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2 October 2014 Last updated at 10:12 ET

'Democracy dogs' give HK protests added bite

Momo the democracy dog Momo the democracy dog

Pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong have been given an added bite by demonstrators who bring their pet dogs to protest venues, it appears. Known as "democracy dogs", many of them they sport yellow ribbons adopted as a protest symbol by their owners demanding the resignation of Beijing-backed Chief Executive CY Leung.

One of the dogs, a French bulldog called Meimei, was equipped with goggles and a mask after police used tear gas against the protesters. Her owner couldn't vouch for Meimei's precise political views. But he told the South China Morning Post, an influential local newspaper, that "she is definitely pro-democracy".

As well as energising the protests, the dogs draw large crowds of onlookers hoping for a photo-opportunity, the South China Morning Post reported.

Two dogs with owners Snowy (l) and Meimei (r)

Dogs are not the only animals at the demonstrations. Hong Kong's most famous stuffed toy, Lufsig, was spotted adorning a provisions tent for protesters, the newspaper said. The toy wolf became a symbol of anti-government sentiments after someone threw it at Leung in December 2013.

Even though Hong Kong is famous for its intense pace of urban living, its residents are known for their love of animals. Earlier in 2014, dog-friendly buses were launched in the megalopolis. In August, more than 100 distraught animal lovers converged at the headquarters of a railway company to protest against station staff allowing a train to run over a stray dog.

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Israel: What did King David drink?

Man picking grapes

A scientist in Israel is on a mission to find out what kind of wine was drunk in Biblical times. The project - which is part-funded by the government - also aims to re-launch its production.

Several barrels of wine are already standing next to Elyashiv Drori's laboratory at Ariel University in the West Bank. His goal is to find a grape variety that was used to make wine thousands of years ago and still survives in Israel.

"It's not interesting to make chardonnay in Israel because there's chardonnay that comes from California," he tells JTA, a Jewish website headquartered in New York. "But if you can make wine in Israel that isn't elsewhere and that connects to the history here, that's much more interesting," says Dr Drori, who is also a winemaker and has judged international wine competitions.

In 2011, he despatched a team of students on treks across Israel to find grapes growing in the wild. One problem that they were facing was that the area's past Muslim rulers banned alcohol for centuries, and many indigenous grape varieties all but fell out of use, JTA says. After three years of searching, though, they found 100 varieties unique to Israel, of which at least 10 are suitable for wine-making.

Elyashiv Drori now wants to compare them to archaeological finds such as the remnants of a kilo of 3,000-old grapes found near Jerusalem's Old City. He has enlisted the help of Mali Salmon-Divol, a DNA biologist, who has begun sequencing the genomes of the indigenous Israeli grapes. "You want to know what this wine looked like, which wine King David drank, white or red," she tells JTA. "We can see if it's red or white, strong or weak."

As soon as this is done, Elyashiv Drori hopes to interest vineyards in bringing back the antique species. "We want wine that's good because of its quality and its story," he says.

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Jordan digs up 1960s Israeli spy kit

Israeli soldiers during the Arab-Israeli war 1967 The material dates from the time following the 1967 Arab Israeli war

Jordan says it's unearthed hidden Israeli spy equipment and explosives dating from the late 1960s.

The surprise announcement was made when Jordan's army chief, Gen Mashal Mohammed al-Zaben finally revealed the purpose of a mysterious dig that's been the subject of numerous rumours for more than a year, the Jordan Times reports. The secretive excavation, near the northern town of Ajloun, had prompted speculation in the Jordanian social media that archaeologists had uncovered Roman or Greek remains, and possibly even treasure worth billions.

But according to Gen Zaben, the dig's aim was part of a wider operation to excavate and neutralise Israeli spying devices and explosives planted across Jordan in 1969, in the wake of the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. He says the military was alerted to the sites after investigating a huge blast caused by some of the hidden explosives in the Mafraq area in January 2013. It then launched a nationwide survey, and - with the help of information provided by Israel - found five similar sites, including Ajloun. The job there was apparently the most complex, and Jordan had to take the unusual step of asking for a Israel to send in a team with special equipment to help carry out controlled night-time explosions, according to Ammon News.

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Kazakhs in bid to save endangered dog

Tazy hunting dogs at a dog show in Astana Kazakhstan Tazys show off their hunting skills in Kazakhstan

Hunters in Kazakhstan have organised a dog show as part of an attempt to preserve one of the world's rarest breeds - the Tazy.

Bred by nomads for hunting rabbits, foxes and even wolves in Kazakhstan and the North Caucasus, it's now one of the rarest dogs in the world. "The breed has centuries-old roots," Alexander Berber, the CEO of national hunting society Kansonar, tells the Kazakh website tengrinews. "It is our task to ensure this breed does not disappear."

Now, more than 150 of the dogs have brought together by hunters from all over Kazakhstan at the capital Astana. The animals compete in exercises designed to show off their hunting skills, using artificial bait. The first of its kind, the show seeks to help to set a common standard for the breed, which doesn't have official recognition. Without this crucial step to preserve the breed, says Kansonar chairman, Oralbai Abdikarimov, it's in danger of becoming extinct.

The tazy - meaning "pure" - belongs to the sighthound group, with the lithe body of a greyhound and long muscular legs. It's famed as the Kazakh nomad's best friend, and traditionally the only animal allowed to sleep inside the yurt and approach children.

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Italy cuts MP's barbers' pay to 99K

Man having hair cut by barber

The Italian parliament's barbers are having their top pay cut to 99,000 euros (£77,000) a year as part of an austerity drive.

Eyebrows were raised last year at revelations that barbers employed to keep MPs well-groomed can earn up to 136,000 euros depending on time in the job. But plans agreed by MPs' committees in both houses of parliament mean 37,000 euros will now be shaved off this sum to save costs, Quotidiano Libero reports.

And it's not just the barbers - the chamber of deputies' chief of staff will see his pay drop from 480,000 euros to 360,000, parliamentary aides from 358,000 to 240,000 and technicians from 152,000 to 106,000. To give those affected time to adjust, the changes will be phased in over four years.

The reform has left some Italians underwhelmed. "Even the new figures make your head spin," Today website comments. "The barber of parliament will earn only 7,600 euros a month", one Twitter user exclaims. "I'm thinking of organising a collection." To a comment wondering why someone would need "such a high salary" to cut MPs' hair, one jokes: "80% don't even have any hair."

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Croat leaps open bridge in car

Still from video of woman driving her car over an open drawbridge in Tisno, Croatia The leap was caught on CCTV

A woman in Croatia startled onlookers by leaping several metres across a raised bridge in her car, apparently after missing a red light.

The movable part of the bridge in the seaside town of Tisno was raised at 2.5m (8ft) when the yellow Peugeot zipped up it and landed on the other side, the local news portal Sibenikin reports. The unnamed woman, 58, passed a red light that had just come on, according to bridge warden Tome Mejic Sidic. "I was shouting and gesturing her to stop but it was no use", he says. "She ignored me, went full throttle and flew across the bridge. I was convinced she'd overturn the car." The "jump" was captured on CCTV.

Another witness estimates the woman's speed at about 80km/h (50mph). "It sounded like a bomb had gone off," he says of the landing. "There was a terrible noise and all the airbags were opened by the force of the crash." The driver and her passenger came to a halt next to a cafe on the other side, unharmed. The woman reportedly later told police that she'd been blinded by the sun and hadn't seen the red light.

The bridge in Tisno has previously tempted drivers to take a chance, it appears. Tome Sidic says a tractor tried to take it on once but was nowhere nearly fast enough.

Tisno's movable bridge The bridge in a lowered - and less action-packed - state

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Hajj 'selfie craze' bemuses clerics

Muslim pilgrims circle around the kaaba in Mecca Muslims circle around the kaaba in Mecca as part of the pilgrimage

A new fashion for taking a selfie while on pilgrimage to the holy sites of Islam is being greeted with disapproval by some clerics, it has been reported.

A growing number of pilgrims are taking pictures of themselves while on the hajj - the main pilgrimage Muslims seek to perform at least once in their life - and posting it on social media for friends and family at home, according to the Arab News website. Favourite scenes include the key steps of the pilgrimage, such as the ritual walk around the Kaaba in Mecca or trying to kiss the black stone inside. The practice apparently took off after the authorities relaxed a previous ban on camera phones inside the holy sites.

Now several religious scholars have spoken out against "selfie fever" as "touristy behaviour". "Taking such selfies and videos defy the wish of our prophet," Saudi cleric Assim Al-Hakeem says. "It is as though the only purpose of this trip is to take pictures and not worship," another, Abdul Razzaq Al-Badr, grumbles. But some think the chorus of disapproval - even a former grand mufti in Egypt has been critical - is unlikely to have an effect. "So many people have camera phones, it's not easy to stop," one pilgrim says.

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China firm 'sorry' for metro strip

Two women "strip" on Shanghai metro The company now says the entire scene was staged

A Chinese laundry company is facing a heavy fine after apparently hiring two actresses to strip down to their underwear on a Shanghai metro train.

In a clip posted on Chinese video websites last week, two girls suddenly start undressing on what seems to be a crowded train. Passengers are seen filming them on their mobile phones, while a middle-aged woman appears to be telling them off. A man dressed in the uniform of a laundry company then gets on and collects the girls' discarded clothes. After the film spread online, police approached the company.

Citing a "negative public reaction", the business, Tidy Laundry, has now apologised for its "mistake", saying it merely wanted to promote its on-call service in an "exaggerated way", the Shanghai Daily reports. They say everyone immediately involved - strippers, filming bystanders and outraged passengers - were hired actors. But this may not be the end of the firm's troubles - police say they are investigating whether they broke laws banning adverts that have a "bad influence on society".

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Canada mining giant to keep bees

Bees Bees are useful for helping plants pollinate

A Canadian mining company has got into bee-keeping as part of an environmental regeneration effort.

Brazilian-owned nickel miner Vale says it has set up seven beehives housing some 350,000 bees, to help restore vegetation on the huge slag-heaps that have grown around its nickel-smelting refinery at Copper Cliff, Ontario, public broadcaster CBC reports. It's the latest stage of a process that has already seen the slag covered in a layer of soil, landscaped and planted with grass and trees. The bee-keeper is a retired employee of the company.

"With all the wildflowers, it was thought to promote pollination and help the re-vegetation process," the head of decommissioning and reclamation at Vale says. The initiative has been well received in the wider Sudbury mining area, it appears. "Bees are in trouble right now," says local bee-keeper Marnie Oystrick. "When a big company puts a little back into beekeeping, it makes people aware." Worldwide, bee numbers are seen as threatened by a mysterious effect called colony collapse disorder.

Canadian mining companies often face criticism for their environmental record. Vale is keen is to counteract this image, vowing to plant 3.3m trees around Sudbury.

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Japan pop idols aim to sing away debt

Japanese pop group The Margarines are presented at their inaugural news conference in September 2014

A pop group has been formed in Japan with the aim of "singing and dancing away" its insolvent members' personal debt mountains.

The Margarines say they are becoming "idols" - a manufactured girl band common on the Japanese pop scene - to clear debts of about $1.2m (£700,000) in total, the Japan Times reports. The lion's share belongs to Mami Nishida, 30, who owes about $900,000 after her family's business collapsed. "Tough times bring opportunity," she told the group's first news conference last week. There's also a German member, Marie Christine Krause, 22, who owes $20,000 in tuition fees.

The girls, who are between 19 and 30 years old, were chosen in auditions after the group's formation was announced in July, and will release their first album, Good-bye Debt Heaven, in December. Producer Makkoi Saito thinks the girls' poor finances are a selling point, telling Japan Today that "people with big debt have big dreams". Most Japanese idol groups are subject to strict no-dating clauses, but The Margarines will not be bound by those restrictions, provided they reach a target of selling 10,000 albums.

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North Korea gives mobile manners advice

North Korean girls use mobile phones in a Pyongyang park Despite tight controls on their use, mobile phones are spreading

Mobile phone use in North Korea has become so widespread that state media have begun issuing guidelines on manners for using them, it seems.

An article in a quarterly culture magazine says the growing use of mobiles has brought a "tendency among some people to neglect proper phone etiquette", according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap. The problems highlighted are not too different from those outside the isolated communist state: "Speaking loudly or arguing over the phone in public places where many people are gathered is thoughtless and impolite behaviour," one stricture reads.

To cut down on unnecessary chatter, people should introduce themselves when accepting a call, even though on mobiles - "unlike on land-lines" - the caller's number is generally known, the magazine says. This, it adds, will avoid inquiries such as "Hello? Is it you, comrade Yeong-cheol?" It also suggests acknowledging right away that you know the caller, to save them the trouble of introducing themselves.

Since North Korea's first public mobile network was launched in 2008, the number of subscribers has risen to over two million. But international calls are not permitted, and mobile ownership is largely restricted to the elite.

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Filipino cops face 'honesty teams'

Filipino police

The Philippines government is sending "honesty teams" to investigate whether the wealth of police officers matches their official income.

Police spokesman Reuben Theodore Sindac says the assets, liabilities and net worth of officers are routinely checked whenever they apply for promotion. But now the National Police Directorate for Intelligence will dispatch "re-energized honesty teams" in plain clothes to trawl through all police records, Remate newspaper reports.

Interior Minister Manuel Roxas II last week said he would inspect police personal wealth "from the highest ranks to the lowest" in the 148,000-strong force. This follows revelations that officers linked to a notorious robbery and abduction case on a Manila ring road had declared assets far in excess of their income, the Philippines Inquirer reports.

Police honesty teams were first tried out in 2006, and received instructions on how to weed out specific bad cops in 2009. But the new operation is on a grander scale, and will be an "opportunity to protect the good name of the police by eliminating suspicion and speculation of ill-gotten wealth or involvement in criminal activity," says Chief Superintendent Sindac.

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Turks attend safe sacrifice lessons

Eid sacrifice course in Izmir, Western Turkey Eid sacrifice course in Izmir, Western Turkey

As Turkey gears up for Eid al-Adha, the Muslim Feast of Sacrifice, the government is running courses for the public on how to slaughter animals safely.

The Daily Sabah newspaper says "Turkey has a bad reputation when it comes to slaughtering animals for the feast because ordinary people attempt to slaughter the sheep and cattle themselves, instead of hiring a professional butcher". State-run public education centres are now conducting courses ahead of the 4 October festival to end the phenomenon of "blundering butchers who often end up in hospital emergency wards when a misplaced blow injures them".

The centres will run 40 courses nationwide, covering slaughter, skinning, removal of internal organs, meat storage, hygiene during slaughter and, not least, "first aid in the event of accidental maiming of the amateur butcher", Haberler website says. The courses will also cover the Islamic rules on selection of the sheep and bulls suitable for slaughter and how to divide the meat - a third is traditionally given to the needy. The teachers are professional butchers, Islamic scholars and paramedics, who will conduct the lessons in classrooms and "practicals" in licensed slaughterhouses.

Students are told to pay particular attention to handling knives and cleavers properly, as lost fingers feature regularly in the Turkish media. Other frequent causes of urgent hospital visits are poorly-tethered animals "sensing their impending doom, breaking loose and butting their cleaver-wielding owners", Sabah notes.

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Japan gets noodles for dogs

Dog noodles from Japan

A Japanese company is launching a new range of noodles for dogs.

Seimenya produces Sanuki Udon thick wheatflour noodles, noted for their square shape and flat edges, and mainly eaten in broth. The company has now cooked up a low-salt variety dubbed "Inu senyou", ("especially for dogs"), reports My Navi website.

The noodles are additive-free and easy for dogs to digest, the firm says, plausibly claiming to have created the "first Sanuki udon dog food in the entire world". My Navi notes the relatively high price of 324 yen (US$3; £1.80) for a 150g noodle-and-broth packet, while the Kotaku website brims with scepticism: "The meal is more a niche, novelty product than anything else, because typical dogs in Japan eat, well, typical dog food."

Readers' comments on the Kotaku page range from wondering whether dogs will be interested in noodles at all to discussing their pets' low tolerance for salt. The consensus is that dogs are "hardly gourmets" and, "whether Tibetan mastiffs or Pekingese", generally "wolf food down as quickly as possible".

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Malaysian officers don pants masks

Malaysian customs officers arrive in court

Malaysian customs officers caused a scene when they turned up for a court hearing wearing underpants on their heads, in an apparent attempt to hide their identities.

Fifteen officers appeared at Petaling Jaya Magistrates Court for a remand hearing, and newspapers published photographs of at least six of them clad in brightly-coloured masks fashioned from male underwear. They were detained earlier in a crackdown on corruption in the customs service, Utusan Malaysia newspaper reports. The authorities are concerned that alcohol and tobacco smuggling is feeding organised crime and terrorism.

The customs chief of Perak State, Datuk Mohd Nasir Said, and several other officers have already been charged with more than 100 offences for allegedly turning a blind eye to smuggling. The Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission accuses them of accepting bribes with an upper range of 130,000 ringgit ($40,000; £25,500) each month. They face up to 20 years in jail and a fine of five times the sum of the bribes taken, the Rakyat Post reports. All officers deny the allegations.

Utusan Malaysia says the officers in fact had no need to don their underwear as headgear. "They should know the media is not allowed to publish photographs of the faces of people on remand, only when they have been formally charged".

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Belarus bans one-woman protest

Unsanctioned one-man protest in Minsk "Putin Gang Aggressors - Hands off Ukraine and Belarus!" Unofficial protest in Minsk

The council of the Belarussian capital Minsk won't let a woman protest alone outside the Russian embassy in case she "damages the lawn or distracts drivers", it seems.

Tatstsyana Hrachanikava, a veteran of the opposition Movement for Freedom, asked to stage her peaceful one-person picket on Thursday and Friday, but deputy mayor Ihar Karpenka replied that she constitutes a "mass event that might harm the environment and green spaces, obstruct pedestrians and traffic, and distract drivers from the road", the Movement for Freedom website reports. Mr Karpenka also complains that Ms Hrachanikava did not outline "specific steps to maintain public order and safety during the mass event".

Artsyom Lyava, a leading figure in the Movement, is impressed by the "imaginative leaps officials are making to come up with such absurdities". They turned down applications from him to picket the embassy earlier in September. "If a one-person protest can create such serious obstruction, we won't be able to walk around or even stand still next," he says. Mr Lyava calls on members of the public to join a 'picket carousel' by filing protest applications every day in the hope of shaming Minsk Council. "They don't just ban protests over Ukraine, but over any matter of public interest," he says.

The story is widely reported in the Belarussian independent media, but ignored on state outlets. The authoritarian government of President Alexander Lukashenko is wary of Ukraine's turbulent democracy, and tries to keep on the right side of Russia - its economic sponsor and sole European ally.

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China city wants blood for weddings

Chinese nurse holds blood bag

Baoji city in China is on a blood donation drive, and has caused a stir in social media by saying people should give blood if they want to go to college, learn to drive or even marry.

New regulations in the Shaanxi Province city, due to come into effect next week, "urge" first-year college students and serving soldiers to donate blood at least once a year. Local people who want to apply for a driving licence, receive their school graduation certificate, take up their first job or get married in Baoji registry offices "should all give a voluntary donation as a contribution to society", Chinese TV reports.

The details published on Baoji's official Weibo social media account are enough to cause outrage among thousands of social media users, who have little doubt that the drive will put citizens under strong moral pressure to comply. Qing Baoyi Jiulan is typical in complaining "donations should be voluntary, and tying it to behaviour or morality is unethical". Lu Mumu says the city should "give more consideration to how convenient it is to donate blood, and where the blood is used" than to thinking up new rules.

The Chinese media says Pujiang County in Zheijang Province has taken a different, incentive-based approach. It is offering bonus points in high-school entrance exams for the children of families who make generous blood donations, Qianjiang Evening News reports.

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Red light means jail for Saudis

Traffic lights

Drivers in the Saudi Arabian city of Jeddah are being forced to spend the night in prison if they jump a red light, it appears.

According to a traffic police spokesman, offenders caught on the city's CCTV systems will only be able to pay the mandatory fine after they have served a 24-hour detention period, the Arab News reports. Extra undercover police officials are to be deployed at road junctions to "crack down on traffic violators", Brigadier Zaid Al-Hamzi tells the paper, and similar mandatory punishments are being rolled out across the Kingdom, Arab News says. One car rental firm confirmed that the regulations are being implemented, with a spokesman saying that several of its clients were cooling their heels in prison.

A report last year said that Saudi Arabia's roads are amongst the most dangerous in the world, with an average of 19 deaths every day. The situation is deemed so serious that Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti Abdulaziz Al-Asheikh recently offered a spiritual ruling on reckless drivers. The fatwa issued by the country's most senior religious authority said that it is a "major sin" to drive dangerously, and such actions could kill others, Arab News said.

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Campaign for high-rise zoo gorilla

Little Lotus in her cage at Bangkok's Pata store Bua Noi in her cage in a Bangkok department store

Officials in Bangkok have agreed to meet activists campaigning for the release of a female gorilla which has been on display in a department store's zoo since 1987, it's reported.

The campaign to re-house Bua Noi (Little Lotus) from the zoo on the top two floors of Bangkok's Pata department store has more than 35,000 signatures and has resulted in the director of the country's Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation (DNP) agreeing to speak to activists about the case, the Bangkok Post reports. Sinjira Apaitan, who organised the petition, told the paper: "I don't think animals should be locked up in such unnatural habitat. I hope to help all other animals being held captive in this high-rise zoo as well." Speaking to Bangkok's Nation newspaper Sinjira hopes that the zoo, which has been criticised for its cramped conditions in the world's media for several years, would lose its licence.

A BBC journalist who has visited the Pata Zoo says the cages are small, concrete and some of the hundreds of animals were clearly suffering mental effects from their confinement. In defence of the attraction, zoo director Kanit Sermsirimongkol tells the Bangkok Post that "Bua Noi is very valuable to our zoo and we would not do anything to harm her in any way." Activists concede that it is probably too late for Bua Noi to live in the wild, but she could probably be housed in an open zoo instead.

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Chef gambles away bank error

gaming machine

A chef in New Zealand gambled away a small fortune after a bank error deposited tens of thousands of dollars into his account, it's been reported.

Mehdi Soheili admitted to spending more than NZ$100,000 in a week after the bank transferred more than NZ$140,000 (US$113,000; £69,000) into his account by mistake, the New Zealand Herald reports. According to Mr Soheili's lawyer, he gambled the money away in "an unfortunate crime of opportunity". The bank, whose name was suppressed by the court, has turned Mr Soheili's debt into a large overdraft, which he is slowly repaying, Auckland Now says.

Blaming the man's gambling addiction, defence lawyer Shannon Withers said that Mr Soheili's "unwise series of decisions" would "impact upon his future for a considerable amount of time". Suggesting that a custodial sentence was possible, and noting that the debt would take 13 years to repay at its current rate, Judge David Wilson, QC, adjourned sentencing until November.

Gambling addiction remains an issue in New Zealand where government figures suggest that up to 60,000 people - 1.8% of the adult population - have a problem. A Department of Internal Affairs report says that access to gaming machines (commonly known as "pokies") is the most likely cause of the problem.

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Swede sells home-made submarine

Submarine built by Swede Eric Westerberg

A Swedish man's home-made submarine has been sold at auction for $100,000 (£60,000).

Smith Eric Westerberg, from Umea, built the eight-tonne, 6m (18ft) "Isabelle" from scratch between 2005 and 2007, putting in an estimated 3,500 hours of work, Radio Sweden reports. Westerberg tells the PS auction house that he used "common sense" in the design after drawing a blank searching the web for blueprints. He says that he sold it because he no longer has the time to take it out for a spin himself. "It's fine to a depth of just over 10m (30ft)," he says. "It's hard to navigate down there but it's well-built and can take it if you bump into something."

The novelty lot apparently attracted interest from Dutch, German and Russian buyers before being bought by an unnamed entrepreneur from Sweden. It's not known what use the vessel - maximum speed: four knots (7km/h, 5mph) - will now be put to. Asked whether he'd had any interest from the military, Westerberg tells the Norra Vaesterbotten daily: "No, but maybe Putin or Obama will get in touch." He adds that has more ideas up his sleeve. "But I'm keeping them to myself for the time being."

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China noodle shop 'sold opium-laced noodles'


A Chinese noodle shop owner has admitted to lacing his wares with opium poppy seeds, in an apparent effort to keep customers coming back, it's reported.

The use of the unusual ingredient - used to make opium - at the restaurant in Yan'an, in Shaanxi province, came to light after one of its clients tested positive in a routine urine test by traffic police, despite insisting he'd never touched drugs, the Xi'an Evening News reports. Suspecting the noodle shop he'd eaten at a few hours before the test might be to blame, the customer, Liu Juyou, persuaded relatives to frequent the shop as well and submit themselves to drugs tests. They also tested positive.

The shop owner - named only as Zhang - has since admitted to police that he bought 2kg (4.4lb) of poppy buds - which contain the plant's seeds - for $100 (£60) last month, crushed them into a powder and started to add that to his noodles, the Hua Shang Bao daily reports. Police said the unprocessed seeds contain enough opiates to gradually build up in the body and eventually trigger a positive drugs test result. According to the South China Morning Post, poppy seeds used to be a popular ingredient in Chinese hot pot sauce until their use was banned.

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China shopping walk 'paved in gold'

Walkway paved with gold bars at a shopping centre in Hubei province

The streets have been paved with gold at a shopping centre in China where a walkway has been built using real 24-carat bars.

The walk at the indoor precinct in Yichang, in Hubei province, consists of 606 shiny yellow bricks, worth $32m (£20m) in total, the website reports. The bricks weigh 1kg (2.2lb) each, and are covered with a glass pane. The lavish attraction was created to celebrate the shopping centre's 18th anniversary - and to attract customers during the upcoming "Golden Week" national holiday, after which it'll be dismantled. Shoppers have been eager to use the walkway, as it's apparently believed in China that walking on gold brings luck, according to the Shanghaiist blog.

Golden Week starts on 1 October - the day the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949 - and lasts until 7 October. It's a popular time for Chinese people to travel, usually to visit relatives in other parts of the country.

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Saudis to kickstart home film industry

Saudi Actress Waad Mohammed at the Dubai International Film Festival

Saudi Arabia has surprised observers at home and abroad by announcing incentives to boost its film industry.

Film production, distribution and screening has been added to the labour ministry's list of approved economic activities, the official Saudi Gazette reports. At the moment there are few details, but the kingdom's small film industry is excited.

The subject matter of films are restricted in Saudi Arabia, as is the work of female actors. Cinemas themselves are scarce - there's only one in the entire country in the Gulf coast city of Khobar - because they are places where men and women might mix unsupervised. Some people are happy they won't have travel into next-door Bahrain or the Emirates to see a film, the Khaleej Times reports. But opinions on social media are mixed, with others worried films will have a negative impact on the kingdom's traditional society.

Leading producer Omar al-Jaber hopes the change will mean young directors aren't forced to go abroad to make their films, given the "lack of prospects in our own country". He tells Arab News the move could stimulate "employment opportunities and let young people realise their creative potential".

Saudi Arabia made news last year when woman director Haifaa al-Mansour shot Wadjda, a film about a young girl who wants to cycle in public but can't because of the local interpretation of Islamic law. Al-Mansour had to stay inside a production vehicle while directing the film so she wouldn't be seen among men on the streets of the capital Riyadh. It became the first Saudi film submitted for a Best Foreign Language Oscar.

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Indian anchor sacked in China gaffe

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi

India's public TV channel has sacked a newsreader for slipping up over the name of visiting Chinese President Xi Jinping - apparently mistaking his surname for the Roman numeral XI, and calling him "Eleven Jinping" on air.

Xi's visit is a big deal for the Indian government, and Doordarshan TV sacked the anchor quickly. "It's true we have sacked the concerned newsreader," Jawhar Sircar, head of the Prasar Bharti public broadcaster, tells the Quartz news website. "We are putting systems in place to make sure such things don't happen in future."

But the Indian press has been critical of the move. The Indian Express says many late-night newsreaders are inexperienced casuals, as the "regulars do not like to be working at the time", and Quartz says the Indian media often mix up East Asian names without feeling the need to sack their reporters. Meanwhile, the dna news site notes that Doordarshan programmes are "often a matter of public ridicule for their poor production quality".

Social media users sympathise with the unnamed newsreader, and criticise Doordarshan for penalising her while leaving her managers alone. "The silver lining is that at least the anchor knows Roman numerals," one Twitter user quips.

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Italian separatists' Edinburgh gaffe

Edinburgh The Edinburgh skyline - not to be confused with other European cities

Italy's separatist Northern League says it feels close to Scotland's independence campaigners - but apparently not close enough to get their capital city right.

The political party said on Thursday that Councillor Angelo Ciocca would go with youth members to witness the referendum results in Scotland's capital - Hamburg. But Hamburg's in Germany. Someone must have had a word so they corrected it to Strasbourg, only Strasbourg's in France. At the third attempt they finally got it right with Edinburgh - but that wasn't fast enough to escape mockery in the Italian media.

The Wake Up News site prints the three statements and a selection of social media quips. "The League confuses Edinburgh and Hamburg," jokes one Twitter user. "At the third attempt they ordered two burgers for Queen Elizabeth." While another user tweets: "How about a trip to Fribourg too?"

Il Giornale newspaper was particularly withering, suggesting that Ciocca was looking forward to "the sounds of Gaelic replacing English at midnight" as the delegation celebrated "with their fellow Celts". The paper wasn't sure if senior League MEP Matteo Salvini went on the trip: "Perhaps he waited to find out where the heck the plane was going to land".

But that wasn't the League's only gaffe. They put on special T-shirts emblazoned with the Scottish Saltire flag and a Northern League emblem as an expression of unity. But the League's chosen symbol on this occasion is the Cross of St George - also the flag of England.

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Chile workers get 'mandatory' holiday

Chileans dancing cueca Cueca is Chile's national dance

The Chilean government wants people to report employers asking them to work on Thursday and Friday as the country celebrates its independence and armed forces.

Social Minister Javiera Blanco has sent 160 inspectors to make sure the mandatory Dieciocho holidays are respected, The Santiago Times reports. "We want Chile's workers to be dancing the [local folk dance] cueca and spending time with their families," she explains.

If businesses are caught breaking the law, they can be fined up to $1,600 (£986). But authorities are also encouraging workers to lodge a complaint on the ministry's website if they are forced to work during the two days.

The celebration to mark Chile's independence from Spain in the early 19th Century and the subsequent day in honour of the "glories of the Army" are both official holidays. The law says all businesses should be closed, with just a few except such as for petrol stations, pharmacies, restaurants and entertainment centres such as cinemas.

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Japan's boom in old dog homes

Couple playing with their dog in a pets centre in Japan

Care centres for old dogs are springing up around Japan, apparently after changes to animal protection laws said pets should be properly taken care of until they die.

Kiyomi Yamada says she's placed her 13-year-old Yorkshire terrier in one such centre because the dog needs a lot of care, and she also has to look after ageing in-laws at home, The Japan News explains. "It was a hard decision, but I'm relieved to see him again," Kiyomi says, adding it's the first time she's seen her dog since he arrived at the centre two weeks ago. "He looks better than before," she adds.

Local councils used to take in dogs and cats from owners who couldn't take care of them any more. But pet homes seem to be hugely popular, with some places charging up to ¥200,000 ($1,860; £1,148) a month for looking after your favourite animal. Owners can even check up on their pets any time they like - including from their tablets or smartphones during the afternoon.

At nearly 22 million, in Japan cats and dogs now outnumber children under the age of 15, says the Tokyo Weekender, and in 2012 one in four Japanese homes had either a pet. Restaurant owners are also trying to cash in on the pet boom, with hundreds of eateries now letting pets to dine alongside their owners.

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Flag saves stranded Kashmir tourists

Rescue helicopter in Kashmir

A group of Malaysians stranded in the flood-stricken region of Kashmir have been saved after rescuers spotted their homemade flag painted on the roof of their hotel, it's been reported.

Farish Elaina Abdul Hanif, 23, and fourteen friends were in the regional capital Srinagar for her sister's wedding when a nearby dam burst, inundating their hotel, Malaysia's The Star newspaper says. "We fought strong currents and fled to the rooftop to save ourselves," she says. "Within a short time, the initially chest-level flood waters rose to the roof."

The friends put their heads together and came up with a way to use materials on hand - some shirts, a towel and some chilli sauce - to construct a makeshift SOS banner. They spelt out "Malaysia" on the towel with the sauce and hung the shirts to resemble the red and white stripes of their native flag.

The group was later rescued by boat, Farisha Elaina says. Thousands are still waiting to be evacuated in Indian-administered Kashmir after two weeks of flooding and downpours, with Srinagar being the worst-hit area.

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China tourists should 'eat less noodles'

Chinese tourists in front of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris Chinese tourists in front of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

Chinese President Xi Jinping has become the latest Beijing official to advise Chinese tourists improve their image abroad, apparently by eating less instant noodles.

"Don't throw mineral water bottles around and don't damage the coral reef here," he says, during a talk with Chinese residents on a recent visit to the Maldives, adding, "Eat less instant noodles and more seafood," China News Service agency reports.

Xi's comments were apparently aimed at the more than 400,000 Chinese tourists expected to go to the Maldives this year, who have developed a reputation for eating food brought from home rather than trying the local cuisine. But with 100 million Chinese citizens expected to travel abroad this year alone, his words reflect a wider push to make sure tourists serve as ambassadors for their nation.

Last year, Chinese vice-premier Wang Yang expressed concern that the "uncivilised behaviour" of some Chinese tourists was harming the country's image overseas. Soon after that, the China National Tourism Administration published a special Guidebook to Civilised Tourism with an extensive list of dos and don'ts.

China Daily writes that habits such as clearing throats loudly, jumping queues, taking off shoes on planes and trains, squatting and smoking in public places could earn tourists a bad reputation.

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Korea 'park corpse' actually sex doll

Traditional Korean park

Police investigating a potential murder scene in a temple garden in South Korea got a shock when they discovered the "dead body" was actually an inflatable doll, it's reported.

Following a tip-off from a witness picnicking nearby with his family, some 50 officers arrived at the scene in Gyeonggi Province, near the capital Seoul, Tong-a Ilbo newspaper says. There appeared to be a dead female body near a waterway, wearing stockings and tied up with denim fabric and blue tape. But trepidation turned to relief when they examined the "corpse" and realised it was an inflatable sex doll - albeit a very realistic one. "The skin texture [was so] similar to that of an actual person that when the policeman touched it he mistook it for a human body," a police source says.

Officials say the doll in question is imported from Japan and sells in adult stores - but seems to be popping up in brothels as well. The Chosun Ilbo newspaper reports on the ambiguities surrounding "doll experience" rooms for rent, saying it isn't clear if they violate South Korea's anti-prostitution laws. Since then, the issue has become even murkier, as sex robots have appeared on the market. The Humanity Centered Robotics Initiative says animatronic rent-a-doll "escort" services are especially popular in Japan and South Korea.

Sex dolls on display at the Guangzhou Sex Culture Festival

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Lithuanians make fun of city potholes

Man pretending to dive in a pothole

A group of friends fed up with the state of disrepair on Lithuanian roads have banded together in a comic photo project to highlight the pothole problem in the country's second largest city, Kaunas.

The series of spoof photographs made for the offbeat Bored Panda blog plays on the idea that potholes are big enough to be mistaken for swimming pools, streams or even lakes. The gallery features people in swimming trunks preparing to dive in to crater-like road cracks, while others are fishing, washing their teeth or romantically gazing at the stars, cuddling each other next to a street puddle.

The Z999, which describes itself on Facebook as a "legendary outdoor group", says the aim of the project is "to laugh at the absurdity of this situation" while prompting the government to take action.

Road safety is a big issue in Lithuania. In 2013, local media lamented that the country ranked first in the EU for fatal casualties caused by traffic accidents. The rate of 100 victims per one million people is almost double the EU average of 55.

Romantic couple cuddles next to a street puddle
People pretending to brush their teeth with pothole water
Man fishing in pothole

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Military asks museum for spare parts

Hercules plane

Canada's air force has had to take spare parts from a museum to keep its search-and-rescue aircraft flying, after government promises to buy new planes never materialised, it's been reported.

Technicians from the Royal Canadian Air Force went to a military base museum in Trenton, Ontario in 2012 to find navigational equipment for a similar aircraft that's still in use, The Ottawa Citizen reports. They got the part from an E-model C-130 Hercules airplane on display, after getting permission from the museum.

"They sort of called up and said, 'Hey, we have these two INUs (inertial navigation units) that we can't use. Do you have any on yours?'" museum curator Kevin Windsor recalls. He says they were lucky the parts were available and interchangeable, and took only half an hour to remove.

The former head of military procurement, Dan Ross, says it's embarrassing that the air force has to "cannibalize old stuff that's in museums" to keep up its rescue planes - eight Hercules and six Buffaloes - which are apparently on their last wings. The planes respond to thousands of emergencies every year. The government has been promising since 2002 to replace the planes, but has kept putting it off to make sure it's "getting the purchase right", the Citizen says.

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Sarajevo squad to 'catch stray dogs'

Stray dogs in Sarajevo

Authorities in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo are setting up a special dog-catching service to clear the city's streets of dangerous strays - but animal welfare activists warn the plans are insufficient.

Aggressive street dogs are a big problem for Bosnia-Hercegovina - it's thought there are around 12,000 homeless dogs roaming the streets of the capital, the Independent Balkans News Agency reports. Around 1,000 people were attacked by stray dogs in Sarajevo last year, regional news website Balkan Insight adds. "We have to react and we are starting a crew to catch the dangerous dogs," says Zlatko Petrovic, Sarajevo Canton environment minister.

But it's not clear what will happen to the dogs once they are caught. In 2009, it became illegal to euthanise stray dogs and the city's only dog shelter is reportedly already full. Bosnian social media is full of reports of canines being rounded up and killed.

UK charity Dogs Trust, which runs a programme in Bosnia to vaccinate and castrate stray dogs, says the main problem is that existing laws are not enforced properly - and what the city really needs is more animal shelters and medical centres.

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Japan kids take table-manner classes

Duck confit, a classic French entree, at Le Vieux Logis restaurant

Lessons on French table manners are proving to be a hit with Japanese parents who have little time to practice fine dining at home, it's reported.

Parents are signing up their children for classes on how to handle a full course of French cuisine in luxury restaurants in Tokyo's exclusive Ginza district, the Mainichi Daily says. One mother tells the newspaper she is worried her nine-year-old son could get confused about the cutlery at a wedding or another formal occasion. "I can teach him the correct way to hold chopsticks at home, but I don't have the opportunity there to teach him about manners at a full course meal," she says.

Certified table manner teachers instruct the children not to stand up during dinner, not to request a wet towel, and to make sure their knife blade is facing inwards after a meal to show that they enjoyed it. Demand is rising steadily for the classes - which can cost up to 7,000 yen (£40 or $65) for children - in other major cities like Sapporo, Nagoya and Osaka, the paper says.

Parents are also concerned that traditional Japanese table manners may be slipping. A children's picture book explaining correct etiquette called Tehburumanah no Ehon is selling well, says the president of book's publisher Shinichi Yamaura. The book covers topics like the proper way to eat at a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant. "I didn't think it would do so well," Yamaura says. "There are more opportunities now to eat out, and even adults can be confused, which is why I think our book is sought after."

Page from A Picture Book on Table Manners, Asunaro-Shobo publishing co

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Retired man 'flies home-made planes'

Gyrocopter made by Jin Shaozhi from China

A retired doctor in eastern China's Zhejiang Province has been building home-made planes and flying them as a hobby, it seems.

Jin Shaozhi, 71, says he has been building model planes since he was a teenager and it's been his dream to learn how to fly. He's assembled and flown both fixed-wing planes and aircraft with rotating blades, the Want China Times website reports. "To a fan of model airplanes, the biggest dream is to actually fly a plane in the sky," he says adding that he received flight training eight years ago before building his first aircraft out of a mini-plane he bought in 2010.

His latest creation is the White Swan - a helicopter-like vehicle called a gyroplane. "Most of the parts are from hardware stores except for the engine, which is a second-hand item purchased from overseas," Jin says. Apparently, White Swan can reach a height of 1,000m (3,300ft) in theory, but Jin says he stays at 500m for safety reasons, the China Daily newspaper says.

As the authorities often ban private pilots from flying, Jin has to find remote places - such as newly paved roads not open to the public - to practice. It's not without its dangers: During one test flight, Jin had an accident and was called in by the aviation authorities for questioning. He then broke his leg in another crash-landing.

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Four-year-old sleepwalks over 5km

Honningsvag harbour, Norway

A four-year-old Norwegian girl has terrified her family by sleepwalking over 5km (3 miles) to a nearby town on a stormy night, wearing just her underwear and a pair of thin boots.

Police found the girl unharmed in the town of Honningsvag on the northern island of Mageroeya after locals called at 06:30 on Monday, the Finnmark Dagblad reports. Her aunt - who is looking after the girl and her three young siblings while their mother went on holiday - thought her niece was asleep in bed when the police rang. "I ran into the bedroom and was devastated when I saw that she wasn't lying in bed," she tells the Verdens Gang newspaper.

The girl apparently remembers dreaming that the house was on fire, putting on her boots and unlocking the front door, her aunt says. She probably went first to a nearby fish factory and then walked through an 800m (2,600ft) tunnel to get to Honningsvag. "She must've been out for several hours," the aunt says. "And in this weather, it's been really cold and miserable. The house was rumbling in the night, there's been such a strong wind."

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India floods hit cricket bat supply

Indian cricket bat maker

The supply of cricket bats in India may be at risk because floods in Kashmir have washed away so much of the willow wood they're made from, it's reported.

Manufacturers says the price of bats is about to go up because of an acute shortage of willow wood, the Hindustan Times reports. "Whatever willow they had in their yards has either been swept away or damaged by the flood waters," says Paras Anand, head of marketing for Indian bat maker SG. "It is bad news for the industry."

The problem may not affect elite players - who still use bats made from imported English willow - but will hit amateur and regional players who use the more affordable Kashmiri-made bats. The British introduced willow trees to Kashmir before World War Two and the cricket bat industry there now employs about 10,000 people. It is seen as second only to its English counterpart internationally.

Around 400 people have been killed and hundreds of thousands are stranded in their homes by the worst floods Kashmir has seen in half a century.

Wood is cut to be made into cricket bats in Kashmir

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Marathon with wine and cheese breaks

Participants run past Chateau Pichon-Longueville and its vineyards by Pauillac

An annual race in France, which calls itself the world's longest marathon, is attempting to ease runners' pain by offering them gourmet food and wine on the way to the finish line.

Le Marathon du Medoc - which takes place around Pauillac near Bordeaux on 13 September - sees runners dress up in Carnival-themed outfits to run the 26-mile (42.2km) circuit. Along the way they can tuck into a banquet of French delicacies from oysters to ice cream, washed down with glasses of fine wine.

Participants get a rather generous six-and-a-half hours to complete the race, allowing time for pit stops at various chateaux lining the route. The hardest part for the runners, the Zapaday website suggests, may be to stay on a straight path. "Above all, I'm going to take advantage of the festivities," runner 44-year-old Bernard tells regional paper La Depeche du Midi.

Meanwhile, regional paper Sud Ouest says the 10,000 participants - 1,500 more than last year - is a new record. "We rejected 40,000 people," says Albert Duvocelle, the general secretary of the organising group. "If we had accepted all requests, this would be the biggest marathon in the world." Not quite, but it's close. The 2013 New York City marathon was the largest in history, Runner's World says, with over 50,000 participants.

Runners enjoy wine at a chateau during a food and wine break

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Mauritania adopts Western weekend

Mauritanians read newspapers on a main street in Nouakchott Mauritanian merchants have to make the most from Monday to Wednesday to do business with Europe

The west African country of Mauritania is moving its weekend to Saturday and Sunday to be more in tune with its European business partners.

"It's clear that not being on par with our trading partners is causing us huge losses," says Seyedna Ali Ould Mohamed Khouna, Mauritania's public service minister. With a Muslim majority, the country has traditionally started the weekend on Friday, and local newspaper Essirage fears there may be large protests when the switch takes effect on 1 October.

The government has tried to move the traditional weekend before. In 2005, ministers shifted to a Monday to Friday work week, saying the country's economy was losing $70m (£43m) per year without it.

Businesses say they benefitted from the change. "We had to get all our transactions done between Monday and Wednesday, because if they got left to Thursday, they would just get stuck as we wound down for the Mauritanian weekend," bank manager Moktar Fall said about the last switch. But the next president changed it back in 2007.

As one of the world's poorest countries, Mauritania wants to further exploit its oil and gas reserves. But other Arab states have accused it of compromising principles to improve its relations with the West.

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Kazakh officials disable WW2 exhibits

Badly damaged artillery gun in the town of Kyzylorda

Officials in Kyzylorda in southern Kazakhstan have reportedly disabled World War Two artillery pieces on display in a local park - possibly taking precautionary measures after pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine managed to restart an old tank sitting on a pedestal in the town of Konstantinovka.

The guns were part of a monument commemorating Kazakhstan's role in the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, but local news sources say the weapons were crudely disabled using a welder. "Their barrels bear visible scars and resemble badly cut sticks of salami," the Vremya newspaper laments.

Vremya says the authorities decided to act in the name of public safety after they found out that the museum exhibits could still fire shells, but adds that many residents are upset about the "ugly and barbaric" way in which the work was done.

Earlier this year separatists in eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region managed to restart an old Joseph Stalin-3 tank and drive it away from the site where it had been standing as a civic monument, Russian RIA Novosti news agency says. Rebels installed heavy machine guns on the old vehicle and used it to attack a Ukrainian army post, claiming to have inflicted loses on the other side.

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Sable Island horses 'eviction threat'

Wild horses drinking water on Sable Island

A Canadian biologist has reignited a long-running debate over whether the famous wild horses that roam a remote Atlantic island should be evicted for endangering the local ecosystem.

About 400 horses wander undisturbed on Sable Island. But scientist Ian Jones of the Memorial University of Newfoundland says the horses are an "invasive species" causing desertification on the island. They eat too much of the vegetation and compacting the soil with their hooves, the National Post newspaper says. He insists they should be relocated to Canada's mainland to stop further damage to the environment.

But he faces firm opposition. Legend has it that the animals came to Sable Island centuries ago, swimming ashore after their ship was wrecked at sea. "It's a debate between this romantic idea of horses and conservationism and biology," Jones says. "But you have to differentiate between values and science." The public have opposed earlier attempts to remove the horses, even though it's more likely they were brought to the island as farm animals sometime in the 18th Century.

Other scientists also challenge his theory. Bill Freedman, a Dalhousie University biology professor, tells the National Post: "The horses have been on the island for centuries, and I believe the ecosystem is now in a steady-state condition with respect to their ecological effects."

A young foal rest on Sable Island
A family of horses on Sable Island

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Buddhist music 'boosts rice crop'

Chinese farmers claim soothing music makes rice fields green Chinese farmers claim soothing music makes rice fields green

Farmers in a village in East China's Fujian Province have claimed that Buddhist music playing in the fields has helped them to increase their rice production.

Output in Liangshan village went up by 15% after residents installed 500 lotus-shaped speakers in the rice paddies to engulf the crops in a wave of soothing mantras, the Global Times newspaper reports. Local authorities say the musical rice fields also yielded larger grains, while the silent paddies with no music suffered from pests.

There's no scientific consensus on the effect music has on plants, but researchers at the China Agricultural University have backed the experiment, saying certain sound waves - such as those found in the rhythmic chanting of mantras - can stimulate the pores on a plant's leaves to help absorb more sunlight. "Only positive music aids growth, while rock music would probably harm it," a local agriculture officer says.

Not everyone agrees with this assertion. Last year, Chris Beardshaw, one of Britain's leading gardeners, announced that playing a constant diet of heavy metal helps flowers to bloom. He said an experiment he conducted showed that a continuous playlist of Black Sabbath songs worked wonders on a greenhouse full of plants.

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French ex-minister in 'rent backlog'

Mr Thevenoud allegedly forgot to pay rent because of an "administrative phobia" Mr Thevenoud allegedly forgot to pay rent because of an "administrative phobia"

France's former trade minister - sacked just last week for tax irregularities - has now been accused of not paying his rent for three years because of an "administrative phobia", it's been reported.

Thomas Thevenoud was told he would be evicted from his Paris flat in the affluent Left Bank neighbourhood because he had missed so many payments, the Le Canard Enchaine newspaper says. But it was only when the landlord heard about his tenant's tax issues that he decided to ring the interior ministry and tell his story.

The satirical weekly, which specialises in investigative journalism, says the politician blamed his rent backlog on forgetfulness and an "administrative phobia". But he says he has now paid off his debts and found a new place to live.

Last week, Thevenoud was fired from the French cabinet for "problems of conformity with his taxes" only nine days after he was appointed as trade minister. He has had to leave the Socialist Party over the incident but insists he won't resign from parliament.

This is not the first time the politician has attracted unwanted headlines. Last year he was photographed playing online Scrabble on his tablet during a parliamentary debate on gay marriage.

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Auto-lock traps suspected car thief

The suspected thief spent nearly two hours trapped in the vehicle The man spent nearly two hours trapped in the vehicle he was allegedly trying to steal

A man has been arrested in South Africa after the auto-lock system of the car he allegedly broke into self-activated and trapped him inside.

The man used a jamming device to get into the vehicle, which was parked near the North Gauteng High Court in the capital city Pretoria, The Star newspaper reports. "I just saw him getting into the car after the woman walked away," a witness says. "It seems the doors locked him inside and he couldn't get out."

Apparently the man started to panic and asked passers-by for help, saying he was one of the city's many car guards. The police were called in, but the man was stuck inside for more than an hour-and-a-half before the owner returned and unlocked the vehicle.

Car theft is a big problem for South Africa. Reports say that 8.5bn rand ($776m; £482m) worth of vehicles are stolen in the country every year. Almost 30% are taken to neighbouring countries, and the rest are resold in South Africa after being "cloned" in car "chop shops".

"Cloned vehicle and cross-border syndicates are a growing concern," says Hugo van Zyl, head of the South African Insurance Crime Bureau, "thanks to our porous borders and the fact that crime prevention stakeholders aren't yet pooling resources effectively."

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Zombie game draws 2,000 in Spain


More than 2,000 people have taken part in a survival game simulating a zombie apocalypse hitting a small Spanish town.

Resembling a scene from the zombie classic Walking Dead, players roamed the streets of Collado Villalba by night trying to elude people dressed as zombies, the El Pais newspaper reports. The rules are simple - you're eliminated from the game if one of the slow-moving "un-dead" characters touches you between 23:00 and 07:30 local time. Meanwhile, actors in full battle gear simulate a military response by the government.

Events like this one in the small town near Madrid have become wildly popular since being launched in 2012, newspaper El Mundo says. Organiser Diego de la Concepcion says he got bored with the existing forms of adventure games and wanted to "create real adventure". He says he's fully booked for 2015, and even has bookings for 2016. But he admits some players get frustrated when they're "infected" and eliminated within minutes, but insists this only makes things more "real".

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Russian company sues over food ban

Moscow supermarket, 18 Aug 14 The sanctions have stopped fish imports from Western countries

A Russian fish-processing firm has filed a lawsuit against sanctions brought in by its government, saying the ban on Western food imports is ruining its business.

Murmansk Fish Combine, based in the Arctic port of Murmansk says it relies on shipments of fresh fish from Norway and has been forced to halt production because of the ban, the Russian news agency Itar-Tass reports. The company wants the Russian supreme court to say the measure, which came into effect in August, is partly illegal.

"If the sanctions aren't lifted soon it's possible we'll no longer be able to resume business," director Mikhail Zub says, adding the court should at least make sure the live fish his business needs are excluded from the sanctions list.

Visitors inspect the wares at a a fish stand at the Agrorus '14 exhibition in St Petersburg on 27 August 2014 Inspecting fish in a St Petersburg market

But local prosecutors in Murmansk have already inspected the factory and declared the plant doesn't really have to stop work, Russian news agency Interfax says.

In early August, the Russian government banned a range of food imports from countries that have placed sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine crisis. The move was designed to hurt food producers in the West, but it's also hit Russian consumers - prices for frozen fish and other food in Moscow's major supermarkets are reportedly up by 6%.

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TV mix up Susan and Condoleezza Rice

Composite image of former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (l) and US National Security Adviser Sudan Rice Condoleezza Rice (left) and Susan Rice are not related

China's state broadcaster has welcomed visiting US National Security Advisor Susan Rice by mixing her up with near-namesake former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, it seems.

A report by English-language news channel China Central Television - or CCTV - which reported Susan Rice's arrival had a picture of Condoleezza Rice on the studio screen, the South China Morning Post newspaper reports. Internet users pointed out the mistake after the 50-second clip was posted on CCTV's YouTube account. It has since been removed. A later video on the same subject uploaded on the broadcaster's site on Monday has the correct pictures of Susan Rice.

Said to be one of President Barack Obama's closes aides, Susan Rice was appointed US ambassador to the UN after he was first elected. She was promoted to her current post in his second term. She's in China for three days to discuss preparations for Obama's planned visit to China in November with top political and military leaders. And no, she's not related to Condoleezza Rice.

CCTV shows a picture of former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice instead of US National Security Adviser Susan Rice on 9 September The wrong Rice - Condoleezza Rice's picture on the CCTV report

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Russia 'reopens USSR draft cases'

Russians dressed as World War-II-era Soviet soldiers on parade in the Red Square in Moscow in 2006 Soviet military glories are often revived for Russian parades

Russia appears to be reopening criminal investigations against Lithuanians who refused to serve in the Soviet armed forces after the country declared independence nearly 25 years ago.

The Lithuanian prosecutor-general's office says Russia has asked for legal assistance over Lithuanians who defied orders to do their Soviet military service in 1990-91, the Delfi news portal reports. But the request was denied, a spokeswoman says, since it does not involve a criminal offence in Lithuania. The news has prompted Lithuanian security services to strongly advise the relevant people not to go to Russia or other non-EU and non-Nato countries for now. Doing so could "jeopardise the personal safety of citizens", they say.

After Lithuania declared independence from the USSR in March 1990, more than 1,500 young men obeyed a call from pro-independence leaders not to join the Soviet military, according to official figures. Almost everyone went into hiding, but dozens of people were jailed or forcibly drafted. Outstanding cases were dropped after the USSR's collapse.

There is reportedly rising concern among Lithuanians that Russia is adopting a more assertive stance towards former Soviet countries. Adding to the tensions, a Russian national was arrested in March in Lithuania in connection with the 1991 attack by Soviet forces on the Vilnius TV tower, in which 14 people died.

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Japanese man starts trek over Africa

Masahito Yoshida in Alexandria, Egypt, at the start of his trek across Africa Only a bit over 10,000 km to go: Yoshida on the Alexandria seafront

A Japanese man is walking with a cart 11,000km (6,800 miles) across the length of Africa - only a year after completing a round-the-world trek in the same manner.

Masahito Yoshida, 33, of Tottori left the Egyptian port city of Alexandria on Sunday on his journey to the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa, the Japan Times newspaper reports. He's taking everything he needs - around 100kg (220lb) of water, food, cooking utensils and a tent - in a two-wheeled cart that he pulls behind him.

His route will take him through Sudan, Ethiopia and Tanzania along the way - a journey encompassing deserts, savannah grasslands and high mountains. "I am excited about meeting people and animals in places that will be passed by if you travel by train or bus," Yoshida says.

If he makes it, Yoshida will have added another continent to his current tally of four. The 44,000km round-the-globe trip he finished in June 2013 took him across Europe, Asia, North America and Australia. Yoshida overcame immigration bureaucracy, theft, and several bouts of heat stroke to complete the journey in 1,621 days. "Sure, there were times that I thought my life was in danger," he says. "But I was also touched by the kindness of people." His goal is to cross every continent on foot.

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China boy finds 3,000-year-old sword

Chinese TV shows off the bronze sword found by an 11-year-old boy in Jiangsu Province, China, on 6 September

A Chinese boy has made the discovery of a lifetime by stumbling across a 3,000-year-old bronze sword in a river in Jiangsu Province.

Eleven-year-old Yang Junxi says he touched the rusty weapon's tip while washing his hands in the Laozhoulin River, in Gaoyou County, the state news agency Xinhua reports. After pulling it out he took it home, where it quickly became a sensation for curious locals, before the family decided to send the blade to officials for examination. "Some people even offered high prices to buy the sword," Junxi's father Jinhai says. "But I felt it would be illegal to sell the relic."

Archaeologists have dated the 26cm (10in) weapon to either the Shang or Zhou dynasties - the dawn of Chinese civilisation - based on its material, size and shape. Lyu Zhiwei of the Gaoyou Cultural Relics Bureau says that while the sword appears to be of both decorative and practical use, its form suggests it was the status symbol of a civil official rather than a sword for fighting.

The authorities are now planning a major archaeological dig in the river, once part of a system of ancient waterways that developed into today's Grand Canal. Junxi and his father have been given a reward for handing in the relic.

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Bosnia map to fight 'litter plague'

Mostar's Ottoman-era Old Bridge

Residents of the historic Bosnian city of Mostar are so fed up with the lack of bins that they're creating their own online map to help tourists find somewhere to put their rubbish, it's reported.

Locals complain that the streets of the old centre are often covered in litter, and say tourists wandering around in search of a bin have become a common sight in the town famous for its soaring 15th-Century Ottoman-era bridge, Al-Jazeera Balkans reports. "There's a problem, and it's huge," says shopkeeper Selma Jelovac. "Every evening five people ask me why there are no rubbish bins." One tourist jokes that she'll have to take her empty bottle back to her home town nearly 300km (180 miles) away because she can't find anywhere to throw it.

Apparently it's all part of a wider political problem that goes back years. Mostar has three utility companies, and all say purchasing new bins is the council's responsibility. Residents in one district say household rubbish is piling up outside their homes, the local news website Bljesak reports.

Until 2004, the city of Mostar was divided into six municipalities under a deal between ethnic Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims) at the end of the civil war of the 1990s. But Berislav Juric of Bljesak thinks this legacy is no longer an excuse. "Rubbish bins are something that humans in 2014 should have under control," he tells Al-Jazeera.

Interactive map of rubbish bins in Mostar

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Thai PM says coup critics cursed him

Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha (left) with other officers after an audience with King Bhumibol Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha led a coup in May

Thailand's military leader and premier, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, has accused critics of using black magic against him, it's reported.

In a high-profile speech on Thursday, Prayuth says he'd been warned of attempts to cast a spell on him, the Bangkok Post newspaper reports. "Today, I have a sore throat, a pain in the neck," he says, speaking to officials at the Royal Thai Army Club in Bangkok. "Someone said there are people putting curses on me."

The general also says he performed a purification ritual to ward off possible evil influences - but hadn't counted on the side effects: "I had so much lustral water poured over my head, I shivered all over," he explains. "I'm going to catch a cold now."

In May, Prayuth led a coup against the elected government, saying he needed to restore order after months of mass protests. But opponents say the military is suppressing democracy and they are defying a ban on public gatherings. Prayuth addressed his critics: "If you still want to fight on and go underground, bring it on. If you resort to performing rituals, just bring it on."

Magical symbolism has long played a role in Thai politics. During the last big wave of protests in 2010, anti-government demonstrators splattered buckets of their own blood outside the PM's residence as priests cast a curse on the authorities.

A supporter (C) of deposed Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra pours a canister of human blood onto the gates of the Government House in protest in Bangkok on 16 March 2010 Thai protesters performed a blood curse ritual against a previous government in 2010

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'Arab Big Ben' dwarfed in building boom

Aden's "Big Ben" tower Aden's Big Ben dates from 1890

Residents in the Yemeni port city of Aden are alarmed at what they say is a threat to one of the city's much-loved landmarks - a British, colonial-era clock tower dubbed Big Ben apparently modelled on its London counterpart.

Locals in the neighbourhood of Tawahi are pleading with the city council, urging them to address uncontrolled development around the tower, the Yemeni channel Al-Sahat TV reports. They fear the landmark - on a hill overlooking the port - will be "buried by chaotic building" and tourists won't be able to find the "London Big Ben", as the presenter put it.

Only two years ago the clock was put back into use after a quarter of a century of silence. It was built by a British company in 1890, during the colonial era, and was christened the Arab Big Ben or Big Ben of the East.

But it fell into disuse after Aden joined newly independent Yemen in 1960, and again in 1983, before being restored in 2012 to locals' delight. "When the clock stopped working, people were at a loss," Tawahi resident Hussein Omar told the Al-Shorfa daily. Its return "symbolises a greeting to a new future for Aden, just as it greeted visiting ships to the historic port of Aden," he says.

Skyline of Aden How Aden looked during British colonial rule

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Ice bucket dare for Belarus leader

Belarusian Dmitry Dayneko doing the Ice Bucket Challenge

A Belarus boy may be fined for daring President Alexander Lukashenko to an ice bucket challenge, reports say.

Dmitry Dayneko uploaded a video of himself doing the popular online challenge and nominating the country's long-serving president to follow suit.

But he was soon called in to the local youth affairs office and his school in Berezino and told off, the Belarusian service of Radio Liberty reports.

Police said everyone in the video would be fined unless they took it down.

Dimitry says he was told he'd "done something against Lukashenko". But he says: "It was just a stunt. It's just a game. We just wanted to start things off, to see what happens, maybe we'd be lucky."

Belarus' government keeps a wary eye out for any signs of opposition, and Dmitry says the officials mentioned "getting a call from the capital". His parents weren't impressed either, it seems. "They said I was stupid, that I shouldn't have challenged Lukashenko. That's all," he says.

Millions of people have joined in the ice bucket challenge, in which they pour water - often with ice cubes - over themselves and challenge others to do the same, usually to raise money for the treatment of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko addressing the UN General Assembly in 2005 Ready for the Ice Bucket Challenge? Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko

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Rare pygmy hippo born in Swedish zoo

Olivia is a new-born hippopotamus in Parken Zoo, Sweden

A Swedish zoo has published pictures of its latest addition - a rare baby pygmy hippo that staff have already dubbed "Michelin Man" because of her appearance.

Olivia only weighed 6kg (13lb) when she was born a month ago in Parken Zoo, Eskilstuna, to female Krakunia and male Anton, the Aftonbladet newspaper reports. "She is the cutest little fatty you can imagine," Jennie Westander, a zoologist at Parken zoo, tells the paper. Olivia was born under an international breeding programme, and after spending two years with her mother, will be sent off to another zoo in Europe.

Pygmy hippos - an endangered species native to West Africa - look like the more well-known hippopotamus amphibius, but common hippos are about twice the size and weigh four times as much as most of their pygmy relatives. There are fewer than 3,000 of the mammals thought to be remaining in the wild.

Olivia is a new-born hippopotamus in Parken Zoo, Sweden
Olivia is a new-born hippopotamus in Parken Zoo, Sweden

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Saudis 'must drive to get married'

Woman walks past wedding dresses in Saudi shop The Saudi authorities are concerned about a rising divorce rate

Saudi Arabia may start requiring people to prove they have a driving licence as a condition for getting married, apparently in order to limit the rising number of divorces.

Under plans being studied by the kingdom's justice ministry, possession of a driving licence could become a prerequisite for finalising a marriage contract, the Arab News daily reports. Couples may also be asked to attend mandatory "marriage training" before tying the knot.

Family consultant Abdulsalam al-Saqbai says the idea came about after a previous attempt to stem divorces - a government medical test to check the couple's health and fitness - didn't work out. Saqbai says there turned out to be no correlation between the test results and divorce and separation rates.

The Saudi authorities say the divorce rate has risen sharply in recent years, and are worried about the impact on the kingdom. Government statistics quoted by the Saudi media suggest most divorces are blamed on the husband's refusal to let the wife continue to work after marriage, or on issues relating the husbands' control of his wife's salary.

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Wroclaw ordains first rabbis since WWII

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier addresses Wroclaw Jewish congregation German foreign minister addresses congregation

Four rabbis have been ordained in the Polish city of Wroclaw - the first such event since World War II.

The rabbis and three cantors - singers who lead parts of religious services - were ordained as part of a German-Polish commemoration of the outbreak of war, the Gazeta Wroclawska newspaper reports. "We are witnessing an event that would have been inconceivable a few years ago," says German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "Almost on the precise anniversary of Germany's criminal attack on Poland 75 years ago, Germans and Poles are expressing their joy together at the rebirth of Jewish life in Wroclaw."

At Wroclaw's White Stork Synagogue - the only one that survived Nazi destruction - Jewish community leader Alexander Gleichgewicht replied: "We, the modern Jews of Wroclaw, and guardians of the tradition of the Jews of Breslau, welcome you." As the German city of Breslau, it had a large Jewish population dating back to the 12th Century - and the first major Jewish theological seminary in Europe. But the community of about 20,000 people in 1933 was wiped out to a few thousand by 1945.

Rabbi ordination in Wroclaw, Poland

Anti-Semitic policies in Communist Poland forced almost all the remaining Jews to emigrate, leaving fewer than a hundred in the city by 1990. Since then the Jewish community has seen some revival, but still numbers few more than a thousand. New Rabbi Jonas Jacquelin tells German Deutsche Welle radio the symbolism of the ordination was paramount: "Here, where they tried to exterminate us, new rabbis are being ordained to continue passing on the Jewish tradition, from generation to generation."

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Lisbon metro fits missing brakes

Lisbon Metro train

The underground railway in the Portuguese capital Lisbon has promised to finish fitting emergency brakes on all its trains in the next few weeks.

This follows an investigation by the i newspaper that shows Lisbon Metro has been running trains for two years without the electromagnetic brakes needed to make emergency stops. The company says it detected a mechanical fault with the system in 2012, and deactivated the brakes so it could make repairs.

But the paper reports train speeds in tunnels has dropped from 60km/h (37mph) to 45km/h. Industry sources say this is because drivers are giving themselves more time to stop in stations safely without the emergency braking option. The company later confirmed this, insisting the main braking system was enough to guarantee safety - as long as trains are moving at the lower speed.

As for the two-year delay in repairing the brakes, i journal uncovered mistakes in the delivery of parts, and problems with the compatibility of some components. The Prosecutor-General's Office has an open preliminary investigation, and the IMTT transport regulator says it is "closely monitoring the measures the company is taking". The Metro management says it has now put the proper emergency brakes on 60% of its trains, and expects to complete the job soon. As only 80% of its trains run at any given time, this means "day-to-day, the vast majority of trains already have the brake system fitted", Lisbon Metro assures passengers.

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Thousands dig up clams on China beach

Thousands of people dig for clams on a beach in Shandong, China

Striking images have emerged on Chinese media of thousands of people digging for clams on a long stretch of beach in Shangdong Province, south of the capital Beijing.

The beaches were previously used as private clam farms, but the government recently opened up about 4km (2.5 miles) of coastline for public access, Chinese website NetEase News reports.

Over the weekend, as news spread, residents - as well as fish farmers and merchants - reportedly rushed to the beach to dig up clams lying in the wet shellfish beds.

"The number of people here is likely more than that of clams at its peak," one fisherman tells reporters at the beach, the Shanghaiist blog says.

Thousands of people dig for clams on a beach in Shandong, China
Thousands of people dig for clams on a beach in Shandong, China
Basket of clams

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Lost wedding ring returned to owner

Erin Carrazzo and Mike Cogan Mike Cogan slipped Erin Carrazzo's ring back on her finger

A New York beachcomber has found a missing wedding ring and found its original owner after searching for her on social media.

Erin Carrazzo lost both her wedding ring and her engagement ring on holiday on New York's Fire Island, and posted later on Facebook that she hoped a "metal detector dude" would find it. Her wish came true when retired fireman Mike Cogan uncovered the rings when running his detector over Robert Moses Beach.

"It was very heavy and inscribed." Cogan says of the wedding ring, local news station NBC 4 New York reports, adding that he turned to Facebook to try to find the owner. "This isn't a kid's ring," he says. "This is platinum and these have to be real diamonds. I knew how empty she had to feel. I don't want anybody to feel like that."

The photos on Facebook were shared over 19,500 times, and eventually reached people who knew Carrazzo in the New York City neighbourhood of Flushing. Ten days later they spoke on the phone and then met in person. "Getting in touch with her was as good as finding the diamonds," says Cogan, who slipped the ring back on Carrazzo's finger on the beach. Meanwhile, Carrazzo can't believe her luck. "I'm amazed how much good there is in the world," she says.

Missing rings

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Icelanders make insect snack bars

Bui Adalsteinsson and Stefan Thoroddsen

Insects are a staple food in parts of the developing world, but two businessmen from the unlikely location of Iceland are proposing to use them to make energy bars.

Bui Adalsteinsson and Stefan Thoroddsen say on their website they got the idea from a UN report suggesting the western world could benefit from using this abundant source of protein, and formed a company to make bars with ground-up bugs. They got funding from the Startup Reykjavik programme earlier this year, and have just announced the second prototype of their Crowbar on Twitter.

They tell the Nutiminn news site the insect "superfood" breaks down into amino acids that the body needs, and is also rich in calcium and vitamins. Crowbars "provide a realistic, sustainable choice of excellent nutrition in your pocket, whether you're taking a two-minute break from a challenging hike or need a boost between work meetings," the pair insist.

Stefan admits not everyone is likely to enjoy the flavour of insects, but told the IceNews site that Crowbars have the answer - "mixed with other ingredients like almonds, coconut and cacao, you can't really taste a lot of the crickets", which he describes as mild and nutty. They have presented their prototype bars at food tasting events in the capital Reykjavik, and hope to go into full production later this year.

First prototype Crowbar First attempt at a Crowbar

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Russians mock Putin kids TV idea

Igor Strelkov imagined on Good Night, Little Ones Rebel leader Igor Strelkov has been mockingly suggested as a possible inspiration for the new character

Russia's most enduring children's puppet show - Good Night, Little Ones - celebrates its half-century on television this month, and as a gift to its young viewers President Vladimir Putin has come up with an idea for a new cartoon character.

"At first the idea was rather unexpected," programme producer Alexander Mitroshenkov tells RIA Novosti news agency. "But when we examined it in detail we realised that it was a winner!" Meanwhile, social media users were quick to mock Mitroshenkov's enthusiasm. For example, a user called Dedushka Udava jeers at Russia media managers on the Vzgliad website for "grovelling to state officials" and asks how they can be allowed anywhere near children's education.

But online commentators are at their most creative in imagining what the new character will look like. Mitroshenkov says only that it will come from the same enchanted forest as the show's established puppets Khriusha the piglet and Stepasha the hare. Apparently, the new character will be inserted into the live action as a 3D animation.

Ever-topical social media users suggest the new playmate could be Igor Strelkov - one of the leaders of the pro-Moscow armed groups in eastern Ukraine, "straight from the Donbass forest". Or Sergei Kurginian, a prominent Putin loyalist who likes posing with rifles. Others propose Vatnichek - or Little Padded Jacket - an internet meme used to mock Russian ultra-patriots. The Ukrainian Obozrevatel website gathered several examples of their handiwork. All will be revealed at the beginning of October, Mitroshenkov says, when the real character will debut.

Sergei Kurginian and Vatnichek, satirical suggestions for children's TV Sergei Kurginian and Little Padded Jacket, possible forest friends

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