China: Lazy officials sent to military-style retraining

  • 17 April 2015
Officials in the Chinese county of Qianxi marching in a military-style remedial training camp.
The "boot camps" are for the most underperforming officials

A county in China is ordering officials to take classes in military-style camps as punishment for poor performance at work.

Officials in Qianxi county, in southern Guizhou province, can be made to attend the "boot camps" for up to seven days for disobeying superiors' orders, poor work performance and slacking, according to state China Central Television. The camps are part of a wider remedial training scheme, with less serious offenders going to mere "improvement classes". So far, 1,668 county officials have been ordered to undergo some kind of retraining. One of them, Nie Qingchan, who was punished for "constant failure to focus at work", says she found it useful. "I think the retraining is needed to change the mentality by officials that they can still get their paycheques without actually working," she tells the broadcaster.

The Chinese government has vowed to crack down on officials slacking at their desks, but opinions are divided about whether Qianxi's tough approach will really work. "The camps can improve officials' physical health and daily routine, but they have nothing to do with helping their work performance," a commentary on the Red News website says. And some social media users advocate an even more drastic approach. "The best remedy is simply to fire them," user Sheng Pingwang Datou writes on the microblogging website Weibo.

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Anzac Day: New Zealand cities enact WW1 trench battle

  • 17 April 2015
Scenes from a World War One trench being re-enacted in a street in Auckland, New Zealand, in April 2015.
The event in Auckland closed off an entire city centre alleyway

Streets in New Zealand cities are being dressed up as World War One trenches as part of events marking the centenary of one the conflict's bloodiest engagements.

In the replica trenches, actors play out scenes from a day in the life of New Zealand soldiers fighting in the 1915 Gallipoli Campaign, TVNZ reports. Passers-by can watch as the re-enactments are filmed in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in the week leading up to the Anzac Day remembrance holiday on 25 April. In a twist, everything on the "sets" is coloured black and white, as if bringing to life WW1-era footage. "We had some people come by who had family members in the war and they were quite moved by it," Kate Whittle of Sky TV told the New Zealand Herald about the event in Auckland, which closed off a city centre alleyway.

Read full article Anzac Day: New Zealand cities enact WW1 trench battle

Uzbekistan: 'Centenarian bonus' gets sceptical response

  • 16 April 2015
An older man holding a cup of tea in Tashkent
The bonus will be given if someone reaches 100 - but not many Uzbeks live that long

People who live to see 100 in Uzbekistan are in line for a cash bonus under a new government scheme, it's reported.

Elderly people in the Central Asian state will be given about $30 (£20) per month after they reach their centenary, the privately-owned Central Asian News website reports. The amount is equivalent to the country's monthly minimum wage, and will be paid in addition to existing pensions, the report says. It's Uzbek tradition to name each new year, and 2015 has been declared "The Year of Care for the Elderly".

Read full article Uzbekistan: 'Centenarian bonus' gets sceptical response

Balkans: Czech man claims to establish 'new state'

  • 16 April 2015
The "founders" of Liberland standing in front of the raised flag
Mr Jedlicka (left) says Liberland's finer details, including a constitution, will be sorted out in the near future

A Czech man claims to have established a new state on the west bank of the Danube, it's reported.

Vit Jedlicka, a member of the Eurosceptic, conservative Party of Free Citizens, has declared that a 7-sq-km (2.7-sq-mile) patch between Serbia and Croatia is now the sovereign state of Liberland. Mr Jedlicka, Liberland's self-proclaimed "president", says it sits on an area of no-man's land - or terra nullius - between the two countries which isn't claimed by either of them.

Read full article Balkans: Czech man claims to establish 'new state'

Russia: Child 44 film release blocked over 'distortions'

  • 15 April 2015
Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman in Child 44
The films sees characters played by Tom Hardy and Gary Oldman team up to try and stop a serial killer

Russia has blocked the release of the new film Child 44 because authorities say it "distorts" historical facts.

The culture ministry says that the movie, which was due to be released on Friday, was withdrawn after a preview screening raised concerns. Issues included a "peculiar interpretation of events before, during and after the Great Patriotic War as well as images and characters of Soviet citizens living in that historical period", the ministry statement says, using the Russian term for the conflict with Nazi Germany. It adds that showing "this type of film" in the lead-up to the 70th anniversary of victory in World War Two is "unacceptable".

Read full article Russia: Child 44 film release blocked over 'distortions'

Egypt: Writer calls for protest against hijab

  • 15 April 2015
Women in Egypt wearing headscarves
Cherif Choubachy says he thinks women feel pressured into wearing the headscarf

An Egyptian journalist has issued a controversial call for Muslim women in the country to take off their headscarves.

Cherif Choubachy says women should take part in a protest against the hijab in Cairo's Tahrir Square in May, the al-Yawm al-Sabi newspaper reports. He wants women to remove their headscarves while "guarded" by a circle of men, including himself. In a video posted on his Facebook page, Mr Choubachy says women face social pressure and are "looked down on" if they don't wear the hijab, adding that he thinks many wear it "out of fear". The headscarf is still a debated issue in Egypt, with clerics saying it's obligatory in Islam, while intellectuals argue it's actually a tradition rather than a rule.

Read full article Egypt: Writer calls for protest against hijab

Iceland: Eurovision worries over legal strike

  • 15 April 2015
Iceland's Eurovision entrant Maria Olafsdottir
Iceland is due to be represented by Maria Olafsdottir at the contest being held in Vienna in May

Iceland's participation in the Eurovision Song Contest could be in doubt because of an ongoing legal strike, it's reported.

Notaries who work at the Reykjavik District Commissioner's office have traditionally overseen and verified the voting process of Iceland's professional Eurovision jury. But they're currently on strike along with other legal professionals over a wage dispute, and there's no sign of it ending anytime soon, the Morgunbladid website reports. "Pro­tracted strike ac­tion could jeop­ar­dise Ice­land's Eu­ro­vi­sion par­tic­i­pa­tion," the Ice­landic As­so­ci­a­tion of Aca­d­emics, an umbrella group for a number of unions, says on its website. That's left Iceland's Eurovision team looking for a plan B, but one member tells Morgunbladid they're exploring other options and are confident of being able to participate in the contest in May.

Read full article Iceland: Eurovision worries over legal strike

Italy: Hundreds visit 'Madonna of the rock'

  • 14 April 2015
A aerial view of the rock face
Visitors to Casaletto Spartano were the first to point out the shape - here in the centre - to local people

An Italian village is attracting attention after a figure which some people think resembles the Virgin Mary appeared on a nearby rock face.

Hundreds of visitors have been drawn to Casaletto Spartano, population 1,400, to see the "Madonna of the rock" for themselves, La Citta di Salerno website reports. The site says it's a mix of faith and curiosity that's attracting people. The figure began to emerge last summer when a chunk of rock broke off the cliff during a minor landslide.

A close up, circled image of the rock
A small landslide left the shape in the rock

Read full article Italy: Hundreds visit 'Madonna of the rock'

Canada: Five-year-old's lemonade stand raises thousands

  • 14 April 2015
Na'ama Uzan, her mother and a friend serve a customer at the lemonade stand
Friends and family have been helping Na'ama (centre) on the lemonade stand outside her home in Toronto

A five-year-old Canadian girl has raised thousands of dollars for charity by selling lemonade from a stand in her driveway, it's reported.

Na'ama Uzan set up the stand last year to try and help her older brother, Nadav, who suffers from the rare genetic disorder Angelman Syndrome, the CTV News website reports. "It's going to make a cure," she tells the channel, while showing off the goodies on offer on her stand. Her family says the venture has now raised about 25,000 Canadian dollars (US$20,000; £13,600) for the Foundation for Angelman Syndrome Therapeutics, which is trying to find a cure for the condition. Her seven-year-old brother suffers from seizures, and has difficulty walking and talking. Na'ama doesn't just sell lemonade - she's adapted to Canada's seasonal changes, selling hot chocolate during the winter, and offering muffins and bread for any peckish customers.

Read full article Canada: Five-year-old's lemonade stand raises thousands

Finland: Rollerblading president adds UAE to his list

  • 13 April 2015
President Sauli Niinisto rollerblading in Abu Dhabi
The Yas Marina Circuit has hosted the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix - and Finland's rollerblading president

When the president of Finland travels to foreign lands on official trips he always makes sure to pack his rollerblades, it seems.

President Sauli Niinisto was seen skating at the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi on Sunday, The National newspaper reports. Mr Niinisto says he has rollerbladed in more than 30 different countries since taking it up during his days as finance minister in the 1990s. "I'm collecting, in a way, different places," he tells the paper, adding that he has whizzed around Beijing's Tiananmen Square, Broadway in New York "and many places between".

Read full article Finland: Rollerblading president adds UAE to his list