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28 January 2015 Last updated at 08:10 ET

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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India websites offer online prayers

Indian Hindu devotees pray at a temple For some Hindus ordering a prayer ritual online can be more practical than travelling to a temple

Hindus across India are going online to avoid long pilgrimages to the temple, it's been reported.

A number of religious websites now offer online blessings and "prayers by proxy", the Hindustan Times reports. Hindu devotees can order a puja, or prayer ritual, to celebrate a significant life event, or to seek help with issues ranging from infertility to finding a job. Users provide a few personal details, select the temple of their choice and make an online payment. In return they receive a parcel containing everything they need to carry out a puja from the comfort of home, including a prayer DVD, dried flowers and sandalwood.

The cost starts at about 500 rupees ($8; £5) but can cost more than 2,000 rupees, depending on the popularity of the temple. The mail order idea was initially aimed at Indians living abroad, but it's since seen a rise in popularity among local residents, the paper reports. Modern life means people don't always have time to make long trips to the temple, according to Shivakumar, the founder of one such website. "People today are either too distant or too busy to take the journey, which is where we help them," he says.

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Secession debate in Czech border town

Czech Republic border sign Some residents in Hora Svate Kateriny fear they could be cut off by the mine expansion

A Czech mayor has suggested his town should secede from the country if plans to expand mining in the area go ahead, it's reported.

The small town of Hora Svate Kateriny sits on the border with Germany, and Mayor Lukas Pakosta says joining their northern neighbour would be "an option", the Mlada fronta Dnes website reports. Residents fear the town could be cut off under a planned expansion of the opencast mine, and the mayor says a critical road link would be destroyed under the proposals. "We would only be able to get into Bohemia through mountain areas," he says. "In winter, we would be totally cut off, but this wouldn't be a problem in the case of Germany." People in the area often do their shopping across the border and the nearest hospital is in the German town of Olbernhau, the report says. "If the Czech Republic lets us down, from a practical point of view being ceded to Germany is an option," Mr Pakosta tells the website.

Not everyone supports the mayor's idea, though. "This is rubbish," a local miner tells the paper. "We want to stay in the Czech Republic and keep mining coal because this brings money." The suggestion has been labelled "dangerous" by former Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg. "As Donetsk and Luhansk cannot leave Ukraine, Hora Svate Kateriny cannot leave the Czech Republic," he says.

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Turkmenistan 'bans black cars'

Officials in white cars at a military parade in Ashgabat Buying a new car can be a tricky business in Turkmenistan, where numerous restrictions are in place

White seems to be the new black in Turkmenistan, at least when it comes to buying cars.

Customs officials in the Central Asian country have reportedly refused to allow the importation of black vehicles, according to Chrono-tm.org, a Vienna-based opposition website. They haven't given a reason for the decision, but are advising importers to buy white vehicles instead because it's considered a lucky colour, the website says. President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov recently started using a convoy of white limousines to travel to public events, and about 160 top-ranking officials, including the heads of the country's main media outlets, promptly followed suit, Russia's RIA Novosti news agency reported in September. The paintwork restrictions are just the latest in a long list of rules, which includes a ban on the importation of coupes, supercars and vehicles with personalised number plates or tinted windows.

Turkmens have become accustomed to eccentric restrictions on daily life, which often seem to be imposed at the president's whim. In 2014, residents in the capital, Ashgabat, protested after authorities demanded they remove air-conditioning units from blocks of flats in order to improve the city's appearance. The government has also been spending billions of dollars remodelling the capital into a "white city" by covering all the major buildings with marble.

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Tax break for Italy dog adoptions

A dog looking through the wire in a shelter Man's best friend: Rehoming a dog can be good for the soul and the bank balance

Adopting a four-legged friend will bring tax benefits to residents of a town in Sicily, it's reported.

Councillors in Mascalucia, near the eastern city of Catania, have unanimously approved a plan to cut refuse taxes for people who give a dog from the local shelter a new home, La Sicilia website reports. Residents can get up to 50% off their rubbish-disposal bill under the new scheme, the website says. And it's not a one-time offer - discounts will continue for up to three years after an adoption is made.

The idea has also been mooted elsewhere in Italy over the past year, and it's hoped it could encourage more people to adopt and save the local authority money in the long run, says council member Alessio Cardi. The town spends about 150,000 euros ($169,000; £112,000) a year on looking after the stray and abandoned animals. But the scheme also has another benefit, Mr Cardi says: "To give a safe place to a little dog which, in all likelihood, will be able to shrug off the burden of a difficult past."

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India PM dons pinstripe 'name suit'

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi Mr Modi's suit hasn't been a hit with many social media users

India's prime minister has worn a suit decorated with his own name to meet US President Barack Obama, it's reported.

From a distance, Narendra Modi's traditional bandhgala suit appeared to be a classic navy blue pinstripe design. But closer inspection by social media users revealed the stripes were actually tiny letters spelling out the prime minister's name over and over again, the India Today website reports. Mr Modi was snapped in the suit during meetings with President Obama, who's on a three-day state visit to India. He's not the first high-profile figure to opt for the pattern; in March 2011 former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was photographed in a similar number.

Twitter users aren't particularly impressed with Mr Modi's choice. One person describes it as "a case of crazed self-obsession", and another user thinks it's the "height of narcissistic behaviour". But he does have one fan in the fashion stakes; Mr Obama used his toast at the state banquet to describe the Indian leader as a "style icon".

A close up of the suit pattern A close-up appears to show the pattern spells out the prime minister's name: Narendra Damodardas Modi

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Ghana official wears wife's coat

Mr Nketia alongside other officials in a receiving line in Germany Mr Nketia (right) was mocked for wearing the fur-trimmed winter coat

A senior official in Ghana's ruling party has laughed off criticism for wearing his wife's coat during an official visit to Germany, it's reported.

Johnson Asiedu Nketia, general secretary of the National Democratic Congress, was snapped wearing a camel-coloured, fur-trimmed number on the trip, and was promptly ridiculed by fellow politicians and social media users, the Graphic website reports. Mr Nketia says nobody in Germany mentioned his choice of attire, but it was a different story back home in Ghana, where one opposition politician seized on the fashion choice as evidence of a "totally confused" administration.

Mr Nketia has met the mockery with good humour, and says he isn't bothered by the fuss. "When we embark on a state visit... we are going to use our brains to help the country, not to showcase our attire at fashion show," he said in a radio interview, adding that he didn't see the point in buying a new coat for such a fleeting visit. And it seems there is an upside to being ridiculed for your fashion choices. In an interview published on the Ghana Vibes website Mr Nketia says: "I can hit my chest and say that I'm the only political party executive to chart a new fashion trend."

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Fake bank swindles China savers

Chinese TV footage of inside the bank showing the counters The "bank" appeared legitimate to the 200 people who handed over their money

A fake bank which was set up to look just like a real one has swindled Chinese savers out of 200m yuan ($32m; £21m), it's reported.

To customers in the eastern city of Nanjing the interior looked like any other state-owned bank, with uniformed clerks working behind the counters, the Southern Metropolis Daily website reports. Almost 200 people deposited their cash, including a businessman who handed over 12m yuan ($1.9m; £1.3m) in 2014. But he grew suspicious when he wasn't paid the promised interest on his money, and went to the police after the bank refused to return his savings. A police investigation found that it was actually a rural cooperative, which had none of the accreditations required to operate as a bank. It had been promising interest rates of 2% per week and high interest subsidies, police say.

The fact the "bank" was able to operate for so long has left some Chinese social media users incredulous. "More than a year, it looks like the authorities have gone blind," says one user on the Weibo social network. "Fake banks, and a fake local government," comments another user. Police have arrested five people over the scam, including a woman who reportedly high-tailed it to Macau, China's famous gambling centre, with the customers' money.

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China court creates 'wall of shame'

A view of the screen on the outside of the station The screen shows scrolls through photos every few minutes

A court in China has started naming and shaming people who don't pay fines by showing their images on a giant screen outside a major train station, it's reported.

The initiative is aimed at people who haven't paid court-ordered compensation in the city of Changsha, southern Hunan province. Photos of their faces appear on a huge screen affixed to the outside of the station, in full view of travellers, the Xiaoxiang Morning Post website reports. Alongside the photos are their names, identity card numbers and the amount they owe. A court official tells the paper that it's part of a campaign to protect the public's interests. Most of the amounts owed are in the region of 10,000 yuan ($1600; £1060), but the highest figure is 28m yuan ($4.5m; £3m). While some legal experts have raised privacy concerns, local lawyer Deng Long says the court has the power to publicise people's details however it "deems appropriate" if they've failed to obey court orders.

Many local residents interviewed by Chinese media have welcomed the idea, saying it will act as a deterrent in the future, encouraging people to pay up. "This will show these people that the court means business," one man tells the Xiaoxiang Morning Post. A traveller queuing outside the station was also impressed, telling the China News Agency: "The court has played hardball by exposing them - good job!"

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UAE children 'want exotic pets'

A growling lion Not so cuddly: When it comes to pets, a guinea pig isn't enough for some children

Children in the United Arab Emirates are shunning toy animals in favour of their real-life counterparts, it's been reported.

The trend for exotic pets in the emirates has long caused alarm among conservationists, and one expert says children are now particularly keen. "We noticed that the main problem is related to kids who would like to have exotic animals and play with them as a toy," Dr Elsayed Mohammad, regional director at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), tells the Gulf News website. "I am mentioning this to draw the attention to who is driving the demand for exotic animals: the demand is from kids." Dr Mohammad says he's astonished that families visit animal markets to buy everything from reptiles to primates, and says exotic pets can cost as little as 60 dirham ($16; £11). "It's about lack of awareness among families," he says, adding that almost all the children he's met during work in the country have owned an exotic pet, including lions and pythons.

UAE's government has tried to crack down on the trade in exotic animals, signing a number of international agreements. According to Gulf News, the number of lions imported into the country fell from 114 between 2010 and 2012, to five the following year. In the Sharjah emirate, which borders Dubai, authorities banned the possession of exotic pets in November, giving owners one month to surrender any they had in their homes. Among the animals handed in were tigers, leopards and crocodiles.

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Civil servants make baking offer

Toronto skyline Staff suggested they could drive to Toronto from across Ontario province to avoid pricey air fares

Employees at a Canadian government department offered to bake their own snacks in order make an awayday affordable, it's reported.

Baking was just one of the money-saving suggestions from civil servants at the Aboriginal Affairs department in Ontario province, according to a report by The Canadian Press news agency, published on the Toronto Star website. The get-together in Toronto for employees from across the region would have cost $53,500 (US$44,250; £29,300), money the department hadn't budgeted for, and doesn't have. So, staff put their thinking caps on and came up with a range of ideas to make the trip possible. Aside from baking their own snacks to cut the cost of catering, they also suggested meeting in a public library or university, instead of a pricey venue. There was even a road trip on the cards, with some employees suggesting they avoid air fares by travelling to the event in vans or buses.

The department has been short of cash for some time. In November, it transpired that $505m was moved from its infrastructure budget over six years in order to cover shortfalls in education and social services. Managers had hoped an awayday would help "foster improved collaboration and team-building across directorates and business centres", according to a briefing note seen by The Canadian Press. But it was not to be; senior officials rejected the ideas and suggested an all-staff video conference instead.

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Transgender shelter opens in Turkey

A giant transgender flag surrounded by a crowd of people The 2014 Trans Pride march in Istanbul attracted hundreds of people calling for better employment rights

Turkey's first shelter for transgender people has opened in Istanbul, it's reported.

Funding for the shelter was gathered through donations, its founder Oyku Ay tells the Radikal news website. Miss Ay, a transgender woman, describes herself as a devout Muslim and says she wanted to set up the shelter to help and protect other transgender people. Many struggle to find employment and end up working in the sex industry, an experience she shares. "I wanted to do cleaning, they said no. I wanted to cook, they said no," she tells Radikal. "I wanted to sweep the streets - again they said no." Fundraising efforts for the shelter included a trans fashion show, which raised 44,000 liras ($18,800; £12,400). "That night I cried. Everything was great," Miss Ay says, adding that she hopes to expand the shelter in future.

Activists say transgender people remain marginalised in Turkey, and many have no option but to become sex workers. A study by the non-profit organisation Transgender Europe found that between 2008 and 2014 there were 37 reported killings of transgender people in the country, the highest rate in Europe. While government reforms in 2014 outlawed hate crimes and discrimination based on race and religion, among other factors, they but didn't mention sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Apology over WeChat US flag 'glitch'

A WeChat user's screen showing the words "civil rights" and many American flag icons The feature has now been disabled for WeChat users in China

The Chinese technology company Tencent has apologised after a feature on its mobile messaging app flooded users' screens with American flags when the words "civil rights" were used.

WeChat, the Chinese equivalent of WhatsApp, sends icons cascading down the screen in response to certain key terms, so "Happy Birthday" prompts a flurry of cakes. But Chinese users of the app who discussed civil rights were surprised to see the stars and stripes appear, the Global Times website reports. Officials from one Communist Youth League committee pointed out the app doesn't have any special icons when users type "China" or "National Day". Tencent blames a technical glitch, saying it was "supposed to be only available for users in the US" to mark Martin Luther King Jr Day. "We apologize for the misunderstanding caused by the error," a company statement reads. Screen grabs show the flags appearing when the words were written in English; it's unclear whether it also happened when Chinese characters were used.

The story has divided opinion on social media, but some users on the Weibo social networking site are angry at the - apparently unintended - implication that civil rights are associated with the US, and not China. "Doesn't this country have civil rights?" asks one user. Others are more troubled by flags being used at all. "China has guidelines for using the flag, you can't just use it for a joke," says one popular comment on the Caixin Online page. "If it was the Chinese flag falling, I think we would become a disrespected country." But not everyone's upset, and some users think the whole thing has been overblown. "You haven't done anything wrong," says one user. "There's no need to apologise."

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Orphaned porcupine 'finds love'

Dorit the porcupine Dorit was orphaned as a baby and park staff say she would not survive in the wild

Zookeepers in Israel have uncovered evidence of a porcupine love affair between a captive female and a wild male, it's been reported.

Dorit the porcupine has been living at the Ramat Gan Safari Park in Israel for eight years, since being orphaned as a baby. Unable to survive in the wild, she lives alongside three eagle owls, but it seems she is also getting some porcupine affection by night, the Haaretz website reports. Staff were baffled when they found porcupine droppings outside her enclosure, and after a spiky creature was spotted on the other side of the wire, they feared the worst, thinking Dorit had made a break for freedom. A night-time camera proved otherwise. "The mystery was solved," the zoo says in a statement. "Dorit had a secret lover."

The camera footage showed a large male porcupine visiting Dorit each night for a few hours of one-on-one time, separated only by the enclosure's bars. Staff are surprised by his consistent interest because it isn't mating season, and they don't know how he gets into the safari park. "If he's hiding inside the park, he's doing it very efficiently," spokeswoman Sagit Horowitz tells Haaretz. The discovery has left them with a dilemma over whether to let the pair unite. In the meantime, the droppings keep piling up, suggesting that Dorit's male suitor hasn't lost interest yet.

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Wealthy China inmates 'buy patents'

Inmates in a Chinese prison Inmates in China can have time knocked off their sentences if they invent something

A government scheme aimed at encouraging inventors is allowing well-off Chinese prisoners out of jail early by buying patents, it's reported.

Under the law, prison terms can be commuted if convicts show they have come up important technical innovations, but cash-rich inmates are buying other inventors' ideas and patenting them, according to the Beijing Youth Daily. The newspaper says it's found several intellectual property agents openly advertising the service. Prices start at about 6,800 yuan ($1,100; £700), but more complex patents can cost up to 60,000 yuan. Agents even offer a bespoke service, scrutinising the inmate's background - including education, work experience and interests - in order to find the patent most likely to get time off their sentence, the paper says. "Some rich people come to us right after they get into trouble and before they go to jail," one anonymous agent told the daily. "It takes a lot of early preparation."

The government scheme itself comes in for some criticism on social networking sites. "So in China, as long you're not facing the death penalty, there's an early way out," one Weibo user comments, while another quips: "Prisons should hang up a sign outside saying 'China's Nobel Prize Centre'."

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'Wedding dress woman' tackles stigma

Samah Hamdi in her wedding dress in a metro station Samah Hamdi says her family constantly pester her about getting married

A woman in Egypt has tried to break the social taboo associated with unmarried women by wandering around Cairo in a wedding dress.

Samah Hamdi, 27, wants to shed light on what she says is the stigma attached to single women in the country, Ahram Online reports. She was photographed at various sites in the Egyptian capital over the course of a year, wearing a floor-length white wedding dress and veil. Miss Hamdi, an interior designer who's also studying a Master's degree in performance arts, says she has often bickered with family over the idea that she is "late" to tie the knot. "No matter how accomplished you are, that won't count if you aren't married or haven't undertaken the mission you were purportedly created for: getting married and establishing a family," she tells the website.

Dozens of comments have been posted on her Facebook page. "Bravo. It is a sickening society," says Mostafa Shalaby. But another user, Moshira Ortiz, says: "A person who doesn't have children while young will have nobody to look after them in old age." A video of her wedding dress wanderings won an award in November, but the project hasn't helped her at home, where she says her mother still considers her a "spinster". Many Egyptians do remain single beyond their twenties; official statistics in 2011 showed that about nine million people had reached the age of 33 without getting married, and nearly half were women, Ahram Online adds.

Samah Hamdi in her wedding dress walking down a street Miss Hamdi says the reaction has been overwhelming and she gets 50 Facebook messages each day

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Japanese man sues women's university

A view of Fukuoka The university, in the southwestern city of Fukuoka, says it hasn't yet seen the man's complaint

A Japanese man is suing a women-only university for rejecting his application to study there, it's been reported.

The man, who hasn't been named, wants to become a dietician and applied to study at Fukuoka Women's University, in southwestern Japan, according to a Kyodo news agency report published in the Bangkok Post. It's the only public university in the region which runs the course, the agency reports. But it rejected his application, a decision he argues amounts to gender discrimination. Japan's constitution states that people shouldn't be discriminated against because of their sex, and that everyone has the right to an equal education.

"A public university is a public entity that is being maintained by tax," he says in his complaint, filed at the Fukuoka District Court. "If my application is rejected, the path to become a dietician would be narrow as I will be forced to go to a university outside the prefecture or a private college." His lawyer says this is the first time the constitutionality of a public women's university has been challenged in Japan. The man is asking for compensation and wants his application to be accepted. In November, when he announced his intention to sue the institution, a university official said: "We have a 91-year history of promoting women's education. We are determined to continue to provide education to prepare women for leadership roles."

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Turkish paper in recipe protest

The front page of the newspaper showing a recipe The Yon Gazetesi front page gives pride of place to Turkish recipes

A local newspaper in Turkey has started filling its front page with recipes as a protest against what it describes as limits on press freedom, it's reported.

The Yon Gazetesi paper, published in the southeastern province of Batman, has been subject to almost 40 lawsuits since it was set up in September 2013, the Hurriyet Daily News website reports. Staff have responded by replacing local news headlines with instructions for making Turkish dishes. There's a satirical tone to the choices though, with one recipe for a sherbet snack known as a "deputy's finger", and another for a "mayor kebab".

The paper has often published stories which have been critical of local officials, but the editor-in-chief stands by the paper's content. "Since starting publication, to this day, we haven't done a single news story which wasn't backed by documents," Ferit Tunc is quoted as saying on the Milliyet news website. "But almost immediately all of our stories have prompted people to put pressure on us." He says readers have stuck by the newspaper despite the change in content, and their small circulation of 500 copies remains intact, adding: "We will continue our protest until there is a free local media."

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Racing pigeons mistaken for spies

One of the pigeons with markings visible on its wings The birds in Vietnam were trained for speed, not spying

When pigeons with mysterious markings kept landing in a Vietnamese city, residents suspected something sinister was afoot.

The pigeons had unknown characters stamped on their wings in red and blue ink, and rings around their feet, prompting some in Da Nang and on the internet to suggest the birds were on a spying mission from China, the Thanh Nien News website reports. But far from being winged agents of espionage, police say the pigeons were in fact just regular racing pigeons in need of a rest. Since November 2014, about 16 pigeons have been trapped by locals and handed over to police after landing on houses in the coastal city. Officers say they've traced the birds to racing clubs in nearby countries, and that their wing markings and leg rings are identifiers. Relations between Vietnam and China are strained over territorial disputes in the South China Sea. Tensions rose in 2014 after China moved an oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam, leading to violent protests.

While these birds were cleared of any clandestine activity, pigeons have been successfully used for intelligence gathering, including by the British during World War Two. Other animals have also aroused suspicions in the past; in 2007, Iran detained 14 squirrels found near a nuclear enrichment plant.

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Couple spends life savings on strays

Stray cats in Beijing Thousands of charity shelters look after China's stray animals, but Mr Hu lives alongside them at home

A husband and wife in China are seeking new homes for more than 50 cats and dogs, after spending their life savings looking after the animals.

Hu Fengduan and his wife live alongside the pets in a flat measuring just 20 sq m (215 sq ft), the China News Service reports. The animals are former strays which the couple took in from the streets of Chengdu, in the southwestern province of Sichuan. It started 10 years ago with the rescue of a cat who was stuck on a roof, Mr Hu is quoted as saying on the NetEase web portal. Since then, more animals have joined the household, and are now costing the couple 3,000 yuan ($485; £320) each month. His wife, a former nurse, looks after the animals' health herself because veterinary appointments are too expensive.

Mr Hu, a former gemstone appraiser who currently works as a street vendor, says their money has run out, and the pets need new homes. "We've spent all of our savings to raise them. I'm hoping more warm-hearted people can help us by adopting some of the pets," he says. "We don't want any money but only ask people to be good to the animals." In 2011, a former chef made the news for looking after 140 stray dogs at his home near the Chinese city of Wuhan. He was supported by people's donations, which helped to cover food costs.

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Iran cleric's outfit causes a stir

Hoseyn Khademian wearing his yellow outfit Photos and video of the cleric's luminous outfit went viral on Iranian social media

An Iranian cleric has raised eyebrows in Iran by appearing on television in a bright yellow outfit.

Hoseyn Khademian appeared on state-run television wearing a yellow shirt, shoes and even a yellow watch, the Mehr News Agency reports. Iranian clerics usually dress conservatively in a white shirt and darkly coloured cloak, with black or brown shoes, and Mr Khademian's bold choice was mocked by Iranian social media users. While some people accused him of seeking publicity, others' minds turned to a familiar type of fruit. "A combination of black and yellow, exactly like an old banana," says one person on Facebook, while someone else compares him to a canary. "He would have looked more attractive if he had gone for a pink turban as well," says another user.

While his appearance has made headlines in Iran, Mr Khademian says he can't see what all the fuss is about, as it's not the first time he's bucked the sartorial trend. On a previous occasion he appeared on TV in a pink outfit and "no drama was made". "Compared to that, the colour of my outfit is nothing new," he says. "Besides, yellow is as natural as any other colour."

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Beijing metro gets free e-library

A person holding a phone to scan the barcode on the metro carriage A simple scan gives Beijing metro users access to a mini library

Finding something to read on the underground just got a bit easier in Beijing, where travellers can now access a free electronic library.

Carriages on Line 4 of the city's metro feature barcodes which people can scan with their tablets or smartphones, China's BTV News channel reports. They'll be able to choose from a selection of ten books, which will change every couple of months. The first books available are about historical Chinese texts. "I think we have found a great, effective and handy tool to make traditional culture popular," says Rong Jun, a spokesman from the city government, which is supporting the initiative along with the National Library.

Officials are hoping it will encourage people to read more, and passengers interviewed on the underground were pleased with the new resource. "It's pretty interesting," one man using the e-library tells the CCTV news channel. "You can gain an understanding of traditional Chinese culture - it's excellent." Another man tells the channel it will help keep people occupied during journeys. "Often you're sitting on the subway for a long time," he says. "Now you can scan a barcode and read a book. Even if you're just browsing for a while, that's pretty good." If readers get a taste for the books they find on their phones, they're in the right place to reach an even bigger selection; Line 4 has a dedicated stop for getting to the National Library in person.

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Ancient city for sale in Turkey

The coast around Bodrum The site is just north of the popular holiday destination of Bodrum, on Turkey's Aegean coast

The remains of an ancient city have been put up for sale in Turkey, it's reported.

Bargylia, which dates back to the fifth century BC, is on the north of the Bodrum peninsula, a popular holiday spot. It's being advertised by a real estate agency just like a holiday home, although the site is protected from building work, the BirGun news website reports. The advert describes "a first degree archaeological site, facing the Bird Heaven Lake near Bogazici village, with full sea and lake view". Prospective buyers will need deep pockets - it's on the market for 22m Turkish liras ($9.6m; £6.3m). But those willing to splash out could find all sorts of treasures beneath the unexcavated ground. It's thought the site includes the remains of an amphitheatre, temple and Byzantine-era necropolis.

Archaeologists want the site and others like it to be bought by the government, to ensure they're properly looked after, but say the funding isn't available. "Private ownership of those sites is obstructing archaeological work," says Binnur Celebi from the Archaeologists Association. "However, the person or persons who acquire those sites can absolutely not conduct any construction activities." The site even comes with a bit of Greek mythology. It's said that the mythical hero Bellerophon named it after his friend Bargylos, who died after being kicked by the winged horse Pegasus.

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China police issue movie-style ads

An advert showing police officers with snowy mountains behind them The adverts have caused amusement among some social media users

A police force in China has unveiled new adverts, and seems to have taken inspiration from the action movie genre.

The posters for the force in Fuyun County, northwest Xinjiang Province, show officers holding guns in front of what appear to be artificial backgrounds. "Wherever there is danger, we are there," reads the Chinese text of one, above an image of five armed officers and a snow-covered mountain range. Despite the somewhat creative designs, an accompanying note on an official police Weibo social networking page says: "This isn't for show, this isn't staged, this is the real scene from their training."

That claim is roundly mocked by social media users, who are overwhelmingly of the opinion that the adverts were staged. "I am full of respect for the police, but this isn't staged?!" says one Weibo user. "This isn't for show... are you insulting my intelligence?" asks another. But there is one section of the audience which seems to appreciate the adverts' action man theme. "Heroes and hot men! Like like like!" says one woman, posting a kissing emoticon afterwards. Another simply observes: "They're so handsome." The Fuyun Police may have been inspired by another force. In July 2014, police in Chengdu, south-west China, posted recruitment adverts which included one officer doing a high-kick, and another posing with a crossbow.

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Kobe quake babies mark adulthood

Japanese women dressed in kimonos for their coming-of-age ceremony Coming-of-Age Day ceremonies mark a young person's passage into adulthood at the age of 20

Survivors of the devastating 1995 Kobe earthquake, who were only babies at the time, have celebrated becoming adults together.

Japanese tradition sees young people celebrate reaching the age of 20, when they are officially old enough to drink and vote, with a special coming-of-age ceremony. For those born before or in the aftermath of the disaster, this year's events marked a particularly poignant milestone, the Japan Times website reports. Nearly 10,000 new adults observed a moment of silence at the ceremony in Kobe, while watching film footage of the destroyed city. Also known as the Great Hanshin earthquake, the disaster killed more than 6,400 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. "Though we don't have any memories of that time, we grew up alongside the reconstruction," says Hikari Iwamoto, who gave a speech at the event. The city's mayor, Kizo Hisamoto, congratulated the young people on becoming adults, telling them to "live vigorously, believing in your own strength and the strength of others".

Coming-of-Age Day is a national holiday in Japan, celebrated each year in January. It's a famously colourful occasion, as young women often dress up in elaborate kimonos and decorate their hair with flowers. For many new adults it's a chance to go out drinking or to parties, but in the Kobe area this year the events struck a more serious note. In the nearby city of Nishinomiya, where more than 1,110 people died in the earthquake, college student Takuya Hatsuda promised to "take a first step toward the future, contemplating the significance of the life we were allowed to keep".

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Russians told to clear snow by hand

A woman shovels snow in St Petersburg People should get off their sofas and start shovelling, according to St Petersburg's deputy governor

A Russian politician has irked residents in St Petersburg by saying people should clear snow from the city's streets themselves, it's reported.

Deputy Governor Igor Albin made the comment after city authorities were criticised for not keeping the roads clear following heavy snow, the Meduza news website reports. One complaint came from magazine editor Pavel Smolyak, who says in a Facebook post that he slipped and almost fell over because the road hadn't been cleared. But there isn't much sympathy from Mr Albin, a member of the city's development and maintenance committees, who describes dependence on government services as "the disease of modern Russian society". People expect help to "do their dishes, maintain the yard, raise their children, protect them from foreign aggressors, and put things in order in their country and their home", he says. Mr Albin suggests that instead of watching television, people should grab a shovel and get digging, adding that physical activity is "good for one's health and helps to order one's thoughts".

His suggestions haven't gone down well with some residents, who took to social media to point out they're paying taxes to the city government to maintain the streets. Others opted for an ironic tone. "If there is a fire, then do not call the fire brigade. You need to call your neighbours, grab a bucket and douse the flames yourself," says musician Mikhail Shevchuk. "If you are robbed, there's no need to call the police. You should gather all your friends, find the culprit and lynch him."

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Free food for 'good-looking' diners

The judging panel A panel from a cosmetic surgery clinic decides which customer is the fairest of them all

A restaurant in China is rewarding diners for being attractive.

Customers at the Korean food restaurant in Zhengzhou, central Henan province, are given a free meal if they're voted one of the best-looking within a group of diners, the China Daily website reports. People have their photos taken on arrival, but it's not the restaurant's employees who decide who's having a good hair day and who isn't. That job falls to staff from a cosmetic surgery clinic, who judge the photographs and choose the top five faces.

In 2014, a restaurant in south-west China offered discounts for overweight male customers, but only offered the same deal to women if they were thin. Most Chinese social media users are amused by this latest gimmick, although a few voice their disapproval. "This idea damages customers' self-respect," one Weibo user complains. "I'd welcome it if this restaurant closed down quickly." Others see the bright side, with one optimistic user saying: "Does that mean I get to eat for free every time I go?"

A man having his photo taken on a computer screen Customers have their pictures taken on a screen when they arrive

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Finnish man creates giant ice rink

Sami Paivike on his snow plough Sami Paivike says he enjoys "zooming around" on his all-terrain vehicle, and might do it again next year

A Finnish man has voluntarily ploughed miles of snow from a frozen lake so that local people can enjoy ice skating, it's reported.

Equipped with his own personal snow plough, Sami Paivike cleared a route of about 25km (15.5 miles) to make a giant ice rink on Lake Kemijoki, in Finland's northernmost Lapland province, the Yle news website reports. He decided to do it "on a whim" after making a little ice rink for his children, the website says. Officials in the city of Rovaniemi haven't intervened, and Mr Paivike says he'll keep going until someone tells him to stop, adding that local people are already enjoying the results. "There are a lot of ice skaters, of course, but also dog walkers and people on kick-sleighs or even in wheelchairs, all sorts," he says. "People get to see Rovaniemi from a different perspective when they're in the middle of the lake."

The city is perhaps best known as the hometown of Father Christmas, attracting tens of thousands of visitors each year to its nearby Santa Claus Village. While Lapland residents are accustomed to deep snow, the region's north is in the grip of a particularly cold spell. The municipality of Utsjoki broke the record for this winter's lowest temperature in Finland, after dropping to almost -40C.

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Brewery makes 'whale testicle beer'

A fin whale The fin whale can grow up to 27m (88ft), making it the second-largest living mammal after the blue whale

An Icelandic micro-brewery has announced its new beer will be flavoured with smoked whales' testicles, it's been reported.

The Stedji brewery's Hvalur 2 beer is being sold for a limited period to mark the Icelandic midwinter month of Thorri, the Visir website reports. The testicles of fin whales - which are an endangered species - are cured "according to an old, Icelandic tradition" before being salted and smoked, with one being used per brewing. "We want to create a true Thorri atmosphere, and therefore we decided to use smoked testicles from fin whales for flavouring the beer," says Dagbjartur Ariliusson, a co-owner of the brewery. "We put a lot of effort into this and it's a long process." In 2013, Iceland resumed commercial fin whaling after a two-year suspension. Most of its whale meat is exported to Japan.

The Stedji brewery angered conservationists in 2014 by making a beer which contained other whale parts, including bones and intestines. At the time, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation group described it as "immoral and outrageous" to use whale meat to make beer. The product was temporarily banned by public health authorities, but later sold out in alcohol shops. This time around, all the permissions are already in place, the brewery says.

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Singapore parents take maths classes

A pile of calculators Dust off your calculators: Parents are going back to school so they can understand their children's homework

Parents in Singapore are taking primary school maths classes in order to understand what their children go through, it's been reported.

Adults are signing up for tuition so they can be helpful when their children have questions, the My Paper website reports. Parents at a "mastery workshop" run by one tuition centre pay $700 (£463) to spend eight hours learning how to solve maths problems, the website says. It's part of a growing trend in Singapore, where extra tuition for children is a booming business worth more then $1bn (£660m).

Parents are divided into ability groups depending on their existing knowledge and ability, just like in schools. "Some parents come to the workshop with zero maths knowledge, so we have to go very slowly," Nur Hidayah Ismail, the principal of the Genius Young Minds centre, tells the website. Some parents say it has helped them to understand their children's struggles. But for others who left the subject behind many years ago, things are more tricky. Mohd Yusof Maruwi attended a class with his wife, and found the first question "so difficult", he says. "Luckily, my wife could understand what was going on."

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Romania cuts 'revolution perks'

A historical photo of armed civilians and soldier taking cover behind a tank during the Romanian revolution Civilians and soldiers united as revolutionaries in December 1989

Romanians who took part in the country's 1989 revolution have protested against a government decision to cut their benefits, it's reported.

There are about 22,000 people who currently hold certificates granting them certain extra privileges such as free train travel, but 6,000 also get a monthly payment of 1,900 lei ($500; £330), the Balkan Insight website reports. The government scrapped that payment in December and announced that people would have to get new certificates stating they had played an "important role" in the revolution. Protesters took to the streets of the capital, Bucharest, for several days to call for a change to the new rules, the website says. "The government has to withdraw the law, as it leaves many revolutionaries without the means to live," one protest leader is quoted as saying. "Seven of us are already on hunger strike, and we have decided to continue the protests."

In December, Romania marked the 25th anniversary of the revolution. More than 1,100 people died during an uprising which saw the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu ousted from power, and subsequently executed along with his wife on Christmas Day 1989. Most of the deaths came after Ceausescu was toppled, in street battles which claimed more than 900 lives.

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Amber covers beach after storm

Locals in the sea with nets Some locals braved the choppy Baltic Sea to get their hands on the amber

A severe storm in the Baltic Sea left a Russian beach covered with pieces of amber, it's been reported.

Locals rushed to gather the amber from the shoreline in the town of Pionersky, in the Kaliningrad region, despite freezing cold conditions, the Klops.ru website reports. Some donned wetsuits and waded into the sea with nets while others scoured the beach, picking through blackened seaweed, the website says. "Town residents and tourists were picking up small and medium-sized pieces of amber from seaweed and sand from dawn till dusk," local resident Olga Bazhenova tells the Interfax news agency. "Even pensioners forgot their ailments and age and scratched the frozen soil with sticks like babies in a sandpit." The timing couldn't have been better, as the "free gift from nature" will help people out during the country's current economic crisis, the Klops website says. It also coincided with Orthodox Christmas Eve.

More than 90% of the world's amber comes from the Russian exclave, sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, Interfax says. It's a major source of income for the region; the local Kaliningrad Amber Factory extracted 250 tonnes (550,000 pounds) of it in 2014.

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Malaysia homeless given kitchenware

A homeless man at a soup kitchen Charities say Malaysia's homeless population need food and clothes rather than electrical appliances

Homeless people who attended a government-run event in Malaysia were given household appliances as gifts, it's reported.

Two thousand invitations were sent out to disadvantaged people for the Ministry of Federal Territories' open house event, including 300 reserved for those sleeping rough, the Malay Mail reports. While the government usually gives out cash on such occasions, this time it decided to give presents. But the gifts selected - coffee-makers, electric whisks and cooking stoves - have raised eyebrows among some volunteer groups. "It was a nice gesture and although I think those gifts might have been sponsored, we must understand these people don't even have a place to stay, let alone a place to operate their coffee maker or cooking stove," Munirah Abdul Hamid, founder of the Pertiwi Soup Kitchen in Kuala Lumpur, tells the website.

"Some of them came up to me and asked if I would like to buy the appliances as money would have been more valuable to them," she says, adding that food or clothing would have made better gifts. The federal territories minister, Tengku Adnan, concedes the event wasn't perfect, describing it as a "trial-and-error experience", and doesn't mind if people sell the gifts for money. "They can do as they please," he says. "Next year, we will improve and give something else to the homeless."

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Alcohol prize ban for Finland pubs

A pint of beer on a bar Quiz victors won't be able to celebrate with the traditional prize of free beer after a change in the law

Pub quiz winners in Finland used to look forward to a few free pints for their efforts, but new alcohol laws mean that's now a thing of the past, it's been reported.

Street advertising and social media adverts for alcoholic drinks have been outlawed, and alcohol can no longer be given away in competitions, national broadcaster Yle reports on its website. The new rules are meant to prevent adverts being seen by people who are below the legal drinking age of 18, but it has left the owners of the country's watering holes wondering how to reward victorious quiz teams.

One pub in the northern city of Oulu hasn't come up with a replacement yet, and the lack of prizes at the year's first quiz didn't go down too well with customers. They "moaned and whined a bit," quiz host Miku Mertanen tells Yle. The pub's owner is worried the move could hurt business in the meantime, and notes that pubs and bars don't admit underage drinkers anyway. While some Finnish social media users think the new alcohol rules are a good idea, with one person describing it as "common sense", many say it's a step too far. "It's ridiculous to try to control every little thing by legislating," says one user on the Kauppalehti newspaper website. Another person is clearly unimpressed, writing: "Next they are going to ban farting in public places."

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India donkeys honoured for hard work

Donkey crossing a river in India Politician Vatal Nagaraj says he will honour animals every month, starting with donkeys

An Indian politician has honoured two donkeys for their hard work and loyalty, it's been reported.

The animals were presented with awards in the southern city of Bangalore by Vatal Nagaraj, who heads a regional political party, the NDTV website reports. "I have decided to honour all domestic animals like donkeys, dogs, buffaloes, cows and oxen, as they are more loyal than human beings, hard-working, disciplined and obedient," says Mr Nagaraj, who showered the animals with rose petals during the event. Dressed up in shawls and colourful beads for their moment in the spotlight, the donkeys caused some amusement among observers at the less-than-glamorous venue for the ceremony - the city's inter-state bus station.

Mr Nagaraj says donkeys, used widely as a working animal in India, are often ignored. "No applications invited, no applications received. And no juries set up to choose the candidates... the most unique award ceremony in the world," he said prior to the ceremony. And Bangalore can expect more animal awards in the future; Mr Nagaraj has promised to honour them every month "in recognition of their contribution to us". The politician is known for carrying out unusual, headline-grabbing protests. In 2011, he rode through the town of Chamarajanagar on a buffalo to protest rising fuel prices.

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Kazakhs relocated over sleep illness

A view of Kalachi Kalachi is located near an old uranium mine, but radiation levels are normal in the village

Residents of a Kazakh village are being relocated because they keep being struck down with a mystery sleeping illness, it's been reported.

Villagers in Kalachi, northern Kazakhstan, have been suffering from the unexplained condition for about two years. It causes people to fall asleep suddenly, sometimes for several days, and those affected have also complained of memory loss and in some cases hallucinations. More than 100 cases have been reported in the village, which has been nicknamed "Sleepy Hollow", and some people have been affected more than once. Now the heads of neighbouring districts are offering to move the villagers to new homes and jobs elsewhere, the Interfax news agency reports. Priority is being given to the families who have children in the village, the deputy head of Esil district, Saule Agymbayeva, tells the agency. More than half of the village's 582 residents plan to relocate, the report says.

The illness has affected both adults and children. "If you try to wake him, it seems he wants to open his eyes, but can't. He just sleeps and sleeps," Igor Samusenko, whose son was affected by the condition, told Russia Today in December. Doctors haven't been able to work out what's causing the illness, although some have suggested mass psychosis. Other people think the village's location close to a former uranium mine, which closed more than two decades ago, could be behind it, although no abnormal readings have been found in samples of the village's water of soil, the TV channel says.

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Algae turns sea red in Tonga

A man swims in the sea with a red algae bloom discolouring the water behind him in Sydney Algae also caused the sea to turn bright red in Sydney in 2012

Residents in Tonga who were alarmed when the sea turned red have been given an explanation, it's reported.

Locals in the Pacific island's Vava'u district were baffled by the sea's colour change at the end of December, with some imagining it was a biblical sign the world was ending, according to the New Zealand Kaniva Pacific website. But an expert says the crimson tinge was caused by overgrown algae releasing toxic gases, Radio New Zealand International reports. The toxins can kill aquatic organisms and create a nasty smell, says Vailala Matato, a specialist in oceans and fisheries, adding that the process usually happens when the sea temperature rises.

Algal blooms, also called red tides, are a common sight in some parts of the world. On Florida's Gulf Coast they occur almost every year, and have been blamed for killing hundreds of manatees. In 2012, an algal bloom turned the sea around the Australian city of Sydney blood red. On that occasion experts said the algae were not particularly toxic to humans but could cause skin irritation.

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Goblins blamed for Dubai home fires

The Dubai skyline Are supernatural forces at work in Dubai's homes? Probably not, according to one police expert

Landlords seeking compensation for house fires in Dubai have sometimes told police the blaze was started by supernatural beings, it's been reported.

Owners claim their properties were set alight by goblins or jinns in order to claim insurance money or even to get a new house, the Khaleej Times website reports. A police fire expert has rubbished the idea as little more than a scam, telling the paper that their investigations suggest the fires are often either started deliberately or caused by negligence. "Fire experts follow scientific methods according to specific rules," says Ahmed Mohammed, a senior fire expert at the Criminal Evidence Department of the Dubai Police. "There have been cases in which a person or persons tell lies, and make weird claims that a jinn is behind the fire," he says, adding that many people don't know how to deal with fires when they start. A straightforward solution would be to set up CCTV cameras in buildings, Mr Mohammed says.

In Arabic mythology, jinns - or genies - are spirits which can influence the actions of human beings. In 2014, a man in Dubai was granted a divorce after he said his wife was possessed by a jinn and refused to have sex with him. A court initially awarded the woman alimony but this was cancelled by an appeals court, which said she should have been "honest" about the jinn issue.

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Turks 'carry official through snow'

A close-up of a man's shoes in the snow

A Turkish official has been suspended after photos emerged of him being carried by farmers to avoid getting his shoes dirty in the snow, it's been reported.

Nedim Zurnaci, head of the rural services department in the eastern Manisa province, was on a visit to assess the damage done by heavy snowfall in the area. But Mr Zurnaci's footwear was not up to the task, and two more appropriately clad local men were pictured carrying him over the snow-covered ground to keep his feet dry, the Hurriyet Daily News reports.

Photos of the incident were published widely in the Turkish media, and it wasn't long before local authorities became involved. Mayor Cengiz Ergun said the behaviour "did not comply with the municipality's attitude of service, citizen relations and values", and announced Mr Zurnaci had been suspended while an investigation was carried out, Today's Zaman reports. "The villager is the master of the nation," he added in a statement, a phrase attributed to Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Some social media users are equally unimpressed, with one declaring it "‎the first shameful moment of 2015".

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Companies ditch 'made in China' tag

Workers at a Chinese clothing factory Imported Chinese clothes are cheap in Japan but some consumers aren't convinced of their quality

Chinese manufacturers have stopped using "made in China" labels on clothes sold in Japan in an effort to improve sales, it's reported.

The move is an attempt to overcome perceptions that Chinese-made clothes are poor quality, the South China Morning Post website reports. Instead, clothes are being labelled "made in PRC" - the People's Republic of China - because many Japanese customers don't know what this stands for, the website says. Japan's Consumer Affairs Agency says despite the term being lost in translation, there's nothing to stop Chinese companies from changing their labels. In response, Japan's clothing industry is planning a new label of its own. The "J Quality" tag will be attached to clothes if weaving, dyeing and sewing are all carried out domestically, according to a Kyodo news agency report. It's hoped the tag will encourage people to spend more on "high quality domestic products" rather than buying cheaper imports, an industry official is quoted as saying.

Relations between Japan and China have been strained by a territorial row over a group of islands in the East China Sea, and the negative feelings appear to run deep. In 2014, a Japanese think tank report found that 93% of respondents had an unfavourable opinion of China, up 3% on the previous year.

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New Sicily viaduct section collapses

A viaduct in Sicily Viaducts are commonplace on motorways in Italy, to help tackle the country's hilly terrain

Part of a brand new viaduct in Sicily has collapsed only days after opening, it's reported.

The Scorciavacche viaduct in Palermo province was completed three months ahead of schedule and opened to traffic on 23 December, but within 10 days a section of the 13m-euro ($15.5m; £10.2m) road collapsed due to subsidence, La Repubblica website reports. No cars were on the viaduct at the time because workers had already closed it as a precautionary measure, according Pietro Ciucci, who heads Anas, the company responsible for Italy's roads. Mr Ciucci has played down the incident, suggesting that the media are exaggerating what happened. But a photograph published on many Italian media sites apparently of the damaged road showed one section had subsided significantly.

Prosecutors have now launched an investigation, and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi used his social media accounts to lambast those involved. "I demand that Anas name the person responsible. It will pay for everything," he tweeted, before adding the hashtag #thepartyisover. The country's transport minister, Maurizio Lupi, described the incident as "unprecedented and unacceptable". It's only six months since Sicily witnessed a similar incident. In July, a bridge in the southern Agrigento province collapsed while cars were on it, leaving four people injured.

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South Korea tobacco sales plummet

A man smoking in the street in Seoul Smoking is now banned in all restaurants, cafes and bars, unless they build ventilated smoking booths away from other customers

Tobacco sales have fallen sharply in South Korea after the price of cigarettes nearly doubled on New Year's Day, it's reported.

Last year, the country's parliament approved an 80% increase in the price of cigarettes, from 2,500 won ($2.25; £1.47) per packet to 4,500 won, in an effort to curb smoking. Tobacco sales fell by nearly half on New Year's Day compared to the previous year, industry sources tell the Korea Herald website, although some observers say the drop could also be because of "hoarding" prior to the price rise. The government is hoping it's a longer-term trend, and is forecasting that cigarette sales will fall by 34% in 2015. The country's smoking ban has also been expanded to include restaurants, bars and cafes of all sizes. It previously only applied to larger establishments.

But the new policies have prompted a warning from the Koreans Smokers' Association. "If the government keeps pushing out smokers, they will not only find alternate places to smoke but also become more and more defiant against the policy," the organisation's president, Shin Min-hyeong, tells the Korea Joongang Daily. Smokers who don't fancy shelling out on a whole pack do have another option: Corner shops have started selling individual cigarettes again, the Korea Herald says, something that hasn't been seen in the country for years.

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First new church approved in Turkey

A Catholic church in Istanbul Churches have been renovated in Turkey, but no new buildings have been allowed in nearly a century

Turkey's government has approved plans to build the first new church in the country in more than 90 years, it's been reported.

The church will be built in the Yesilkoy suburb of Istanbul for the Syriac Christian community, the Daily Sabah website reports. Since the republic of Turkey was founded in 1923, no new churches have been permitted, although renovations to existing buildings have been allowed. The building will cost $1.5m ($980,000), with the money being provided by the Syriac community itself, according to the Daily Sabah. The state has granted the use of land currently within the boundaries of a Catholic cemetery. There are about 25,000 Syriac Christians in Turkey, with the majority living in Istanbul. While officially secular, 99% of Turkey's population is Muslim.

One opposition MP voiced scepticism over the plan, suggesting it could just be an election promise by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). "The missionary activities in Turkey have increased during AKP rule. I don't know if there is a real need for a church or there is a political goal for the AKP behind this," Oktay Vural is quoted as saying on the Milliyet website. On Twitter, some users contrasted the decision with arson attacks on mosques in parts of Europe, most recently in Sweden, with one asking: "Do we have to build churches while they are burning mosques in Europe?"

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Rome police 'sick' on New Year's Eve

People celebrate in front of the Colosseum in Rome on New Year's Eve Party time: About 600,000 people saw in the New Year on the streets of Rome, but there weren't many police around

More than three-quarters of the local police officers due to work on New Year's Eve in Rome called in sick, it's been reported.

Of about 1,000 police officers who had been available to work, 83.5% were absent on the night, La Repubblica website reports. An estimated 600,000 people took to the streets of the Italian capital to welcome in the New Year, and the mayor's office says in the end everything went off without a hitch. But Italian officials have slammed the absence figures, with cabinet minister Marianna Madia tweeting that disciplinary action could be taken against those involved. Rome's police commander was equally damning, describing the absences as "absolutely unjustified". "I can only condemn the attitude of those who have tried to sabotage the New Year festivities," says Cdr Raffaele Clemente, adding that the action had "put at risk people's safety but also the good name of the entire local police force and the city of Rome."

The police have been at loggerheads with the city government for months over new rules on working practices and pay, according to Il Fatto Quotidiano. Italian media are reporting that they're now preparing to strike, with Francesco Croce of Italy's UIL union saying there will be a "crescendo of protests" in the capital. Rome also saw trouble on the metro on New Year's Eve, where delays were put down to there only being seven drivers available, when 24 were needed to run the line.

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Turkey governor restricts lift use

Buttons inside a lift Take the stairs: Edirne's governor wants people to get fit by avoiding lifts

A regional governor in Turkey has banned people from using lifts to reach the first three floors of public buildings, it's reported.

Dursun Ali Sahin, governor of the western province of Edirne, wants people to take the stairs as part of a campaign against obesity, the Daily Sabah website reports. The only buildings exempt from the ban will be hospitals and nursing homes, but people who can't take the stairs for medical reasons will also be excused, the website reports. "Taking the stairs instead of elevators can add an extra day to your life," says Mr Sahin, adding that he intends to make the ban apply to private buildings in the future. "This is a move to promote better health. Moreover, it will help to cut energy costs." Lift supervisors will be posted in public buildings to make sure the new rules are enforced, Mr Sahin says.

Last year, the governor banned coffee shops from serving tea with two cubes of sugar - as is traditional in Turkey - ordering them to just serve one cube instead, the BGN News website reports. The lift ban is reportedly the first of its kind in Turkey, but several social media users point out it won't take long for people to find a way around it. "This ban won't work in Turkey," says Murat Y on Twitter. "Turkish people will use the elevator to get to the fourth floor and walk down to the third floor."

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Romans balk at cobblestone 'sale'

Cobblestones at Piazza Venezia in central Rome Rome's cobblestones pose a challenge for those in high heels, but are beloved by many residents

A proposal to rip up Rome's traditional cobbled streets and offer the stones to private businesses who carry out resurfacing works has caused consternation among some residents, it's reported.

Large areas of the city's historic centre, including major thoroughfares used by buses, are paved with cobbles. While they may add to the Italian capital's charm, the council wants to replace the stones with asphalt, saying it will make roads safer for drivers and pedestrians, and require less maintenance. Now city councillor Maurizio Pucci has suggested offering the old cobblestones to companies in exchange for carrying out the work. "The cobblestones have a flourishing market, both Italian and international," he tells the Corriere della Sera newspaper . "We will give them to businesses, they have value," he says.

But some Romans are unhappy about what they see as pieces of the Eternal City being sold off. Several internet users are in favour of the plan, saying the stones are noisy and unsafe, but many leave colourful, sarcastic comments. "These thieves have not yet finished stealing. Leave OUR cobblestones alone!" says one user on the Ansa news agency's website. "All the other ruins too, then: we'll do a clean sweep, just keeping the Colosseum and the Ara Pacis and the rest we'll sell to the Chinese," another writes. "Also included in the price a councillor for public works, brand new, never used!"

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Putin inspires fashion label

The Putin ring The label has plans for more products, including a Putin-inspired ballpoint pen

A fashion label is hoping to appeal to fans of Vladimir Putin by selling rings and clothing featuring the Russian president's face, it's been reported.

The Moscow-based brand is called Putinversteher - a German word meaning a Putin sympathiser - and its first product is a silver ring topped with the president's head, the German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports. Designer Gleb Krainik says he wants the label to become popular outside Russia, and that a German name was chosen in order to "engage people in a dialogue". "It let's them see a new perspective, and a certain ideology," he says. Mr Krainik has a history of pro-Kremlin activities, having previously worked for government-backed youth organisations, according to the Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung. He sees the fashion range as part of a worldwide "information war" in which Russia and especially Putin are often depicted in a bad light, it says. "The aim is to make it easier for the world to understand Russia," he tells the paper.

One hundred of the silver rings were made initially, all of which have been sold. One of them now adorns the hand of Sergei Maksimov, who tells Deutsche Welle that Mr Putin is his role model, and he wears the ring day and night. "I'd love to be just like Vladimir Putin," he says. "I admire him as a person, he's very manly and strong."

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British thank Japan grave family

A Japanese graveyard

The British Embassy in Tokyo has formally thanked a Japanese family for tending to the grave of a British teacher for 143 years, it's been reported.

Five generations of the Murai family have looked after the grave of Bernard George Littlewood, today located in the city of Kaga, The Asahi Shimbun website reports. Mr Littlewood had been in Japan to teach English, and died of smallpox in what is now the central Ishikawa Prefecture in the 1870s. With nobody responsible for looking after the grave site following a change in local governance, the Murai family took over because it was close to their own family plot, the website says. In early December, they were given a letter signed by the British ambassador to Japan, Timothy Hitchens, thanking them for their kindness. Kumiko Murai, 81, says she was "speechless" after receiving the letter, noting that the family continued to look after Mr Littlewood's grave through World War II, when Britain and Japan were enemies.

But they didn't know his true identity until recently. In the 1960s the occupant of the grave was identified as Philip Ward, an error put down to local confusion over the kanji characters inscribed on the tombstone. After extensive research by Susumu Koyata, who heads an international exchange group in Kaga, the grave was identified as belonging to Mr Littlewood, the website says.

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Jubilee gifts for Singapore babies

A baby in a sling printed with "I'm a Golden Jubilee baby" Parents will receive eight items for their new arrivals, including a baby sling, scrapbook and commemorative medallion

Singapore celebrates its golden jubilee in 2015, and the government is planning to give new arrivals a special treat to mark the occasion.

Babies born throughout the year will be welcomed to the world with a gift box containing a "balance of practical and meaningful items" chosen by the public, according to the scheme's official website. Alongside a baby sling, changing bag and clothes declaring "I'm a Golden Jubilee baby", parents will find a scrapbook to capture memorable moments, and a commemorative medallion. The objects were selected from ideas "lovingly contributed by Singaporeans from all walks of life", the website says, adding that the gift box is meant to symbolise "well-wishes from our generation to the next".

It will be available to all newborn Singapore citizens from 1 January, including those born abroad to a Singapore national, the government says. And it could be a bumper gift year for the 2015 babies, as more presents are being promised by a major bank, the Straits Times website reports. The bank's gifts include mittens, a "selfie stick" and - appropriately - a money box. But while in Singapore the presents mark a national celebration, elsewhere government welcome gifts are the norm. In Finland, expectant mothers have been given starter kits containing baby clothes, nappies and even a mini mattress, since the 1930s.

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'Human chain' surrounds Skopje mall

The GTC shopping centre The shopping centre's concrete facade will be covered with pillars and statues, under plans outlined by the government

Protesters have formed a human chain around a modernist Macedonian shopping mall because they don't want it to be given a makeover, it's reported.

The government has earmarked the GTC centre in central Skopje for a "faux-baroque" facelift, but fans of the 1970s building think it should be left alone, the Balkan Insight website reports. Protesters surrounded the building in a "symbolic embrace" despite freezing temperatures and heavy snow, calling for the building to be protected, the website says. Plans include cladding the facade with classical columns and topping the building with statues and domes, but critics say entrances which people use to cross the city will also be blocked off.

The Association of Macedonian Architects (AAM), which is leading a campaign against the redevelopment, describes the shopping centre as "part of our cultural heritage and an inseparable part of Skopje's identity". The AAM wants the building to remain "authentic and urban", and says it has collected 10,000 signatures from local people who agree. But the plans are just one part of a much bigger project. Macedonia's government has given the capital city a major revamp in recent years in an attempt to raise its profile, erecting neoclassical statues and fountains, and adding baroque embellishments to existing modernist concrete buildings.

A huge statue of Alexander the Great in central Skopje Skopje's brutalist buildings now sit alongside more classical designs, including a 40-tonne bronze statue of Alexander the Great

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