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21 November 2014 Last updated at 10:43 ET

Writing lessons give way to typing

A handwriting exercise book in a classroom

Finnish students will no longer be taught handwriting at school, with typing lessons taking its place, it's reported.

Learning joined-up writing, often in fountain pen in the UK, is almost a rite of passage for primary school students. But Finland is moving into the digital age by ditching the ink in favour of keyboards, the Savon Sanomat newspaper reports. From autumn 2016, students won't have to learn cursive handwriting or calligraphy, but will instead be taught typing skills, the report says. "Fluent typing skills are an important national competence," says Minna Harmanen from the National Board of Education. The switch will be a major cultural change, Ms Harmanen says, but typing is more relevant to everyday life.

There are some concerns that the move could disadvantage children who don't have a computer at home, or schools where there aren't enough computers to go around. But many people have welcomed the move. "For most teachers it's sufficient that upper case and lower case letters can be distinguished," says Susanna Huhta, deputy chairwoman of the Association of Native Language Teachers. However, she points out that handwriting helps children to develop fine motor skills and brain function, and suggests handwriting classes could be replaced by handicrafts and drawing. Social media users also see the positives, with one user on the Etela-Saimaa website saying: "Handwriting is a totally useless skill. Maybe not as useless as compulsory Swedish, but coming pretty close to it."

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Wheelchair protest blocks car spaces

The wheelchair protest Silent protest: Some drivers tried to move the wheelchairs so they could park

A non-profit organisation in Georgia has staged a novel protest against drivers who park their cars in spaces reserved for disabled people.

The group, called Tree of Life, took to the streets of the capital Tbilisi and blocked off parking spaces outside the city's Rustaveli metro station using dozens of wheelchairs, the Netgazeti news website reports. Organisers left only one space untouched: the sole bay reserved for people with disabilities. Photos of the protest went viral in Georgian social media, where users have often complained of drivers disregarding reserved spaces. But the protest, which comes ahead of the United Nations Day of Persons with Disabilities on 3 December, left some drivers unimpressed. "Many people tried to stop and they wanted to move the wheelchairs away so they could park in these places," Tree of Life director Tornike Guruli tells Netgazeti. "They are trying to occupy the spaces at any cost."

But the campaign gets the thumbs-up from several locals, who say the problem is common in Georgia. "This problem indeed is real," passer-by Avto Mamalashvili says. "I often see that cars stop in places designated for disabled people. There are some who don't, but many do". Another observer describes the campaign as "very cool". Vakho Kareli tells Netgazeti that he stopped by specially on his way home to "thank the organisers personally for highlighting this problem."

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Police in toastie mercy dash

A toasted sandwich

Police officers in New Zealand have delivered a toasted sandwich to a distressed elderly woman, it's been reported.

Far from being a trivial call-out, the mercy dash by officers based in the North Island town of Wanganui was in response to the news that the 90-year-old had not eaten for three days and was "distressed and desperate", the Wanganui Chronicle reports. The woman lived alone, had been unwell and had been unable to get food delivered, according to Sgt Colin Wright. "I don't know how many places or who she'd phoned. She had obviously tried a couple of fish and chip shops and probably there was nobody else to call," he tells the paper. A patrol picked up a sandwich from a local fish and chip shop and delivered it to the woman. Sgt Wright tells the paper it's the police's role to help the vulnerable, elderly and lonely in society. "We could even have gone back to the police station and cooked one up ourselves," he says.

Compared to other developed countries, elderly people in New Zealand are less likely to experience loneliness, a government study published in 2013 says. But one in three adults do feel isolated at some time in their lives, with 11% of older New Zealanders reporting loneliness. This compares favourably to the UK, dubbed the "loneliness capital of Europe" after an Office of National Statistics study in 2013 showed nearly half of over-80s described themselves as feeling alone.

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'Drone football game' fuels anger

Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic pulls down the Albanian banner The Serbia v Albania match in Belgrade was abandoned after it descended into violence

An Android game based on the recent chaotic Serbia versus Albania football match is dividing opinion in the two countries, it's reported.

The game, called Autochthonous, is inspired the teams' Euro 2016 qualifying match on 14 October, which was abandoned after a drone carried a nationalist Albanian banner over the pitch. Serbian player Stefan Mitrovic pulled the flag down, and violent clashes ensued between both players and fans. In the game, a player has to keep a banner-carrying drone in the air as it flies over a football stadium, while a footballer on the ground tries to grab it, the Balkan Insight website reports. A point is awarded if the footballer jumps but can't reach the banner.

Autochthonous - meaning indigenous - takes its name from the phrase emblazoned on the real-life banner. It's proved popular with Albanian users, but has upset some Serbs who say it's offensive and shouldn't have been released by the Google Play store, the website reports. The game's developer is Macedonian, and doesn't think it's offensive. "It's a harsh metaphor for what happened in Belgrade, which includes all sides, the Albanian national team, the Serbs and UEFA," Yusuf Aliya tells the website. "If the game continues to be interpreted politically and worst, if it sows ethnic hatred, it will be removed," he says. "Football is a game, which should be played and not fought. Just like my game."

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Russia's oldest McDonald's reopens

Staff at the Moscow McDonald's applaud its reopening Happy meal: Customers and staff applauded the reopening of the Pushkin Square McDonald's

Russia's oldest McDonald's has reopened after a three-month closure which was ordered by the authorities.

The shutdown was ostensibly for health violations, but it has been seen by some as retaliation for Western sanctions against Russia, The Moscow Times reports. The flagship restaurant on Moscow's Pushkin Square was filled with balloons for its grand lunchtime reopening on 19 November, and hungry customers immediately formed queues at each counter, the Interfax news agency says. One of them was Nina Petrova, an 80-year-old woman in a fur hat, who told Rossiya 24 TV that she was there for her favourite pie with ice cream. Ms Petrova says she has been visiting the eatery for breakfast every morning since it opened in 1990. But not everyone's happy. "We are categorically against this opening and will continue our struggle for the closure of this chain throughout the country," says Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the far-right LDPR party. According to Rossiya 24, one survey suggests 60% of Russians think all McDonald's restaurants should be closed.

The Pushkin Square restaurant first opened in January 1990, when queues stretched around the block as Soviet citizens clamoured to try American fast food for the first time in their lives. The presence of McDonald's was a symbol of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev's policy of glasnost - or openness - that helped to end the Cold War.

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Berlusconi makes free cinema pledge

Silvio Berlusconi waves at a public appearance Election freebies: Silvio Berlusconi has issued an appeal for his own generation to vote

Pensioners in Italy will get free trips to the cinema if Silvio Berlusconi's party is returned to power, the former prime minister has reportedly said.

Berlusconi, who is in hospital for an eye operation, has written a letter in which he sets out a host of promises to the elderly, as long as they vote for his Forza Italia party at the next election, Il Messaggero newspaper reports. As well as pledging to cut taxes and increase pensions, he says pensioners would get free cataract operations and dental implants, as well as "free cinema in the afternoons and train journeys during the week". The 78-year-old is currently banned from holding public office after being convicted of tax fraud, and has been doing community service at a care home as part of his sentence.

"We say to our friends in retirement: Do not make the mistake that you made at the last European elections," he says in the letter. "You must go and vote. It's someone of your own age and who loves you who's telling you himself: Silvio Berlusconi." Forza Italia took a drubbing in the European Parliament elections in May, coming third behind Prime Minister Matteo Renzi's Democratic Party and the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. But Berlusconi, who famously owns two fluffy white poodles called Dudu and Dudina, has one final sweetener to persuade those older people who share his love of pets: "A free vet's appointment once a month for your four-legged friends".

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Man's 71-year-old banknote rejected

The 500-yuan banknote The note is now a collector's item, but no use for train travel.

An elderly man in China has tried to buy a train ticket using currency not in circulation since 1949, it's reported.

The 80-year-old man handed the 500-yuan note to a ticket seller at a train station in Yongkang, eastern Zhejiang Province, the Global Times website reports. The note is almost as old as its owner; it was printed in 1943 under the Republic of China and features the face of the country's founder and first president, Sun Yat-sen. It has been obsolete since the People's Republic of China was founded in 1949. But the man, identified as Mr Ying, was reportedly adamant that the note should be accepted, asking: "It's a 500-yuan bill! Why did the seller refuse to take it?" Mr Ying was trying to pay for a train ticket costing 12.5 yuan ($2; £1.30). But rather than pocketing a heap of change, he was informed his note is no longer legal tender.

While the note wasn't much use at the station, it could still prove valuable to Mr Ying. Currency from the era is now considered a collector's item, and some 500-yuan notes are being sold on internet auction sites for more than $100 (£64).

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No foreign reporters in pricey Nauru

An view of Nauru from the air

No foreign reporters have applied to enter the Pacific island of Nauru this year, after it increased its visa fee by nearly 4,000%, it's reported.

The country's government says there haven't been any requests for its journalist visa, which now costs more than $7,000 (£4,470), according to Radio New Zealand. The fee is just for applying, and isn't refunded if the application is unsuccessful. Last year the visa application cost $200 (£128). The price hike came into effect in January, and was criticised at the time as an attempt to ban foreign media from visiting the island. Nauru hosts a controversial detention camp for asylum seekers who have tried to reach Australia by boat. In October, Australia ordered an inquiry into claims that people had been abused in the camps.

Nauru's government says the fee was increased for revenue reasons. But in February, Home Affairs Minister Charmaine Scotty said the foreign media were giving Nauru a bad name over the detention camp. "With all the bad press that they come and do, we have extra hard problems in regards to the local community and the visitors that are called transferees," she was quoted as saying at the time.

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'Comrade' survives China rules blitz

A view of a Communist Party of China National Congress

Communist Party members in China must keep calling each other "comrade", the party's leadership has ruled.

The party has halved the number of regulations governing how it's run after reviewing more than 1,000 documents over two years, according to state news agency Xinhua. But while the rules blitz has abolished regulations considered outdated or obsolete, using the term "comrade" to refer to fellow members of the party is still deemed necessary, the South China Morning Post website reports. The rule has been in place since 1965, when the party leadership declared that hierarchical titles were a "decadent practice of the old society", the website notes. The term is widely used by communist parties around the world because it's seen as embodying equality. In Cuba, even former President Fidel Castro published his regular newspaper column under the title "Reflections by Comrade Fidel".

Members of China's Communist Party don't have many options left when greeting their colleagues. Earlier this year the party's disciplinary committee in southern Guangdong province banned its members from referring to each other as "boss" or "bro" because the terms were "wrecking inner-party democracy and damaging the image of public servants."

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App 'discourages smartphone use'

A group of young women eating food while using their smartphones Face time: The new app will reward people who put down their smartphones

Three students in Singapore have won funding to develop an app which encourages people to stop using their smartphones, it's reported.

The app, called Apple Tree, is designed to make people spend time talking face-to-face with family and friends, instead of being glued to their screens, The Straits Times website reports. It works by immobilising users' phones when two or more friends put their handsets together. If a phone remains untouched, an apple tree begins to grow on the screen, furnishing the user with digital fruit. Those apples provide the incentive behind the app, as they can be "harvested" and exchanged for rewards, Channel News Asia says. The longer the phone is ignored in favour of human contact, the more bountiful the apple harvest.

The group entered the app into the annual Splash Awards, where the theme was "Bringing Singaporeans Closer Together". One of the students, Libern Lin, says the idea came after his friends suggested putting all their smartphones in one place when they socialised, Channel News Asia reports. It proved to be a lucrative suggestion; the group has been awarded S$30,000 (US$24,000; £14,800) to develop the app in time for March 2015, when it will be released for free as part of Singapore's 50th birthday celebrations.

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'Police reindeer' option for Arctic

Nenet reindeer herders on the remote Yamal Peninsula in Northern Siberia Reindeer territory: You probably wouldn't want a snowmobile to break down in northern Siberia

Reindeer could soon be patrolling alongside police officers in Russia's far north, it's been reported.

The move is being considered in the Yamalo-Nenets region of northwest Siberia, as a way to help police maintain law and order in the difficult terrain, the Izvestia newspaper reports. The region is in Russia's Arctic tundra, where the land is almost always frozen. While the local police are equipped with snowmobiles, it seems furry transportation can sometimes be more reliable. "Of course we have snowmobiles in service, but one should understand that a machine is a machine," Irina Pimkina from the region's Interior Ministry tells the paper. "A snowmobile can break down or get stuck in the tundra, but the deer will run at all times." Police sometimes struggle to locate suspects who escape into the tundra using their own reindeer, a source tells Izvestia, and officers can also find it difficult to transport people back to the police station. It's hoped the reindeer would make matters easier.

Russia's Defence Ministry already has about 150 donkeys and mules serving in special mountain brigades, and has legislation in place to allow reindeer to be added to the mix. According to the Russia Today website, they would have company over the border in Finland, where police use the animals to - appropriately - patrol the forests of Lapland.

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Canadian parade 'impostor' charged

Franck Gervais being interviewed by a CBC reporter Franck Gervais told CBC News he was a sergeant, but the channel's viewers beg to differ

A man who presented himself as a much-decorated soldier during a Remembrance Day parade in Canada has been accused of being an impostor.

Eagle-eyed viewers called CBC News after they saw Franck Gervais giving an interview to the channel during the commemorative event in Ottawa. Veterans said Mr Gervais, who presented himself as a sergeant, could not possibly be a serving member of the armed forces, because his beard did not conform with the Canadian army's policy on facial hair. Others noted that he was wearing incorrect uniform and was completely unknown to other paratroopers. In a statement, CBC said that he appeared to be an authentic soldier to civilian eyes, but they had "since learned that he was not, that his uniform was not correct, and that he was wearing medals he had not earned". Ottawa's police department have now charged Mr Gervais with four counts, including falsely representing himself as a public officer and unlawful use of military decorations, but he could face even more charges, the CTV News website reports. "There are a lot of military and officers nationally that are very unimpressed with his actions that day," says police spokesman Chuck Benoit.

The practice of impersonating members of the armed forces - known as "Walting" by British troops after the serial fantasist Walter Mitty - is particularly disliked by serving soldiers and veterans alike, especially if the person involved wears medals and insignia they haven't earned. But a CBC report suggests the motivation for these impostors is more about getting an ego boost, rather than stealing the glory of others.

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Men 'release 1,000 mice' in village

A mouse Mouse attack: Villagers in southern China had to contend with an sudden surge in the mouse population

Two men have been detained in China after releasing hundreds of mice in a rural village, it's reported.

Some locals say more than 1,000 rodents were released in the village in southern Guangdong province, the Guangzhou Daily website reports. The "absurd scene" left about 100 local people to deal with the influx, with one villager telling the website: "More than 1,000 mice were scurrying around, it was disgusting." Health authorities have dispatched poison to help deal with the problem, for fear the mice could spread disease. Three other people involved in the incident fled the scene, and their reasons for setting the animals free remain unclear. But a report in Hong Kong's Apple Daily says the detained men told police they had released the mice in an "act of atonement", in the hope it might help an ill elderly relative get better.

Releasing animals into the wild is sometimes seen as an act of charity in China. But as the practice becomes more popular it is destroying local ecosystems, as animals are released which aren't native to the local area, according to the Beijing Times. "As for the claim that releasing mice is an act of atonement, all that does is give us a good laugh," the paper adds.

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Israel issues gay-friendly ID cards

A lesbian couple under a rainbow gay pride flag

Israel is to issue new identity cards for the children of same-sex parents, where the words "father's name" or "mother's name" will appear twice, it's been reported.

The move will benefit thousands of Israeli families, where one parent has traditionally been listed as the mother and the other as father irrespective of their gender, the Haaretz newspaper says. Three families asked the Population, Immigration and Border Authority to change the designation on ID cards to more accurately reflect their family unit. Among them was Noa Evron, the 20-year-old daughter of lesbian couple Aviva and Yehudit. Aviva Evron, listed as "father" on Noa's ID card, tells Haaretz that when Noa responded to her first army call-up notice, she was asked if her mother was once her father. "We don't want such an unpleasant situation that will make her have to explain things," she says. "This is simply a correction of a distortion in a series of distortions relating to same-sex parenthood."

Same-sex parents have been allowed to adopt their partner's child since 2006, but a High Court ruling at the time fell short of issuing ID cards which take into account the gender of the adoptive parent, the Ynet News website reports. LGBT community leader Chen Arieli says the ID card decision is a major victory for equality. "Israel is home to thousands of gay families which aren't registered with the state, and issuing ID cards is another important step in our struggle for equal recognition," she says.

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Ministry gives 'sexist' job tips

Korean office workers cross a road in Seoul

Women in South Korea should tell potential employers they don't mind "casual jokes about sex" in the workplace, according to guidelines from the country's Labour Ministry.

The interview tips offered "ideal answers" to questions women might face in an interview, and were posted on a government-run recruitment information site, the Korea Herald reports. Women were advised to respond to a question about sexual harassment by saying: "It is sometimes necessary to deal with it by making a joke in return." For questions about family life, it was suggested they should lie about any plans to tie the knot because "it is common for female workers to quit their jobs after getting married." As for menial work, women should promise to do their "very best, even if it is just making a single cup of coffee", the guidelines said.

The post has since been deleted after women's rights groups branded it discriminatory. "It is sexist of any employer to only ask women about their plans on marriage and child bearing," the Korean National Council of Women says in a statement. The Korea Times says it's at a "loss for words" in an editorial on the subject, describing the guidelines as "obviously sexist". After removing the offending post, the ministry said it would consider educating its staff about gender equality.

While education levels among Korean men and women are the same with equal numbers holding a university degree, gender inequality in the workplace persists. In 2013, South Korea ranked last among OECD countries for employing women graduates.

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Holiday offer for convict tip-off

A view over Queenstown in New Zealand A trip to New Zealand would be a way of expressing gratitude to the woman, John Fitchett says

A New Zealand lawyer wants to reward the woman who tipped off police to the whereabouts of an escaped convict by offering her a free holiday, it's reported.

Convicted murderer Phillip Smith was arrested in a Brazilian hostel after escaping while on a three-day release from prison in New Zealand, where he was serving a life sentence. He was recognised by a member of the public in Rio de Janeiro, who contacted the police. Now lawyer John Fitchett says he want to gift a holiday to the woman, who has not been identified, and he wants others to get involved too, national broadcaster TVNZ reports. "My wife and I would cover the price of international air fares and hopefully tourism operators would sponsor maybe a 10 day or two-week tour of New Zealand as a way for the community to say thank you," Mr Fitchett says. One motel has reportedly already joined in, offering two nights of free accommodation.

"I had the idea to just do this thing in a fit of euphoria, shall we say, yesterday morning when I heard it was a member of the public who dobbed him in," he tells the New Zealand Herald. "For a private individual to find him... I thought that was really great."

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Fuel cost 'leads to donkey boom'

A donkey standing by a wall in an Iranian mountain village

The rising cost of fuel in Iran is benefitting the country's donkey population, it's reported.

Many villagers and farmers are shunning their vehicles as fuel prices continue to go up, prompting the sale of donkeys to increase as winter approaches, the Khorad News website reports. "The rising price of petrol and diesel is the reason why Iranian villagers are starting, once again, to use donkeys," the website says. The donkey boom has been particularly apparent in the mountainous regions of north-west Iran, but they're also being used in some cities, according to the Eghtesad News website. It's considered good news for the animals, who were previously often abandoned before the winter because their owners couldn't afford the cost of feeding them. "In the past, before winter, some villagers released their donkeys into the wild where they would die", the website says.

In April, Iran cut state fuel subsidies in an effort to strengthen its economy. But the move hit consumers hard, with petrol prices rising by up to 75% overnight. Iranians have also had to deal with rising water and electricity bills this year.

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Train fans experience maglev speed

Japan's levitating maglev train reached 500km/h (311mph)

Train fans have experienced the speed of super-fast maglev trains, during test runs for members of the public in central Japan.

One hundred passengers whizzed along a 42.8km (27 mile) route between the cities of Uenohara and Fuefuki, reaching speeds of up to 500km/h (311mph), The Asahi Shimbun website reports. The Central Japan Railway Company is running eight days of testing for the experimental maglev Shinkansen train on its test track in Yamanashi Prefecture. In total, 2,400 people will take part in the tests after winning tickets in a raffle. They represent a lucky minority - there had been more than 100 times that number of applications, the report says. "I applied for my nephew who is a big railway fan, but now I am more excited than he is," one passenger, who was travelling with his parents and two young nephews, tells the website.

The maglev trains are even faster than Japan's famous bullet trains, which currently travel at about 320km/h (200mph). They use magnetic levitation, hence the name, to "float" above the train tracks. This minimises the friction encountered by ordinary trains, and allows them to travel faster. Maglev trains are due to be up and running by 2027. The ones being tested in Yamanashi will eventually run from Tokyo to Nagoya, carrying passengers between the two cities in about 40 minutes. Currently the journey takes an hour longer than that by bullet train.

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Huge sums pledged for number plates

A Qatari number plate on a Lamborghini Splashing out: Personalised number plates are worth millions in Qatar

Vast sums of money have been offered for personalised car number plates in Qatar, it's reported.

An online auction being run by the traffic department has seen one person bid a whopping 200 million riyals ($55m; £35m) for what's described as a "fancy number plate", the Doha News website reports. The plate in question simply reads: 333355. The Interior Ministry announced the auction of the plates in a tweet on 9 November. There are 19 on offer in total, all of them starting with the number three. Shelling out for memorable number plates or phone numbers is common in the Gulf, particularly where repeated numbers or a date of birth are involved, according to the website.

Earlier this year a "heated bidding war" took place in the United Arab Emirates for a phone number, The National reported in March. Sixty people battled it out for the number - 777 7777 - which eventually went for 7.9 million dirham ($2.2m; £1.4m) during a charity auction. In 2012 a man told The Peninsula website that such was the appeal of having an easy to remember number plate or phone number, some people were taking out loans to cover the cost. But bidders in the Qatari auction need to be sure their finances are in order. Anyone who wins the auction but fails to pay up within two days will be given a hefty fine, and be stripped of their cherished plate.

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China 'bans lewd TV content'

Women attend a screen of the US TV show 24 held by streaming website Youku American TV shows are often streamed online in China, but could fall foul of the new rules

Television dramas may be a little less dramatic for Chinese viewers in future, after video streaming websites were told to chop out scenes involving one-night stands and extramarital affairs.

Many foreign TV shows, including American dramas and South Korean soaps, are streamed online in China. But now the hosting websites will have to cut any scenes which deal with marital infidelity or show "too much physical contact", under new rules announced by the country's media watchdog, the Sohu news portal reports. Scenes showing murders, suicides, kidnappings, drug abuse, gambling or "supernatural occurrences" will also have to be edited, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television (SAPPRFT) has ruled. Streaming sites have been told they must delete any headlines which include a reference to sex or nudity.

But there are concerns among some social media users that the breadth of content being banned means there will be nothing left to watch. Some are also worried the rules could spell an end to their streaming of South Korean soap operas, which are particularly popular in China. But some users on the Sohu portal are supportive of the decision, with one commenting: "This should have been taken care of sooner." The new rules follow a government campaign against pornography and "vulgar content", which was labelled "Cleaning the Web 2014", the Global Times reports.

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Iran to welcome Western musician

Yanni playing the piano on stage with four vocalists Yanni (right) has performed at the Kremlin, the Taj Mahal and China's Forbidden City

The Iranian authorities have granted rare approval to plans for a Western musician to perform in Tehran, it's reported.

Renowned Greek pianist and composer Yanni, a naturalised US citizen, will put on shows in the capital and on the southern island of Kish in the coming months, according to an official from Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance. In October, the Grammy award-winning Japanese musician Kitaro held a concert in Tehran. "We are keen to see such bands play music in our country. The recent performance by Kitaro showed that we have good audience," the ministry's music department director Piruz Arjomand is quoted as saying by Fars News Agency.

The decision suggests that authorities have been given more leeway to approve concerts by Western performers since President Hassan Rouhani, a religious moderate, came to office in 2013. Under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, plans to hold concerts by Western artists were often thwarted by conservatives. In 2008, Chris de Burgh was due to become the first Western artist to perform in Iran since the 1979 revolution. But his scheduled appearance with Iranian pop band Arian, at a 12,000-seat stadium in Tehran, was not granted a permit.

The news of Yanni's impending arrival has been greeted with glee from the musician's Iranian fans. "Be happy! Be happy! Yanni is coming to Iran to have a concert," one Twitter user writes. "Yanni is coming to Iran. He is going to hold concert in Tehran and Kish. If the gentlemen do not cancel it, of course," says another user, referring to the possible pressure from conservatives.

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Bags used to find missing children

Two men present the plastic bags during a media briefing The carrier bags will be distributed at 76 Turkish supermarkets

Plastic bags used by customers at a supermarket chain in Turkey will soon bear the photos of missing children.

Three million of the carrier bags have been produced featuring the faces of five missing children, the Daily Sabah website reports. The bags also carry a list of 10 warnings for parents, urging them to remain vigilant over their children's safety. It's part of a project being run by the Association of Families with Missing Relatives (YAKAD), and the bags will be handed out in 76 Onur supermarkets in Istanbul and three northwest provinces, the report says. The supermarket chain has also pledged to use its online presence, including social media, to raise awareness. Reports on the number of children missing in Turkey vary, but in April Today's Zaman newspaper cited official figures saying more than 14,000 children had gone missing in the past five years. The majority of them were subsequently found.

Turkish police now have a unit dedicated to investigating missing children cases. They also recently launched an alert system which sends details of a missing child to nearby mobile phone users, the Daily Sabah says, similar to the Amber Alert system in the United States.

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Chinese 'invited to live in Russia'

An old Chinese-Soviet friendship poster Firm friends: Posters promoting Soviet-Chinese friendship were common in the 1950s

A Russian MP wants to repopulate the country's empty villages by inviting East Asian immigrants to move in, it's reported.

Ilya Drozdov, a member of the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, says a rise in agricultural productivity has caused Russians to leave villages, as demand for farm labour falls. The solution, he tells the Russian News Service, is to "bring in the necessary number of hardworking Chinese, North Koreans and Japanese, under Russian supervision of course". He says it would keep the countryside alive, and counter unregulated migration from the mainly-Muslim states of ex-Soviet Central Asia.

Mr Drozdov, who sits on the parliamentary committee for relations with former Soviet states, says the government should work out how many immigrants are needed, and he wants them to think big. "It may say we need 100,000, or even a million," he says, although - in a remark more typical of Russian nationalist attitudes to immigration - he adds that the authorities should "take firm measures to expel all immigrants if it turns out we can get by without them after all".

His proposal has prompted anger and mockery in social media, with some users complaining that the authorities should invite ethnic Russians from former Soviet states, rather than offer incentives to East Asians. One comment on the Dni website suggests the government should settle MPs themselves in the villages, "just like Chairman Mao did during the Cultural Revolution".

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'Boat schools' teach tribal children

A girl leaves a floating school in Bangladesh Floating schools, like this one in Bangladesh, are used to reach remote communities

Children from indigenous fishing tribes in the southern Philippines are learning to read and write thanks to floating schools, it's reported.

Seven villages have been allocated one floating school each to teach about 200 Bajau children in the remote island provinces of Basilan, Sulu and Tawi-Tawi, the Philippine Daily Inquirer website reports. One parent tells the website that as well as benefiting from an education, their children are no longer being short-changed when selling their catch in local markets. Some students had previously been bullied by other more dominant tribes, according to one teacher. "That is why many of them are afraid to enrol in regular schools or to venture outside their communities," Jennilyn Jumdani tells the website. But she says the school still faces challenges in communities where families require their children to help with fishing.

The floating schools are operated by the Bangladesh-based charity BRAC. They're docked along coastlines, particularly in island communities that are unable to contribute land or space to build a permanent school. Similar projects in Bangladesh and Nigeria have been nominated for design awards.

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Dubai drivers warned over new trams

Dubai's new tram cars Dubai's new trams will have to negotiate the city's crowded streets

More than 150 police officers and 64 speed cameras will be trying to keep trams and cars apart when Dubai's new tram system goes into operation, it's been reported.

The 10.6km, 14-station network is opening to the public on 12 November with a warning that drivers could be fined up to 30,000 dirham ($8,160; £5150), on top of other prosecutions, if they cause a fatal crash at one of the 30 junctions with the tram line, The National reports. Pedestrians and cyclists are also being warned over their behaviour near the tracks, with the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) saying that crossing the tram line outside designated areas will set you back 1,000 dirhams ($270; £170). Littering will also be met with a fine. "Do not enter prohibited areas... as the tram cannot swerve to avoid you," the RTA's Maitha bin Udai says.

Dubai's trams will be gender segregated, with two cabins set aside for women and children, and a further car for "gold class" passengers, according to the Gulf News website. The operators expect 27,000 people to use the line each day. "I'm definitely going to use the tram as often as I can. It's better than being stuck in traffic," prospective commuter Mary Sabra tells the Khaleej Times. But praise for the system isn't universal. One resident tells The National that they think "the tram doesn't really go to many places" and probably won't do much to ease traffic jams.

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Police hand out 'positive tickets'

The police force's positive ticket Not quite a golden ticket, but one that could be exchanged for a burger

A police force in Canada has started handing out rewards to young people who do good things for their community.

Officers in the city of Prince Albert, in the central province of Saskatchewan, will dish out the "positive tickets" to youngsters who are seen crossing the road safely or picking up litter, the CBC news website reports. The rewards on offer include free hamburgers, cinema tickets or a chance to see the local hockey team in action, all of which have been donated by local businesses. The initiative rewards young people who make "healthy, positive choices in relation to their behaviour, decisions or actions", the force says on its website. "One officer is recognising a group of school children that call themselves peacekeepers," Sgt Brandon Mudry tells the BBC. "They have taken a peacekeeping course through the school and at recess walk around in pairs to ensure the playground is safe from bullying type situations."

Officers are hoping to build up a rapport with young people using "a less authoritative approach", and think that offering something of value will help. "Once they realize they are receiving a positive ticket for doing something good, it seems then that they calm right down and then they are appreciative," PC Rob Lindsay tells CBC. "Hopefully it will give them a chance to come be more approachable to us, communicate with us and talk to us as well down the road." And with such appealing prizes on offer, the city's young people "may start seeking out police officers in hopes of getting caught," the CBC report says.

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Drunk power boss 'causes blackout'

Power station towers

A drunk power station boss plunged a county into darkness after a bar brawl in eastern China, it's reported.

Power was cut to thousands of homes and businesses for six hours in part of Henan province, after a group of power plant employees took issue with staff at a local karaoke joint, the South China Morning Post website reports. The group reportedly smashed up the bar after being refused a free round of drinks. During the melee, one of the officials threatened to "unleash the wrath of the electric tiger", as the state electricity system is known, by cutting the bar's power. They had already enjoyed crates of beer and "several bottles of expensive liquor" during their jaunt, the report says.

Bar staff say they heard one of the men, who said he was the power plant's boss, on the phone asking for the plant to be shut down for repairs. A few minutes later, "half a county was plunged into darkness", the website says. State-owned Hebi City Electricity Supply Company has since apologised for the incident, saying it would learn "profound lessons". The plant's manager has been sacked and another member of staff suspended for two years, the company says, along with fines and warnings for the other brawlers.

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Koreans seek US 'quickie divorces'

An illuminated sign reading "Reno: The biggest little city in the world"

Korean couples hoping for a quickie divorce are heading thousands of miles away to the US state of Nevada, according to reports.

Divorce is dealt with by "carefully thought-out" regulations in South Korea, but an increasing number of couples are opting to speed things up in the "divorce mecca" of Reno, The Chosun Ilbo website reports. At home, Korean couples seeking to end their marriage are required to attend education classes and meet court-appointed counsellors, the report says. They also have to take a three-month "cooling-off period" before their request is granted, and that's just for the amicable separations. But in Nevada, couples only have to show that one partner has lived in the state for six weeks.

One in three marriages ends in divorce in South Korea, according to an editorial in The Korea Herald in January. The divorce rate among couples who have been married for more than 20 years, and couples where one partner is foreign, have both been on the up in recent years. Those deciding to head to Nevada are met with disappointment by some in the Korean legal system. "A lot of measures have been put in place to get married couples to think twice before going their separate ways," a court official tells The Chosun Ilbo. "It's sad to see people fly off to the US because they can't even be bothered to do that."

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Inmates get cut-price tattoo removal

A man has a tattoo removed

Prisoners in New Zealand are being given the chance to have tattoos removed, as long as they pay for the cut-price service out of their own pockets.

Aimed at stopping convicts from re-offending, the "in-house" removal sessions erase visible tattoos from faces, necks and lower arms at a cost of NZ$30 per session (US$23; £15), the New Zealand Herald reports. It's being offered inside Auckland Prison and Auckland Region Women's Corrections Facility by a not-for-profit community health trust, which says the removals will help former convicts to find work after their release. Depending on the artwork, it can take four to six sessions to have a tattoo removed, regional corrections commissioner Jeanette Burns tells the paper.

A previous scheme was terminated in 2006, when it emerged a man jailed for stabbing a police officer had facial tattoos removed at a cost to the taxpayer of NZ$4,500 (US$3,500; £2,200). Under that scheme, prisoners had to be escorted to an outside facility to have the work done. "Bringing the clinic to the prison alleviates a lot of risk," Ms Burns says. It's also reportedly cheaper; outside of prison, tattoo removal can cost NZ$100 per session, according to the news website.

Auckland's inmates won't be the first to benefit from tattoo removal. Convicts in Los Angeles are offered a similar service to remove body art which identifies them as gang members, the Huffington Post reported in 2013. The difference is that the American prisoners have the procedure carried out for free.

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Chinese nomads rely on social media

A herdsman feeds his cows in Inner Mongolia If a cow wanders off on the vast grasslands of Inner Mongolia, it could be only an instant message away

Nomads in northern China are relying on social media to stay connected, it's reported.

Herders in the autonomous Inner Mongolia region are using instant messaging services like WeChat, a service similar to WhatsApp, to advertise the sale of their livestock, state news agency Xinhua reports. "In the past, I had to contact retailers to sell cows, but now business comes to me," Na Sutu tells the agency. It's also handy for finding missing animals. Herders with smartphones no longer have to spend days combing vast areas of grassland searching for livestock. Instead, they can send an instant message to other herders miles away.

As most phones don't have Mongolian-language keyboards, the herders take photos of handwritten notes and upload the images. The popularity and spread of social media means "lives in Mongolian yurts spread across the grassland have been revolutionized," the Xinhua report says. The autonomous region of Inner Mongolia covers about 1.2 million sq km (463,000 sq miles) along China's northern border with Russia and Mongolia. It is home to nearly a third of China's grasslands.

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Belgians dig deep for riot victim

The Peugeot car lying on its roof with a protestor next to it The upturned Peugeot car was destroyed during the Brussels protests

A man whose car was destroyed by anti-austerity protesters has been given the cash to replace it less than a day later, thanks to a crowdfunding website.

Abdeslam Gharrafi watched his Peugeot 106 overturned and set alight by protesters who clashed with riot police in Brussels on 6 November, but says he didn't dare to intervene. "People who do that are capable of anything. I was afraid that they were racist," the electrician tells La Libre website. What followed was a "beautiful story of civic solidarity", the website says.

Advertising executive Bruno Dillen set up a crowdfunding page calling for a new car for Mr Gharrafi, initially hoping to raise 2,000 euros ($2,500; £1,600). But within four hours the page had raised more than 12,000 euros ($15,000; £9,400), with contributions from more than 800 people. "Let's raise enough money for Abdeslam and his family so he too can continue as a hardworking Belgian to make his contribution to this society," the page reads. "Regardless of any political or social vision, we cannot allow individuals to destroy lives and cause polarization to increase even more."

The demonstrations in the Belgian capital were against the new centre-right government's austerity policies. More rallies and strikes are planned in the country, after Prime Minister Charles Michel announced a series of economic and social reforms.

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Metro officials 'must use network'

Rush hour on the Moscow Metro Tight squeeze: Metro managers can now look forward to Moscow's rush hour commute

Senior officials working for Moscow's metro system have been told they must use the network to get to work.

Dmitry Pegov, head of the city's metro, has signed an order obliging his own deputies and heads of departments to use the underground to reach the office "just like ordinary passengers", the state-owned TASS news agency reports. "One should personally see and understand what is going on in the department that they oversee, how the work is being conducted, and what should be improved or changed," Mr Pegov says. "I go to work on the metro, every day I get down to the station and travel for nearly 35 minutes, and even have to change lines," he tells the agency. One of the perks of his job means Mr Pegov could travel up front with the driver, but he says he prefers to be in the carriage with the masses.

Reaction to the decision on Twitter is mixed. "Not everything is bad in Russia," one user writes. But another person seems to sarcastically hint at poor service during peak times. "It would be better if it was written on their backs that these are managers. We will then be able to express our gratitude to them on-the-spot during rush hour," Andrei Bogomolov says.

Moscow's metro is one of the busiest in the world, with 195 stations serving more than nine million passengers on weekdays. A recent survey put customer satisfaction with its service at 55%, according to its own public relations department.

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Pretoria faces blackout over debts

Pretoria skyline at sunset Residents in Pretoria could be reading by candlelight unless the city pays its bills

A South African municipality is threatening to plunge the capital city of Pretoria into darkness over huge unpaid utility bills, it's reported.

The city of Tshwane supplies water and electricity to neighbouring regions, government departments, businesses and embassies, but it says it's owed R6.6bn ($583m; £368m) in unpaid bills. Now the city says it will start cutting off customers if the debts aren't settled, and the Times Live website reports it could happen within 48 hours. Pretoria's schools have already felt the brunt of the plans, with 38 having their electricity cut so far. "The schools will remain disconnected until all arrears have been settled," Tshwane city manager Jason Ngubeni says. "It has been a painful process for us to embark on this exercise but we could not allow ourselves to fall behind in terms of provision of services."

Three neighbouring municipalities, home to nearly one million people, are also apparently in arrears and at risk of losing services. But the news may come as a shock to one of the affected regions, Thembisile Hani, where a spokeswoman tells Business Day Live they've paid their bills. "We make sure that we are on top of our water budget... the information from our supply chain management says we are not owing them any money," she says.

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Stag nights face Tallinn alcohol ban

Tallinn's old town Stag weekends could face a dry Sunday if they choose Tallinn for their celebrations

Stag-night organisers may have to drop the Estonian capital Tallinn from their weekend itinerary, as the city council plans to introduce a major clampdown on public drinking.

Mayor Edgar Savisaar is so concerned at drunkenness in the picturesque city centre that he is proposing a ban on daytime alcohol sales on Sundays. If councillors approve the measure, as expected, it will come into force next March, the Eesti Rahvusringhaaling public broadcaster reports. He's also planning a second bill to ban the sale of hard liquor in corner shops and the whole city centre from next July. "If we fail to curb drinking in public places, we will soon see street crime and family violence rising, as the reason behind a large part of violence is alcohol," Deputy Mayor Kalle Klandorf told the Postimees newspaper in October. People have told him public drunkenness "is a nightmare, a terrible thing to behold," he says.

But the lucrative tourism industry is concerned that visitor numbers are already dropping, and the ban could make things worse. The Estonian Traders Association disputes whether the council even has the right to restrict Sunday trading, and wants to see independent research to back up the proposals.

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Lashes proposed for Iran dog walkers

A woman pets her dog on a street in Tehran Petting dogs could be punished by a fine and lashes under a new proposal

Dog owners in Iran could face severe penalties for walking their pets in public, under plans proposed by a group of hardline MPs, it's been reported.

Thirty-two MPs have submitted a bill to parliament which proposes a punishment of 74 lashes for people caught playing with, stroking or exercising their dogs outdoors, the US-based Human Rights Activists News Agency (HRANA) reports. The bill says such activities "harm the Islamic culture and the safety and peace of mind of other people, especially women and children". Anyone who ignores police warnings could also be fined up to 100m rials ($3,740 - £2,350) under the plans, as well as having their animal taken away. The MPs say confiscated pets should be moved to "a zoo, forest or desert", and that owners would have to foot the bill for the transfer. Some notable exceptions are mentioned in the bill, including for farmers, shepherds and licensed hunters.

Over the past few years Iranian police have been cracking down on dog walking, and some owners have been arrested, because under Iran's Islamic laws the animals are considered "unclean". But dog ownership is a growing trend in the country, particularly among the urban middle and upper classes in major cities like Tehran.

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Cubans enthralled by Korean soaps

Two Cuban men watch a South Korean soap opera

Soap operas from South Korea have found an unlikely audience among Cubans, it's been reported.

The popular show Jewel in the Palace is the newest import on Cuban television, continuing the "implausible" success of Korean soaps in the country, the Chosun Ilbo website reports. Cultural differences seem to be part of the appeal for Cubans accustomed to watching dramatic Brazilian soaps. "The leisurely pace and somewhat stationary acting of the Korean fare apparently contrasts pleasantly with the endless high-octane histrionics of Latin American telenovelas," the website says. Jewel in the Palace tells the story of an orphaned female cook who defies the odds to become the first woman to serve as the king's personal physician.

The first Korean soap to be shown in Cuba, Queen of Housewives, started broadcasting last year. It tells the story of a glamorous, strong-minded housewife, and even has a famous fan: Alex Castro, son of Cuba's former leader Fidel, admits he watches it with his wife, Chosun Ilbo adds. The soaps' success in the Caribbean is in stark contrast to the reaction in neighbouring North Korea. In October it was reported that 10 Workers' Party officials had been executed for watching South Korean soaps. The executions were not officially confirmed by North Korea.

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Speed dating 'to boost Belarussian'

The poster advertising the speed dating event Fancy meeting a Belarussian-speaking belle or beau? Speed dating in Minsk could help

An art collective in Belarus has started to run speed dating evenings with a difference - potential partners must chat in Belarussian.

The Art Siadziba (Art Manor) group wants to give a boost to the neglected national language, which has gradually been squeezed out of the media, education and public life in favour of Russian during the 20-year rule of pro-Kremlin President Alexander Lukashenko. Singles hoping for a Belarussian romance have to email Art Siadziba with details about themselves - including their social media presence - in advance, and the location of the event is not made public ahead of time. Belarussian has retreated to its western and rural strongholds since a controversial referendum in 1995 granted Russian equal status, but youth groups have become increasingly active in promoting it in the capital Minsk, where native-speakers and learners find it difficult to meet kindred spirits.

After the first event was held at a Minsk cafe, speed daters interviewed by the Nasha Niva news site agreed that their dream partners should have a good knowledge of Belarussian language and history, although one young woman added the more prosaic point that any potential beau also needed to "smell nice".

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Hot air balloon 'lands in jail'

Camels at the Pushkar fair with a hot air balloon in the background The women had been enjoying a visit to the Pushkar Camel Fair, until they ended up in prison

An Indian hot air balloon ride has landed two tourists in jail, after it was blown off course and drifted into the grounds of a high-security prison, it's reported.

The two women were visiting the annual Pushkar Camel Fair, in the western state of Rajasthan, when they decided to get a bird's eye view of the event. But their balloon ride came to an abrupt end when strong winds caused the operator to bring it down on the football field of nearby Ajmer central jail, the NDTV website reports. The balloon's occupants were subsequently detained for two hours while officials established whether it was an accident or a rather brazen jail-break. "Prisoners were in the barracks at the time, but the landing caused a security alarm, sending jail officials into a tizzy," the report says.

Local authorities have reacted to the mishap by removing the balloon company's licence and cancelling balloon rides over the area, while it investigates the "unlawful entry" at the prison. NDTV says the tourists decided on a less high-risk activity the following day, opting for an elephant ride.

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Hair advert 'uses al-Qaeda photo'

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Unlikely to sell many products

A Turkish company has inadvertently used an image of the imprisoned al-Qaeda figure Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in an advert for a hair removal product, it's reported.

The infamous photo of the alleged 9/11 mastermind, with chest and back hair spilling out of his white T-shirt, was taken after he was captured in Pakistan in 2003. The cosmetics company used it alongside the caption: "That hair will not shed itself," The Daily Sabah website reports. But the company which created the advert is keen to point out he was chosen for his profuse body hair, not his terrorist activities. "We didn't know that he was a terrorist," company representative Mehmet Can Yildiz tells the Hurriyet Daily News. "The guy is quite hairy, so we thought his body was a good fit for our ad." He says the picture was taken from a social networking site, where it had been used several times alongside amusing captions.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is currently being held in the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay. The 9/11 Commission Report describes him as "the principal architect" of the 2001 attacks in the United States.

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Driver's 'drugs test trick' foiled

An Egyptian public bus

An Egyptian bus driver who tried to avoid a drugs test by using his wife's urine has been busted after it turned out his wife was pregnant, it's reported.

The man had been selected for a standard drugs test along with other public bus drivers, but did not submit his own urine sample, instead using his wife's, the Al-Yawm al-Sabi website reports. What he didn't know was that his wife was two months pregnant. Before revealing the news, officials asked the driver to confirm the sample was in fact his own, according to Tamer Amin, a presenter on the political talk show Bottom Line. After the driver said it was, the officials reportedly responded: "Congratulations, you're pregnant."

"This story despite being funny has several lessons," Mr Amin says. "First, that drugs have become available to many and have become as common as cigarettes. This is a calamity." In future, the transport authority will require a blood test as well as urine tests to prevent people giving fake samples, a source at the Public Transportation Authority Hospital tells Al-Yawm al-Sabi.

About 12,000 people are killed on Egypt's roads each year, a rate of 42 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the World Health Organisation. Drug use has also been on the rise in recent years, with the painkiller tramadol proving particularly popular as a cheap - but addictive - energy booster.

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Rowing protest against nuclear power

Huseyin Urkmez on his rowing boat "Oar-inspiring": Mr Urkmez arrived triumphantly in Istanbul after his three-month journey

A man has rowed almost the entire length of Turkey's Black Sea coastline, in protest at plans for the country's first nuclear power station.

Huseyin Urkmez spent three months rowing the 1,500km (930 miles) from Hopa, near Turkey's eastern border, to the port of Ortakoy in Istanbul, the Yesil Gazete website reports. He was greeted by the cheers of environmental activists after his mammoth journey, which he undertook in a standard rowing boat, the website says. Mr Urkmez describes his feat as a "symbolic demonstration" against nuclear power plants in the country, the Hurriyet Daily News website reports. "I wanted to draw attention to demands for a nuclear-free country only through my physical strength. If there is one thing as difficult as rowing against the current, it is challenging the government's calculations," he says.

Turkey's first nuclear plant will be built near the southern town of Akkuyu, on the country's Mediterranean coast, and is expected to be fully operational by 2023. It will be built and run by the Russian state company Rosatom. But there are also plans for two more plants, including one on the Black Sea near the city of Sinop.

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Buddhist monks put on fashion show

A monk in the fashion show Catwalk stars: The monks modelled outfits rarely seen in public

A fashion show starring Buddhist monks as catwalk models has been held in Japan, it's reported.

About 300 people watched the 10 monks strut their stuff in Nara Prefecture, drawing "cheers and adoration mainly from women in the audience", The Asahi Shimbun website reports. It was held to promote nearby Mount Koya, also known as Koyasan, the centre of Japanese Shingon Buddhism. The show's theme was "beautiful Buddhist monks", with the models chosen from among the ranks of a young teachers association. "All of the monks are really handsome. I was excited," one woman tells the website. But for one of the monks-turned-models, it was a slightly nervier affair. "I was little bit embarrassed," Shuchi Matsuki says. "But I enjoyed playing the role of a model." The outfits on show have rarely been seen by the general public, and included pieces ordinarily worn only by high-ranking monks, the report adds.

The Koyasan Shingon Buddhism sect was established on the mountain about 1200 years ago by the Japanese monk Kukai - posthumously known as Kobo Daishi. The town of Koyasan now has more than 100 temples, with many offering overnight stays to visitors who want to experience the monks' lifestyle. The area is also recognised by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

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Russian iPhone statue dismantled

The Steve Jobs memorial in St Petersburg Man-sized memorial: Slightly more cumbersome than a standard iPhone

A Russian company that put up a giant iPhone statue in memory of Steve Jobs has taken it down again, after the new head of Apple came out as gay, according to local media.

A Western European Financial Union (ZEFS) press release accuses Apple CEO Tim Cook of "promoting homosexuality", the Ekho Moskvy news website reports. The 2m (6ft 6in) interactive installation allowed users to learn about the life of Mr Jobs, who died in 2011. But as it stood in the courtyard of an IT university in St Petersburg, the ZEFS statement says it could violate a recent Russian law banning the "advocacy of lifestyles contrary to traditional family values among minors". ZEFS founder Maxim Dolgopolov also alleges that the US security services can use Apple technology to monitor private communications worldwide. If the giant iPhone is reinstalled, he says in the statement, it will let passers-by use the interactive feature to "send a message direct to the US National Security Agency and Apple HQ, saying they are refusing to use technology that spies on its subscribers".

Despite Mr Dolgopolov's statement being widely reported in the media, there is some uncertainty over the story. The National Research University of Information Technologies, Mechanics and Optics, where the monument stood, tells state news agency Tass that ZEFS had contacted it before Tim Cook's announcement, to say it was taking the iPhone down to carry out repairs.

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Israeli paper defends '9/11 cartoon'

The Haaretz cartoon The cartoon is a comment on US-Israeli relations, according to the newspaper's editor

An Israeli newspaper has defended a controversial cartoon which critics say used the 9/11 terrorist attacks to illustrate US-Israeli relations.

The image, published in Haaretz last week, shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flying a plane towards a tower similar to the former World Trade Center. Its publication prompted an outcry from some social media users, with Israeli Foreign Ministry official Paul Hirschson describing it as "gutter press".

But Haaretz's editor-in-chief Aluf Benn says people are "misreading" the cartoon, which he describes as "a reaction to the current state of mistrust between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Obama administration". The cartoonist, Amos Biderman, was criticising Mr Netanyahu's announcements of new settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and "his insinuations that America is acting against Israel", Mr Benn writes in an editorial in the paper. Haaretz "deeply honours and respects the memory" of those who died in the attacks, he says. "We regret any misreading of Biderman׳s image as disrespectful to those who perished or to survivors of this horrible crime."

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'Fake forgeries' to be auctioned

Monet's In the Woods at Giverny The real deal: Monet's In the Woods at Giverny has been forged again and again

A New Zealand auction house has decided to put two "fake forgeries" under the hammer, it's been reported.

The oil paintings, imitations of Claude Monet's At Giverny and In the Woods at Giverny, were initially thought to be the work of renowned forger Elmyr de Hory. But they actually turned out to be "fake fakes", the New Zealand Herald website reports. Auckland auction house Cordy's was contacted last month by a de Hory expert, Mark Forgy, who said they had really been painted by London bookmaker Ken Talbot. Both paintings were promptly removed from sale.

The idea of someone faking de Hory's own forgeries "came up only one time" in conversation with the artist, Mr Forgy says. "We both contemplated that for a moment and then laughed at the far-fetched notion." The two paintings are now being advertised as "Fakes of fake Claude Monet", the website reports. "We were astonished to find that there was a market in faking faker's art works," says auctioneer Andrew Grigg. He says they will now alert others in the business to be aware of the con.

Hungarian-born Elmyr De Hory was considered a master forger, after reportedly selling more than 1,000 fake pieces to galleries and collectors around the world, including imitation Monet, Picasso, and Cezanne paintings

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Mosquito-catching contest announced

A tiger mosquito Residents of Kaohsiung could win cash for squashing this tiger mosquito and his friends

People in a southern Taiwanese city have been offered prizes for catching mosquitoes.

The contest, announced by the Kaohsiung city health department, is aimed at tackling an outbreak of the mosquito-borne dengue fever in the region. Residents are being asked to catch as many mosquitoes as they can, dead or alive. Whoever captures - or squashes - the greatest number will be rewarded with NT$3,000 (US$100; £62), the health department says. Runners-up will be given free insect repellent and mosquito nets.

People will have to either trap the insects securely or hold on to their remains, because they'll need to be presented to officials for counting. "Instead of fining people who fail to remove standing water and other breeding sites around their homes, we think this program could raise greater community participation," Ho Hui-ping of the city's health department tells the Focus Taiwan website.

More than 7,000 cases of dengue fever have been confirmed in Kaohsiung, with 200 new cases being reported every day, The China Post reports. There have also been dozens of cases of the potentially lethal dengue haemorrhagic fever, a severe form of the infection. The virus is described as a "major international public health concern" by the World Health Organisation, which says in recent years its transmission has increased in urban areas.

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Polygamous man 'wants 50 children'

Two wedding bands

A Turkish man who has 32 children with four different wives has said he is aiming for 50, it's reported.

Polygamy is illegal in Turkey, but Halit Tekin has unofficially married three women since tying the knot with his first wife - legally - in 1982, the Hurriyet Daily News website reports. Mr Tekin, 54, who lives in Turkey's southern Hatay province, recently welcomed a baby boy named Ahmet with his first wife. "Today, I have 32 kids and 12 of them are boys. I love them all. If my health permits, God willing, I want to raise the number to 50," he says. The wives all live in different houses with their children "as we cannot fit in a single house", he says, adding that everyone gets along "quite well". Despite being outlawed, a 2013 study by Turkey's parliament found that 372,000 men practised polygamy in the country, the website reports.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan regularly called for families to have at least three children when he was prime minister, in order to keep the country strong. "One or two children mean bankruptcy... at least three children are necessary in each family, because our population risks ageing," he said in 2013.

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Chinese 'tomb raiders' arrested

An empty grave The "ghost brides" ritual is now mostly practiced in rural parts of China

Eleven people have been arrested in eastern China for allegedly stealing women's corpses for use in "ghost marriages", it's been reported.

They're accused of exhuming a woman's body from a village in Shandong province and selling it on the black market, the South China Morning Post reports. The "ghost marriage" ritual requires bachelors who have died to be buried next to a woman's body "so that he won't be alone in the afterlife", the website says. It's an increasingly rare practice in modern China, and now mainly happens in rural areas.

One of the accused was shown on Shandong's local state TV channel saying a corpse could be sold for between 16,000 and 20,000 yuan ($2,600-$3,300; £1,600-£2,000), and that bodies are only valuable if they have been recently buried. "A body buried for years is worthless," he says. The woman's body was later sold again to a bereaved family in neighbouring Hebei province for 38,000 yuan, the TV reports.

Stealing corpses is a criminal offence in China, punishable by up to three years in prison. In 2013, four men in northern Shanxi province were jailed for stealing 10 women's bodies and faking their medical records, in order to charge more for them on the black market.

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Football pitch frenzy for Romania

Romanian football fans Romania's football fans will have plenty of choice if they fancy a kickabout in future

The Romanian government wants to build hundreds of new football pitches in the run-up to the Euro 2020 championships, it's reported.

Plans have been announced to build 400 new pitches across the country, as well as upgrading existing stadiums, the Romania Insider website reports. Football will also be given a dedicated place in the school curriculum, with an hour every week being devoted to the sport in schools from 2015, the website says. The measures were announced by Prime Minister Victor Ponta during a meeting on how Romania could prepare for the Euro 2020 tournament. Matches are due to be spread across Europe, with Romania hosting four of them at the National Arena in Bucharest. Mr Ponta is currently running for president, with the first round of voting due to take place on 2 November.

The country's football team has had mixed fortunes in recent years, the website points out. Ranked 21st in the world by FIFA, the team hasn't qualified for an international competition since 2008, and last played in a World Cup in 1998. Economically Romania's continues to grow, and the country saw a drastic fall in poverty from 36% in 2000 to around 4% in 2012, according to the World Bank's measures. But it still has one of the highest poverty rates in the European Union.

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Artist combats abuse with paintings

One of Bassant El Qassem's drawings of a woman Ms El Qassem wants to make Egyptian women proud of their figures

An Egyptian artist is trying to challenge the country's ideas about beauty, by painting plus-size women in revealing clothing.

Bassant El Qassem, 22, launched a campaign after being called fat by a man on the street, and seeing other women called "elephants, pickle barrels and cows" by men shouting out of car windows, she tells The Cairo Post. In 2013 the United Nations said that 99.3% of Egyptian women had experienced sexual harassment. In response, Ms El-Qassem, who considers herself to be of normal weight, started painting larger women in skimpy outfits. She aims to tell women they can be beautiful in outfits they might normally avoid wearing, "even only for themselves". "Girls should be comfortable with their bodies whatever shape or weight they may be," she says. Obesity is common in Egypt, with nearly 70% of the population considered overweight, and rates are higher among women than men.

Ms El Qassem's "Love your body… you are beautiful" Facebook page has more than 22,000 likes, and she plans to exhibit her paintings at Cairo's El Sawy Culture Wheel centre in November. But it hasn't been plain sailing, with some people complaining that her paintings are too sexualised. To that, she responds: "Art is not haram," meaning forbidden by Islam.

One of Bassant El Qassem's drawings of a woman The paintings were done in private, but will soon be on public display

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UK rubbish heats Danish homes

Rubbish at a UK landfill site Rubbish from the UK will be keeping Danes warm and cosy this winter

Denmark is lighting a fire under the UK's landfill problem, and making cheaper energy in the process, it's reported.

Danish incinerators are burning thousands of tonnes of waste imported from the UK in order to provide home heating, the national broadcaster DR reports on its website. And it appears to be growing trend, with one incinerator plant in the northern town of Frederikshavn, run by the company AVO, doubling its imports of UK rubbish in the past year, the website says. In 2013, Denmark took in about 200,000 tonnes from the UK overall, according to the country's environmental protection agency.

The non-hazardous waste mainly comes from construction sites, including wood, cardboard and plastic from Manchester, according to AVO operations manager Orla Frederiksen. "I guess we have 600 tonnes here that provide a good combustible mixture we can then turn into district heating and power," he tells DR. The heating produced by burning waste is cheaper than using natural gas, according to the company's director, Tore Vedelsdal. "The British are interested because they lack incinerators and pay heavy taxes on landfills... They save on having to bury the waste and we save on the consumption of natural gas."

In Sweden, rubbish from the UK and other European countries helps waste-to-energy plants to provide about 950,000 homes with heating and 260,000 with electricity, the Huffington Post reported in September.

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Mario trumps Crimea on Moscow walls

The original Crimea-themed mural Residents of Novoslobodskaya Street weren't keen when this "patriotic" mural appeared on their building

Massive murals celebrating Russia's annexation of Crimea are disappearing from buildings in Moscow, with one being replaced by the video-game character Mario.

The mural, painted incongruously on a stately 19th century residential building on historic Novoslobodskaya Street, showed a Russian soldier playing hockey with Crimea, under the slogan "Happy Russia Day. 2014: we took back what was ours". But it has now made way for Nintendo's Mario declaring "Reach for the stars", the website reports.

The murals are the work of Art-Facade, a project run by pro-government youth groups. Their coordinator, Alexander Diaghilev, tells the aim was to promote young artists through a competition called "2,000 Homes for Russia". Launched in March, it promised participants the chance to showcase large-scale works in Moscow and St Petersburg. The only problem, as Mr Diaghilev acknowledges, was that the Novoslobodskaya Street residents weren't asked whether they wanted their building turned into a patriotic fresco. They didn't, and asked Art-Facade to "paint it over with something benevolent". This resulted in the Mario mural.

Mr Diaghilev is now promising a whole new series of murals next year, to mark the 70th anniversary of the Second World War. "We're talking about images of Soviet liberator-troops, and perhaps the Soviet flag over the Reichstag, the Kremlin victory parade, planes, tanks, and wartime posters," he tells the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper.

The Super Mario mural The new mural shows Mario telling people to "reach for the stars"

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Indian 'Nasa fraudster' exposed

Nasa scientists at an event Mr Vijayakumar won't be joining these Nasa scientists to seek out life beyond Earth

A man who became famous in India after claiming to be a Nasa scientist has admitted he made the whole thing up, it's been reported.

Arun P. Vijayakumar, 27, hit the headlines after saying he'd been selected as a research scientist for the US space agency, even telling the media that Nasa relaxed its citizenship requirements "as it was so impressed with his knowledge and patriotism", the Deccan Chronicle reports. His Nasa work would involve exploring "extraterrestrial elements with the use of remote sensing", he told The Hindu website in an interview last month. He also claimed to be studying for a PhD at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States.

But now Mr Vijayakumar, from Kerala in south-west India, admits none of it was true, including claims that he had met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was busted by a Facebook group known as the Netizen Police, which investigates suspected online fraud in conjunction with the police, Manorama Online reports. "Police officers said that the intention of Arun was only to gain fame and that the details were being released now in order to ensure that he does not come out with similar claims in future," the website says.

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'No Halloween' for Malaysian Muslims

A dog in a pumpkin costume at the Halloween Dog Costume Parade in California A Halloween dog parade: Unlikely to catch on in Malaysia

Muslims in Malaysia should not celebrate Halloween, the country's National Fatwa Council has announced.

The council, one of Malaysia's highest Islamic bodies, says Halloween is a Christian celebration of the dead and "against Islamic teachings", in a fatwa issued on its website. "Halloween is celebrated using a humorous theme mixed with horror to entertain and resist the spirit of death that influences humans... It cannot be celebrated by Muslims," it says. Instead, the council advises Muslims to remember the dead by reciting prayers and reading the Koran. There are concerns among some Muslim groups in the country that Halloween is too Western and "could wrongly influence local Muslim youths," the Malay Mail website reports. In Negeri Sembilan, western Malaysia, an international primary school has been told it must apply to the local education department to get approval for its private Halloween party, after a protest by Muslim groups, according to Free Malaysia Today.

Earlier this month the National Fatwa Council ruled that touching dogs is un-Islamic, in response to an event called "I want to touch a dog", in Bandar Utama. The event gave Muslims a chance to stroke dogs, an act traditionally seen as unclean. People who took part in the event followed religious cleansing rituals after being in contact with the dogs, Channel News Asia website reports.

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Hospital 'attacked over body hair'

Disposable razors

A hospital patient in Lebanon called for members of his clan to open fire on the building, because a doctor wanted to shave his body hair, it's been reported.

The man, thought to be a member of the Zeaiter clan, was due to undergo a kidney operation in the town of Baalbek, eastern Lebanon. But he objected to the surgeon's plans to remove his stomach hair as part of the preparations, The Daily Star website reports. "The situation quickly escalated as the patient, concerned that his masculinity was at stake, dialled his friends," the website says, citing an unnamed source. Those "friends" responded by rolling up in a 4x4 car and opening fire on the hospital, the report says. There were no reported casualties.

Baalbek is no stranger to violence, being home to both the Zeaiter clan and its long-term rivals, the Jaafar family. Earlier this month the town saw heavy fighting between the two groups, who used rocket-propelled grenades and heavy artillery during one battle, leaving five people injured, according to The Daily Star.

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Kazakh 'kissing poets' poster fined

The poster of the poets kissing Pucker up: Kurmangazy and Alexander Pushkin engage in a very expensive kiss

An advertising agency has been handed a large fine for a poster of revered Kazakh bard Kurmangazy locked in a passionate kiss with Alexander Pushkin, Russia's national poet.

Havas Worldwide Kazakhstan says it can't pay the 34 million tenge ($186,000; £115,000) fine, and plans to appeal. The agency's general director says the ruling is "nonsense". "Not one of the 34 plaintiffs appeared in court. The whole hearing was marred by procedural violations," Dariya Khamitzhanova tells the news portal. Havas has also been ordered to issue an apology in the national media, Tengrinews agency reports.

The poster appeared in social media in August, enraging anti-gay activists who complained to the police that it insulted Kazakhs and Russians. Thirty-four staff and students of Kurmangazy Conservatory, in the southern city of Almaty, filed a suit last month demanding a million tenge each in moral damages. Opponents allege that the poster was made to advertise a gay club on the corner of Kurmangazy and Pushkin Streets in Almaty. But Havas insists it was just an entry in an advertising competition in neighbouring Kyrgyzstan, and never intended for public use.

Homosexual acts between consenting adults are legal in Kazakhstan, and Almaty is unusually liberal by Central Asian standards, but the country has seen a hardening of attitudes of late. Some government MPs have called for a ban on the "promotion of homosexuality", along the lines of a recent Russian law, or even the outlawing of homosexual acts altogether.

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Swiss mull benefits car ban

Traffic jam in Switzerland People on benefits in Zurich could soon be forced to take the bus

A Swiss canton is considering banning cars for people on state benefits, it's been reported.

Zurich's regional parliament has passed the first reading of a bill which would stop welfare payments being used to fund cars, unless a disability, illness or professional reasons could be proved, Le Matin website reports. The idea, proposed by the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) and centre-right Liberals, caused a "lively debate" in the region's parliament, but passed by 87 votes to 84, the website says. Left-wing parties oppose the move.

Supporters of the proposal say people on welfare can't afford to pay for a car, and if they want one then their benefits payments should be reduced. "If someone can afford a car, it can be assumed that he has other sources of money," Jean-Philippe Pinto of the Christian Democratic People's Party, which supports the measure, is quoted as saying in Neue Zurcher Zeitung. But others say the proposal is unnecessary. "Recipients can decide for themselves whether they spend their money on food, books, cigarettes or a car," Beatrice Henes, a spokeswoman for Zurich's social services department, told the 20 Minuten website earlier this month. A final vote on the issue is expected in the coming weeks.

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'Extinct' snail turns up in alley

Hamilton, Bermuda Hamilton, Bermuda: Home to not-so-extinct snails

A snail which conservationists thought was extinct has been found living in an alley in Bermuda, it's been reported.

The species of Bermudian land snail, known as Poecilozonites bermudensis, hadn't been seen on the island for more than 40 years. But now a colony of the creatures has been found flourishing in a "damp and overgrown alleyway" in the capital city, Hamilton, by a local resident, the Royal Gazette website reports. "For it to be found in Hamilton is unbelievable. It's the last place you would imagine that a small colony of rare snails would be discovered," says Dr Mark Outerbridge of the government's Conservation Service. It's thought that by choosing a concrete home, the snails were protected from the predators that wiped out the rest of their population, Dr Outerbridge says.

London Zoo began a Bermudian land snail programme in 2004, to help protect what was thought to be the last remaining species, Poecilozonites circumfirmatus, from extinction. The Poecilozonites family was once so common in Bermuda that they were burned for limestone, according to the Bermuda Sun. In 1951, another of the island's native species, the Bermuda Petrel, was rediscovered. Until then it was thought the seabird, also known as the cahow, had become extinct in the 1600s.

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Taking selfies 'spreads head lice'

Young people gather for a selfie Not too close! Selfies could have some itchy consequences, according to a Russian health agency

Young people should stop taking selfies in order to avoid catching head lice, a Russian government agency has advised.

The selfie craze, where people cram together to fit into an arms-length photo, is the main reason for the spread of the parasites, according to the Kursk regional department of Rospotrebnadzor, a government body which advises on human well-being. Taking photos in such close quarters with another person's head means the lice can jump from one hairy home to another, it warns, noting that doctors have banned children with head lice from going to school.

Rospotrebnadzor's decisions have proved controversial in the past. Its former head, Gennady Onishchenko, once suggested killing crows, describing them as feathered wolves which spread bird flu. He was also associated with banning food and drink imports from countries unpopular with the Kremlin. The agency's lice advice has been mocked by social media users in Russia. "Are they suggesting most young Russians have lice?" Georgy Klochkov asks on the Lenta news website. Another user says: "This is wonderful!! Onishchenko's work still flourishes - the more bonkers the reason, the better."

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Mayor invites families for breakfast

Two cups of cappuccino

An Italian mayor has invited every family in his town to join him for breakfast at the town hall, it's reported.

Pino Palmieri, mayor of the southern town of Roscigno, wants to listen to people's problems, concerns and ideas, Corriere del Mezzogiorno newspaper reports. So he's sending out official invitations to have a different family join him each morning at his office. In order to "avoid criticism", and spare the municipal coffers, Mr Palmieri says he will be footing the bill for each breakfast with his own cash. Families in Roscigno, a town of about 800 people, will be able to choose what they fancy to eat and drink thanks to an agreement with the town's main bar, La Citta di Salerno website reports. "Every morning in the town hall I will welcome my fellow citizens and, over a coffee and a cappuccino, I will listen to their ideas to improve the liveability of our town," Mr Palmieri says.

But he's not the only one getting an early start. Further north, in the Tuscan town of Cascina, mayor Alessio Antonelli has announced he'll be spending three hours every morning meeting people outside under a gazebo, according to the Pisa Today website. Mr Antonelli says he'll be available to chat to on the street from 07:30 Italian time (08:30 GMT), for 45 days in a row.

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Officials 'blew cash on Vegas trip'

Las Vegas sign What happens in Vegas... could get you suspended in South Africa

South Africa's gambling board has been suspended for seemingly overspending on foreign travel, including a trip to Las Vegas, it's reported.

The board spent 4.1 million rand ($374,000; £233,000) on trips abroad in three years, including visits to Turkey, Singapore and France, the Times Live website reports. The biggest chunk of cash was spent on flying seven of its members to a Las Vegas gaming conference in 2011, at a cost of more than 936,000 rand ($85,000; £53,000), according to South Africa's trade and industry minister, Rob Davies.

The board members' spending habits came to light after a parliamentary question on the details surrounding their suspension, which happened in September. They have allegedly contravened the Public Finance Management Act by "failing to prevent irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure," the website reports. Aside from regulating the gambling industry, South Africa's National Gambling Board exists to "to preserve the integrity of South Africa as a responsible global citizen," according to its website.

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Women propose sex strike for peace

Displaced South Sudanese women carry their possessions There are more than 1.4 million displaced people in South Sudan

Female peace activists in South Sudan have proposed a nationwide sex strike to end the country's civil war.

The activists want women to support the strike in the hope that it encourages men to seek a peaceful settlement to the conflict, the Sudan Tribune reports. The idea came about at a meeting of more than 90 women activists, including several MPs, in South Sudan's capital, Juba, the paper says. "A key suggestion was to mobilise all women in South Sudan to deny their husbands conjugal rights until they ensure that peace returns," the meeting's organisers say in a statement.

South Sudan's government has been fighting rebel forces since December 2013. Hundreds of thousands of people have fled to neighbouring countries, and 1.4 million are internally displaced as a result of the crisis, according to the United Nations. Sex strikes are not unheard of as a peace-seeking tactic. In 2003, Liberian women used the same method as part of their efforts to end the country's brutal 14-year civil war. Leymah Gbowee, who led the strike, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.

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Gold prizes for Dubai commuters

A traffic jam in Dubai Win gold on public transport, or sit in a traffic jam like this.

Commuters in Dubai are being offered the chance to win lavish prizes if they take public transport, it's reported.

The emirate's transport authority is giving away 4kg (8.8lb) of gold as part of celebrations for Public Transport Day on 1 November, to try and lure people out of their cars and into mass transit, the Gulf News website reports. The prizes will be handed out through "raffle draws and other surprises" over the course of a week, it says. The event is aimed at encouraging people to "shun reliance on private vehicles and switch to using public transport," says Dr Yousuf Al Ali of the Roads and Transport Authority. Car ownership rates in Dubai are among the highest in the world, with an average of 2.3 cars per family, Gulf News reported in September, while only 13% of people use public transport.

It's not just precious metal up for grabs in the bonanza. In total, prizes worth one million dirham ($272,000; £170,000) will be handed out, including at a street-ball tournament where the first prize is 10,000 dirham ($2,700; £1,700). There's even a celebrity guest; retired basketball star Kareem Abdul Jabbar will be in attendance during a basketball match at a bus station. But only those committed to using public transport are in with a chance, because commuters have to own a Dubai travel card to enter the competitions.

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Russian activist seeks Halloween ban

People dressed in Halloween costumes at a parade in New York Halloween revellers like these in New York would not be welcome at Mr Federov's house

A Russian political activist has called on the government to ban public celebrations of Halloween, as part of a campaign against American influence.

Georgy Federov, a member of the Civic Chamber parliamentary scrutiny body, says people across the country have complained to him about "drunk youngsters dressed as corpses and monsters scaring decent members of the public on the streets". Celebrations in night clubs often "degenerate into orgies", he adds in a letter to Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky, according to Izvestia newspaper. Referring to current "strained relations with the US", he says Halloween has been imposed on Russians and is foreign to their cultural traditions. "Some extremists use these 'holidays' for propaganda purposes... You need to launch counter-propaganda. We have our own traditional festivals, which at least do not run contrary to religious ethics and human morality," he says. Mr Federov suggests authorities could offer venues financial incentives "to stop decking themselves out with pumpkins and sham corpses".

A ministry spokesman says they have not yet received Mr Federov's letter, and notes that Halloween is usually marked in cafes and restaurants, which lie beyond the ministerial remit. "We have no plans to celebrate Halloween in theatres, concert halls or libraries," he tells Izvestia. Social media comment ranges as usual from support to mockery of the proposal, with one Izvestia reader suggesting a compromise called "Hangovereen - our own holiday when your pumpkinheads ache."

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Indian PM's face sells fireworks

Narendra Modi Narendra Modi: The face that launched a thousand fireworks

Fireworks bearing the face of the Indian prime minister have been flying off the shelves for Diwali celebrations, it's reported.

The Narendra Modi firework, sold in a packet adorned with an "imposing" image of the premier's face, has "relegated all others to the sidelines" in western Bihar state, the Hindustan Times reports. Diwali fireworks are often marketed using the images of Bollywood stars or cricket players, but using Mr Modi's face has proved just as popular, according to local business owners. "People are going for it in a big way," shopkeeper Sanjay Kumar tells the paper. "We have kept enough stock to ensure we won't run out of supplies."

Twelve varieties of Modi-related fireworks are available for between 200 and 800 rupees ($3-$13; £2-£8). But some flashier fireworks, including the "Modi flowerpot", are on sale for 1,000 rupees ($16; £10), The Times of India reports. "Modi's face embossed on the firecracker packets is making all the difference, and they're flying off the racks,'' says Ketan Patel, a firework seller in eastern Gujarat state. But some social media users are less enthusiastic, taking pot-shots at the Indian leader under the hashtags #FireworksTheseDays and #CelebCrackers. "Manmohan Singh cracker for a noiseless Diwali. Modi charkies [spiral shaped firecracker] - for countless U-turns. #CelebCrackers," says Twitter user Santoesha Bissesar.

Despite many Diwali fireworks being imported from China, those marketed with Mr Modi's image proudly bear the words "Made in India", the Hindustan Times adds. The prime minister reportedly wants to ban the imported Chinese variety to help Indian manufacturers.

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Thousands queue for 'meat stone'

Taiwan's meat-shaped stone Possibly the world's most valuable artistic rendering of a piece of stewed pork

One of Taiwan's more bizarre national treasures is returning home after an exhibition drew thousands of visitors in Japan.

Nearly 84,000 people came to see the famous Meat-Shaped Stone, which was on display at Japan's Kyushu National Museum in the southern city of Fukuoka, the United Daily News reports. The daily average of 5,995 visitors was somewhat lower than a previous exhibition in Tokyo featuring Taiwan's Jadeite Cabbage, which drew 21,000 people per day. But organisers put this down to the Kyushu Museum being less convenient for those wanting to travel to see the meaty treasure.

One of Taiwan's most revered artefacts, the Meat-Shaped Stone is a piece of jasper, carved and dyed to resemble a chunk of stewed pork. According to the National Palace Museum, the craftsman "took the rich natural resources of this stone and carved it with great precision... the veining and hair follicles making the piece appear even more realistic." Carved in jadeite, the cabbage was made during the Qing dynasty, and comes complete with two insects on its leaves. Its display in Tokyo caused a minor diplomatic row after organisers were reluctant to use the word "national" in publicity material, in case it caused offence to Beijing. China claims Taiwan as part of its territory.

Concerns for the Meat-Shaped Stone's safety mean that the Taiwanese museum has kept its travel plans a closely guarded secret. But it's known that it had to undergo a 24-hour period of motionless after it had been packed before it was allowed to travel.

The jadeite cabbage on display in Tokyo An earlier display featuring the Jadeite Cabbage caused a minor diplomatic row

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Energy crisis prompts palm tree sale

Hryshko National Botanical Gardens Kiev's botanical gardens: Slightly less tropical this winter

The botanical gardens in the Ukrainian capital Kiev are selling off tropical plants at knock-down prices ahead of an expected energy crisis this winter.

Hryshko National Botanical Gardens announced the sale on its website, with plants on offer for 15 to 85 hryvnyas ($1.14-$6.46; £0.70-£4). It blames the worsening economic crisis and fears of a hard winter. "This has forced us to close some greenhouses, reduce the heated areas of others, and cut our plant collection," the statement says. There are concerns over winter fuel availability in Ukraine, as Russia is threatening to cut the gas supplies on which the country depends.

The plants are apparently resistant to parasites and some are touted as having "wonderful medicinal properties". To safeguard the site's varied collection, botanists have chosen species that it already has in sufficient numbers. But a range of "decorative, environmentally-sustainable tropical and subtropical plants" are on offer, including palm trees, rubber plants, aloe and papaya. Some are even small enough for a window box, the statement adds.

The sell-off has been met with dismay on social media, with some Facebook users offering to chip in to help the gardens. Another user, Oksana Haluha, suggests "taking the plants home temporarily and then bringing them back in the spring". Ukraine is suffering a protracted economic crisis, caused mainly by political instability following the mass protests that ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych in February, and Russia's subsequent annexation of Crimea and support for insurgents in the east.

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Civil liberties award for dominatrix

Terri-Jean Bedford Terri-Jean Bedford testified in the Senate last month in head-to-toe leather, complete with riding crop

A former dominatrix has been honoured by a Canadian civil liberties group, after successfully campaigning to overturn the country's prostitution laws.

Terri-Jean Bedford, who once ran a "bondage dungeon", will be presented with the Ontario Civil Liberties Award in November, the news website reports. She was one of three women who challenged Canada's anti-prostitution laws in court, leading to a unanimous Supreme Court ruling in December 2013 striking down the laws as unconstitutional. The court said that parliament could regulate against nuisances, "but not at the cost of the health, safety and lives of prostitutes... It is not a crime in Canada to sell sex for money." It has given parliament one year to come up with new prostitution laws.

"Miss Bedford has fought for the freedom, dignity, and safety of sex workers in Canada," the Ontario Civil Liberties Association says in a statement on its website. "She has opposed the unjust laws affecting her profession in court, in the streets, in the Senate, in the press, and in her writings. She has even been to jail under these laws," it says. Dubbed "Canada's most famous dominatrix", Ms Bedford says she wants to be remembered for "standing against secret rules. My motto is that I'll fight for my rights, whether you like it or not."

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Honey smugglers sent packing

European honey bee

Border officials in New Zealand have denied entry to a couple caught smuggling honey, which could have devastated the country's lucrative bee-keeping industry, it's been reported.

The man and woman from Ukraine were found with 3kg (6.6lb) of honey and 1kg (2.2lb) of pollen in their luggage at Auckland's airport, which they said was for their personal use, the New Zealand Herald reports. They had travelled to New Zealand to work in bee-keeping, according to Craig Hughes from the Ministry for Primary Industries, which carried out the search. But by failing to declare the items they fell foul of the country's strict bio-security laws, designed to protect the local eco-system from invasive species.

The smuggled goods could have decimated the local bee population, "causing up to NZ$5bn (US$4bn; £2.5bn) of damage", says Daniel Paul, chief executive of New Zealand's National Beekeepers Association. "If something was to come in, it would spread so quickly that by the time we knew it was here we would be unable to eradicate it," Mr Paul tells NewsTalkZB radio.

New Zealand is the global centre for the production of manuka honey, which is in high demand around the world. Mr Hughes says he finds it particularly "mind-boggling" that the couple - who said they were apiarists - were taking the banned products to a bee-keeping area.

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