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31 October 2014 Last updated at 11:31 ET

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 Gazeta.ru website reports.

The murals are the work of Art-Facade, a project run by pro-government youth groups. Their coordinator, Alexander Diaghilev, tells Gazeta.ru 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 Kapital.kz 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 Canada.com 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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Man fights off bear with computer

Russian brown bear Russian bears: Not keen on microchip technology

A Siberian man has the march of technology to thank after fighting off a charging bear with a discarded computer, it's been reported.

The encounter occurred at a rubbish dump in a village near Tomsk in western Siberia, where both man and bear were scavenging, the Moscow Times reports. The villager was searching for metals to sell, and was charged by the animal which was looking for food. Local ranger Sergei Yelnikov says the unnamed man threw the old computer, which was the first thing that came to hand, causing the bear to flee. "The villager hardly suffered at all; he injured his hand when throwing the device at the bear," Mr Yelnikov says. According to the RT television channel, a 24-hour search found no trace of the animal.

It's not unusual for hungry bears to cross into human settlements when food is scarce, RT says. "There is not enough food for bears as the year is lean," Mr Yelinkov tells the TASS news agency, noting that some animals are so hungry they are resorting to cannibalism. "I know four bears that were killed by their own species in our district," he says.

Earlier this year a man was saved from a bear attack in the north-eastern Sakha Republic thanks to his mobile phone, the Moscow Times adds. The device switched itself on mid-mauling, scaring the bear away.

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Singing nun releases 'Like a Virgin'

Sister Cristina performing on The Voice Sister Cristina dazzled Italy with her performances on The Voice earlier this year

A singing nun who won the Italian version of the The Voice has released a cover of Madonna's Like a Virgin for her debut single.

Sister Cristina Scuccia, who won the singing contest in June, says she chose the song herself "without any intention to provoke or shock", but says she is ready for any criticism. "It's a song about the ability of love to make people new. To redeem them from their past. And that's how I wanted to interpret it," she tells the Catholic newspaper Avvenire.

Far from copying the original upbeat pop song, the 26-year-old Sicilian has turned the track into a ballad. And where Madonna's video saw her writhing around in a Venetian gondola while apparently being pursued by a lion, the Italian's effort is a more sedate affair. Sister Cristina says she doesn't think Madonna has heard this new take on her song. "But I'd love to see her face when she does, and when they tell her it's a nun singing."

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Chechen leader demands horse apology

Ramzan Kadyrov with a horse Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov says Germany has "discriminated" against his horses

Chechnya's leader has demanded an apology from Germany, after EU sanctions targeted two of his racehorses, it's reported.

Thousands of euros in prize money won by Ramzan Kadyrov's stallion Zazu at races in Dusseldorf and Baden Baden have been frozen by authorities there, according to Russia's Regnum news agency. As well losing his winnings, both Zazu and his stablemate Dashing Home are banned from competing until sanctions against the Chechen leader are lifted, the Russia Today website reports.

Mr Kadyrov, a horse racing enthusiast, says the incident could become "a new shameful page in German history". Lamenting the situation on his Instagram account, alongside a photo of him nuzzling a horse, he says the German authorities have deprived his racehorses of prizes "won through hard labour and fast hooves". Zazu is being punished with sanctions as if he is a human being, and is gradually losing his racing skills by being sidelined, Mr Kadyrov writes. As well as apologising to his own racehorses and "all herds of horses worldwide", he wants Germany to provide millions in compensation for the "moral damage to the stallions and for discriminating against them".

The EU imposed sanctions on Mr Kadyrov and several other Russian officials in July. The Chechen leader responded with his own sanctions list, and put US President Barack Obama and EU leaders on it.

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Kyrgyz anti-gay group blocks concert

Kazaky boy band Kazaky describe themselves as a dance-pop band

A 300-strong protest by a Kyrgyz anti-gay youth group has stopped a boy band's nightclub show, raising fears of increasing homophobia in the Central Asian country.

Members of the Kalys group say they blocked the entrance to Guns'n'Roses nightclub in Bishkek, where the Ukrainian four-piece Kazaky were due to perform, in order to defend "traditional values". The band is known for performing shirtless and in stiletto heels.

The club's management say they had no choice but to cancel the concert. "We incurred heavy losses over the cancellation," organiser Danil Mishin tells the Kyrgyz news portal Kloop. "But what's worse is that we let down all the people who'd bought tickets to see Kazaky." The police "shrugged their shoulders and did nothing," he says, adding that Kazaky themselves were "diplomatic" about the incident.

Only former band member Francesco Borgato has come out as gay, while others are married with children, according to Mr Mishin. But the band has also seen its concerts disrupted by self-proclaimed Cossacks in Russia angry at the name - Kazaky means Cossacks in Ukrainian - being associated with their topless dance routines. The incident comes after the Kyrgyz parliament passed the first reading of a bill threatening jail for the "promotion of homosexuality", a move criticised by civil rights groups. As one comment on the Kloop page puts it: "Who will they come for next?"

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China says no to Dumbledore

Richard Harris in character as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter films Thinking of naming yourself after a popular wizard? Think again.

Chinese state media have urged citizens to think carefully when choosing an English name, so that they don't pick one with an unfortunate meaning, it appears.

People are being warned against picking a name that could cause offence, or simply make no sense at all, in advice from the CCTV News website. Many Chinese people prefer to use an English name, particularly if they conduct business with the West. But CCTV says people should avoid fictional characters, names with the potential for sexual innuendo, or random words like Dragon, Fish or Lawyer, which could come back and haunt you "if you want a call back from that serious law firm in America".

An English name should "come with a 'feeling' or idea about what sort of person you are, and where you come from", so names such as Satan or Dumbledore are out, the website says. Women are told to think carefully about "food" names such as Candy, Lolly or Sugar, which might be seen as "stripper names". There's also a lengthy warning about names with sexual connotations, especially when used in conjunction with Dong or Wang, which "are used as slang for male genitalia... so avoid anything like 'Bunny Wang' at all times," the website says.

Instead, a "traditional" name like Elizabeth, Catherine, William or George is considered a good choice. "Pick one of these if you're looking for a 'safe' English name, often with implications of wealth," the website advises.

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Yemenis use graffiti to end violence

Graffiti artists

Two friends in Yemen have launched a graffiti campaign against ongoing violence in the country, it's reported.

The IT students from Sanaa University draw portraits of famous intellectuals and authors alongside inspirational quotes from their works and speeches, the Yemen Times newspaper reports. Tamam Al-Shaibani and Muhammad Al-Sharie call their campaign "Open Book", with walls in the country's capital, Sanaa, being the book's pages.

As violence continues following the 2011 pro-democracy uprising, Mr Al-Shaibani is concerned that Yemenis are becoming "increasingly ruthless", and see the use of weapons as the right way of achieving their goals, the paper says.

Believing in the power of words, Mr Al-Shaibani takes his inspiration from people like Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. Both men's portraits now adorn the walls of Sanaa. "I want to use their words again in an attempt to change peoples' beliefs and thoughts in Yemen," he says. He hopes that the quotes will "stop people from engaging in any wrongdoing".

The two friends' campaign is also inspired by the work of another activist, Morad Sobai, the Yemen Times says. In 2012, he drew on the city's walls more than 60 portraits of Yemenis who disappeared between the 1970s and 1990s, allegedly after being detained by government forces.

Graffiti with quote from a poet Elia Abu Madi was a Lebanese-American poet
Quote from Martin Luther King US civil rights activist Martin Luther King also inspired the Yemeni graffiti artists

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Man divorces wife 'possessed by genie'

Aladdin-style lamp

A court in Dubai has granted a divorce to a man who says his wife is possessed by spirits and refuses to have sex with him, reports suggest.

After persistently denying him sex, the woman finally told her husband to discuss the issue with her parents, the Gulf News daily reports, without naming the couple.

They told the man that his wife was, in fact, possessed by a jinn, and that several religious scholars had unsuccessfully tried to exorcise the spirit, the paper says.

Upon hearing this, the husband lodged a divorce case with the Dubai Sharia Court. His lawyer told a hearing: "The woman and her family cheated my client. They should have been honest and clear about the fact that the wife was possessed by a jinn. He was only told about the jinn after the problem escalated. The woman does not deserve any allowance."

In Arabic mythology, jinns - or genies - are spirits able to take human and animal forms and to exercise supernatural influence over humans.

The court awarded the husband the divorce, but asked him to pay around 40,000 dirhams (almost 11,000 US dollars or 6,800 UK pounds) in maintenance to his ex-wife.

The Dubai Appeal Court later upheld the divorce, but cancelled the alimony. It decided that the woman does not deserve it since she was not honest about the djinn issue, Gulf News says.

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Russian monks make mozzarella

Monk at a cheese factory Monk Agapy enjoys his cheese-making course in Italy

Monks at a remote monastery in northern Russia are launching the production of exquisite types of Italian cheese, it is reported.

One of the brethren has already been to Italy for training, and cheese-making equipment has been purchased, says Valaam, one of Russia's most famous monasteries.

Monk Agapy spent a week in Italy, where local masters taught him to make such cheeses as mozzarella, caciotta, morlacco, smoked ricotta and bianca, Valaam says on its Facebook page.

A spokesman for the island monastery told the BBC that it expects production to start in December, using milk from cows at its own farm to make the cheeses. The initial plan is for them to be consumed at the monastery, but eventually Valaam hopes to produce up to 350 kg of cheese a week, at which point they will go on sale at less remote religious communities in Russia.

Valaam plays an important role in Russia's religious life and is believed to be favoured by President Vladimir Putin. Italian cheeses are among the Western food imports that were banned by the Russian government in retaliation for economic sanctions against Moscow - over its actions in Ukraine.

Monk on a boat Valaam is located on a wooded island 22 km off the shore in Europe's largest lake, Ladoga.
Monk in a forest The ancient monastery is seen as a beacon of spirituality by many Orthodox believers.

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BMWs for top Saudi teachers

BMW driver in Jeddah

The Saudi Ministry of Education plans to reward "outstanding educators" with luxury cars like BMWs, as well as large cash sums.

Riyadh says the bonuses don't just apply to classroom teachers, but also to school heads and educational advisers. Top students are also eligible for awards, the Arab News paper reports, although they are unlikely to get fast cars or sums of $2,665-$32,000 (£1,673-£20,086) like their tutors.

The ministry says the aim is to "encourage excellence in the teaching profession", adding that its panel has already decided on a number of winners for this year. "This confirms the ministry's commitment to students and education in general," a ministry source told reporters. "BMWs should be a great motivation for people working in the field."

Social media comment varied, with some posters applauding any attempt to attract ambitious people to the relatively poorly-paid teaching profession, while others questioned whether teachers would be better motivated by cash and status goods or rather by investment in the troubled education system. And one poster was not alone in pointing out that, because Saudi Arabia's conservative interpretation of Islam does not allow women to drive, "This is a great incentive, except that female teachers who win the award won't even be able to drive their car!"

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US professor 'not local enough' to be Swiss

Einsiedeln Monastery A warm welcome to Einsiedeln

A retired American professor who has lived in Switzerland for nearly 40 years has lost his bid for citizenship because he doesn't know enough about his local town, it seems.

The council of Einsiedeln, a picturesque town with a famous abbey in the canton of Schwyz near Zurich, took half an hour to decide by a clear majority that the professor of chemical engineering "had not sufficiently integrated" into Swiss life. Town Clerk Peter Eberle said the professor "was unable to name the six subdivisions of Einsiedeln County fully, nor give the names of friends and acquaintances in the town at his naturalisation interview. He was also unfamiliar with current political topics in the town," according to 20 Minuten newspaper.

The 75-year-old professor, whom the paper does not name, protests that he has lived in the town since 1975, got married there and brought up three children. He says he is an active member of local sports clubs, and has contributed a great deal to the education of a generation during his work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. The council acknowledges that he has good overall knowledge of Swiss life, speaks German well, and is financially solvent, but speculates that he sought citizenship "to obtain personal benefits and guarantees". He accuses the council of "not really trying to find out anything about him".

The professor must pay a hefty 3,600-franc ($3,785; £2,377) administration fee even though his bid failed, although he is free to appeal against the decision within 10 days. Swiss cantons decide matters of citizenship, and do make some local knowledge a requirement. But it could have been a lot worse for the professor - in 2008 Schwyz was the only canton to back a referendum to make citizenship dependent on a vote of the local people.

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Vietnam arrests mass dog thief

Vietnamese dog thief shows how to charge stun gun Pham Thanh Binh shows police how to charge a stun gun

A man in Vietnam has confessed to stealing 200 dogs over the past seven months with the help of a stun gun, according to police in Ho Chi Minh City.

Police and locals in District 9 of the city caught Pham Thanh Binh after he crashed his motorbike fleeing the scene of a crime, VnExpress news website reports. An accomplice escaped on foot. Binh, who moved to the city from rural Binh Thuan, told police he fell in with a gang of dog thieves after failing to find work on building sites. The gang fashioned homemade guns from wooden stocks. The aim was to kill the animals and sell them to restaurants, as dog is considered a delicacy by some in Vietnam.

The police say unscrupulous restaurateurs will pay 100,000-200,000 dong ($5-10; £3-6) per dog, no questions asked, and demand is fuelling a relatively risk-free crime. Only theft of property worth at least two million dong incurs criminal charges, and dog-stealing usually only leads to a fine. As a result angry dog-owners sometimes resort to "vigilante violence" when they catch a thief, VnExpress says. It cites several cases in recent years of mobs nearly lynching thieves, and criminals responding in kind by arming themselves with crowbars to deter the police and public.

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Bahrain noisy parkers face legal action

Bahrain street scene

Drivers in Bahrain who sound their car horns outside shops and restaurants to get served could face legal action, it's reported.

The Northern Municipal Council has drafted a nationwide law to prosecute drivers who demand service without leaving their cars as well as the shop assistants and restaurant workers who serve them. This is the council's second attempt to clamp down on motorists sounding their horns outside shops, after a campaign last year to stop the behaviour was ignored by both motorists and retailers, the Gulf Daily News reports.

Hamad Town suffers most, with an estimated 1,500 car horns sounded daily outside some shops, according to local councillor Jaffar Shaaban, who says the council proposed the new bill after the regional authorities declined to help. "The Northern Municipality said it was a security issue as it involved cars, while the Northern Security Directorate said it was a municipal issue as it involved imposing stricter closing times." Neither security nor shopping hours are the issue but rather quality of life, says Shaaban.

Residents have complained of being driven mad by the sound of 1,500 car horns, says Shaaban, while shopkeepers will serve drivers kerbside as they don't want to lose custom. The law must therefore step in, and the bill proposes granting police and municipal inspectors new powers to deal with inconsiderate behaviour. The government is taking the matter seriously, as Municipalities and Urban Planning Affairs Minister Juma Al Ka'abi is to refer the bill to the cabinet for consideration.

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China students cash in on running

People running in Shanghai

Students in China are earning money as "running mates" for out-of-shape deskbound office workers, it seems.

China's Global Times says some students are earning up to 3,000 yuan ($490; £306) a month as professional running partners who provide a "little old-fashioned encouragement" for their white-collar clients. One of these runners is Chen Li, a 24-year-old from Chongqing in southwestern China. He earns more than 1,000 yuan a month through the 'rent-a-running partner' service he advertises on the Taobao online shopping site.

Mr Chen is available "from 7pm to 12pm on workdays and all day on weekends, and charges 10 yuan an hour for an escorted run and chat", according to his Taobao ad. This is five yuan cheaper than the going rate, and he hopes to pick up more clients that way. Although many office workers cite the need for motivation, Mr Chen says others "sign up for safety reasons while running at night".

Aware that some potential clients are apprehensive of training with young, fit strangers, he suggests that running partners should exchange personal identity details before setting off, and always exercise in public places.

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Turks shave off beards to avoid 'jihadist stigma'

Turkish barber shop

Barbers in a south-eastern Turkish city are doing a roaring trade shaving off the beards of men worried about being labelled jihadists, it is reported.

The bearded men in Diyarbakir got particularly worried about their looks after reported violent clashes between members of the city's sizeable Kurdish community and Islamists.

The Kurds took to the streets enraged by what they saw as the government's lack of action against jihadists in Syria.

These protests soon turned violent. Angry crowds targeted men with bushy beards, accusing them of jihadism just because of their facial hair, Turkey's newspaper Milliyet says. The violence saw "hundreds" rushing to barbers to get rid of their beards, the paper adds.

Barbers reportedly said that they sometimes got up to 15 customers a day wanting to be clean-shaven. "Some people who have nothing to do with Islamic State or Hezbollah were victimised during the protests because of their beards," one said. "People now come to us either to shave their beards off or redesign their shape."

Another barber in Diyarbakir said that previously, he had been shaving off just three or four beards a day on average. "I've been doing this job for 15 years and I've never before shaved so many," he said.

Turkey's Kurds want Ankara to provide assistance to Kurdish fighters battling Islamic State (IS) jihadists who are trying to take the Syrian border town of Kobane.

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Saudi mulls punishment for sexual harassment

Saudi women

Saudi Arabia is considering hefty fines and jail sentences of up to five years for sexual harassment, it is reported.

Proposals to tighten punishment for unwanted sexual advances follow a surge in the harassment of women at workplaces, streets and shopping malls, says Arab News website.

These proposals are included in a bill that is being considered by the Social Affairs Committee of the Shura Council. It is a consultative body which has the power to propose draft laws, but not approve them. Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy where the king has a monopoly of power.

"The law aims at protecting honour and prestige and preventing all types of harassment," Arab News quoted one Shura official as saying. Another way of achieving the same is creating "women-only" workplaces and areas, political analyst Badr al-Muntawa told the website. He pointed to Kingdom Tower in Riyadh and Princess Nora University as examples of such segregation.

Harassment concerns are one reason why women are banned from driving in Saudi Arabia, while the government is considering building separate sections in stadiums for female spectators for similar reasons.

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Thailand to promote 'martial law tourism'

Thai soldier stopping a car Martial law was introduced following months of political tensions

Officials in Thailand say they are preparing to add martial law to a list of tourist attractions, reports suggest. This follows calls by local tourism groups which insist that martial law needs to be lifted in order to halt the decline in the number of visitors to the country.

The Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) is preparing a campaign called 24 Hours Enjoy Thailand to attract foreigners to visit the country under martial law, says TAT governor Thawatchai Arunyik. According to the official, martial law actually benefits tourism because it ensures that foreigners are safe round-the-clock, Khao Sod newspaper reports.

"We want the tourists to be confident that they can travel in Thailand both day and night with safety at all times," Thawatchai Arunyik said, adding that he hopes to promote this concept by creating a "buzz" on social media.

The initiative comes amid calls by Thai tourism groups for martial law to be lifted altogether. "Foreigners are still unsure about their safety in the country and feel uncomfortable about coming here at a time when martial law is in force. The only way to return confidence would be to lift this law," says Sisdivachr Cheewarattanaporn, president of Thai Travel Agents Association, according to The Nation newspaper.

Tourist arrivals dropped 7% in September from the previous year, following a drop of 11.9% in August. But Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha on 7 October dismissed calls to lift martial law, saying it would continue until sweeping national reforms are in place.

Following months of tensions between the government and the opposition, the Thai military imposed martial law in May 2014 "to preserve law and order".

In a report marking 100 days since the military takeover, Amnesty International criticised the move. The human rights group said martial law created a climate of fear by banning free speech, gatherings of more than five people, literature such as George Orwell's 1984 and the eating of sandwiches in public - which at one point became a symbol of peaceful protest.

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Kyrgyz heart surgery performed by torchlight

Surgery

Doctors in Kyrgyzstan have been forced to use handheld torches and lights in their mobile phones to complete heart surgery during a recent power cut, it is reported.

A video of the operation was posted on Facebook by Kaldarbek Abdramanov, the head of a state-run heart clinic in the central Kyrgyz town of Zhalal-Abad, where the incident happened.

"These are the kind of extreme circumstances under which we perform operations on hearts that have stopped beating," he wrote. "I am not sure if it was a crime or an act of heroism," he added. According to Dr Abdramanov, he is now facing a dilemma - continue saving lives on the operating table hoping that lights do not go out, or halting operations in the hope that patients survive until the moment reliable electricity supplies are restored. "How long do we have to wait before proper conditions are created for our work?" he wonders.

Kyrgyzstan, which relies on hydropower heavily, has recently struggled to generate enough electricity due to low water levels in local rivers. Gas shortages in the south have put a further strain on electricity grids. The government has warned of possible blackouts and put restrictions on electricity consumption by both companies and members of the public.

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S Korea: Billions fail to boost birth rate

a South Korean child stares behind a belly of his pregnant mother

South Korea is spending billions of dollars in an attempt to increase its record-low birth rate, but reports suggest its efforts are failing.

The programme's annual budget has reached an equivalent of £8.61bn (US$13.85bn) this year, says Chosun Ilbo, South Korea's largest and oldest daily.

Even though this marks an almost sevenfold increase since 2006, the number of births has actually dropped by almost 12,000 to 436,500 last year. The birth rate, or the number of births per 1,000 people per year, also fell to 8.6. This is the lowest level since records began in 1970, and also among the world's lowest indicators, according to World Bank data.

According to Chosun Ilbo, the main reason why the government appears to be failing in its efforts to boost the birth rate is because most of the money is allocated to childcare subsidies, rather than making Koreans want to have more children.

Alarmed by the trend, the research service of the country's parliament, the National Assembly, warned in August that South Korea may become the first modern nation to run out of people. If the low birth rate continues, South Korea's current population of 50 million will shrink to 10 million by 2136 and become completely extinct by 2750, the study said.

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Sanctions hit space food supply

Space workers take delivery of fresh food supplies on board the International Space Station

Food for astronauts has fallen foul of sanctions and counter-sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, it appears.

Citing officials from the European Space Agency, The Moscow Times says that a Russian ban on imports of food from Europe means that some supplies being sent to astronauts working on the International Space Station (ISS) are banned from entering Russia. This means that "extras" - such as sweets and dried fruit - sent by families to supplement the otherwise routine fare served on the ISS, won't get through to the ESA astronauts on the space station.

Since food for some supply flights to the ISS comes through Russia on the way to the Moscow-controlled launch centre in Kazakhstan, they are subject to the same ban that is keeping popular French cheeses off the shelves in Russian supermarkets. The ban on foods from the EU was introduced in retaliation to sanctions targeted at Russia and its leaders over its role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and the annexing of Crimea into Russian territory.

However, all is not lost for Europe's space workers - supply launches from the US in Dragon and Cygnus capsules are not affected, which means most space food for ESA astronauts no longer needs to fly on the Russian Soyuz capsules which now supply the space station's cosmonauts.

After the demise of the US shuttle programme, Russia's Soyuz spacecraft are currently the main means of delivering supplies to the ISS. Its current crew consists of a German and two Americans, and as well as three Russians.

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'Killer' Asian hornet shuts school

An Asian hornet - or vespa velutina - seen close up Asian hornets have been spreading in Europe

Six hundred pupils were evacuated from a school in Portugal after a nest of an invasive Asian hornet species crashed from a nearby falling tree.

High winds brought the tree down outside Barroselas School in the northern town of Viana do Castelo, injuring one boy. Children gathering at the scene noticed the nest. The fire brigade and gendarmes closed the school as a precaution, as the hornets have a fearsome reputation, TV 24 news channel reports.

Asian Hornets - also known as the Asian predatory wasp (vespa velutina) - are, at 2.5cm (1in), slightly smaller than the European hornet, but have been known to attack humans in defence of their nest, and prey on bees. Native European honey bees have no defences against them, so their appearance in northern Portugal two years ago has caused great concern. Farmers say it is only a matter of time before pollination rates are affected, the television says.

Viana do Castelo Council says the fire brigade has found 448 Asian wasp nests since November 2012, and a full 216 of these in the first eight months of this year. It accuses the agriculture ministry of failing to address the "plague", saying it "continues to display total inability and a certain aloofness in dealing with this serious problem to public health and the local economy". The Lusa news agency contacted the agriculture ministry for comment, without success.

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Football fans jailed for Putin chant

Fans chant at the Ukraine-Belarus Euro 2016 match in Borisov, Belarus, on 9 October 2014 The rude chant rings out across the stands

A court in the Belarusian capital Minsk has jailed eight Ukrainian football fans after they sang an insulting song about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One man was sent to prison for 10 days for possessing fascist symbols. Seven others were jailed for five days for using obscene language.

They had joined in anti-Putin chants and songs at the Euro 2016 qualifier between Ukraine and Belarus.

A number of Belarusian fans were also convicted and fined.

Both local and visiting fans at the Euro 2016 qualifier between Ukraine and Belarus in Borisov came together in a rousing rendition of a well-known song - which has became a popular expression of opposition to Putin in Ukraine, the Belarusian paper Nasha Niva reports.

Belarusian fans are also heard voicing their solidarity with their Ukrainian counterparts by chanting the signature slogan of the Maidan protests in Kiev - Slava Ukrayini ("Glory to Ukraine").

The Ukrainians return the favour by chanting Zhyve Belarus ("Long live Belarus").

After the match, about 100 Ukrainian and 30 Belarusian were initially held and taken to the local KGB station, according to the opposition website Charter '97.

A court later sentenced seven Ukrainians to five days in prison for "foul language", the Ukrayinska Pravda news website reports.

Four others were fined, while one Ukrainian fan was given a 10-day sentence for allegedly wearing a swastika on his clothing.

It's not the first time the anti-Putin song has made waves. In June, Russian officials called for the resignation of the then Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Andriy Deshchytsya, after he joined Kiev protesters in insulting Putin.

The authorities in Moscow are frowning on fruity language more generally - in April, parliament passed a bill that bans swearing from films, music and other works of art.

Fans chant at the Ukraine-Belarus Euro 2016 match in Borisov, Belarus, on 9 October 2014 Belarusian and Ukrainian supporters also came together in choruses of "Glory to Ukraine"

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Russia ban prompts cheese give-away

Snoefrisk cheese made by Norwegian cooperative Tine

Several tonnes of free cheese have been given away by Norway's largest dairy cooperative, following a Russian import ban.

Trondheim-based Tine has handed a large part of a consignment of Snoefrisk soft cheese originally intended for Russia, to charities for distribution, the Aftenposten daily reports. Produced in July, the batch of had already been packaged for shipping to Russia, and the Cyrillic writing on it made it unsuitable for other markets, according to spokeswoman Veronika Skagestad. "We're against good food being thrown away and thought it would have been wrong if the cheese hadn't been used for human consumption," she says.

Tine says the left-over cheese amounted to 25 pallets - nearly seven tonnes in total. Any cheese not given to charity was handed out to some of the cooperative's 5,000-plus employees across Norway.

In August, Russia banned food imports from Western countries that imposed sanctions on Moscow over the Ukraine conflict. The move has has had a particularly strong impact on trade with Norway. Last month, a Russian fish processing firm took its government to court, saying the ban had ruined its business importing fresh Norwegian fish.

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'Booby traps' in NZ earthquake homes

Christchurch cathedral seen soon after the 2011 earthquake The city's cathedral was also damaged in the quake

The discovery of a series of booby traps in homes wrecked by the devastating 2011 earthquake in the city of Christchurch has baffled officials in New Zealand, it seems.

Police launched an investigation after traps were found in several buildings in the city's central "Red Zone" that were abandoned after the quake and are due to be demolished, the New Zealand Herald reports. The devices are said to include cage-like devices described as "possum traps" and other home-made contraptions set up at the entrances to the houses. Police believe the aim may be to injure or maim potential intruders. "An attempt has been made to create a hazard for someone entering the building," a spokeswoman said, adding that so far, no perpetrator has been identified.

More than 7,000 properties were declared uninhabitable after the 2011 earthquake, according to TVNZ. Many have reportedly become popular targets for burglars, thieves and arsonists, while some have been taken over by homeless people.

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Christian claims 'viking discrimination'

Bethany Paquette speaks to CBC News Bethany Paquette told CBC that "My beliefs have developed who I am as an individual"

A Canadian graduate of a Christian university says her religious beliefs were attacked when she applied for a job as a wilderness guide.

Bethany Paquette, who is an experienced rafting guide, says she got a shocking rejection letter when she applied to the Norwegian Amaruk Wilderness Corp, which runs treks in Canada's north. "It did really hurt me and I did feel really attacked on the basis that I'm a Christian," Paquette told CBC news. Trinity Western University alumnus says her beliefs "don't come into play when I am doing my job".

The letter from hiring manager Olaf Amundsen said, "The Norse background of most of the guys at the management level means that we are not a Christian organization, and most of us actually see Christianity as having destroyed our culture tradition and way of life." Not only that, graduates from TWU are not welcome in the company because the campus is allowed to exclude students who don't sign up to a covenant prohibiting sex outside of heterosexual marriage, Amundsen said in a follow-up e-mail. "In asking students to refrain from same-sex relationships, Trinity Western University, and any person associated with it, has engaged in discrimination," he wrote.

In her reply to Amundsen - who describes himself as "a Viking with a PhD in Norse culture", Paquette noted that the Norse people chose Christianity. "I signed it God Bless, probably partially because I knew it would irritate them," she says. Paquette is taking her discrimination complaint to the British Columbia human rights tribunal, and her lawyer says he'll seek compensation for injury to her feelings and self-respect. Amundsen maintains that Paquette was not qualified for the job.

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Russia: Hunt for 'cheeky' raccoon

Raccoon at the Sainte-Croix zoologic park in the French city of Rhodes

A raccoon which escaped from a touring Russian animal show evaded searchers for two weeks by hiding close to home, it's reported.

"Cheeky" Venya the raccoon outsmarted his handlers by camping out in the very building hosting the "World of Animals" exhibit while a search party scoured the city of Smolensk looking for him, The Moscow Times reports. Meanwhile, food was disappearing in the building and someone appeared to be scattering talcum powder around the place, says the organizer of the exhibit, Alexei. "Raccoons can climb up trees to a height of 30m. They live in burrows and hollows, and at night they come down in search of food. So with Venya, it seems, his natural instincts were awakened," Alexei tells local news outlet Smolenskaya Gazeta. Venya was born and raised in captivity and local reports say he's not capable of surviving in the wild.

Eventually Venya was spotted in a ceiling crack above a movie theatre screen, but refused to come down. "We are now trying to draw him out of his hideaway by offering him sweets. He feels good, although he's a bit stressed," says Alexei. According to the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda, Venya isn't the first animal on the run in Smolensk. In 2013, a swan named Gosha ran away from a local park.

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Disney coins become legal tender

The Niue Mickey Mouse dollar coin

A Pacific Island is raising revenue through legal tender coins with the Queen on one side and Disney characters on the other.

Niue struck a deal with the New Zealand Mint earlier this year to make collector's editions of the island's currency, ABC Radio Australia reports. Worth $6m Australian dollars (US$5.3m; £3.3m) over the next 10 years, it means that the island receives a royalty payment every time one of the newly-minted Mickey Mouse one-dollar Christmas coins is sold to a collector. Niue is a self-governing state associated with New Zealand with Queen Elizabeth the island's monarch, and it's her head that appears on the obverse of its coins.

Speaking to Radio Australia, Niue Premier Toke Talagi said that the coins raise Niue's global profile, but probably wouldn't result in a rush from numismatic tourists. It's not the first time Niue has experimented with collectable coins. In 2011, the Queen was joined by the likes of Darth Vader in a range celebrating the Star Wars films.

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N Korean football defeat 'cover up'

Asian Games athletes on a welcoming parade in Pyongyang Athletes were granted a welcoming parade attended by the country's political elite

North Korea's state-controlled media has ignored an embarrassing football defeat at the hands of arch-rivals South Korea, it appears.

Pyongyang's Rodong Sinmun newspaper reported a state of national jubilation at the country's medal success in the Asian Games, but there's been no mention at all of the team's defeat to South Korea in the men's football final. In contrast, there's been an enthusiastic welcome and blanket media coverage for the women's football team, who won gold with a 3-1 victory over Japan at the regional games held in South Korea's Incheon City Seoul-based newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports.

North Korean Central Television aired extensive footage of the homecoming parade for the country's athletes, who won a total of 36 medals at the games. They were met by a phalanx of Pyongyang's political elite - but not sport-loving leader Kim Jong-un, who has been missing from the public eye since 3 September. While cameras lingered on the country's gold medal winners, the male football team appears to have been entirely ignored amid a parade that "raised stormy cheers", according to state-controlled press.

With North and South Korea still technically in a state of war, and with media under tight state control, it's thought that ordinary North Koreans were not even informed of their team's opponents in the men's final.

Dejected North Korean players after losing the Asian Games football final The North Korean men's team lost to their South Korean rivals in the final

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Bid to ban Malaysia's Oktoberfest

Publicity poster for a Malaysian Oktoberfest event Some posters for Oktoberfest events have shown women in low-cut outfits

Some Muslim groups in Malaysia are trying to get the country's Oktoberfest banned on the grounds that it's offensive to the community, it appears.

An MP is heading a campaign to get the federal and state governments to halt the annual beer festival, which he describes as part of a culture of "evil and sin", Malaysia's Daily Express newspaper reports. While not denying the right of non-Muslims to consume alcohol, Nasrudin Hassan of the Pan-Islamic Party says that it "should be done privately and neither promoted nor feted any further in this way". In a Facebook post, he compared the event to "mass-promoted adultery". However, Nasrudin's PAS colleague Khalid Samad said the festival had every right to take place, as long as it was targeted at non-Muslims.

Apart from issues surrounding alcohol, one of the major bones of contention appears to be a publicity poster for the Carlsberg Malaysia-backed festival, showing a waitress in a low-cut German costume carrying six steins of beer. Publicity stunts leading up to the festival also featured Malaysian women in similarly low-cut mini-dresses in company colours.

Backing the argument that the event should be banned is law professor Datin Noor Aziah Mohd Awal, who claims that the festival is "unconstitutional" as events with alcohol cannot be organised in open spaces, the Malay Mail reports.

Still from a publicity video featuring an 'Oktoberfest bike' One publicity stunt involved a seven-seater bike and waitresses with beer steins

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Royals end camel sacrifice tradition

Two camels in the Indian state of Rajasthan Up until recently, the Tonk royal family sacrificed two camels to give meat to the local poor

A royal family in India's western state of Rajasthan has reportedly announced that it will no longer sacrifice camels as part of a religious feast.

The Tonk royal family has been sacrificing two camels every year since 1864 and giving the meat to the poor as part of the Eid Al-Adha festival. But camels have now been named the state animal of Rajasthan, making it illegal to hunt or kill them, so the family has decided to put an end to the tradition, The Hindu newspaper reports.

Despite the camels' new status in Rajasthan and an ongoing animal rights campaign to end the annual sacrifice, senior Tonk royal family member Nawab Hamid Ali Khan told the Press Trust of India had not felt pressure to end the practice. "The 150-year-old tradition ends now to save the animal and to maintain peace and communal harmony in the Tonk district," Hamid said. A male goat would be sacrificed instead.

According to census data, there are only 322,000 camels left in Rajasthan state, down from 668,000 animals in 1997. Rajasthan says a law may now be required to outlaw camel sacrifice altogether.

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Stir over 'Putin' toilet paper

A roll of VV toilet paper The locally-made toilet paper (B.B. is V.V. in the Cyrillic alphabet) has caused complaints

A brand of toilet paper is causing a stir in Crimea because its name has the same initials as Russia's president, it's been reported.

The "V.V." brand toilet paper has been criticised by customers in Simferopol because it alludes to "Vladimir Vladimirovich", the first two names of Russian President Putin, Radio Free Europe says. Russia caused international anger earlier this year by annexing Crimea after Ukraine's pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych was ousted from power. Crimea's Russian majority are fiercely loyal to Moscow, and customers found the perceived link to Putin's name difficult to take, RFE reported.

The Sevastopol News newspaper said that one user was "outraged" at the fact that the maker of the product - the Simferopol Paper Mill - had included an outline of the Crimean peninsula on the roll, the implication being that the map would be put to a potentially disrespectful purpose. However, the toilet roll may just be the result of local patriotism - the packing also says "Buy Crimean!" in large letters.

A toilet roll featuring pictures of Vladimir Putin Toilet rolls featuring pictures of Vladimir Putin are a popular novelty in Ukraine

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Iranian cleric leads prayers for rain

An Iranian woman holds an umbrella

A water shortage in Iran has become so acute that one of the country's leading ayatollahs has called on people to pray for rain, it's been reported.

In a sermon marking the Eid Al-Adha religious festival, Ayatollah Mohammad-Ali Movahedi Kermani asked for prayers for rain to be performed at every mosque in Iran, the state-run IRNA news agency reports. Kermani, who is one of the country's leading clerics, told the congregation at Tehran University that "such prayers should be performed by the righteous and the believers without sinners being present".

Drought and water shortages are current affecting eastern, southern and central Iran, with the government investing in projects to transport desalinated water from the Persian Gulf. The country is also contemplating importing water from Tajikistan and Afghanistan, while researchers will attempt to seed clouds to encourage rain, IRNA reports.

However, the power of prayer may not be enough to bring rain to Iran, with the BBC weather forecast for the coming week predicting that the dry spell is to continue over Tehran.

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South Africa police face car shortage

South African police car

South African police officers are said to be using their own cars for official duties after a spare parts shortage led to many squad vehicles being taken off the roads.

Police stations are being left without roadworthy vehicles after the Pretoria High Court cancelled a 1.96 billion rand ($173m; £108m) contract to supply spare parts to the service, the Mail and Guardian newspaper says. According to a report by the paper's amaBhungane investigative journalism team, about one fifth of police stations are already badly affected by breakdown-related vehicle shortages, with some officers being forced to use their own cars for police work.

The court ruling says that the two companies which won the tender process would be "incapable" of fulfilling the obligations, with Judge Lötter Wepener ordering that the Autozone company - which has supplied parts to the police service for the past 13 years - be immediately reinstated. However, the prospect of an appeal means that police stations have been told which companies, if any, they should approach for vehicle parts. As a result, about 1,000 police cars are off the road in the Eastern Cape alone, shadow police minister Dianne Kohler Barnard claimed.

The shortage of police vehicles comes at a bad time with official statistics showing a sharp increase in violent crime, including murder and "carjackings", the Mail and Guardian said. One unnamed station commander said the situation would only get worse as Christmas approached.

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'Beardless Jesus' found in Spain

Ancient plate

Archaeologists in Spain say they have found one of the world's earliest known images of Jesus. It is engraved on a glass plate dating back to the 4th Century AD, reports from Spain say.

The plate is believed to have been used to hold Eucharistic bread as it was consecrated in early Christian rituals. It measures 22cm in diameter and fragments of it were unearthed outside the southern Spanish city of Linares, ABC newspaper reports.

Scientists working for the FORVM MMX project found it inside a building used for religious worship in what remains of the ancient town of Castulo. The find made scientists "review the chronology of early Christianity in Spain", FORVM MMX project director Marcelo Castro told El Mundo newspaper.

The pieces were in an excellent state of preservation - 81% of its original area has now been pieced together by scientists.

Hands holding an ancient plate

In the image, Jesus Christ is flanked by two apostles, believed to be Peter and Paul. "The scene takes place in the celestial orb, framed between two palm trees, which in Christian iconography represent immortality, the afterlife and heaven, among other things," ABC writes.

El Mundo notes that Christ looks very different from later depictions: he has no beard, his hair is not too long and he is wearing a philosopher's toga.

Ancient plate A reconstruction of images on the plate

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Protesters build boat out of crisp bags

Korean students with their crisp packet boat

A group of four South Korean friends fed up with crisp packets that seem to contain more air than food decided to take their complaints to the manufacturer in an unusual way - by boat.

"We often feel ripped off when we find out how small the amounts are inside the inflated containers," one of the friends, college student Yoo Sung-ho, tells The Korea Times. To prove their point that there's too much nitrogen gas stuffed into the foil packs, the students built a raft by tying together 160 unopened bags of potato crisps. Then two of them stepped aboard and paddled it for 1.3km (0.62 miles) across the Han River, watched by nearly 200 spectators.

In a satirical video made ahead of their live performance, one of the student explains what drove him to demonstrate: "I bought nitrogen gas, and they gave me free snacks with it," he jokes. The manufacturers say injecting some nitrogen in the bags is necessary to protect the contents. But Korean law stipulates that at least 65% of the bag has to be food content, leaving some people unconvinced that the chip-makers are measuring up to standards.

"When I open a pack of snacks, I am often surprised to see only one third is filled with food," says housewife Choi Jin-ah, who witnessed the stunt. Another admiring onlooker, Bok Jung-hun says, "the event is meaningful. I couldn't find a way to complain about snack packs before."

The students say they never intended to start a boycott, but rather to encourage the chip makers to "laugh along, and listen to consumers' voices". They seem to have made their point. Orion, one of Korea's main confectionery companies, is promising to increase the amount of food in its snack bags - or reduce the size of the bags.

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Ukraine: Darth Vaders run for parliament

Darth Vader poster Darth Vader says "no" to war in Ukraine

Sixteen men named Darth Vader have registered to run in Ukraine's parliamentary elections.

They're among a number of candidates vying for seats in the 26 October polls who have registered under the name of Star Wars characters - including Grand Jedi Master Yoda and Chewbacca.

Their bid is supported by lavish amounts of roadside advertising strewn across Ukraine. One billboard features Chewbacca promising to "slap the hairy hand of corruption". On another, Darth Vader speaks out against war, apparently referring to the long-running crisis in eastern Ukraine. Their campaign also involves other Star Wars characters in full costume, such as imperial stormtroopers. Gearing up for the elections, they donated blood to sick children in June. "Now Ukrainian children will have some blood from fearless Stormtroopers running in their veins," said one Darth Vader.

Stormtroopers Stormtroopers visited a hospital to donate blood to sick children

Seven of the Darth Vaders, Yoda and Chewbacca were nominated for parliament by the Internet Party, which champions technological advancement and demands an end to corruption. To promote its goals, it is taking advantage of how easy it is to have one's name changed in Ukraine.

While the party's expensive campaign may look like part of a bizarre Star Wars cult, some have seen a sinister ploy to subvert democracy. "Who is spending so much money at a difficult time like this?" wondered journalist Maxim Scherbina recently. He claimed that the money may be coming from members of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych's entourage, who are desperate to return to power.

Chewbacca poster Chewbacca's electoral pledge is to "slap the hairy hand of corruption"

This is not the first time Darth Vader has stood for election in Ukraine. In April, a man going by that name tried running for presidency, but his application was rejected by the Central Electoral Commission. One official suggested that his campaign could be an attempt to make a mockery of elections in Ukraine - possibly by Russia.

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Mounties ordered to wear fur

Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police parade with British Guards (Far L) on Horse Guards Parade in central London, on May 23, 2012, The Mounties' scarlet dress uniform is not normally worn on patrol in winter

Canada's mounted police won't be allowed to alter their iconic uniform by swapping traditional muskrat fur hats for woolly "tuques", it seems.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) planned to introduce wool beanies in response to the "collective attitudes of their members and the public" about fur, the National Post reports. It said they were just as effective in the winter as fur. Officers who work in the extreme cold would have been exempt but would have only been allowed to wear fur hats that had pelts supplied by humane trapping methods.

The Conservative government has ordered the Mounties to reverse the plan, saying it was giving in to radical animal rights groups rather than upholding a Canadian tradition. "The RCMP decision, which is causing much glee among anti-fur activists, is being fully overturned. Our government will always stand up for Canada's hunters and trappers," says Environment Minister Leona Aqlukkaq, who comes from the fur-trapping northern territory of Nunavut. The force has already ordered 10,000 tuques to replace the muskrat hats.

It's not the first time the RCMP dress code has caused controversy. In 1990, Sikh Mounties won the right to wear turbans on duty. But a Mountie who was recently caught on film smoking marijuana while in uniform was stripped of his right to wear it.

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'Democracy dogs' give HK protests added bite

Momo the democracy dog Momo the democracy dog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Israel: What did King David drink?

Man picking grapes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jordan digs up 1960s Israeli spy kit

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

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

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

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

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Kazakhs in bid to save endangered dog

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

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

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

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

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

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Italy cuts MP's barbers' pay to 99K

Man having hair cut by barber

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

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

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

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

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