, published the list of amendments on her blog, and they should become law early next year.

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Low-paid teacher in Cambodia 'set up armed gang'

  • 24 May 2016
Cambodian police in the back of a pick-up truck Image copyright AFP
Image caption Police say they caught the fugitive teacher by chance while inspecting a construction site

A primary school teacher in Cambodia allegedly set up an armed gang and turned to violent crime because his salary was so low, it's been reported.

Police in Phnom Penh say 62-year-old Moeng Sary was arrested after five years on the run following a string of some 37 armed robberies, and has been charged with theft and "using a weapon without permission", the Khmer Times reports. The former teacher from Cambodia's southern province of Prey Veng, was identified as a suspect by police following the robbery of a shop in which the owners were beaten, and an estimated $120,000 (£82,000) in jewellery and cash was taken. Authorities claim that this was Mr Sary's final robbery, after two of his alleged accomplices were captured and implicated him as their ringleader.

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Russian writer says war dead should have vote

  • 23 May 2016
Immortal Regiment march through St Petersburg Image copyright Getty Images/Tass
Image caption Immortal Regiment march through St Petersburg

A controversial Russian academic has proposed giving the vote to the millions who died in the Second World War, so that they can "continue to influence the development of the country".

Alexander Ageyev told a conference by the powerful Orthodox Church on 'Faith and Deeds in a Time of Crisis' that the idea is "worth considering", the local Fontanka news site reports. Mr Ageyev is director of the Institute for Economic Strategies, an affiliate of the official Academy of Sciences, and so his comments have attracted considerable media attention - not least about the logistics of how the dead would cast their votes.

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Nobel laureate spots Turkish banknote error

  • 23 May 2016
Turkish five lira note, featuring DNA helix Image copyright Hurriyet
Image caption Turkish five lira note, featuring DNA helix

Nobel laureate Aziz Sancar says the depiction of the DNA helix on Turkey's five-lira banknote is wrong.Professor Sancar was visiting schools in Istanbul to talk about his work when he pointed out the mistake, the Haber 24 news site reports. He said the banknote "shows a left-handed Z-DNA helix winding from left to right, when it should be the other way round". The five-lira note, first issued in 2009, also shows atomic symbols, the solar system, and a portrait of historian of science Adnan Sayili.

When it comes to DNA, the US-based scientist knows what he's talking about. The research he and two colleagues carried out on how cells in the body repair DNA is helping to target cells that cause cancer, and won them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry last year. Aziz Sancar was born into a poor family in Turkey, but went on to graduate in medicine in Istanbul before moving to the United States.

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