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27 February 2015 Last updated at 11:29 ET

Rare bear cub found outside circus

The bear cub The cub was found asleep in a box used to transport eggs

A two-week-old bear cub has been found in an cardboard box outside a circus in eastern Russia.

A security guard found the tiny male cub wrapped up in a woollen blanket outside a service entrance in the city of Vladivostok, the local VL.ru news website reports. He's a rare Asiatic black bear - also known as a Himalayan or moon bear, due to their white chest markings. It's not known what happened to his mother. Circus director Alexandra Mironova says the cub needs to be fed every three hours "otherwise he starts to cry and squeak". The circus vet says he's healthy and doesn't seem to mind human contact - he happily guzzled baby formula from a bottle when faced with the Russian media, the website notes. But while he's allowed to see other animals during the day, veterinarian Olga Tereshchenko says he sleeps in her office "to avoid attracting the attention of the larger beasts".

Russian social media users are relieved that the cub is safe, but some express concern over the fate of his mother, and of Asiatic black bears in their native Siberian habitat in general. The bears are classed as "vulnerable" on the international conservation scale, and are threatened by illegal hunting for their body parts. Where the cub will go now isn't yet known - circus employees want to send him to well-known bear circus in Moscow, but Ms Mironova says national airline Aeroflot have so far refused to transport him. "Aeroflot refuses to take a 'predator' on board, even though the predator can fit in the palm of your hand," she says.

The bear cub It's not known what happened to the cub's mother

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Husband fined for 'not loving wife'

A broken loveheart sweet The court ruled the husband's remark was a form of emotional violence

A man in Turkey has been fined for saying "I don't love you" to his wife.

The spouses - who are divorcing - both sought compensation from each other over insults apparently hurled during their marriage, the Daily Sabah website reports. A lower court had ruled they were both as bad as one another, but the Supreme Court of Appeal said the man's remark about not loving his wife amounted to "emotional violence", and ordered him to pay her compensation. The woman said her husband's comment had left her "emotionally wrecked", and that he had often left the marital home. For his part, the man said his wife had repeatedly "cursed" him.

Turkey has been trying to crack down on all forms of violence against women, but the paper points out that emotional and psychological abuse can be difficult to prove. A 2014 survey of university-educated women working in white-collar jobs found that 40% of respondents had experienced that type of abuse at least once, the Hurriyet Daily News reported in December.

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Caucasus Fifty Shades fans evade ban

A view over Pyatigorsk Road trip: Pyatigorsk has apparently become a haven for Fifty Shades of Grey fans

A widespread ban on screening Fifty Shades of Grey in Russia's North Caucasus is benefiting one city which decided to allow the film, it's reported.

Pyatigorsk in Stavropol Territory bucked the regional trend by allowing the erotic drama to be shown in its cinemas. Its neighbouring majority-Muslim republics announced a ban earlier this month, citing morality concerns over the film's sexual content. But that hasn't deterred intrepid fans, who are flocking to Pyatigorsk's cinemas to see the film, the Regnum news agency reports. Local cinemas say they're reaping the rewards of the ban, with one telling the agency that it had seen "panic buying" of tickets in the week after the film's release. The agency quotes a blogger from neighbouring Karachay-Cherkessia, where the racy drama isn't being shown, as saying "busloads of people" had been setting off for Pyatigorsk to see it.

Authorities in five of the seven North Caucasus republics banned the film "for moral and ethical reasons" shortly before its planned release date. At the time, Dagestan's youth minister, Zaur Kurbanov, implored people to boycott what he described as "this filth". But the decision angered many bloggers, with one sarcastically suggesting that all culture be banned: "All the films, books and music," Zaur Farniyev wrote. "Can you imagine how morally sound the people will become?"

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Turkey candidates don 'Ottoman attire'

Osman Yavuz standing in front of his campaign poster Ottoman chic: Mr Yavuz's campaign poster is being driven around the area on a van

Potential candidates for the Turkish parliament are trying to win their party's nomination by wearing Ottoman-style outfits, it seems.

Several members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have unveiled campaign posters in which they pose in historical attire, the Hurriyet Daily News reports. Some candidates appeared to be dressed as Ottoman sultans, with one wearing an elaborately embroidered tunic and matching bejewelled headpiece. Another, Osman Yavuz, who's seeking the party's nomination in the province of Konya, chose to wear a fur-trimmed hat known as a bork, popular in the 14th Century, the paper notes. The pre-nomination campaign is designed to showcase a candidate's suitability for parliament and their popularity with the public, Today's Zaman reports.

Perhaps inevitably, the images have gone viral on social media. A presenter on CNN Turk, Nevsin Mengu, tweeted a photo of Mr Yavuz and said: "This election is really retro, my sweet!" Most users have mocked the candidates, with several pointing out that they resembled characters from historical soap operas. But one person suggests that as Mr Yavuz shares a first name with several of the Ottoman Empire's sultans, the choice of attire was perfectly natural.

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IS threats worry Italy fishermen

Lampedusa fisherman fixing their nets Italian authorities have warned fishermen not to venture too close to the Libyan coast

Fishermen in southern Italy want the government to declare a state of emergency over recent threats made by Islamic State (IS), it's reported.

The fishermen are concerned about encountering IS militants - as well as people traffickers - while working in the sea off Linosa and Lampedusa, Italy's southernmost islands, the Ansa news agency reports. "It may seem strange to you, but we are truly worried for ourselves and our families," writes Toto Martello, head of the local fishing consortium, in a letter to Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Government warnings about the spread of IS militants in Libya, a relatively short distance from the islands, mean workers are "frightened of being boarded by terrorists", Mr Martello says. "One can't live with the nightmare of not going home."

The letter is in stark contrast to recent social media reaction to militants' threats. Earlier this month, IS-affiliated Twitter accounts warned that the group had its sights on Rome, using the hashtag #We_Are_Coming_O_Rome. But Italians responded with irony, tweeting suggestions on where to eat and how to avoid the city's traffic jams. "#We_Are_Coming_O_Rome hey just a tip: don't come in train, it's every time late!" tweeted one user. The jokes were perhaps lost on those working in the seas off Lampedusa. "We need to be protected and defended," Mr Martello says. "But to work we also need to be calm in a Mediterranean that is increasingly becoming the world's powder keg."

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Saudi women 'reject beautiful maids'

A Filipina maid and her Saudi employer Foreign workers make up about one-third of the Saudi population

Women in Saudi Arabia are insisting that their housemaids aren't good-looking when it comes to recruitment, it seems.

Recruitment companies in the kingdom claim that wives are demanding to see photographs of prospective staff to ensure maids arriving from Morocco or Chile are not beautiful, Saudi Arabia's Sabq newspaper, quoted by Emirates 24/7, reports. The paper says that it has spoken to women who refused to hire maids from those countries because of a fear that a pretty employee could cause problems within the family. "Some wives have already contacted us to say that if their husbands want maids from Chile or Morocco, they must first see the maids before accepting them," Eid Abu Fahd, director of a recruitment office in Jeddah, tells Sabq. "Their main condition was that these maids should not be pretty."

Hiring a foreign worker takes time and money in Saudi Arabia. Visa and sponsorship rules means it takes up to six months and 22,000 rials ($5,900; £3,800) to recruit from Chile, which was recently added to the list of countries from which domestic workers can be drawn. The rights of foreign household staff in the Gulf region have long been an issue, and there's a thriving black market trading maids and drivers who have run away from their original employers, Arab News says. Last year, Kenya suspended the operation of agencies recruiting workers for the Middle East citing "numerous" mistreatment claims, and Indonesia's new president, Joko Widodo, has accelerated plans to stop women working as maids overseas to "preserve the country's dignity".

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Turkey palace guarded by 1,000 police

The presidential palace in Ankara The cost of building and running the presidential palace has been under scrutiny in Turkey

Turkey's new presidential palace is guarded by more than 1,000 police officers - the equivalent of one for every room, it's reported.

The huge building - known as Ak Saray, or the White Palace - is said to have 1,150 rooms, and the same number of police have been assigned to work there, the Today's Zaman website reports. The officers are from two new police branch offices which have been set up to cater to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security needs at his official Ankara residence. The website points out that at the old presidential palace only 450 police were deployed.

One former regional police chief tells the paper that using so many officers was unnecessary and "even paranoid". "If these police officers were not stationed there, the protection of the streets and the security of life and property in Ankara and other cities would be better guarded," says Ercan Tastekin. Public spending on the presidential residence has been the topic of much debate in Turkey, and with a price tag of $615m (£397m) it has raised eyebrows for its lavish design. But Mr Erdogan has defended the building, pointing out that there are many other pricey palaces in the world. "This palace does not belong to me, it belongs to the nation," he said in December.

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Rehab plan for alcoholic bears

One of the bears sticking its head through the cage bars One of the bears has gone blind and both need treatment for alcohol addiction

Two alcoholic Russian bears who were kept in appalling conditions for more than 20 years could soon be enjoying a new life in Romania.

In February, a court ruled that the male bears must be confiscated from their owner, who kept them in a small, rubbish-strewn cage at a restaurant in the Black Sea city of Sochi. The animals - one of which is blind - became addicted to alcohol after visitors continually gave them drinks, the Tass news agency reports. While the removal order comes into effect in March, they're currently still living with the owner, and need travel paperwork to be issued by the Sochi authorities. "The court order is there to take them away but there is nowhere to put them in Sochi," says Anna Kogan, head of the Big Hearts Foundation, which is coordinating the move with support from other animal charities. A bear sanctuary in Romania has now offered to re-home the bears and provide them with treatment for their alcohol problems.

"It's a very expensive process to move them abroad," Ms Kogan tells the BBC, adding that the foundation is still looking for logistical help to transport the bears by boat across the Black Sea. But if they make it to their new home, their chances of recovery are good. "The people there have worked with dancing bears who had similar problems... it can be done," Ms Kogan says. The restaurant owner previously defended keeping the bears, arguing that beer was good for them because of the climate.

The bears in their cage The adult bears are being kept together in a small cage

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Finnish radio broadcasts whole Koran

A copy of the Koran on a table Finland's public broadcaster describes the series as an "unprecedented" project

The Koran will be read from cover to cover on Finnish public radio as part of a new series, it's been announced.

The country's public broadcaster, Yle, has divided the reading into 60 half-hour segments, including a discussion between two experts on the context and meaning of each part. Beginning on 7 March, the project is "intended to increase people's knowledge of the Koran and Muslim culture in Finland", Yle says on its website. A leader from Finland's Muslim community, Imam Anas Hajjar, will discuss each section with Professor Jaakko Hameen-Anttila, who translated the text into Finnish. "It is important that the Koran is read in its entirety, and not just select items that show that Islam is bad and violent or good and beautiful," says Mr Hameen-Anttila. "All of the text material is served up for the listener to assess."

Interpreting the 1,400-year-old text for the series wasn't always straightforward. "We haven't been at loggerheads, but Imam Anas Hajjar and I have often read the same passage and approached it from a very different point of view," the professor says. "Imam Hajjar reads practical, contemporary meanings into the text and I see it as an historic work that is tied to the time in which it was created." An estimated 60,000 Muslims live in Finland, out of a population of about 5.4 million people. Yle says the wider Finnish Muslim community was involved in making the programme and approves of the finished product.

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Tajiks 'locked in' at election event

Two men climbing over the railings Locals attending the events were reportedly blocked from leaving through the park gates

Residents of the Tajik capital were duped into attending a campaign event for the ruling party and then stopped from leaving, it's been claimed.

Dozens of state company employees, university students and schoolchildren were told to gather at a park in Dushanbe on their day off, but weren't told why, according to the privately-owned Ozodagon news agency. When they arrived, people discovered they were attending a campaign event for the ruling People's Democratic Party of Tajikistan (PDPT), the agency says. Locals say some people wanted to leave but couldn't because the park gates were locked, and photos show some trying to climb over the railings. "After taking a stroll around we decided to go out but faced a difficulty... We, including children, women and elderly, were caged like wild animals in a zoo," said one attendee in a social media post seen by the BBC, which has since been deleted.

A spokesman for the Education Ministry dismissed the complaints, and was quoted as saying everyone who took part in the event went there "voluntarily". That hasn't stopped social media users accusing the ruling party of running a "coercive" campaign in comments posted on the agency's website. The event hasn't been mentioned on state-owned media websites. Voters in Tajikistan go to the polls on 1 March to elect members of parliament's lower house and local councils. The ruling PDPT is widely expected to retain its majority, but the opposition Islamic Rebirth Party is proving increasingly popular among Tajikistan's Muslim population, and could be a serious challenger to ruling party.

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Dubai builds 'cigarette sandcastle'

The sandcastle covered in cigarette butts The sandcastle is at Mamzar Beach Park, where an earlier clean-up found thousands of used cigarettes

Officials in Dubai have built a giant sandcastle and covered it in cigarette butts to raise awareness about littering, it's reported.

The 3m-high sandcastle is designed to draw attention to the environmental damage cigarettes can do when washed out to sea, and the risks they pose to children, officials say. The scale of the problem was evident during a clean-up at one beach in 2014, when volunteers collected 50,000 cigarette butts in one hour, the Emirates 247 website reports. Authorities hope the cigarette sandcastle will hit home with beach-goers. "The volunteers working on this installation collected thousands of cigarette butts from beaches and other public spaces," says Ismail Abdulrahman Al Banna, marketing director at Dubai Municipality. "Our goal is to give people food for thought on how pollution on this scale can affect the future of our children, as well as the environment in the UAE."

Volunteers carry out regular beach clean-ups in Dubai, but littering continues despite the risk of fines. In 2014, the municipality announced litter bugs would be slapped with a penalty of 500 dirham ($136; £88), which would be doubled, then tripled, if the same person was caught more than once. Keeping the emirate clean and tidy is a priority for authorities - it also has fines for chewing gum on public transport and hanging washing on private balconies.

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Prison holds snow sculpture contest

The missile launcher snow sculpture Frozen solid: A replica missile launcher impressed the judges

Inmates at a prison in Siberia have been keeping busy by building huge replicas of Russian military equipment entirely out of snow.

The sculptures were made at a prison in the Omsk region as part of a competition to mark Defenders of the Fatherland day - a public holiday in Russia, the state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports. In a unanimous decision, first place was awarded to a full-size model of a Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missile launcher, painted in camouflage colours. The sculpture was praised for its intricate details, including built-in lights, a statement from the federal penitentiary service says. Second place went to a frozen replica of a Soviet T-34 tank.

The prison says the contest "contributes to morale" and makes inmates "familiar with independent creative work", adding that the winners will be rewarded with special privileges. It can also benefit the prisoners' psychological well-being, while the teamwork element encourages law-abiding behaviour, according to Igor Moiseyev, head of the facility's psychological department. It's the second snow sculpture contest at the prison in recent weeks; inmates made festive creations over the Christmas and New Year period, including Santa in a full-size sleigh.

The snow sculpture of a tank A realistic - though immobile - T-34 tank replica came second in the contest

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Denmark's national album goes online

Denmark's free digital archive Nearly two million images from Denmark's past

Denmark is posting its national photo album online today, with free access to nearly two million pictures, diaries, letters, and sound and video recordings.

The project has been making electronic records of the country's 550 archives since the late 1980s, working its way through the 50 million images and more than 100 kilometres (62 miles) of shelving of original documents that the Association of Local Archives estimates it holds. Archivists see free access to the digital archive as a landmark moment. "This opens up an important part of Denmark's cultural heritage, and is the greatest day of my professional life since I began work as an archivist in 1980," Odense city archivist Jorgen Thomsen told the DR state broadcaster.

The oldest documents in the digital archive date back to the 1600s, and all are covered by the general rules of copyright. The project, largely funded by a grant from the Moller shipping empire, plans to make 25,000 new searchable images a month available to the public. Amateur genealogists in particular are excited about chances to track down elusive images from their family past.

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Saudis mull TV dress code for women

Archive screen grab of Saudi TV channel al-Ekhbariya Female Saudi newsreaders already wear the headscarf

Female newsreaders in Saudi Arabia may soon be required to dress more modestly when they appear on air, it's reported.

The kingdom's advisory body, the Shura Council, is considering a proposal put forward by the country's media authorities which would require all female television presenters to adopt a more conservative dress code, which includes covering their head and wearing the traditional black abaya cloak. One of the authors of the draft law, Ibrahim Abu Abat, says it's "embarrassing" that the country's media do not represent Islam in what he deems to be the Saudi way. "Saudi women must appear with respectable hijab, so we can have Saudi media that truly represent our beliefs and values", the Saudi Gazette reports.

The proposal, which has yet to be passed by the council, has inevitably divided opinion among some female members. Nora al-Adwan, who backs the move, caused controversy last year when she accused some female presenters of damaging the country's reputation by refusing to wear the traditional dress and for wearing too much makeup, the Gulf News website reported. Latifa al-Shualan, on the other hand, expresses surprise at the council's interest, saying the country has more serious issues to worry about. "There are many other pressing issues such as the danger posed by the media activities of the so-called Islamic State terrorism group", she told the Arab News website. "Our media should highlight the Kingdom's important role as a moderate political force in the region", she adds.

It's not the first time that Saudi women in the public eye have had their dress sense held up to media scrutiny. Last year, a female newsreader based in the London studio of state-owned al-Ekhbariya TV caused a stir when she went on air without a headscarf.

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Russian political chocs mock West

Confael political chocolate selection From Putin, with Love

Russian confectioners Confael are launching a new range of chocolates ahead of the popular Women's Day celebrations, with a distinctly political flavour.

The selection boxes are adorned with famous Soviet-era propaganda posters, amended by satirical couplets mocking Western sanctions against Russia over its armed intervention in Ukraine. "For Western currency we have no need/A golden rouble - at full speed!", reads one. Another, showing a World War II female factory worker warning against gossip, says "Don't mouth off, gentlefolk dear/That Obama's bound to hear!" Bumaga news portal notes that the prices have been slashed "to match the crisis".

One box features a photograph of President Putin in sunglasses, with the verse "To be king, when all are 'ifs' and 'buts'/You need a pair of rock-hard nuts". And if that's not coarse enough for the lady in your life, Confael offers a Stalinist manager telling his comrade exactly how he disposed of an article by US State Department spokeswoman and regular Kremlin hate-figure, Jen Psaki: "I just read Psaki's latest gripe/It came in handy for a wipe".

The reaction on social media suggests the gifts left a bitter taste in most mouths. "Shameful toilet humour" and "low politicking" are some of the more polite comments on Confael's Facebook page. Others mock the Soviet-nostalgia of the designs, suggesting chocolate-flavoured moonshine and pickled herring might better suit the company's new clientele, to be enjoyed in a "chocolate Gulag with toffee barbed wire".

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NZ holds breath over fruit flies

Fruit flies on a piece of fruit The insects lay their eggs inside ripening fruit and breeding populations are difficult to eradicate

The discovery of a single fruit fly is worrying New Zealanders - and proving costly for the government.

Officials are trying to find out if the destructive pest has spread to other areas after a male fly was found in an Auckland suburb, the New Zealand Herald reports. The insect is native to Australia, but so far no breeding population has been established in New Zealand. An exclusion zone has been set up in the Grey Lynn area where the fly was found, meaning the movement and disposal of fruit and vegetables is restricted. Officials worry that any spread of the fruit fly could be disastrous for the country's NZ$5bn ($3.8bn; £2.4bn) horticulture industry. A similar scare last year in the northern city of Whangarei lasted three weeks and cost nearly NZ$1m, the website reports. The 7,000 residents within the zone will now be visited by government officials, and "they can expect to have people on their property hanging traps from their trees," Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy told a press conference. Special bins will be in place for fans attending Cricket World Cup games at the Eden Park stadium, which is within the exclusion area, TVNZ reports.

Horticulture New Zealand, which advocates for fruit and vegetable growers, wants the government to do more in terms of prevention, describing traps as the "last line of defence". The organisation's boss, Peter Silcock, wants all bags from Australia to be X-rayed on arrival "because that's where this risk is coming from", he says. The Queensland fruit fly, native to the north-eastern Australian state, is considered one of the most destructive in the world, the Stuff.nz website explains. While New Zealand has strict bio-security measures at its border, the horticulture industry's great fear is that a breeding population becomes established in the country, which would likely lead to a ban on trade from export partners.

A sign warning of a fruit fly exclusion zone in New Zealand The exclusion zone means people cannot transport fruit of vegetables outside the area

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Japan 'cat-man' seeks feline equality

Masahiko Suga with his cats on a street Feline fine: Masahiko Suga says taking his cats out makes them more docile at home

A Japanese man who wanders around city centres with a pram-full of cats says he's doing it so people treat them as equal to dogs.

Masahiko Suga, 53, has become well-known for carting his nine cats around in a buggy in Kitakyushu, southern Japan, The Asahi Shimbun website reports. He does it to encourage cat owners to take their pets out for walks in the same way as dogs. "I want more people to feel attached to cats and learn how to interact with them," he tells the paper, adding that he's also happy if cat lovers who can't have one as a pet "feel comforted" by playing with the animals.

Mr Suga, a retired former electronics company worker, says taking the cats out and about has other benefits - namely that they've stopped ripping up furniture in his home. "I hope society will eventually give cats the status it gives to dogs," he says. While he's a minor celebrity in his home city, Mr Suga has also taken his well-groomed posse on the road, travelling to the capital Tokyo in a camper van, the website says. Japan is famous for its cat cafes, but figures in 2009 showed that dogs were the more popular choice among pet owners.

People greeting the cats Snap-cat: The animals are an irresistable photo opportunity for passers-by

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Egyptian graffiti books seized

A woman walks past graffiti reading "revolution" in Arabic in December 2011 Street art, like this piece reading "revolution", has sprung up across Cairo and other cities since 2011

Customs officials in Egypt have seized hundreds of copies of a book on revolutionary graffiti, it's reported.

The book, called Walls of Freedom, features images of street art which have appeared in Egypt since January 2011, when then-President Hosni Mubarak was ousted following huge street protests. Its website says it also looks at the graffiti artists and "examines the historical, socio-political and cultural backgrounds which have shaped the movement". But a Finance Ministry official says the book is "instigating revolt", and that customs officers have seized 400 copies which had arrived from Germany, the al-Masry al-Youm website reports. Undersecretary Ahmed al-Sayyad tells the website the book gives "advice on confronting the police and armed forces", and says the copies will be sent to prosecuting authorities.

One activist says that confiscating books is "absurd", but that Egypt's laws give officials some leeway. "The law on publication contains a lot of loose terms that give authorities the chance to interpret them as they please," Emad Mubarak, director of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, tells the Egypt Independent. Rights groups have strongly criticised limitations on freedom of expression in Egypt under the current government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, particularly against journalists and people found guilty of blasphemy or promoting atheism. In January, a student was sentenced to three years in prison for comments made on Facebook, a decision Human Rights Watch described as "part of a wider government push to combat atheism and other forms of dissent".

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N Korea's Kim Jong-il ice festival

A soldier describes the making of Kimjongilia and carved tree sculptures The giant ice Kimjongilia flower was a backdrop for interviews with members of the army

North Korea has unveiled an ice sculpture festival to honour the 73rd birthday of its former leader Kim Jong-il.

State-run Korean Central Television aired special programmes after the main evening news over two days showing the ice park on the slopes of Mount Paektu, the active volcano said to be the ancestral cradle of the Korean people, and the reputed birthplace of Kim Jong-il, who lead North Korea until his death in 2011. The programme shows a number of Kim-inspired ice sculptures built by the Art Studio of the Korean People's Army, including assault rifles, patrol boats and a missile launcher, as well as copies of revolutionary monuments in the capital Pyongyang. There's also a large Kimjongilia - a red begonia hybrid named after the "Dear Leader" - fashioned in ice.

Pride of place, however, goes to a replica of the hut on Mount Paektu in which Kim was reputedly born - although historians outside the country say he was actually born in Russia. Surrounded by icy trees, and crowned with the former leader's smiling official portrait, the TV specials showed ranks of army officers reverentially bowing toward the replica.

Korean soldiers salute the replica of the Mount Paektu camp State TV showed Korean soldiers saluting a replica of the Mount Paektu camp

The real hut on the North Korean-Chinese border is a place of pilgrimage for the country's citizens, and according to the state narrative of the "revolutionary spirit of Mount Paektu", the country's founder Kim Il-Sung organized guerrilla resistance from the densely-wooded slopes. Many trees on the Korean side are carved with slogans, and the Paektusan camp is an almost daily theme in the country's propaganda.

State news agency KCNA said that some sculptures had been carved from a six-tonne block of ice in the capital, allowing residents to experience "the freshness of the holy land of the sun where Jong-il Peak stands".

A revolutionary monument created in ice The real version of this revolutionary monument is a familiar sight in North Korean media
Ice sculpture of a rocket launcher A mobile ballistic rocket launcher appears in icy form

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Moscow tackles corruption with comics

A cartoon showing a man thinking about a car and saying, in Russian, "I must admit I completely forgot about the car" Something to declare? "I must admit I completely forgot about the car," says this official

Moscow's city government is using a comic book to educate officials on how to avoid corrupt practices, it's reported.

The book, called "Combating Corruption", has so far been used to teach 30,000 civil servants not to take bribes, the Izvestiya newspaper reports. Created by illustrators from the state-run Moscow City University of Management, it features characters who are put in difficult situations, and offers advice on how to respond. There are also some cautionary tales of officials who have been caught in the act, the paper notes. One section tells officials that while they can accept gifts worth less than 3,000 roubles ($50; £30), they can't take such gifts regularly from the same person.

The use of a comic book is meant to make the material more engaging, its designers say. "We decided to apply a non-standard approach while developing the training," says Olga Vladimirova, a department head at the university. "Our task was to depart from the complex language of legislation and normative acts that is often used in such courses." Izvestiya says high profile city officials are among those who have done the training, including the mayor's deputies.

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New 'pretty' fungus found in Denmark

Close-up of the Hirticlavula elegans fungus The fungus is prettier than one might expect for something which grows on rotten wood

Scientists in Denmark have discovered a tiny new species of fungus which they consider so beautiful they've given it a Latin name to match.

Hirticlavula elegans was found in the forests of northern Denmark, and at 1mm in height it's quite tricky to spot without a magnifying glass, one researcher tells the Videnskab news website. "It is very, very small. That's why it has not been discovered before," says Thomas Laessoe, a mycologist - or fungi expert - at the University of Copenhagen. A close-up of the fungus shows it's "awfully pretty", says Mr Laessoe. "That's why we have given it the Latin name elegans - meaning elegant."

Experts say it's quite rare to find an unknown species in Denmark, and while this fungus was first spotted in 1995, there wasn't enough DNA material to work out whether it was actually new. Now it has been found on wet, rotting bark both in Denmark and in southern Norway. Whether Hirticlavula elegans is edible is still unknown, but it seems unlikely that the new discovery would appeal to foragers for one main reason: "Because of its size, it's difficult to tell whether or not you have it in your mouth," Mr Laessoe says.

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Russian city sees 'triple sunrise'

A view of the sunrise from a road The sunrise "halo" effect can appear several times over the winter, according to a local meteorologist

Residents in a Russian city have witnessed an optical illusion in the dawn sky, which created a triple sunrise.

People in the western city of Chelyabinsk saw what looked like three suns appearing over the horizon, with many sharing photos of the sight on social media, the state news agency Tass reports. According to a local meteorologist, the "halo" effect was caused by ice crystals in the air which refract the sunlight. The crystals, which are invisible to the naked eye, were the product of a particularly chilly morning, with temperatures around -25C, says Galina Sheporenko, the Sverdlovsk region's chief weather forecaster.

A few days earlier, locals had another unexpected sight when blue-tinged snow covered the city's streets. While some people feared the unexplained hue might have been dangerous, there turned out to be a sweeter explanation. A local factory making colouring for Easter eggs experienced a spill, causing the powered dye to escape into the air and come to rest on the snow outside, the New York Times reported. Chelyabinsk is perhaps accustomed to unusual events by now. In 2013, it was made famous when a 570kg meteor was seen shooting across the sky above the city, injuring more than 900 people before landing in a nearby lake.

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Italy president's palace to open daily

A view of the Quirinale Palace The huge presidential palace sits atop one of Rome's seven hills

Italy's new president is throwing open the doors of his official residence, Rome's historic Quirinale Palace.

Sergio Mattarella, who took office earlier this month, says the huge 16th-century palace will soon be open every day for public visits, and that new areas will be opened up to house temporary and permanent exhibitions. Until now the Quirinale has only been open for a few hours on Sunday mornings. Anyone wanting to explore outside of these times had to make do with a virtual tour on the palace website. The vast 1,200-room building has been home to 30 popes, four kings, and since the 1940s has been the official residence of Italy's presidents. Announcing the decision, Mr Mattarella described the palace as a "symbol of the culture and history of the Italians", and said a working group is already looking into the details.

While some Italian social media users are thrilled with the news, many have one eye on the country's stretched public finances. "This idea is great, but who pays for the staff?" asks one person on the La Repubblica website. "And with this gesture most of Italy's problems are resolved!" a Twitter user adds with a dose of sarcasm. Others are already starting to see a pattern in the new president's decisions. The Quirinale announcement comes only days after Mr Mattarella hopped on board an Alitalia flight to visit his home city of Palermo - the first time in years that a head of state has shunned the presidential plane. One Twitter user thinks the palace opening shows the president is mixing things up more than the country's youthful premier, Matteo Renzi, declaring: "Between this and the aeroplane, the real revolutionary is Mattarella."

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Snowmen world record set in Japan

Children making snowmen at the festival Record breakers: People in Iiyama beat a record which had stood since 2011

A new world record has been set in Japan for the most snowmen built in one hour.

More than 600 people helped to smash the old record by making 1,585 snowmen in the city of Iiyama, north-west of Tokyo, the Kyodo news agency reports. To count towards the record attempt, snowmen had to be more than 3ft (91cm) tall and have facial features and ornamental arms, the agency says. No tools were used, aside from the traditional glove-covered hands. "It was tough because the snow crumbled, but I had fun," says eight-year-old Ichika Oguchi, who took part along with her family.

Guinness World Records confirmed that Iiyama had beaten the previous record of 1,279 snowmen, set by more than 350 participants in the United States in 2011. Earlier this month, hundreds of people in the Canadian city of Ottawa bettered that number by building 1,299 snowmen in 60 minutes, but it wasn't officially confirmed, and the title now belongs to Iiyama. The city is situated in the mountainous north of Nagano Prefecture, and experiences heavy snowfall each year. The new world record was set during its annual snow festival, which also features elaborate giant snow sculptures.

People making snowmen at the festival The snowflakes continued to fall as hundreds of people got to work on their snowmen

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Iran FM told to smile more at talks

John Kerry and Mohammad Javad Zarif shaking hands Keep smiling: Iran's foreign minister has been told he should stop shouting in meetings

Iran's foreign minister has been told to cheer up when taking part in international negotiations on the country's nuclear programme - by the country's supreme leader.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says Ayatollah Ali Khamenei advised him not to shout during the talks, but to make his point with his smile. It seems the supreme leader got wind of the fact that Mr Javid raises his voice during meetings with US Secretary of State John Kerry, sometimes causing their bodyguards to peek into the room and check everything's alright, the Islamic Republic News Agency reports. "When I visited the supreme leader the next time, he asked: 'Why do you shout at meetings? Smile as you do, and say what you have to say'," Mr Zarif recounted to a group of students during a visit to a boys' school. Ayatollah Khamenei also told him to "speak with logic... don't argue", he says.

In January, Mr Zarif was criticised by hardliners in Iran for appearing to be too friendly with his US counterpart. Conservative MPs demanded that he explain himself in parliament after the two men were photographed taking a stroll around Geneva together. But President Hassan Rouhani admonished those who complained, and said criticism of the nuclear negotiating team undermined Iran's national interests. Talks between Iran and six international powers - the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - were scheduled to end in November 2014, but the parties failed to reach a comprehensive agreement. They're now aiming to reach a final deal by 30 June.

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'Extreme tourism' in eastern Ukraine

A pro-Russian separatist fighter stands on the top of a tank in front of destroyed buildings in Donetsk While many people have been trying to get out of eastern Ukraine, some tourists apparently want to go in

A Russian travel company will start organising trips to war-torn areas of eastern Ukraine, it's reported.

The Megapolis Kurort company has until now specialised in wellness holidays within Russia, but it's decided to branch out - into extreme travel, the pro-Kremlin Izvestiya newspaper reports. On the itinerary will be the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, both rebel strongholds where fighting between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces has been fierce. "A trip will take about four days and will cost about $2,000 to $3,000 (£1,300 to £2,000)," co-owner Mikhail Bely is quoted as saying. A special armoured vehicle for five to seven people is being prepared for the trips, and security guards will accompany each group, he says, adding that 10 people have already expressed an interest. The idea has shocked Stanislav Vinokurov, a member of Luhansk's self-proclaimed government. "I understand and support commercial initiatives in the tourism industry, but to earn money on people's grief? I do not support this," he says.

Another Megapolis Kurort co-owner tells Izvestiya he hopes the tours will be short-lived. "I don't think this will become a permanent destination. This is rather event tourism," says Anatoly Aronov. People want to "see everything themselves, to draw conclusions and to decide on the ground whom to help", he says, adding that tours might be combined with the delivery of humanitarian aid. But any would-be extreme tourists should take heed of one key detail - the company says it won't bear any responsibility for what might happen to those who decide to go.

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Canada cabinet must tweet bilingually

Canada's parliament with a bilingual stop sign outside Canada's federal government has been bilingual since 1969, and now ministers' tweets will be too

Canada's most senior politicians have been told they must tweet in both French and English in future, it's reported.

An investigation by the country's commissioner of official languages found that tweets by former Foreign Minister John Baird and Public Security Minister Steven Blaney fell foul of the law because they were mainly in English, The Canadian Press news agency reports. The commissioner's office says when ministers are communicating with the public in an official capacity they have to use both of Canada's official languages - and that includes on social media. It found that over the course of two months, 181 out of 202 of Mr Baird's tweets were only in English. When the investigation was announced in August 2014, Mr Baird's then-spokesman said the Twitter account was personal and therefore "falls outside the scope" of federal language laws.

Canada's federal institutions have been bilingual since 1969 when the Official Languages Act was passed, recognising English and French as having equal status. It means that Canadian citizens have to be able to access federal government services in both languages. According to the 2011 census, about 30% of the population can speak French, with more than seven million Canadians describing it as their mother tongue.

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Italy MP slams 'unpatriotic' navy ad

An Italian navy poster Not cool: Some Italians would prefer the adverts to be in their own language

Italy's defence minister has rebuffed criticism over navy recruitment adverts which used a slogan written in English.

The phrase "Be cool and join the navy" appeared on a series of recruitment posters, but it has drawn the ire of the right-wing Fratelli d'Italia party, the Ansa news agency reports. In parliament, MP Fabio Rampelli said the slogan was "unacceptable" and that Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti should be suspended for "wounding patriotism". Mr Rampelli began by speaking in English, before switching to Italian. "If I continued like that the Speaker would have stopped me," he said. "I ask myself how it came into the mind of the Italian navy to launch, with our money, a campaign in the English language to recruit young people." Mrs Pinotti says the campaign was designed "in house" and was meant to appeal to young people who grew up interacting with the whole world over the internet. "English was chosen because it's a differentiating factor compared to the traditional image of the navy," she said, adding that applications have risen by 20% compared to last year.

While the use of English phrases in Italian life isn't rare, using it to recruit for the armed forces has annoyed some social media users. "Enough with this English," says one person on the navy's Facebook page, where the adverts have been repeatedly posted since January. Several others describe the choice of language as "shameful", and one user adds: "I'd like the invitation to enlist in the Italian navy expressed in Italian. Or are we a colony?!"

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Cheap petrol draws Finns to Russia

A Russian petrol station Half price: Finding cheap petrol is an international road trip for some Finns

The falling value of the rouble is bad news for Russia's economy but it's benefiting motorists in neighbouring Finland, it's reported.

Finnish drivers are taking advantage of the struggling currency to engage in so-called petrol tourism - crossing the border to fill up their tanks at much cheaper prices than at home, national broadcaster Yle reports. Petrol prices in Russia are almost half those in Finland, and even when the cost of an entry visa is taken into account, motorists say the savings are substantial. It's particularly popular in the south-east, where the number of border crossings is going up, the website says. Finns are often seen using petrol stations in the city of Vyborg, 38km (24 miles) from the Finnish border, where a litre of unleaded costs about 0.52 euros ($0.59; £0.39) and diesel is even cheaper. The rouble plunged in value against the euro in 2014 and that slide has continued this year.

"There aren't many times that I've filled up in Finland over the past 10 years," Vesa Ropponen, who lives in a town near the border, tells Yle. Another motorist says being a petrol tourist saves him 1,000 euros per year. The head of a company which provides credit for people who want to buy fuel in Russia says the number of people doing it will probably rise in the spring. "Getting a visa takes some time," says Vesa Kaukonen, CEO of Beoscan Oy. "And not everyone wants to travel to Russia in the winter."

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'Art for booze' in St Petersburg

A painting from the collection of a bear holding a drink Some of the art which will be on display is appropriately themed

Artists in Russia are holding an event where visitors will be able to pay for their art using bottles of alcohol.

The Art for Booze event in St Petersburg will take place on 13 February, the day before Valentine's Day, and is for "those who are in love with art", according to the group's VKontakte social networking page. Anyone attending can leave their cash at home and take along a bottle of wine, or something stronger. "Do you understand alcohol better than art?" the page reads. "Do you spend more money on drinking than our pieces cost? Drop this and exchange precious drinks for priceless paintings." The event is strictly for over 18s, the legal age for buying alcohol in Russia.

Organisers say they're reviving a practice that was common during the 1920s and 1930s. "All well-known painters from Picasso to Ilya Kabakov did this," they tell Ukrainian website Novoye Vremya. "Marc Chagall and Salvador Dali, among others, designed the label for Mouton-Rothschild bottles in exchange for a crate of wine." But there are many critical comments from social media users, some of whom think the event promotes alcohol. "Next they'll start swapping paintings for cigarettes or drugs," user Roman Krestovskiy comments on VKontakte. "They should go to Ukraine or Europe with their 'projects'. In St Petersburg, art should not be equated to a bottle of whiskey."

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Ryanair sorry for Palermo 'gaffe'

Palermo's cathedral Ryanair says the material was provided by a third party and wasn't checked

Ryanair has been forced to change its description of Palermo after protests from local officials, it's reported.

On its website, the low-cost airline described Sicily's capital as a "forgotten treasure", but city officials objected to what followed: "Dominated for many years by the mafia and poverty, the city has reclaimed a place among European cultural cities". That description provoked complaints from a council member and the boss of the city's airport, which the Irish carrier uses for its flights, La Repubblica newspaper reports. In an apology, Ryanair says the content was provided by a third party. "This detail escaped an internal check," says marketing manager Giuseppe Belladone, adding that the description "obviously" doesn't reflect the airline's thoughts about the city.

Its website now describes Palermo as "intoxicating, lively and energetic", but one local blog didn't see the problem with the original content. "Where is the mistake?" asks the Live Palermo website. It notes that Ryanair made a clear distinction between the past and present, and says the city "cannot erase" its history. Palermo suffered years of Cosa Nostra violence in the 1980s and early 1990s; its Falcone-Borsellino airport is named after two anti-mafia judges murdered in separate bombings in 1992. But since then, grassroots anti-racket organisations have helped foster public resistance to the pizzo - or extortion money - and crackdowns by law enforcement have seen many high-profile mafia arrests.

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Houses for Ivory Coast football team

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara and Ivory Coast captain Yaya Toure wave at the crowd President Alassane Ouattara (left) says the team's victory has united the country

Ivory Coast's football team has been rewarded with millions of dollars in prizes by the country's government for winning the Africa Cup of Nations.

Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara is giving each member of the 23-man squad a house worth $52,000 (£34,000) and the same amount in cash, the government says. The team beat Ghana's Black Stars 9-8 on penalties in the tournament's final in Equatorial Guinea. There were also six-figure rewards for the Ivorian Football Federation and the team's technical staff - in total the government has shelled out more than $3m (£2m) in celebration of the victory.

It wasn't a total loss for Ghana's team, despite their penalty defeat. Each player is being given $25,000 (£16,000) by the team's sponsor, the state-owned Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC), a figure that the country's sports minister thinks is a little low. Mahama Ayariga says the bottle-throwing endured by players during their semi-final victory over Equatorial Guinea in Malabo means they deserve their reward. "For those who think that GNPC rewarding the boys with $25,000 is too generous, I wish they were in the stadium" in Malabo, he's quoted as saying in Nigeria's Daily Post. "Then they will know whether $25,000 is worth that kind of experience. I don't even think it is enough."

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JFK gift-giver traced after 53 years

The dolls on display US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy played with the dolls as a child and now keeps them in her residence

A Japanese woman who sent a set of traditional dolls to US President John F Kennedy more than 50 years ago has been traced after an appeal, it's reported.

Caroline Kennedy - the current US ambassador to Japan and President Kennedy's daughter - asked the media for help to find out who sent the "hina" dolls so that she could say thank you, Kyodo news agency reports. Mrs Kennedy played with the dolls as a child and now has the set on display at her official residence in Tokyo in preparation for the country's Doll Festival on 3 March.

Japanese media have identified the sender as Tsuyako Matsumoto, now 92 years old and living in a retirement home in the city of Kitami, about 1300km (800 miles) north-east of Tokyo. She wrote to the president in 1962 and was surprised to receive a thank you letter from his secretary in return, the agency reports. That prompted her to buy a set of 15 dolls and post them off to the White House. "I thought it would be a surprise because it was pricey and rare," says Ms Matsumoto, adding that she's "simply happy" that the ambassador wants to thank her for the gift. Asked what she would say to Mrs Kennedy if they were to meet, Ms Matsumoto replies: "That's a secret."

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Twitter shows wrong flag for UAE

Twitter reactions Flag fail: Twitter users were unimpressed by the error

Twitter used the wrong flag to represent the United Arab Emirates in tweets about the Cricket World Cup, fans have pointed out.

The social media site is using "hashflags" to mark the sporting event, so when a user types #UAE, an image of the country's flag appears within their tweets. Or that was the idea. Instead, users saw a flag bearing the right colours in the wrong configuration, The National website reports. While there should have been green, white and black horizontal stripes, with a red vertical band on the left-hand-side, Twitter put a black strip at the top, and turned the red band into a triangle. Some users have noted that it bears a striking resemblance to the Flag of Arab Revolt, used by Arab nationalists during World War One.

People trying to use the hashflag feature were unimpressed with the gaffe. "I grew up in this country. These things are important to me," says user Bindu Rai. Other users tweeted the company itself, with one suggesting they "sort it out". Twitter responded by suspending the use of hashflags for all participating countries. The feature was first introduced in 2010, and was popular during the Fifa World Cup last year.

The UAE flag More familiar: Emirati cricket fans expected to see the UAE's real flag in their tweets

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Serbia announces Soviet tank sell-off

An archive photo of Bosnian-Serb soldiers on a T-55 tank in 1995 T-55 tanks were widely used during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s

Serbia is selling off hundreds of Soviet-era tanks and other hardware in order to raise money for its armed forces.

The sale includes 282 T-55 tanks, more than 16,000 pistols and 5,000 rocket launchers, the Blic tabloid reports. Thousands of bullets and rifle grenades are also up for grabs. The country's Ministry of Defence says the arms are "not essential for the normal functioning of the defence forces". "We are talking about surplus weapons that have already been outdated or have passed their use-by date," the ministry says on its website. "The sale will not affect the country's defence capabilities."

Money raised from the sale will go towards buying new weapons and will fund research and development. Officials say the public sale is a more transparent process than has used in the past, and is aimed at preventing "unlawful acts". But the bidding process isn't open to just anyone who fancies having a Soviet-era tank in their garden. The ministry specifies that only companies which are licensed in foreign arms sales are allowed to take part.

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China's mass underground eviction

Two residents inside their underground apartment inside an old civil defence shelter The windowless underground shelters became tiny apartments for many people

Beijing's government has evicted more than 120,000 people living in the city's disused air-raid shelters, it's reported.

Authorities will begin redeveloping the spaces this year, after spending three years clearing people out of makeshift underground housing, the Beijing News website reports. The subterranean dwellers occupied 13% of all underground space in Beijing, according to a Civil Defence Bureau official, and more than 7,000 individual residences were recorded during the evictions. Built during the Cold War, the shelters form part of a network of caverns beneath the Chinese capital. A lack of affordable housing means thousands of migrant workers from the countryside have made their homes underneath the streets, and locals have dubbed them shuzu - or the "rat tribe". The government says the evictions were carried out for security reasons. In the past, underground spaces have been converted into car parks or entertainment venues.

The scale of the clearance surprises some Chinese social media users, and many express concern for the welfare and fate of the evictees. "People were really living there? How cruel," says one user on the People's Daily Weibo page, while another person asks: "Where are these people going to go?" The dilemmas faced by migrants also concern some users: "On the one hand I welcome these migrant workers providing services to the city," says one person. "On the other, these people are deprived of their human rights."

A resident standing at the entrance to underground housing inside an old civil defence shelter High housing costs led to a subterranean rental market in Beijing

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Canada army 'lost' precision shells

Canadian troops preparing to leave Afghanistan in 2011 The shells couldn't be accounted for when Canadian forces withdrew from Kandahar in late 2011

Canada's army couldn't find three of its precision-guided artillery shells when troops pulled out of Afghanistan in 2011, it's reported.

The shells, known as Excalibur rounds, were worth more than US$175,000 (£115,000) each, according to records obtained by The Canadian Press agency, and published in the National Post. Touted as high-precision weaponry, the shells are said to be accurate within 20m of a target when fired from up to 40km (25 miles) away. Documents show that the GPS-guided explosives couldn't be accounted for when Canadian forces left their base in Kandahar, and nearly two years of investigation resulted in armed forces officials asking for the cost of the ammunition to be written off, which was subsequently approved.

More than three years on, their whereabouts are still unknown, the agency says. A briefing to Canada's joint operations commander in July 2014 said theft was "highly unlikely" because of the sheer size and weight of the shells - each one is 1m (3ft 3in) long and weighs 48kg (106lb). There were also problems with notifying authorities of the loss. It should have been reported within 48 hours, but the army waited 15 months because officials thought it was just a paperwork error.

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Turkey probes Minecraft 'violence'

Children playing Minecraft Minecraft is popular with young gamers and has been used in schools

Turkey's government is looking into allegations that the popular computer game Minecraft is too violent, it's reported.

The game is classified as suitable for children aged seven and over in much of Europe, and for those older than 10 in the United States. But Turkey's family and social policies minister, Aysenur Islam, has ordered an investigation over suggestions that it promotes aggression, the Haberturk website reports. If it's considered too violent, then the government could seek a nationwide ban, the website says. The move was prompted by a journalist who told Mrs Islam that players get points for killing other characters - including women - and asked what her ministry would be doing about it. The Pan European Game Information group, which assigns ratings to computer games, says Minecraft contains "non-realistic-looking violence towards characters which, although human, are not very detailed".

A journalist at one Turkish gaming magazine says the ministry's concerns are misplaced. "I have never seen a kid grabbing a sword and attacking people because of Minecraft," Kaan Gezer says on the Leadergamer website. "Stories like this cause the video game industry in Turkey to stall or even deteriorate." Minecraft is extremely popular with gamers of all ages, registering its 100 millionth user in February 2014. It has also been used by teachers in some schools in the UK.

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Finn advertises dead flying squirrel

A Siberian flying squirrel Siberian flying squirrels are a protected species in Finland, even when they're no longer alive

A Finnish man has attempted to sell a dead Siberian flying squirrel by advertising it on a supermarket bulletin board, it's reported.

The squirrel - which is a protected species - was on sale for 60 euros ($70; £45) in the city of Kuopio, central Finland, the Savon Sanomat newspaper website reports. The man says a cat deposited the squirrel outside his house one night, but that he thinks it died of natural causes. "It was dead but in perfect condition. It had been frozen for a few months," he tells the paper. "Then I read on the internet that they can fetch 250 to 300 euros when stuffed."

The Siberian flying squirrel, which glides between trees using a flap of skin connecting its front and back legs, is protected by strict conservation laws in Finland and was put on the country's endangered species list in 2010. "The law prohibits selling and exchanging a dead protected animal without special permission," Det Ch Insp Markus Taskinen tells the paper, adding that if one is found it should be handed over to a science museum for research purposes. The man tells Savon Sanomat he'd be happy to hand the animal over to a museum - in exchange for "a few euros".

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Big Russian families get mortgage cut

Statue of a family in Saransk The ideal family size in Mordovia is four, if you want your mortgage paid

Having a large family will help parents in Russian region pay off their mortgages, it's reported.

The region of Mordovia is launching a scheme which will see the government reduce a family's mortgage by 10% for every child born, the NTV news channel reports. If a family has a fourth child then the entire mortgage will be written off, the report says. The offer will apply equally to families who choose to adopt children. It's hoped the initiative will serve a dual purpose - increasing the birth rate of the region, and supporting families who are struggling with their bills during Russia's economic downturn. Mordovia has one of the lowest birth rates in the country at 10.1 births per 1000 population in 2014, and the lowest within the Volga Federal District.

"It's certainly a relief, because my whole salary was being spent on the mortgage," says local resident Mariya Kuchkayeva. An official tells the channel that women can register for the scheme until the age of 35, and will continue to benefit even if they have children after that age. NTV adds that a sculpture in the region's capital, Saransk, of a family with three children and a pregnant mother, has now been nicknamed "farewell to mortgage" by local people.

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Italy piazza name irks Ukraine

The signpost for the piazza The square's new name has upset Ukraine's ambassador to Italy

The renaming of a piazza in a small Italian town has caused a diplomatic incident, it seems.

The square in Ceriano Laghetto, in the northern province of Lombardy, is now called "Martyrs of Odessa" in memory of people killed during two separate incidents in the Ukrainian city. The first was a massacre of Jews in October 1941, but it's also named for pro-Russian separatists who died during clashes with Ukrainian government supporters in May 2014, Mayor Dante Cattaneo, of the right-wing Northern League party, tells Il Fatto Quotdiano. More than 30 people were killed in a fire after apparently barricading themselves into a government-run building in the city.

The renaming of the piazza - which is used as a car park - has angered Ukraine's ambassador in Rome, Yevhen Perelygin. In a letter to the region's prefect, he asks for the decision to be revoked, saying the events of May 2014 are still unclear. He also suggested in an interview that the decision was "manipulated by political forces who support the Russian initiative" in Ukraine, something the mayor refutes. Mr Cattaneo appears to be defiant, despite a request from the regional authority to undo the change, and says Italy shouldn't be allowing foreign interference in decision making. "Piazza for the Martyrs of Odessa is there and will remain," he tweeted. "In Ceriano there's a democratically elected local authority. It is not Ukraine."

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NZ locals debate 'phallic' sculpture

The sculpture viewed from the ground Clouds and raindrops? Not according to some residents in New Lynn

A sculpture being installed at a New Zealand railway station is causing amusement among locals who say it looks like a giant penis.

The aluminium artwork called Transit Cloud is suspended outside the station in New Lynn, a suburb in the northern city of Auckland, and is meant to represent clouds and raindrops, according to sculptor Gregor Kregar. But residents say the piece, which cost the city NZ$200,000 ($150,000; £100,000), looks more phallic in nature, the New Zealand Herald reports. "What the hell is that? It's certainly not a cloud. It looks like a penis," one woman tells the paper. "I was surprised that it was erected," another local says on the 3 News channel. "Maybe the angle could be slightly shifted to change the visual concept".

Mr Kregar says he's found the reaction only "a little bit upsetting" and has been able to see the funny side. "Art is there to provoke the reaction," he tells TVNZ. "Usually for the one negative comment there's thousands of positive comments as well." The council commissioned the artwork as part of efforts to revitalise New Lynn, and some locals have reacted positively, describing it as "terrific". Mr Kregar says the finished sculpture will feature LED lighting and will look different by night. "Hopefully the opinion will change through time when the sculpture is installed and they'll embrace the work."

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Bike playgrounds for Danish cities

A child at a cycling playground in Denmark Cycling playgrounds have proved popular with parents and children in Denmark

Permanent bicycle playgrounds are going to be set up in cities across Denmark, it's been announced.

Ten cities will get dedicated spaces for children to safely practice their cycling skills, after a trial scheme proved popular. In 2011, the Danish Cyclists' Federation set up a mobile bike playground in the capital, Copenhagen, which was fully enclosed and kitted out with ramps and different surfaces. The idea was to encourage children to "play themselves into secure cyclists", the group said at the time. "Experience has shown that bike playgrounds are a great way to get children to move and be safe in traffic," Klaus Bondam, head of the federation, tells the Copenhagen Post. "We are looking forward to spreading this concept so that children throughout Denmark can benefit."

Denmark is already celebrated as one of the most cycle-friendly nations in the world: nine out of 10 Danes own a bicycle, and 45% of children cycle to school. But recent figures show that car ownership is on the rise, and that a record number of vehicles took to the roads in 2014.

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Mummies found 'floating in sewage'

Polluted water at an archaeological site in Egypt Polluted water is a problem for millions of Egyptians and for the country's archaeological treasures

Two ancient Egyptian mummies have been found floating in sewage in a village waterway, it's reported.

The mummies, which were wrapped in several layers of linen and still in their wooden sarcophagi, were found by police in a village near the city of Minya, about 240km (150 miles) south of Cairo, the CairoScene online magazine reports. They're thought to date back to the Greco-Roman era, from 332 BC to 395 AD, but the Ministry of Antiquities says little is left of the bodies. "Although the coffins were decorated with colourful designs, they were missing any ancient Egyptian inscriptions or hieroglyphics," the ministry says in a statement. A third sarcophagus was also found, but was empty.

How the mummies came to be dumped in the polluted water is not yet known, but ministry official Dr Yusuf Khalifa says it's likely they were unearthed by people carrying out illegal excavations, and ditched to cover their tracks. There are tight restrictions on excavations in Egypt; in October 2014 seven people were arrested in Giza after an illegal dig uncovered the remains of an ancient temple. Experts are now trying to restore what remains of the two mummies, and they'll be put on display along with their sarcophagi at Minya's Hermopolis Museum, the ministry says.

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'Bidders vie' for Saddam hanging rope

Mowaffak al-Rubaie with a statue of Saddam Hussein and the rope around its neck Mowaffak al-Rubaie had the rope on display in his living room

The rope used to execute former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein has attracted numerous bids from people who want to own it, it's been reported.

Bidders from Iran, Israel and Kuwait are said to be vying to get their hands on the grisly memento, according to the London-based Al-Araby Al-Jadeed website. It's currently held by Mowaffak al-Rubaie, Iraq's ex-national security advisor. In 2013, he was photographed with the rope on display in his living room, slung around the neck of a bronze statue of the former president. That prompted a flurry of interest in the rope, a senior Iraqi politician tells the website. He says among those bidding are two Kuwaiti businessmen, an Iranian religious organisation and a wealthy Israeli family, and that an offer of $7m (£4.6m) has been made. Mr al-Rubaie has not commented on the report.

Human rights activists have criticised the alleged bids, and activist Ahmed Saeed tells the website that if a sale does happen the money should go to the Iraqi treasury as public funds. In April 2013, Mr al-Rubaie told The Independent he was keeping the statue and rope until a museum was made to house the relics of the former regime. "I had my men bring me back a segment of the rope after they cut Saddam down," he said. "I thought it appropriate to put it around the neck of Saddam's statue."

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Gold additive for Chinese liquor

Chinese woman drinking baijiu Binging on baijiu has become a popular - and dangerous - trend on Chinese social media

Chinese health authorities plan to approve the use of gold foil in one of the country's most popular alcoholic drinks, it's reported.

The National Health and Family Planning Commission has asked for public feedback on the proposal to allow gold to be added to baijiu, a white liquor, the Global Times reports. The commission says a maximum of 0.02g of gold per 1000g of liquid can be added, but it hasn't said what prompted the move, and that's been raising some eyebrows. Its use in spirits is currently banned and nutritionists say gold has no significant health benefits, the South China Morning Post notes. Baijiu is a strong spirit of up to 60% proof, but bingeing on the drink has recently become a popular social media trend.

One baijiu expert tells the Global Times that while he sees no problem with adding gold, the move may cause controversy as it comes amid China's sweeping anti-graft campaign. State media outlets have also questioned the reasoning behind the move, with one paper noting that manufacturers will be able to raise baijiu prices when the gold foil is added.

Some Chinese social media users have ridiculed the plan. "Normal human beings do not need gold in their diet, but it is essential for the boorish rich!" says one Weibo user, referring to the country's nouveau riche, notorious for their extravagant spending. "This plan is nothing but a gift to corrupt officials!" another person writes. Others think the commission should refocus, with one user writing: "Adding gold to food! The health department should go back to selling sweet potatoes."

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Japan seeks cat lovers to save birds

A streaked shearwater bird on Mikura Island Streaked shearwaters are a bit too appealing to Mikura Island's resident cat population

Cat lovers are being asked to help save seabirds in Japan by giving new homes to feral kittens, it's reported.

About 90% of the streaked shearwater seabird population is found in Japan, and most nest on the small island of Mikura, the Mainichi website reports. But their numbers have been dwindling in recent years, and experts think that feral cats - and their taste for bird-based meals - are to blame. While authorities have neutered and released many of the cats to stop them reproducing, it's thought about 500 call the island home.

The Yamashina Institute for Ornithology is hoping that a cat adoption scheme could help, and is calling on people to get in touch if they want to offer one of the island's feral felines a home. Kittens will be the first to face the adoption process, as they're more likely to adapt to domestic life. "Leaving feral cats that have high hunting ability will put numerous kinds of wild animals on the island in danger of extinction," says Nariko Oka, a researcher at institute.

Government studies have shown that streaked shearwaters declined in number by around 20,000 per year between 2007 and 2012, when 770,000 were estimated to be living on the island, the website says. In the late 1970s, the number was thought to be more than 1.75 million.

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Woman loses ability to speak Chinese

Liu Jaiyu in a hospital bed in Hunan Liu Jaiyu is only able to communicate with nursing staff in English

An elderly Chinese woman is only able to speak English after suffering a stroke, it's been reported.

Liu Jaiyu, a 94-year-old former English teacher, has found herself no longer able to speak Chinese after parts of her brain relating to native language were damaged by a cerebral infarction, the local Hunan TV reports. Television pictures show her in bed, answering simple questions in English, which means the nursing staff are having to brush up on their language skills. "She greets me in the morning using English, after she's eaten her meals in the afternoon she uses English," one nurse tells the TV. "My memory of the language isn't too good, sometimes I don't understand what she's saying!"

A doctor at the hospital says that Ms Liu is suffering from paralysis of all her limbs, as well as an "obstacle" to her language functions. "It seems the part of her brain responsible for her mother tongue has been damaged, however the part that uses English has been preserved," Li Yanfang says.

There have been rare cases where patients develop a different accent after a stroke, migraine or head trauma. But Ms Liu's case appears different because she has apparently turned to an already-learned language. Experts say that the complex Chinese language requires the use of both parts of the brain, while English only uses one side.

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Season tickets for security tip-offs

Commuters on the Cairo metro The new scheme is called "Long live Egypt - security is everyone's responsibility"

Egyptians who report suspicious behaviour on public transport will be rewarded with season tickets, it seems.

The Ministry of Transport has announced it will give away the tickets to anyone who tips-off the police about suspicious behaviour or spots a strange object in public. The incentive is being offered in order to highlight that "security is everyone's responsibility not just the army and the police", a ministry spokesman says. Telephone hotlines have been set up, and X-ray machines and security cameras have been installed at stations to help monitor the transport system, al-Masry al-Youm reports. The ministry's announcement comes days after a series of attacks on military targets in the Sinai Peninsula, and was followed by news that two bombs had been found at Cairo airport.

Some Egyptians commenting on social media are divided on what effect the scheme might have. Some predict that people could make fake reports to the police, in order to claim the free tickets. But while one user describes it as "a nice idea", another thinks people shouldn't need an incentive: "A person's motivation is their nation, self, money and dignity. Not a ticket!"

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Russia slashes vodka price

Employees at a Russian vodka distillery Minimum vodka prices were introduced in 2010 in order to limit alcohol consumption

Russia has cut the minimum price of vodka in order to try and stop people turning to moonshine, it's reported.

Half a litre of the spirit can now cost as little as 185 roubles ($2.70; £1.80), a reduction of 16% on the previous minimum price of 220 roubles, The Moscow Times website reports. Authorities are hoping the move will stop people consuming illegally distilled spirits, which often have a higher alcohol content. Russia first introduced a minimum price for vodka in 2010, in an attempt to cut binge drinking. But as the economy worsened and prices rose in 2014, more people took to buying illegal alcohol, the website says. Russia's economic woes continue despite government efforts to stabilise the currency. The rouble's value plummeted 41% against the dollar during 2014, pushing inflation up to 11.4%.

The new minimum vodka price has been met with some wry responses on Russian social media, with some users complaining that vodka is the only thing that's falling in price. "When the really hard times come, they will be distributing vodka for free and making sure that you drink it," says Twitter user Dyadushka Shu. "Price of a metro ticket has gone up, price of vodka has slumped. No money for a ride? No problem!" Dmitry Balkunets tweets. "Get vodka, get drunk and forget about your plans."

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Gold bars discovered at India school

Indian rupee notes in a man's hands School staff say the lockers where the cash and gold was found haven't been used recently

A locker-cleaning session at an Indian school has uncovered a stash of gold bars and stacks of cash, it's reported.

Employees came across the riches when they were wiping down dirty lockers at the school in the western city of Ahmedabad as part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's "Clean India" campaign, The Hindu website reports. They discovered five apparently unused lockers in the staff room for which no keys could be found, so staff broke into them. Inside was the unexpected sight of 10m rupees in cash ($160,000; £108,000) in one locker, and more than 2kg (4.4lb) of gold bars in another. According to police, the solid gold is worth nearly 6m rupees.

The school doesn't have a record of who used the lockers and nobody has come forward to claim the contents, according to the NDTV website. The headteacher says the lockers haven't been assigned to anyone during the two years he has been there, and local police are equally flummoxed. "We have questioned many staff members and teachers, but we have been so far unable to trace the person who put those bags into these lockers," says one officer, KK Desai.

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'Bullet-proof fashion' store opens

Staas de Wijs with the bulletproof vests The clothes are designed for anyone who feels unsafe, says company spokesman Staas de Wijs

A company selling "fashionable" bullet-proof clothing has opened its first store in the Netherlands.

Residents of Eindhoven can now stock up on the classic bullet-proof vest, but also suits, leather jackets and even ties, the Omroep Brabant website reports. The shop sells a Colombian brand of armoured clothing that is designed to look just like normal outfits, with vests thin enough to wear underneath a T-shirt. The clothes are mainly aimed at people who might feel at risk in their jobs, such as jewellers and staff at petrol stations, says company spokesman Staas de Wijs. They're not meant to appeal to criminals, he adds.

The group that owns the shop, Panamera, says there's been an increased interest in the products since the Paris terror attacks in January. "After Paris, 150 more people have already asked for information," CEO Yavuz Yilmaz tells the Eindhovens Dagblad website. He won't give away anything specific about who's buying the items, but says the past weeks have seen "a lot of enquiries from Belgium and France as a result of current developments". Anyone interested in making their wardrobe bullet-proof might need to save up, however. According to Omroep Brabant, the cheapest item costs 2,400 euros ($2,700; £1,800).

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Iceland's pagans build new temple

Asatru procession, Iceland The Asatru movement's new temple is due to open in summer 2016

Iceland's main neo-pagan religion is to build its first temple in the capital, Reykjavik, it's reported.

The Asatru movement, which seeks inspiration in Iceland's pre-Christian Norse beliefs, says this will be the first pagan temple to be built in the country for 1,000 years. Work is due to begin in March at a site in the Oskjuhlid district, a popular woodland area that already hosts the landmark Perlan building, Morgunbladid newspaper reports.

The 350-sq-m (3,800-sq-ft) building will take the form of a half-buried dome, aligned with the path of the Sun. Architect Magnus Jensson has incorporated the mathematical 'golden ratio' in his design, as well as the numbers nine and 432,000 - which are sacred to the Asatru rite and other pagan religions.

Reykjavik City Council has donated the site, but the Asatru Association will raise the $975,000 (£645,000) building costs itself. The Association has 24,000 members, out of an overall population of about 326,000. Asatru High Chieftain Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson, a noted composer, says the temple will be used to celebrate weddings, naming ceremonies and funerals, and should accommodate 250 people at a time.

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Flying car washers irk Saudis

Car wash

Residents of the Saudi city of Jeddah are complaining about street-corner car washes, which they say are damaging roads and harassing drivers.

The Council only grants permission to car washes with a regulated water supply, out of the way of traffic and residential areas, but illegal washers can be found outside shopping centres, markets and even government buildings, getting water where they can and charging knockdown rates of 15 riyals ($4;£2.60) or less, Arab News reports.

Locals have many gripes about the car washers, and often make a point of noting that they are largely guest workers from South Asia and South-East Asia. Complaints range from heavy use of water and detergent, which one resident says is "eroding asphalt and leaving polluted puddles", to accusations that they steal water from public supplies. One driver says they pursue their victims right up to the doors of shopping malls, sometimes even offering their phone numbers in order to wash cars at home.

Council officials acknowledge there is a problem. Spokesman Muhammad Al-Bugami says lack of any official presence has allowed fly-by-night car washes to "ruin parts of some neighbourhoods", with Prince Miteb Market and Al-Jamia district badly affected. But Mansour Al-Zahrani did not let local drivers off the hook, either. "The main reason this phenomenon keeps growing is that Jeddah residents use these rogue car washes to save time and money".

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China revives 'Moscow of the East'

St Sophia's Orthodox Cathedral, Harbin Russia left its mark on Harbin

The northern Chinese city of Harbin is to get a large theme park based on Russian culture, it seems.

Wei Minfang, head of a local tourism company, says he intends to begin work on the Sino-Russia Friendship Park later this year in the Manchurian city. Covering five square kilometres (about two square miles), the project will focus on the history of the city "with particular reference to Russian culture", Mr Wei told Xinhua news agency. The aim is to boost tourism ties between the two countries. Work will start this year and should take another six to complete, although the first stage ought to be open to the public by 2017.

Harbin has strong historical ties with Russia. It was the hub of the Chinese Eastern Railway, which was built at the end of the 19th century with Russian funding, and the city was soon dubbed the 'Moscow of the East' because of its architecture and the tens of thousands of Russians who flocked there. Their numbers were swollen by refugees after the Bolshevik Revolution, but civil war, Japanese occupation and the rise of the Chinese Communists had all but put an end to the Russian presence by the early 1950s.

Mr Wei's company already runs the venue for Harbin's Snow And Ice Festival, which sees ice sculptors from around the world converge on the city to compete in carving the most elaborate creations in freezing winter temperatures. The ice site already has a Russian theme, with a full-scale model of an Orthodox church and a Medieval fortress . The new park, which is estimated to cost five billion yuan ($800m; £530m), will be built around the current ice venue.

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Port spat puts squeeze on US islands

A view of American Samoa

Congestion at ports in the United States has caused food shortages thousands of miles away in the Pacific island territory of American Samoa, it's reported.

A dispute between port workers and their employers is behind the slowdown at ports along the west coast of the US, which has led to chaos in the shipping industry. For residents in American Samoa, about 4,800 miles (7,700km) away, it means supplies of essential foodstuffs are running low, as there hasn't been a delivery for four weeks, Radio New Zealand International reports. Most shops don't have eggs or milk, and prices have been hiked on the food that is available, the radio says, adding that one store is charging more than $2 (£1.32) for a single tomato.

Production at a new tuna cannery expected to employ 2,000 people, has also been delayed by the problems in the US, because essential parts needed to operate the factory haven't arrived. The factory is now due to start production in mid-February. American Samoa relies on imports for almost all of its food, and the next shipment is due to arrive in the territory on 2 February.

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Rewards for inter-caste marriage

An inter-caste mass marriage in India Inter-caste marriages do happen in India but they are still frowned upon by many people

An Indian state is trying to promote inter-caste marriages by offering a cash incentive, it's reported.

The government in Uttar Pradesh, northern India, is offering newlyweds 50,000 rupees ($810; £530) and throwing in a medal and certificate too, the Times of India reports. There's only one condition - either the bride or groom must belong to one of India's "scheduled castes". The term refers to those on the lowest rung of the Hindu caste system, who are officially considered socially disadvantaged. Inter-caste marriages are still considered taboo in India, and there have been cases of couples being murdered by their own families - so-called honour killings - as a result of mixed relationships.

Social activists in the region have welcomed the new incentive, saying it could help to change public opinion. "It will be hard to immediately change the mind-set of people even after the prize money, but it's a step forward," says Rohit Chaudhry, himself one half of an inter-caste marriage. "Every person has the right to choose who he or she wants to live with. No-one should be persecuted on the basis of caste or faith." To pocket the cash, couples need to have their marriage certificate authenticated by a magistrate before being forwarded on to the local authorities, the website says. Eight couples in the city of Meerut have already signed up and are due to take the plunge at a joint wedding ceremony on 8 February, just ahead of Valentine's Day.

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Fishermen net WW2 mustard gas bomb

A beach on the Danish island of Bornholm Fishing around the Danish island of Bornholm can be a risky business

Danish fishermen reeled in a particularly dangerous catch during an trawl in the Baltic Sea - a mustard gas bomb from World War Two.

The fishing cutter caught the unexploded German ordnance in the sea around the island of Bornholm, which lies just south of Sweden, the Bornholm Tidende news website reports. A navy bomb disposal team met the boat as it docked in the harbour in the town of Nexo, after the crew called ahead to report what it had aboard. It was then given a thorough cleaning by the Danish Emergency Management Agency (DEMA), in case any of the mustard gas had escaped, the website says. "The bomb was well preserved," says DEMA spokesman Michael Gronbech-Dam, adding that it is about 90cm long. Mr Gronbech-Dam say it's unlikely the gas has leaked, but officials aren't taking any chances.

The Baltic Sea is a well-known burial ground for unexploded WW2 bombs. In 2013, Spiegel Online reported that tens of millions of leftover munitions - including detonators and shells - lie on the North and Baltic Sea beds, and high-risk areas are marked on nautical charts. But it's a lucrative fishing area, and in the past fishermen have been injured after coming into contact with mustard gas from corroding bombs. In 1984, more than 30 fishing boats were contaminated in the space of three months, and a dozen fishermen suffered burns.

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'Daughter wanted' in Chinese advert

A daughter helps her elderly mother walking along a street in China More than 200 million people are over the age of 60 in mainland China

A Chinese woman has advertised for an adult "daughter" to keep her company and maybe even inherit her wealth, it's been reported.

The advert - posted near a job centre in the city of Zhengzhou, in eastern Henan Province - looks for a "kind-hearted" woman under the age of 40, "who could inherit my wealth if we get along", the Shangdu.com news website reports. The writer describes herself as a 68-year-old doctor who owns a clinic and four houses, but has no children. She is identified by the website as Liu Guiling, whose husband is paralysed and bedridden. Mrs Liu tells the site she wants someone to visit her just like a real daughter would, and whoever makes the grade could inherit two houses and her clinic.

The story has been met with sadness on Chinese social media. "Being an old lady is tough, being a doctor is also tough," says one user on the Beijing Times Weibo page. "People only want a little bit of love - please do not be mean to her!" But several users aren't convinced that the advert is a good idea, with one saying: "How can a stranger really love you like your own child, do you know what filial piety is?" Others are busy making a pitch for the role, with one man asking: "Would you take a son?"

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No superheroes allowed, says Denmark

Benjamin Preisler Herbst in his toy shop Mr Herbst says adults should be allowed to choose their own names

A man who wants to call himself Superhero has been thwarted by naming authorities in Denmark.

Benjamin Preisler Herbst owns a toy shop in Copenhagen and says his life revolves around the comic book characters. He wants to add the term to the start of his existing name, but officials are having none of it. "The word superhero is a term for a fictional/non-existent figure," reads a rejection letter from the naming authorities, according to the Jyllands-Posten website. "We don't believe that Superhero lives up to the criteria for being approved as a boy's name." A recent French court decision stopped parents from naming their child Nutella on the grounds it would make her a target of mockery. But Mr Herbst is 26 years old, and says adults should be free to make their own decisions. "I fully understand that people under 18 should be protected from being named silly names by their parents," he tells the BBC. "But I think it should be up to adults to change their own name to whatever they want."

Danish authorities have approved unusual names in the past, including Balcony for a girl, Gin - which is considered unisex - and Gandalf. Mr Herbst says Superhero is no sillier. "We only have one life, so why should the authorities be in charge of what we want to be known as?" For now his battle continues, with plans to appeal the decision and an online petition to gather support. In the meantime, Mr Herbst has some other names to choose, as he'll soon be a father to twins. "They will not be called Superhero or anything similar. They should not be bullied in school for my silly ideas" he says. "Let them be the the ones to make the call about any name changing when they are ready!"

Benjamin Preisler Herbst and friends in superhero outfits As well as owning a toy store, Mr Herbst (left) and his "superhero family" also raise money for charity

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No 'male songs' for S Korea military

Female South Korean soldiers saluting The armed forces say they have to consider the thousands of women in their ranks

South Korean military songs are likely to be less male-oriented in the future, it's reported.

The armed forces have been considering how to deal with frequent references to men in their songs because of a growing number of female recruits, the Korea Times reports. Current songs - including one of the military's most famous tunes, Real Men - were penned in a different era when the sexes were less equal, a military spokesman says. But with about 10,000 female recruits now singing along, things may need to change. While existing songs will remain untouched, it seems new compositions will get a gender-neutral treatment. "The military has conducted surveys on its own, which showed that few female soldiers have antipathy to the existing songs," says spokesman Kim Min-seok. "Therefore, authorities decided to leave existing songs as they are, but exclude problematic words from those created from now on."

The government is seeking to increase the number of women serving in the armed forces, but rights groups say harassment is still a problem for female recruits. A National Human Rights Commission study in 2013 found that more than one in 10 female soldiers had reported a sexual assault while at work during the previous year.

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