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18 December 2014 Last updated at 09:04 ET

Fake police guard government office

A real Chinese policeman A real Chinese policeman guarding a courthouse

A local government in north-eastern China has admitted to using security guards to pose as police officers, it's been reported.

Despite the practice being illegal in China, the Jiamusi city government in Heilongjiang Province issued security guards with police uniforms and even assigned them a rank, Xinhua news agency reports. China's People Police Law stipulates that police insignias and uniforms are for the exclusive use of the police force. But local government official Zhang Hongbin says the "officers" were brought in to cope with the growing number of complaints filed by the public. "Thousands of petitioners forcibly enter the city government building every year. The situation was out of control sometimes, even when guards were wearing police uniforms," he says.

The government in Jiamusi had been using fake police officers since 2001, according to Xinhua. One guard told the agency "I've been using this police ID number and carrying a Class Three police rank for nearly seven years." Since the revelation, city authorities have "confiscated" all the uniforms, a spokesman for the government told the Global Times, adding, "We haven't heard about any punishment." Some Chinese media have accused the government of abusing the police's authority and using the guards to deter the public from lodging complaints. "This is an unwise and illegal way of avoiding the problem", the Beijing Times reports.

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Kazakh villages in guard wolf craze

Nurseit Zhylkyshybay and his wolf Mr Zhylkyshybay says he takes his wolf, Kurtka, for walks through the village

Villagers in Kazakhstan are increasingly turning to an unusual animal to guard their land - wolves, it's been reported.

"You can buy a wolf cub for just $500 (£320), they say, and hunters are adamant that if treated well the wild animal can be tamed," the KTK television channel reports. Nurseit Zhylkyshybay, from the south-eastern Almaty region, tells the channel he bought a wolf cub, Kurtka, from hunters three years ago, and the animal is perfectly happy wandering the yard of his house. "He's never muzzled, I rarely put him on a chain and do take him for regular walks around the village. Our family and neighbours aren't scared of him at all," Mr Zhylkyshybay insists. "If the wolf is well fed and cared for, he won't attack you, although he does eat a lot more than a dog."

But wolf expert Almas Zhaparov says the animals are "far too dangerous" to keep at home. "A wolf is like a ticking bomb, it can go off at any moment," he tells KTK. "If nothing is done, the fashion could spread to wealthy Kazakhs," who might try to keep wolves in the grounds of their houses, with possibly deadly consequences, he warns. Social media users are overwhelmingly apprehensive about the trend, although a few accuse the government of failing to cull wolves in the first place. "You can't blame villagers for using wolves to fend off wolves," says one person on the Nur news portal. Another user engages in a little black humour: "The sheep are in the pen, and the wolves have full bellies - but no one can find the shepherd."

The wolf Wolves might be playful, but one expert warns keeping them at home is potentially disastrous

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Helsinki 'lacks luxury hotels'

A view over the rooftops of Helsinki The Finnish capital has hosted world leaders, but doesn't have enough five-star hotels for the MTV Europe Music Awards

Helsinki has lost out on the chance to host a major music awards ceremony because it doesn't have enough swanky hotels, it's reported.

City officials had been hoping the annual MTV Europe Music Awards would come to the Finnish capital in 2016, but organisers have decided against it, the national broadcaster Yle reports. One of the factors working against Helsinki was the lack of five-star accommodation required by the music world's glitterati, the website says. "The city would be full of major stars and very high-level guests," says Marja-Leena Rinkineva, Helsinki's economic development director. "We're talking about many dozens, hundreds of such people, who would require hotel accommodation of the highest quality." But Jari Ahjoharju from the Helsinki Tourist Board says the reasoning "sounds a bit odd". "Helsinki has organised different types of world class and large events and there was sufficient accommodation capacity," he says.

Some social media users respond to the news with sarcasm, but not surprise. "Isn't it terrible that Helsinki doesn't arrange luxury palace-like accommodation for those youngsters who think they are kings and queens of the world!" says one user on the Ilta Sanomat newspaper website. "We should let them stay in the presidential palace and parliament building - nothing else will be good enough!" Some suggest the problem is how expensive the hotels are, but one user is unmoved: "Helsinki was good enough for the world's most powerful politicians but it isn't good enough for this lot. Who cares - we're not talking about good music anyway."

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NZ police apologise to Irish

The car with the kayak strapped to the roof Not Irish: Police have admitted their mistake after identifying a Kiwi driver as a foreign tourist

Police in New Zealand have apologised to "persons of Irish descent", after wrongly identifying a man who was pulled over in his car as being from the Emerald Isle based only on his accent.

The driver, Jonathan Waters, was stopped in the northern Coromandel region for having a kayak strapped sideways to the roof of the vehicle, and police issued a statement headlined: "What were you thinking? Police ask Irish tourist". Describing him as a "visitor from Ireland", the statement also mentioned other overseas tourists who had been involved in traffic collisions. But it turns out Mr Waters isn't Irish at all, and is from New Zealand's biggest city, Auckland. He tells the Stuff.nz website the wind was to blame for rotating the kayak, and the police officer had actually been helping him to rectify the problem, rather than reprimanding him for dangerous driving.

Now police say the officer involved had assumed the man was Irish due to his accent, but hadn't checked his identity documents, the New Zealand Herald reports. "While the man was a visitor to the region, he was not Irish and as a result Waikato police wish to offer an unreserved apology to any persons of Irish descent we may have offended," says Insp Freda Grace from the Waikato District police department. No ticket was issued because, according to Insp Grace, the officer "believed she was enhancing foreign relations". A police spokesman adds that while they haven't received any complaints, they felt it was better to "front foot it with an apology".

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US group funds honeymoons to Israel

Tel Aviv skyline The trip will include a visit to Tel Aviv, the organisation says

American honeymooners could be treated to trip to Israel, as long as one of them is Jewish, it's been reported.

It's part of an initiative by a US organization, Honeymoon Israel, which wants to encourage non-Jewish partners to engage with Israel and Judaism, the Israeli Ynetnews website reports. Couples have to pay $1,500 (£950) towards the cost of a nine-day honeymoon, but the rest - about $8,000 (£5080) - will be covered for them. The trip will include visits to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and couples will be guests of an Israeli family, the report says. The aim is to build a "personal connection to Israel and to Judaism," says co-founder Avi Rubel. To benefit, at least one member of the couple has to "identify as Jewish", and one must never have been to Israel before. The programme is also open to unmarried couples who live together, and lesbian and gay couples, the Honeymoon Israel website says.

"In many places in the US, 50 to 60% of Jewish couples are in mixed marriages. This is a way to bring the non-Jewish partner closer to Judaism," says Mr Rubel. It has been compared to the Birthright Israel organization, which provides free trips to Israel for young Jewish adults around the world. Honeymooners will start arriving in 2015, with groups of couples from the US cities of Los Angeles and Phoenix being the first to benefit. But the organisation says it's raised enough cash to fund the trips for the next three years. "As far as we are concerned, it is the Jewish people's gift to the couple," he says.

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Russia TV looks to stars over rouble

Pavel Globa Astrologer Pavel Globa tells Russian viewers the rouble troubles are written in the stars

The Russian media are full of financial experts trying to explain the sharp fall in the rouble exchange rate, but one pro-Kremlin channel is predicting better times ahead - with the help of a top astrologer.

Pavel Globa, whose public career of sometimes wayward political predictions dates back to the Soviet era, tells LifeNews TV viewers that the rouble won't fall below 100 to the euro and the economy will recover by 2017. "We won't see a default in 2015, although next year won't be easy for us," he says, while repeatedly pointing out that he is "no expert on exchange rates". Mr Globa has made something of a comeback in pro-government media this year because of his 2009 prediction that Ukraine would disintegrate into three separate states.

He says the current world economic crisis began with a 20-year cycle in 2000, the year Presidents Bush and Putin were elected. All of this will end by 2020 "thanks to the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn", Mr Globa tells viewers, although he's uneasy when the LifeNews hosts remind him that he once predicted a possible third world war in 2014. "It began, but it is a cold war," he insists. Despite his popularity among some TV bosses, social media users are almost entirely derisive. "This moonstruck charlatan was saying the opposite at the start of the year," complains one person on the LifeNews website. "Let's have a witch-doctor with some drums on next," another suggests, which receives the response: "Don't worry, that will happen."

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Brits warned over UAE festive fun

A Christmas tree in a Dubai shopping centre, with a Emirati man in the foreground Pondering Christmas in Dubai? The British embassy has a poem for you

Brits spending Christmas in the United Arab Emirates are being warned to observe local customs, through a reworking of the poem 'Twas the Night Before Christmas.

The British embassies in Dubai and Abu Dhabi have adapted the poem, now titled 'Twas the Night Before Flying, to help expats and holidaymakers navigate Christmas celebrations in the Emirates without getting into trouble, the Gulf Today website reports. The original poem, published in the 1800s, tells the story of St Nicholas visiting a home to deliver Christmas presents. Where in the original not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse, the new version tells the tale of Stu Nicholas, who's "off to the Emirates, along with his spouse". He encounters customs troubles after packing banned medication, then has to face the potentially scandalous work Christmas party. "No holding of hands or Christmas kisses / Under the mistletoe despite amorous wishes," the poem reads. There's also a reminder of the potential perils of a Christmas tipple. "So time to go home after several spirits neat / But it's a crime for Stu to be drunk on the street," it warns.

"Christmas and the New Year in the UAE can be a lot of fun, but to avoid dampening the festivities, for ourselves and others, it's important to familiarise oneself with the UAE's laws and customs," says Consul General Edward Hobart. Happily for the poem's Mr Nicholas, he makes it safely home to bed: "No prison this time, just a sore head!"

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Group 'seeks Gandalf' for president

Sir Ian McKellen as Gandalf the wizard Wizard hunting: The group wants someone with Gandalf-levels of wisdom to run for president

President Alexander Lukashenko has run Belarus virtually unchallenged for 20 years, but he may face a formidable opponent at next year's elections - a wizard like Gandalf.

"Gandalf for President!" is the campaign slogan of the Belarus, My Country opposition group, which has a 50,000-strong online following, Radio Liberty's Belarusian service reports. The organisers know the wizard from JRR Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Hobbit novels doesn't qualify for election, so they're seeking a local candidate with similar qualities of wisdom and leadership. "It's a cushy job," they promise, adding that they've chosen the character because he's "a good wizard and a friend to the Hobbits, who as we know are like Belarusians" - an apparent reference to a study which suggested Belarus had a "Shire-like climate".

The group took its cue from the unsuccessful campaign by a "Darth Vader" presidential candidate in Ukraine, but the stakes are higher in authoritarian Belarus. Previous unsuccessful candidates Andrei Sannikau and Alyaksandr Milinkevich have faced arrest, persecution and imprisonment since daring to stand up to the long-serving leader. President Lukashenko is a close ally of Russia - a point not lost on the organisers, who quip that "Gandalf's" main task will be to "confront Mordor, which lies somewhere near Moscow".

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Clamp found in man after 13 years

Surgical instruments

Doctors in Kazakhstan who examined a man complaining he'd lost his appetite have found a surgical clamp lodged inside him, left over from surgery more than a decade ago, it's been reported.

The patient had been walking around with the 20cm (8in) lump of metal in his gut since undergoing an operation in the city of Shakhtinsk 13 years ago, the Novy Vestnik newspaper reports. A surgeon had forgotten to remove the clamp during an abdominal operation, but the man noticed nothing until this summer, when his wife sent him to the local clinic after he went off his food.

Doctors were initially at a loss to explain his symptoms, until they tried an X-ray scan. "I've never seen anything like it - at least not lasting this long," says radiologist Baurzhan Aibayev. "Foreign objects usually cause some sort of medical problem, but in this case he felt nothing for more than 12 years!" The Kazakh Medical and Pharmaceutical Oversight Committee tells Novy Vestnik that it won't take any steps against the absent-minded surgeon, as no one has filed a complaint, a decision echoed by the hospital in question. The patient himself is to undergo another operation to remove the wayward clamp. "It's difficult to imagine someone who's about to go under the knife picking a fight with the doctors," the paper concludes.

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Grand Mosque to get sun umbrellas

Pilgrims using umbrellas to shade themselves from the sun in Mecca Pilgrims often carry their own sun shades, but now they'll be protected by giant canopies

The largest mosque in the world is going to install giant sun umbrellas to protect worshippers from the heat, it's reported.

The Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, will get more than 300 huge canopies to provide shade in its outdoor courtyards, the Arab News website reports. The umbrellas will cover about 275,000 sq m (2.96 million sq ft) of the mosque's outdoor space to make pilgrims more comfortable during daytime prayers, after the scheme was approved by King Abdullah, the website says. Similar umbrellas are already in operation at the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, where they work like "blooming flowers", opening in the daytime and closing at night during the summer, taking less than three minutes to complete the process, the website adds. Aside from keeping pilgrims cool in the heat, they're also designed to retain warmth like a roof on chilly winter nights.

The Kaaba, a square building within Mecca's Grand Mosque, is considered Islam's most sacred site, and attracts millions of Muslim pilgrims each year. In 2014, more than two million people performed the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the mosque. Heat exhaustion and dehydration are among the main health problems faced by pilgrims, many of whom take their own umbrellas for shade.

An aerial view of the Grand Mosque during the Hajj pilgrimage The canopies will provide some relief from the sun for millions of pilgrims who visit the Grand Mosque

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Free food for obese men, thin women

Fried spring rolls

A restaurant in China is offering men discounts if they're overweight - but women pay less for being thin, it's been reported.

The Na Huo eatery in Chongqing, south-west China, is trying to attract more customers with promotions based on customers' size, the China Radio International website reports. As a male diner's weight increases, so do the discounts, and if a man weighs more than 140 kg (22 stone) then he eats for free. But it's the opposite for women, who only get their food bill covered if they weigh less than 34.5kg (5st 6lb), the website says. Promotional photos posted on the restaurant's Weibo social media page show diners being weighed with staff looking on. "Na Huo restaurant cares about fat people and thin people. Bring your fat or thin friends, eat for free," it says on the page. A similar gimmick was used by a restaurant in the US city of Las Vegas in 2010, which offered free meals to obese customers. The Heart Attack Grill served up 10,000-calorie burgers, but its owner has since told people to stay away and eat more healthily.

Most Chinese social media users find the idea funny, but one Weibo user is concerned about the rules for female diners: "A weight of 34.5kg or lower is what level of thinness?" Anyone hoping to bulk up - or slim down - to take advantage of the offer doesn't have much time. When 2014 ends, all customers will become equal again, regardless of their size.

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Stray cat enjoys $1,000 fish feast

Footage showed the cat gorging on the fish - Video courtesy RIA PrimaMedia

A stray cat got its paws on a gourmet feast courtesy of an airport delicatessen, after managing to get inside the fish counter, it's reported.

The tabby was filmed by staff at Vladivostok airport, in eastern Russia, helping itself to marine delicacies including squid and dried octopus, the PrimaMedia.ru news website reports. The cat was seen scrabbling at packaging and happily munching away on the contents. It was a costly break-in for the store's owner, who had to bin the entire contents of the fish counter, worth about 60,000 roubles ($1,000; £660). Nobody knows how the cat managed to get into the store, although according to airport staff it's a local stray and sometimes wanders into the airport.

But it seems the cat is now a minor celebrity, with "fans" lining up to visit the scene of the crime. "Our staff practically can't work because of the flow of fans," Irina Kuzmina, the shop's owner, tells PrimaMedia. "From the arrival hall, people come directly to us with questions about the cat. But they don't buy anything, they only ask questions." And some members of the public are concerned about the moggie's fate, because it hasn't been seen since being busted mid-meal. The airport has received letters from dozens of concerned people offering the animal a home, the website says.

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Reward doubled over spud sabotage

Potatoes

Police in Canada are trying to solve a case of potato sabotage, as sewing needles keep turning up inside the spuds, it's reported.

A reward for information over the crime has been doubled to 100,000 Canadian dollars (US$87,000; £55,000), according to the The News website. Needles were first found in the potatoes at the start of October, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police says it seems they were shoved into the flesh deliberately. Ten affected potatoes have been found so far, all of which came from the same farm in the eastern province of Prince Edward Island. An initial cash reward of 50,000 Canadian dollars didn't help solve the case, so the region's potato industry and local government have upped the amount, and say even anonymous tips will be eligible for the reward.

"If there is anything good that can be said to come from this mess, it is the sense of solidarity everyone has shown us," Gary Linkletter, who co-owns the farm at the centre of the case, is quoted as saying. "Hopefully the reward will help to identify the culprit and bring this tampering episode to an end." The case triggered a huge recall of about 800,000lb (363,000kg) of potatoes in the region, and prompted an investigation, which used X-Ray machines and metal detectors to try and track down the suspect potatoes, the National Post website reported in October.

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Donkey protest in central Nairobi

A crowd of people surrounding the donkeys The donkeys were all emblazoned with the same message: "We're fed up"

A herd of donkeys has been dumped in Nairobi's central business district in an apparent political protest, it's been reported.

Each of the animals was spray-painted with the word "tumechoka", which is Swahili for "we're fed up", The Standard news website reports. A lorry was seen depositing the herd in the centre of the Kenyan capital, with the driver saying he'd been paid to drop them off. It's thought the protest was against rising insecurity in the country, as the website notes the "tumechoka" slogan was used in a street protest against a brutal bus attack in northern Kenya in November. As the donkeys were unloaded from the lorry, one activist was heard shouting "we are tired of this leadership," The Standard says. The scene attracted a large crowd, according to the BBC's Robert Kiptoo in Nairobi. "Police had a hectic time trying to control the crowd, which had gathered in one of the streets to take a glimpse of the graffiti and take photographs," he says. The animals are now being looked after by an animal welfare organisation. "We have taken the donkeys to our Moroto offices and arrested some people who are suspected to be involved in the evil act," a police officer tells The Star newspaper.

Kenya's government is under pressure to prevent further violence after a string of deadly attacks by Al-Shabab militants in Kenya. The bus attack in the northern Mandera region left 28 people dead, after gunmen singled out non-Muslim passengers. In September 2013, militants attacked Nairobi's Westgate shopping centre, in a protracted siege during which at least 67 people were killed.

Police officers trying to direct the donkeys

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Tree's 'EU food decorations' looted

A before and after view of the tree The tree was adorned with EU delicacies, but they didn't last long, leaving its branches bare

A Christmas tree decorated with foreign food treats which are subject to a Russian import ban has been stripped bare, it's been reported.

Spanish mandarins, Polish apples and delicacies including prosciutto and foie gras were turned into Christmas ornaments by staff from the Russky Pioner magazine, and hung on a tree in Moscow's GUM department store. But now its tasty decorations have been stolen. "We found the tree almost bare," says editor-in-chief Andrey Kolesnikov on the magazine's website. "We gave the best of what we still had to our Christmas tree," he says, describing the theft as "cruel" and "barbaric". In August, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed a decree banning the importation of numerous food products from the EU, US, Australia, Canada and Norway, in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia over its involvement in the Ukraine crisis.

"As a human I understand it. But it is inexcusable!" Mr Kolesnikov writes. "People, come to your senses! Will you soon start to eat each other?" But many people commenting on the magazine's Facebook page appear to be confused about the unconventional decorations. "Christmas trees in Russia are decorated strangely these days," says Tatyana Senkuvene. Another user suggests next time the food should be "nailed down", but adds that it would then probably "be taken away with the tree". Mr Kolesnikov says the magazine's staff will decorate the tree again, but they're not taking any chances. This time a CCTV camera will be installed nearby.

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Chinese city burns money for power

A person's hand on piles of 100-yuan notes

A company in one Chinese city has money to burn, and is using it to make electricity, it's reported.

The power plant in Luoyang, central Henan Province, is burning old and damaged banknotes instead of coal - the first time this has been done in China, the official Xinhua news agency reports. The plant says one tonne of notes can generate more than 600 kWh of electricity, and is better for the environment than burning coal. The country's central bank, the People's Bank of China, has given permission for the notes to be burned, and says it's an efficient way to make electricity. With the province's unused paper money the company "can help generate 1.32 million kWh of electricity annually, which is equal to burning 4,000 tonnes of coal", a member of staff at the bank tells Xinhua.

Banknotes which are withdrawn from circulation in China after being worn out by handling or other damage are most commonly used to make paper products, according to the Dahe Daily news website. The idea of setting fire to the city's cash has amused Chinese social media users. "Burning money? Luoyang is such a rich city!" says one Weibo user, while another person writes: "I'm willing to go a year without electricity, please give me a pile of cash!" But one user has a craftier suggestion: "Hire me as an employee, I promise I won't take any money."

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Moscow won't see 'Eye of Sauron'

The Eye of Sauron in Lord of the Rings The Eye of Sauron won't be keeping watch over Muscovites after all

A Moscow creative art group has ditched plans to erect a giant glowing "Eye of Sauron" atop a city skyscraper, after complaints from church and city leaders.

The Svecheniye (Glow) group intended to install the Eye - familiar to Lord of the Rings fans - on a building in the Moscow-City business district. The metre-tall (3ft 3in) globe would have burned overnight in tribute to JRR Tolkien's fantasy works, but the plans have now been scrapped. "Sadly we are obliged to halt the Eye of Sauron," Svecheniye says in a press statement reported by RIA Novosti news agency, adding that it apologised for having "elicited such a public reaction". Although the "fan project" was meant to mark the Moscow premiere of the latest Hobbit film, it was not an advertising event, "nor did it have a religious or political subtext", the group says.

The denial of any religious intent follows criticism from the Russian Orthodox Church's public relations chief, Vsevolod Chaplin, who denounced the Eye of Sauron as a "demonic symbol of the triumph of evil" that might "bring misfortune upon the city". The Moscow mayor's office said they would almost certainly remove the Eye, as they had not granted their permission. But some social media users think the church's objections will actually prove to be counter-productive. "Now magic, sorcery and witchcraft will gain even more public attention," writes one reader of the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper, while another complains: "The Church thinks that it alone can put on such a mass show." One person suggests an alternative location for the Eye: "The roof of the US Embassy's the best place for it."

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NZ stops giant paint-eating snail

The giant snail and its eggs One way ticket: The snail was picked up by a couple in Madagascar, but its story ended in Auckland

A huge snail the size of a human hand has been stopped from entering New Zealand by border officials, who say it could have caused huge environmental damage.

The Giant African Snail was stopped from "sliming a path of destruction" across the country, the Ministry for Primary Industries says, noting that it could have wreaked havoc on New Zealand's crop and forestry industries. It was declared by a couple at Auckland Airport after a flight from Madagascar, where they apparently collected it from a forest. "At nearly 15cm long, it was the largest Giant African Snail many of our staff had ever seen," says ministry official Craig Hughes. And the snail wasn't alone - it had brought its family along for the ride. "When our inspector tapped the shell, a number of eggs fell out," says Mr Hughes, adding that people often mistake the snails for empty shells. The Antipodean adventure was short-lived for the snail and its offspring, which were destroyed.

The Giant African Snail is an unwelcome guest in New Zealand because it eats the paint and plaster off buildings, destroys crops, and carries a parasite which can cause meningitis in humans, the New Zealand Herald reports. While hailing from a tropical climate, it can also survive in freezing cold temperatures by hibernating. The US state of Florida has been battling against the invasive species since 2011, destroying more than 140,000 of the animals in three years.

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Quake victims need 'uplifting mail'

A couple walk through tsunami damage in Iwate in April 2011 More than three years after an earthquake and tsunami devastated parts of north-east Japan, hundreds of thousands of people are still homeless

A group in Japan has called for children in other countries to send letters to people who are still suffering from the effects of the country's 2011 earthquake and tsunami, it's reported.

Yukitaka Uritani, who organises the Genki Mail project, says survivors of the disaster still need words of strength and inspiration. He has been collecting heartening - or "genki" - letters written by schoolchildren in countries as far afield as the United States, France, and Mongolia since the disaster, a Kyodo news agency report published in The Bangkok Post says. Thousands of letters, translated by Japanese university students, were sent to shelters the north-eastern Tohoku region in 2011 and 2012, but the number dropped to about 200 in 2013.

Mr Uritani, who was himself a survivor of the 1995 Kobe earthquake, was "saved" from committing suicide in the immediate aftermath by dozens of encouraging faxes sent to him from Mongolia and China, he told Wochi Kochi magazine in 2011. Today, he says he wants to convey to the tsunami victims that "people around the world are concerned about you, you are not alone."

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Urine protest against drug test idea

Young Democrats members holding urine samples outside the council building The Young Democrats members deposited urine samples at the local council offices

A proposal to make young people in Hungary take annual drug tests has gone down badly with one youth party, which delivered urine samples to the local council in protest.

District mayor Mate Kocsis, from the ruling Fidesz party, wants all 12 to 18-year-olds to be tested for drugs, as well as politicians and journalists, the Hungary Today website reports. But the Young Democrats don't think much of the idea, so several members filled little jars with urine and took them to Budapest's 8th district council offices, where Mr Kocsis works. The group is the youth wing of the opposition Democratic Coalition party. Outside the council building, Young Democrats leader Bendeguz Koppany Szarvas told the press that the mayor should have "nothing to do with our private lives whatsoever", and accused him of seeing all young people as drug addicts.

The Fidesz parliamentary group has announced it will support the drug test proposal with some "refinements", including ensuring that parents are informed of their children's drug test results. There would also be no legal consequences for any minors who test positive, according to Fidesz MP Antal Rogan. The Democratic Coalition says the proposal would cost 40 billion forints ($162m; £103m), 400 times more than the amount allocated to drug prevention in next year's budget.

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'Spider-Man' tackles life in Cairo

A man dressed as Spider-Man hangs upside down from a rail on the Cairo metro Hanging out: Even a superhero would struggle with life in Egypt's capital, photographer Hossam Atef says

City life can be hard, but life in the Egyptian capital Cairo would even challenge a superhero, according to two of the city's residents.

Photos of a man in a Spider-Man costume carrying out everyday tasks around the city have now gone viral, Ahram Online reports. They show the comic book character running to catch a bus, negotiating Cairo's crowded streets, and even being mock-mugged. The aim of the stunt was to highlight how difficult life can be in the city, according to photographer Hossam Atef, who runs Antikka Photography. "All Egyptians are superheroes for enduring these difficulties every day," Mr Atef tells the website. Spider-Man "was exhausted" by his time in capital, according to chef Atef Saad, who donned the stretchy suit. In 2013, Cairo was ranked 122 out of 140 cities globally in a liveability study by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The photo shoot itself proved difficult, as the men were stopped several times by the police demanding to see identity documents. But most people were happy to see Spider-Man wandering the streets in his trademark red and blue suit, the men say. "Children were totally convinced that this was Spider-Man... but older men thought he was one of President Sisi's men who will bring justice to Egypt, and they kept telling him: God bless you," Mr Atef tells the Al-Watan website. "Young people like us, on the other hand, wanted to take selfies with him."

A man dressed as Spider-Man runs for a bus Running for the bus is an experience shared by city-dwellers around the world

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Taxi firm Russifies drivers' names

A taxi at night

A Russian taxi company has been changing the names of its drivers, because it says those with non-Slav names are being discriminated against.

Get Taxi says drivers with names originating in Asia or the Caucasus had been receiving lower ratings on its booking app, which allows passengers to review their experiences. As an "experiment", the company decided to Russify the drivers' identities, apparently with their permission, to see if it made a difference to people's reviews, the RB.ru business news website reports. "We don't want one driver to get a lower rating than another, just because of his name," says Get Taxi's owner Shahar Waiser, adding that all drivers have the same training and knowledge. He says the aim was to "reduce nationalism", but acknowledges it may have backfired. Mr Waiser says the company will now review its policy.

Social media users are broadly unimpressed with the move. "This is precisely a case when the customer is not right," says Moscow State University ethnologist Dmitry Oparin on his Facebook page. "If the customer refuses a driver with an 'exotic' name, he should proceed on foot." But the company may not be alone in its controversial practices. According to prominent Russian blogger Rustem Adagamov, the smartphone app for a rival taxi firm offers a "Slav driver" option at no extra charge.

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DIY pothole fixers 'told to stop'

A car drives past a pothole

Volunteers who repair potholes in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur have been told they must stop, it's reported.

A group of bikers led by actor Azlan Sani Zawawi have been filling holes in the city's roads for years, working into the small hours to make sure the task is done safely, the Malay Mail website reports. Mr Azlan says he has spent nearly 20,000 ringgit ($5,700; £3,700) of his own money hiring lorries and buying tonnes of gravel, tar and tools since starting the project in 2008. "The authorities are slow in their maintenance, often leaving the roads unlevelled and unpatched for months," he tells the paper. "I find their lackadaisical attitude irresponsible, especially when road hazards are serious dangers that could result in fatalities."

But city authorities say the volunteers shouldn't be doing the labour themselves. "Such work is the responsibility of City Hall and the public must approach us instead of carrying out such activities themselves," says Mayor Ahmad Phesal Talib. He says the work done by some private contractors hired by the council isn't up to scratch, but adds: "City Hall cannot allow taxpayers to do the council's job." The mayor has promised to speed up the time it takes to fix the potholes.

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S Korea ministry faces poster anger

The pro-contraception poster Complaints from the public ensured the poster didn't last long online

South Korea's government is under fire for a poster promoting contraception use which has been criticised by both men and women, it's reported.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare poster was meant to encourage women to "take responsibility" for using birth control in order to prevent abortions, the Korea Times website reports. It shows a young couple, after what appears to be a successful shopping trip, with the man carrying his partner's pink handbag and clutching several bags. The poster reads: "Although you leave everything to men, don't leave the responsibility for contraception to them." There was a swift backlash from social media users, with women complaining it makes them look helpless. One woman wrote: "Why do we have to be seen as so selfish and dependent?" Men were no happier, with some offended by the depiction of a man "doing chores" for a woman, like carrying her bags, and others unhappy at being painted as unreliable in the contraception department, the website reports.

The criticism was heard loud and clear in the Health Ministry, which took the poster off its social media sites. "The public responses have gone against our original intention to prevent abortion by encouraging adults to actively use contraception," says a ministry official. In November, South Korea's Labour Ministry was criticised after issuing interview tips for women which many people considered sexist. Guidelines issued online had suggested women should tell interviewers they don't mind "casual jokes about sex". That post was also deleted after complaints.

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Russian prisoners 'need jokes'

A guard standing outside a Russian prison Inmates might not ordinarily have much to laugh about in Russia's prisons

The harsh conditions in Russian jails are no laughing matter, but the Justice Ministry thinks humour could help prisoners cope with their time inside, it seems.

A proposal by the ministry's penal department says the main task facing prison staff is managing stress among inmates, and that "deploying irony and jokes" could help, the Izvestia newspaper reports. One of the department's researchers says stress-busting using humour shouldn't be considered a surprising suggestion, as prisoners aren't usually in a happy frame of mind. "You can't base relations on fear and submission alone," Vladislav Grib tells the paper, adding that conventional means of relaxation like massage and meditation are "not really practical in a prison environment".

While the idea is still only at the proposal stage, some prison psychologists have welcomed it. "Inmates need to know that they are people too. It's important not to undermine their human dignity," Mikhail Debolsky tells the paper. "Jokes and irony can help them understand things at a deeper level." But not everyone's convinced that humour is feasible in prison conditions, and some note that off-colour jokes sometimes lead to fights inside. One long-serving prison educator, who wants to remain anonymous, greets the idea with his own joke. "Imagine our report," he says. "In the last quarter we joked 150 times, laughed 149 times, and on one occasion the prisoners didn't appreciate the humour and burned the jail down. NB - we need to modernise our joke inventory."

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China cracks down on 'fake monks'

Monks hold a ceremony at a temple on Wutai Mountain Visitors flock to China's sacred temples, and now they'll be able to avoid any fakes

Temples in China will be given certificates to show they're legitimate, in an attempt to stop worshippers from being scammed, it's reported.

Religious authorities are handing out the documents to real Buddhist and Taoist temples to differentiate them from fake ones, the official Xinhua news agency reports. The move aims to prevent con-artists posing as monks from ripping off visitors at sacred sites, officials say. "There have been some non-religious sites employing fake monks who tricked tourists into donating money or buying expensive incenses," Liu Wei, from the State Administration of Religious Affairs, tells the agency. Religious sites are encouraged to hang the official documents outside so visitors can see them. Two temples in Beijing have already been granted a certificate, but the system is due to be rolled out nationwide.

Profiteering from religious activities of any kind is prohibited in China, according to Xinhua, after the authorities cracked down on the "over-commercialisation" of religious sites. In 2013, two temples were shut down on China's Mount Wutai, a Unesco World Heritage site, for hiring fake monks to fleece tourists of their cash. The two sites - one of which was called the Temple of the God of Wealth - were apparently charging too much for ceremonies and tricking people into making donations.

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Spain royal portrait takes 20 years

Artist Antonio Lopez with former Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia in front of the painting Artist Antonio Lopez unveiled the painting with former Spanish King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia

A portrait of the Spanish royal family which took two decades to complete has been officially unveiled at the Royal Palace in Madrid.

Artist Antonio Lopez, known for his meticulous approach to work, says the painting took so long because he's used to working on several pieces at once. "I wouldn't want you to think I'm lazy", he jokes in an interview with the Spanish daily El Pais. The life-size canvas shows former King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia with their children, King Felipe VI and Princesses Elena and Christina. The painter hasn't quite caught up with the royal family's most recent changes, so Queen Letizia doesn't feature. Mr Lopez says he never felt any pressure from the royals while painting, and that they just asked to be "portrayed like a Spanish family. Nothing more". But he admits that while the criteria and composition didn't change much over the years, he did get "stuck for a while on the clothes".

Jose Rodriguez-Spiteri, the president of Spain's National Heritage, which commissioned the portrait, says when King Felipe finally got to see the finished product, he declared: "We are all how we were 20 years ago!" In September, Mr Lopez told El Pais that he visited the Royal Palace every day for five hours to paint. "I do what I can, bearing in mind the difficulties the commission involves," he said. "It's a wonder I haven't ended up hating the thing."

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Italy party leader poses shirtless

Matteo Salvini on the cover of Oggi

The head of Italy's right-wing Northern League party has raised eyebrows by posing semi-naked for a magazine cover.

Matteo Salvini, who is also a member of the European Parliament, is photographed in bed on the cover of Italian magazine Oggi, wearing nothing on top except a green tie. What lies beneath the sheets is left to the reader's imagination, although the magazine prints a more revealing photo on the inside pages to accompany a wide-ranging interview on the 41-year-old's political ambitions and personal life. "I'm not asking for your votes for my physical prowess. I should go to the gym, I know," he's quoted as saying in Corriere della Sera. "But I'm willing to do anything to showcase our ideas. Well, almost anything."

The image quickly went viral in Italy, but some Twitter users seemed more unsettled than impressed by the display of flesh. "After this, I'll have nightmares tonight and for the next six months," tweets Giorgio Mantoan. And several people say a female politician would have been lambasted for making a similar choice. "What if it had been a woman MP? They would have demanded her resignation," says Michela Colamussi. Mr Salvini may have bigger problems than the public's reaction. He told Rai TV that he's able to laugh at himself, but is sure the photo will make his mother angry.

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Readers abandon 'good news' website

A man buying a newspaper from a self-service machine in Moscow Bad day for good news: Readers of one Russian news site were unimpressed with happy headlines

There's a reason why so many local newspapers focus on crime and accidents - and a website in southern Russia has found out the hard way.

The City Reporter, based in Rostov-on-Don, says it lost two-thirds of its readers after deciding to publish only good news for just one day. "Do you feel like you are surrounded by negative information? You don't want to read the news in the morning?" the website had asked its readers. "Do you think good news is a myth? We'll try to prove the opposite tomorrow!" On 1 December, as promised, the website carried only positive headlines. "No disruption on the roads despite snow," declared one. Another announced that an underpass would be built in time for Victory Day.

But as uplifting as they were intended to be, the good news stories sent readership numbers plummeting. "We looked for positives in the day's news, and we think we found them," wrote deputy editor Viktoriya Nekrasova on Facebook. "But it looks like almost nobody needs them. That's the trouble." The following day, the City Reporter decided to return to more reliable staples: car crashes and burst water pipes.

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Court orders 'new face' for victim

Women hold banners at a march protesting violence against women in Ankara Violence against women in Turkey is increasing, according to women's rights groups

A court in Turkey has ordered the state to pay for a domestic violence victim to get a new identity - including giving her plastic surgery to change her appearance.

In a landmark ruling, the court in the western city of Izmir said the 20-year-old woman should be given a new identity in order to escape her abusive ex-boyfriend, according to The Daily Sabah website. She had already been granted a restraining order against the man after suffering "constant violence, threats and pressure", the website says, but the violence continued. In 2012, Turkey passed a law aimed at preventing violence against women, which gives judges the power to grant complete identity changes when a person's life is considered to be in danger. But according to the Turkish press this is the first time plastic surgery has been included in a ruling.

"Measures should have been taken to stop the man's violence, but this did not happen," the victim's lawyer is quoted as saying in the Hurriyet Daily News. "Of course, she is happy that she will leave that stressful life behind. But she is upset that she has to change her physical appearance," he says. The woman will also be given a new address, and change the university she is attending, with all costs being covered by the state. Despite legal advances, women's rights groups say violence against women in Turkey continues to rise. According to a report by the independent news agency Bianet, more than 200 women were murdered by men in 2013, and 66% of them were killed by partners or ex-partners.

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Prostitutes hike prices over rouble

A board showing the rouble exchange rate above a street

Prostitutes in the Russian Arctic port of Murmansk have unexpectedly hiked prices for their services by up to 40%, blaming the tumbling rouble exchange rate for their decision, it seems.

They also want to peg the cost of services to the dollar in the longer term if the situation doesn't improve, sources at one brothel tell the local FlashNord news agency. Two hours with a prostitute in Murmansk cost 3,000-7,000 roubles ($57-132; £36-84) before the price rise, the agency says. The management of another brothel says it's "trying to keep prices down, but the cost of living is rising and the girls can't work at a loss". The rouble has lost more than 40% of its value against the dollar and 60% against the euro since the start of the year, as a result of Western sanctions over Russia's involvement in the eastern Ukraine insurgency and a fall in oil prices.

Russian social media commentators are having a field day over the news, with some getting in digs at the authorities. "Putin - learn about the economy from the Murmansk prostitutes", tweets Andrei Negotov. Others, including Alexander Sitnikov on the NTV website, think the prostitutes should show some patriotism and "raise their rates for foreigners, in reply to sanctions".

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Dumped cars blight Saudi city

Abandoned cars No spaces: People in Jeddah are fed up of abandoned vehicles

Hundreds of abandoned cars are causing problems for residents in one Saudi city, it's been reported.

Dirty, rusting vehicles are littering the streets of Jeddah, on Saudi Arabia's Red Sea coast, the Arab News website reports. The problem has left locals struggling to find parking spaces in residential areas, and some are worried it's "disfiguring the beauty of the tourist city", the website says. While abandoned cars are apparently given tickets to warn owners that they'll be fined, this seems to have had little effect. Local resident Muhammad Al-Hamadani says: "It is very difficult to find an empty parking space in any neighbourhood, or around public facilities such as gardens, because of the abandoned vehicles taking up precious space." Parking aside, the cars also provide homes to unwelcome rodents and insects, the website says.

Jeddah reportedly has the highest number of abandoned cars in the country. Some locals blame the authorities for failing to deal with the problem, but a spokesman for the local government tells Arab News that car owners don't report discarded vehicles. In 2013, around 900 vehicles were removed from Jeddah's streets in three months. At the time a city spokesman told Arab News that some cars had been involved in crime, but most "are old and have problems that would cost huge amounts to fix", causing them to be dumped.

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Panda diplomacy heading for Israel

Two young pandas eating bamboo From China, with love: A gift that few people would want to return

Panda diplomacy will soon be arriving in the Middle East, after China agreed to gift two of its much-loved bears to Israel, it's been reported.

A zoo in the northern city of Haifa will become home to the new arrivals, according to the Israel Hayom website. Haifa recently signed a twinning agreement with the Chinese city of Chengdu, home to a famous panda breeding centre. Aside from being cute and cuddly, the city's mayor thinks pandas are also a potent anti-racism symbol. "It is black, white, Asian and still beloved and adored by the entire world," he tells the website. While Israel Hayom is excited about the "extraordinary gesture", the Haaretz newspaper sounds a note of caution, saying the deal won't be officially sealed until Chinese officials are happy that conditions are perfect for the precious bears. Zoo staff must now visit Chengdu to learn about panda care, and they'll also have to build a special panda compound that meets with Chinese officials' approval.

China has given bears to other countries for hundreds of years in order to strengthen diplomatic ties, but the pandas are only on loan. Typically they are given away for 10 years, although any cubs born while abroad can be called home sooner, as happened to American-born Tai Shan in 2009. But if everything falls into place at Haifa's zoo, "Israelis risk the danger of melting into helpless puddles of love," Haaretz says. "We're game. Beijing, bring it on."

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Russian sex education 'ruled out'

Pavel Astakhov

Russian schoolchildren will never receive sex education classes, if the presidential children's rights commissioner has his way.

Russian students currently don't receive any sex education in schools, and Pavel Astakhov says introducing such classes would go against the country's morals and traditions. "I am often asked: when will you have sex education? I say never," he said during a meeting with parents, according to the Interfax news agency. Mr Astakhov said his counterparts in Europe see him as an "ideological enemy" for his views on the subject, but that he intends to continue co-operating with them at international meetings.

Since taking up the role in 2009, he has repeatedly made headlines for his staunch stance against introducing sex education into Russian classrooms. In 2013, he suggested that international agreements on protecting children from sexual exploitation could lead to the "destruction" of Russian children, because they require young people to be educated about abuse. The commissioner's preferred method of sex education involves reading fiction. "The best sex education there is, in fact, is Russian literature and literature in general," he told the Rossiya 24 news channel last year. "Children should read more. Everything is there, all about love and about relationships between sexes," he said.

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Schoolgirl applies to lead council

Kemijarvi's town hall Ten-year-old Mili Kasurinen wants Kemijarvi town hall to be her new office

A 10-year-old girl has applied to become a town council leader in Finland, it's reported.

Primary school student Mili Kasurinen wants to head the council in Kemijarvi, the country's northernmost town, the Yle news website reports. She's up against 18 adults for the job, but tells Yle her application is as serious as all the others. "I made it clear that this is not some sort of joke to be laughed at," she says. "I asked them to read my application through to the end." Her ideas to revitalise the finances of the town include creating an online teaching system to educate children from home, which could be sold to other municipalities. Asked how a 10-year-old could balance work with education, Mili says she would go to school for half the day, then "run down to the town hall and start working hard there too". And as a part-time worker, she says she'd also accept half the advertised salary.

Her ambition has been greeted warmly by many commenting on the story in Finland. "I am raising my hat to you. This is exactly the future for Finland," says user Matti57 on the Kaleva newspaper website. "If we had young people, really young, in every county's decision-making bodies, the world may look like a different place." Another says: "Excellent, Mili. I would vote for you if I could." But Mili herself isn't keen on filling the council with people of her own age. "If everyone was aged 10 to 15, the whole thing would go a bit loopy," she says.

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Poland's first gay mayor shuns limo

Robert Biedron speaks in the Polish Sejm assembly Mr Biedron is already Poland's first openly gay MP

A newly-elected Polish mayor says he'll reject the three limousines at his disposal and travel to official engagements by bicycle, it's been reported.

Robert Biedron, who is already a member of Poland's parliament, is said to be the country's first openly gay mayor and MP, Polskie Radio's English-language news website reports. He won the mayoral election in the northern city of Slupsk in the second round of voting, despite initial opinion polls giving him little chance of victory. The city's debts mean he will "lead a very modest local government, as this town is modest", Mr Biedron tells Polish news agency PAP. "The three limousines which are available to the mayor will no longer be mine, as I go everywhere by bicycle," he says.

Mr Biedron, who is a noted gay rights campaigner and member of the liberal Your Movement party, told the Associated Press that his election shows just how much Poland has changed in the last 10 years. Historically a deeply conservative country dominated by the Catholic Church, a number of candidates in the recent elections revealed their sexuality in what's been dubbed "the Biedron effect" by local media. Mr Biedron had previously courted controversy in 2007, when his Campaign Against Homophobia posted billboards deliberately using terms of abuse for gay and lesbian people in Poland.

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Indian funds 'fatherless weddings'

Brides and grooms gather under gazebos at the mass wedding The couples and their guests gathered under decorated gazebos at the mass wedding

An Indian diamond trader has paid for more than 100 fatherless women to get married, it's reported.

Businessman Mahesh Savani hosted a mass wedding for 111 couples near the city of Surat, in the western state of Gujarat, the NDTV website reports. All of the women came from "humble" backgrounds and had lost their fathers, so wouldn't have been able to finance the nuptials themselves, the website says. On top of paying for the ceremony, Mr Savani, who describes himself as a "foster father" to the women, also shelled out on gifts worth up to 450,000 rupees ($7300; £4600) for each of them. "We gave them gold and silver ornaments, utensils, electronics items, clothes and all the expenses related to marriage," he says. He's also committed to paying for "post-marriage expenses", including maternity costs. Mass marriages are common in India as a way of cutting down on costs for poorer couples.

Mr Savani says he began funding weddings several years ago, after an employee died 12 days before he was due to marry off his two daughters. "I do not ask for any donations for the mass marriage. This is my endeavour, as there is nothing more pious than giving away a daughter in marriage," he was quoted as saying in The Times of India. One of the brides told the paper: "He is like a father not only to me but my brothers and sisters as well. I thank God for sending a person like him into my life."

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Russian police take 'mum selfies'

A selection of images from the selfie photo gallery Warm and fuzzy: Russian police officers have been saying thank you to their mothers

Russia's police officers have been taking selfies with their mums, in an apparent bid to increase public trust.

The initiative was announced by the Interior Ministry as part of celebrations for Mother's Day, which is observed in Russia on 30 November. More than 2,000 photos were submitted by officers across the country, the ministry says, and many have been published in an online gallery. "These are very gentle and warm selfies in which officers record themselves with the people dearest to them - their mothers," the ministry says on its website. Police officers have to show "total commitment" to their jobs, and need the support of their nearest and dearest, it says. "Maternal support is very important, especially for young officers who are just embarking on the profession."

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny tweeted an image of what appeared to be a letter instructing police officers to take part. It says seeing police with their mothers will "increase public confidence" and help the "formation of a positive image of the police". Officers were told to wear their uniforms in the photos, and were also asked to include a greeting for their mothers. "Mum - you gave me so much... my life and my wide road in life. The sky and the grass, the fields and the towns," one officer says. "Be proud of us and do not worry about us." Another simply writes: "Thank you for good upbringing. And for the tonnes of porridge every morning!"

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Agency mistakes waxwork for prince

The wax statue of Prince William Not the real deal: Prince William's wax statue had one news agency fooled

A major Japanese news agency has admitted that a photo it published of Prince William was actually of a waxwork statue.

Jiji Press had intended to publish an image of the smiling Duke of Cambridge alongside a story about his planned visit to Japan in February. But instead, a photo of his wax counterpart from the Madame Tussauds attraction in New York was sent out, The Asahi Shimbun reports. The error wasn't picked up until the following day, when a different member of staff noticed the photo was not as lifelike as perhaps first thought.

"The photo was not that of the real McCoy but rather that of a wax figure," Jiji Press said in a correction. It said the mistake happened when an employee did not carefully read the English caption underneath the photo, which indicted that the image was actually of a lifeless wax replica. The agency has since apologised to its readers. "It's a very embarrassing mistake," Naoto Takamura, from Jiji's editorial department, was quoted as saying in The Japan Times. The photo in question was taken in October, when the New York attraction unveiled wax figures of Queen Elizabeth II, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, and Prince Harry.

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Lanzarote plans underwater museum

One of Taylor's existing underwater installations Taylor has already installed his sculptures off Grenada and Mexico

The Canary Islands plan to host Europe's first underwater museum, but it's a scheme that has run into local opposition, it's been reported.

British sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor, who has designed similar installations in Grenada and Mexico, has signed a contract with the government of the island of Lanzarote to arrange his ensembles on the seabed off Las Coloradas Beach, near the popular resort of Playa Blanca. He chose this site because the "amazing seascapes" will provide a "gateway to the Atlantic and encourage people to love the planet more through an understanding of marine life", reports the local Voz de Lanzarote newspaper.

The cement artworks, some modelled on local people, are designed to attract plant life and colonies of sea creatures. The Museo Atlantico Lanzarote will take two years to complete, wholly funded by the local government to the tune of at least 700,000 euros ($875,000; £500,000), with 2% of revenues earmarked for ecological research.

But not everyone is happy, the paper reports. Opposition parties of left and right complain that the public coastline authority has not been consulted, and some islanders question whether the money couldn't be better spent on healthcare.

Statues in Jason Taylor's Lanzarote studio Statues await installation in Taylor's Lanzarote studio

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Extinct giant penguin found in shed

Emperor penguins in a Japanese zoo watch a man in a penguin suit The new species would have been taller than today's Emperor penguins (right)

A giant penguin that would have towered above today's largest species has been discovered in a New Zealand university's storage shed, it's been reported.

The fossilised bones of the as-yet unnamed bird had remained in storage at Auckland University since 1971, until the advent of 3D printing helped experts confirm that it was "almost certainly" a new type of giant penguin, Radio New Zealand International reports. The new technology meant that Dr Daniel Thomas was able to scan the bones to an American palaeontologist, and they were able to determine the bird would have stood at least 30cm taller than an emperor penguin, and taller than the extinct Kairuku penguin, whose remains were identified in 2012. "I imagine an emperor would have run away scared," Dr Thomas said, pointing out that he was still unsure if the 4ft 3in (1.3m) specimen was a juvenile or an adult.

The New Zealand Herald said that the new species was the first of its kind to be found on North Island, and the specimen dates back 28 million years to a time when New Zealand was largely underwater. The storage shed at the university may still yield other discoveries, Dr Thomas said. "It turned out there was a raft of other specimens as well - it was a treasure trove of some really incredible stuff," he told the paper.

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Azeris angry over Euro Games mascots

The two mascots, Jeyran and Nar Jeyran is a symbol of natural grace, Nar has a pomegranate for his head

Sports fans in Azerbaijan are dismayed at the official mascots for the 2015 European Games in Azerbaijan, it seems.

The choice of a gazelle and a boy with a pomegranate for his head have been dismissed as "disgusting", "shameful" and "a disgrace" by people commenting online. However, organisers say the gazelle, Jeyran, is a symbol of "natural beauty, grace and purity", while her pomegranate friend Nar is "sun loving and playful", and apparently grew up outside the city of Goychay. Some commenters pointed out that the pomegranate is actually a symbol of Nar Mobile, one of the event's commercial partners.

It's been suggested that the organisers would have been better off taking inspiration from Azerbaijan's rich history, and some Azeris lamented the fact the mascots aren't wearing the colours of the country's flag: blue, red and green. But several voice concerns that there was no open artistic competition to design the mascots - as often happens in other international sporting competitions - and that the organising committee is headed by Azerbaijan's first lady, Mehriban Aliyeva. She also led the organizing committee for the Eurovision Song Contest held in Baku in May 2012.

"The pomegranate looks like a bighead, the gazelle looks like a fox," one comment said on Radio Free Europe's Azeri Service Facebook page. "We neither need this Olympics nor its poorly drawn symbols," said another on the same thread. "To be honest, it simply shames me that such unfortunate illustrations have become the symbols of our Olympics," says a user on the 1news.az Facebook page. "Azerbaijan is a rapidly developing state with one of the most beautiful capitals in the world. Will foreigners associate Baku with this bulb?"

The 2015 European Games, to be held in Baku between 12-28 June, will be the first edition of a multi-sport event involving the National Olympic Committees of 49 nations, including Great Britain. Azerbaijan plans to spend $1.2bn (£762m) on the Games, and about 6,000 are expected to compete.

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TV aims to 'bust cannabis myths'

A man holds up a sign at a pro-cannabis legalisation rally in Chile

A new TV channel has gone on air in Chile with the aim of winning support for the legalisation of cannabis.

Cultiva TV will broadcast once a week, and wants to persuade viewers about the alleged "medicinal, cultural and spiritual" benefits of marijuana. It's being run by a plant feed and cannabis equipment company called Pos240, the Santiago Times reports. Its first episode saw the Cultiva team visit Amsterdam and Barcelona to investigate European approaches to regulation. They also interviewed a Chilean sufferer of muscular spasms, who says medical marijuana treatment alleviates her symptoms to the extent that she now competes in indoor climbing championships - without any of the side effects of conventional treatment. Cannabis remains a Class A drug under Chilean law, although there is some leeway for individual consumption and the sale of seeds. Cultiva TV's programme opens with a statement saying it doesn't advocate illegal activities.

Chile has among the highest figures for marijuana consumption in Latin America, at 4.2% of the population, according to the country's narcotics agency. "There's a revolution brewing," says Cristian Ansaldo, the director of Pos240. "It's more than probable that from here in Latin America a global change towards home-growing will lead to a noticeable reduction in cannabis smuggling."

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Lawmakers seek peaceful smoking spot

Protesters camped in a street near Hong Kong's Legislative Council Protesters continue to occupy roads around Hong Kong's Legislative Council

Popping out for a cigarette break is a necessity for many office workers, including members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council.

But recent pro-democracy protests in the city have left some politicians with a dilemma: where to smoke in peace? Lawmakers who are considered "pro-establishment" have been forced to abandon their regular smoking spot, just outside the entrance of the Legislative Council building, after Occupy Central demonstrators set up camp there and hurled insults at them, the South China Morning Post reports. Thousands of people have been occupying the streets of central Hong Kong since September, in protest at restrictions on who can stand for election as the region's leader in 2017.

Now the council's smokers have found a new spot, which the paper describes as "a quiet corner outside the car park". "When I smoke there, I won't be insulted," says Wong Ting-kwong, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong. Smokers from the pro-democracy factions have been able to stay put and light up free from insults, he points out. But not everyone is a fan of the new car park hangout. Mr Wong says one colleague prefers to walk a little further to the more scenic setting of Fenwick Pier.

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Israeli Arab 'second class' protest

Sana Jammalieh's Facebook profile picture embossed with the "second class citizen" stamp Sana Jammalieh has been flooded with requests from people who want their profile pictures stamped

Hundreds of Israeli Arabs have stamped their Facebook profile pictures with a "second class citizen" passport stamp, to protest at the country's proposed Jewish nation-state law, it's reported.

The protest was started by graphic designer Sana Jammalieh, who works in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Haaretz reports. She changed her own photo in opposition to a bill which would officially grant national rights only to Jews in Israel. The bill is strongly supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who emphasises that it would still grant individual rights to non-Jews. Arabs comprise about 20% of Israel's population and have long complained of social, legal and institutional discrimination. Ms Jammalieh, who defines herself as a Palestinian citizen of Israel, has been inundated with requests from other people to have the stamp, designed with her business partner Haitham Charles, added to their own Facebook pictures. But she doesn't think the protest will necessarily have much effect. "What's new here? We were never first-class citizens. At least now you have said it out loud," she tells Haaretz. "I prefer that they tell us directly and not pretend we live in a democratic country," she says.

Student Hanin Majadli, who also changed her profile picture, describes the bill as "contemptuous" and tells The Times of Israel that a Facebook campaign could garner media attention, which might influence politicians. "It's a brilliant campagn. It's dramatic, it's in your face, it's provocative in a good sense," she says. "It's better than just having members of Knesset talk on the podium all day."

A photo of Hanin Majadli's dog embossed with the "second class citizen" mark Student Hanin Majadli also changed a photo of her pet dog

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Beijing shop 'bans Chinese people'

Shoppers on a street in Beijing

A clothes shop in Beijing has caused an outcry after putting up a sign banning Chinese customers, it's been reported.

The store is embroiled in a racism row after posting a sign which reads: "Chinese not admitted, except for staff", the official Beijing Youth Daily reports. By way of explanation, one of the shop's employees tells the paper some Chinese customers are "too annoying" and that "Chinese women often try lots of clothes but end up buying nothing." The shop was also forced to pay a foreign customer $5,000 (£3,170) after his wallet was stolen, and surveillance camera footage showed a Chinese customer was responsible, the employee says. But another member of staff suggests the ban is actually to prevent rivals from copying the shop's clothing designs.

The sign has caused uproar on Chinese social media sites, with one Weibo user asking: "Is this still China?" The disbelief was shared by others on the site. "Bullying on my own doorstep," says one person, who wonders why the owners would open a shop in China if they don't want Chinese customers. "This type of shop should be closed down," declares another Weibo user. But a legal expert tells the Beijing Youth Daily that while the sign is discriminatory, the shop's owner hasn't broken the law because China doesn't have a legal ban on racial discrimination.

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Three years to study Kim Jong-un

North Korean school children at the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun mausoleum in Pyongyang

Students in North Korea will have to complete a three-year course on the country's leader, Kim Jong-un, as part of their secondary school studies, it's been reported.

The new course was introduced to the curriculum this year, according to South Korea's state-owned KBS World Radio website. The radio station says it has obtained a copy of the North Korean Education Committee's "compulsory education outline", which establishes "the history of Kim Jong-un as an official school subject". Schoolchildren will have to complete 81 hours of study over three years, the report says. There aren't yet any textbooks that could help them understand the leader's life, so classes are instead taught using materials from the ruling Workers' Party of Korea. "The classes are also said to be teaching Kim's quotes, theses and orders he gave to the ruling party and military," the website says.

While there has been relatively little trace of a personality cult surrounding Kim Jong-un since he took power in December 2011, some observers say the new classes could signal the start of one. Children in the North's schools are already required to take courses on several key political personalities, including 160 hours of study on the country's founder, Kim Il-sung.

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Passengers 'push frozen plane'

The passengers pushing the plane Homeward bound: Frozen brake pads were no match for these passengers

Passengers due to take a flight in Siberia had to get out and push the aircraft after its brake pads froze solid, it's reported.

The plane was trying to take off from the Russian town of Igarka, but was unable to move after the temperature fell to -52C, the RIA Novosti news agency reports. Passengers on board the flight, many of them shift workers, apparently offered to lend a hand, fearing that otherwise their journey home would be delayed, The Siberian Times reports. The Katekavia airline flight later took off and landed safely in the city of Krasnoyarsk. "According to the initial account, the air temperature dropped to -52C, and the braking system in the plane's landing gear froze in the parking position," Oxana Gorbunova, a senior aide at the Western Siberia state transport prosecutor's office, tells RIA Novosti. "The pushback tractor was unable to budge the aircraft onto the taxiway, and the passengers decided to help give it a push, which is not permitted, as this can damage the aircraft skin." Prosecutors are now checking whether the airport, the airline, the crew or the passengers broke any air safety laws.

Igarka lies 100 miles (160km) north of the Arctic Circle, so chilly winter temperatures are not unusual. But -52C is significantly colder than normal; the average low temperature is closer to -30C. Igarka's airport is a regional airline hub used by 100,000 passengers a year, many of them working in Russia's Arctic oil and gas fields.

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Mexican amnesty for toy weapons

A Mexican girl holds a toy gun in south-western Guerrero state Toy weapons are being traded in for educational games

Children in a violence-scarred province of Mexico are turning in toy weapons for more non-violent types of toys, it's reported.

A few thousand children exchanged toy swords, rifles and even real knives for football and basketball equipment, in a government campaign, The News website reports. A local official in the state of Nuevo Leon, Patricia Salazar Marroquin, says it will help promote a culture of peace and teach kids about the negative symbolism of violent toys. "These actions remove the incentive for the use of violent games and promote family time," Salazar Marroquin says. Yo-yos, jacks, spinning tops and Lego are being given out to promote learning.

One of Mexico's wealthiest cities, Monterrey has been plagued in recent years by drug-related violence. Shootouts, robberies and extortion hit a spike after a local leader of the notorious Zetas organized crime group was detained in 2010. In Mexico City two years ago, real guns were swapped for children's toys and cash in another scheme to try to curb violence.

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Tourists flock to 'see democracy'

Supporters of Taipei mayoral candidate Ko Wen-je take part in carnival parade Taiwan's communist neighbours are being invited to join the party at election time

Chinese tourists are flocking to Taiwan to see democracy in action, it's been reported.

Taiwan's local elections for city mayors and other municipal posts are apparently raucous affairs with plenty of shows, food and giveaways, and the 29 November polls have become a tourist attraction for people from mainland China who want to "enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere", Hong Kong daily Ming Pao reports.

There's even a "visitor's guide" to the elections circulating online, with do's and don'ts for those wishing to get a feel for Taiwan's unique electoral culture, Huanqiu Shibao newspaper adds. "If you want to meet a particular political star, go to his or her electoral headquarters. They will give you a detailed itinerary of the candidates' campaign," the guide published by sino.com news portal says. But it also cautions visitors not to help the candidates campaign, warning that they could face deportation if they get too involved. Even wearing green or blue, the colours of the two main political parties, could have unintended consequences.

Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou says the tourists are drawn to Taiwan "because there are no such lively elections in the mainland", according to Hong Kong's Apple Daily. In communist China, local posts are generally elected by the People's Congress. Since the 1980s there have been some experiments with direct democracy in villages and townships, but state media regularly highlight incidents of vote buying and bribery in grassroots elections, giving the impression that democracy is a flawed concept.

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Anger at 'no single women' signs

Restaurant sign barring single women A human rights group says signs banning single women are widespread

Restaurants in Saudi Arabia have been asked to remove signs which forbid entry to single women, it appears.

The request comes from the kingdom's National Society For Human Rights, which says the signs on the doors of eateries are "illegal", the Arabic-language Al-Hayat newspaper reports. A restaurant owner says he put up the signs because of "numerous incidents" of flirting. "We'll only remove these signs when we make sure such incidents never happen again on our premises," he told the paper.

NSHR spokesman Khalid Al-Fakhri tells the Saudi Gazette that restaurants have no legal right to exclude single women from their premises, or insist that they are in the company of a guardian. "These signs are against the law and reflect the personal opinions of the restaurant owners," he says, urging establishments to devise alternative arrangements if they think that customers are behaving inappropriately. The paper quotes one woman as saying, "If they're going to ban us from entering restaurants, where are we supposed to go?" - pointing out that restaurants are some of the few establishments where Saudi women can go unaccompanied.

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Residents riled by smelly nuts

Gingko seeds The pulp surrounding gingko nuts is infamous for its foul stench

The annual spectacle of Japanese gingko trees in autumn is being soured by the foul smell of fallen nuts, it's been reported.

Some residents in Japanese cities are complaining about the stench of the fallen fruit, leading to local governments trying to find ways of solving the issue, the Mainichi Daily News Reports. When fresh, gingko nuts are considered a valuable part of Japan's food culture, but the butyric acid in the pulp surrounding the nut results in a smell that's said to resemble rancid butter, vomit or an extremely pungent cheese. It's made worse by the vast avenues of gingko trees planted in Japanese cities known for their spectacular yellow canopy in autumn. Some 570,000 trees have been planted around the country, Mainichi says.

While only female gingko biloba trees produce nuts, it's difficult to distinguish between male and female saplings. That means of the 1,000 or so in one of Japan's best-known gingko sites in Osaka, a quarter are females, meaning employees work night shifts shaking the nuts out of the trees to pass to local residents, Mainichi Daily News says. In Kawasaki, government employees gave out nuts for free at a municipal event. However, the smell remains an issue, with one official saying that the stench is something people just have to learn to live with: "We've always just accepted it as something that we can't do anything about."

Japanese gingko trees in autumn Gingko trees are famed for their spectacular autumnal display, but at a cost

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UAE ban on laundry, wild animals

Migrant workers hang their laundry from balconies in Dubai Drying laundry is deemed a "misuse" of residents' balconies

Residents in Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates have been told they can't put out their laundry on balconies nor own "dangerous predator animals", it's been reported.

There's been a two-week campaign in the emirate's largest city, handing out fines of 500 dirhams ($136; £87) for people who "misuse" their balconies for storage purposes, hanging satellite dishes or putting out laundry, the Gulf News reports. Officials say the campaign is not about revenue-raising, but is solely aimed at "maintaining the beauty of the city". Some residents disagree, saying that hanging out their laundry in the sun reduces the carbon footprint of owning a dryer.

Exotic pet owners in the emirate have also received bad news, after Sharjah's ruler Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi issued an order prohibiting possession of "dangerous predators", state news agency WAM reports. According to the Sheikh's ruling, dangerous animals are banned in homes and farms, "whatever the purpose of the acquisition is", with the threat of a 100,000 dirham fine ($27,000; £17,000) hanging over offenders. A 2013 report in The National newspaper said that cheetahs, lions and tigers are readily available to buy in the UAE, and can fetch sums of up to 50,000 dirhams.

Cheetah cub Cheetahs are said to be readily available as exotic pets in the UAE

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Polynesia's billion dollar claim

A French nuclear test at Mururoa Atoll in 1971 France carried out scores of nuclear tests in the Pacific region

An overseas territory governed by France is to ask Paris for nearly $1bn in compensation for damage caused by nuclear weapons tests, it's been reported.

The assembly of French Polynesia, based in Papete, has prepared a demand for $930m (£594m) over the 193 tests carried out by France in the South Pacific between 1966 and 1996, Radio New Zealand International reports. The ruling Tahoeraa Huiraatira party, which opposes independence from France, is also demanding an additional $132m for the continued occupation of a pair of atolls used for nuclear testing but which still not been returned.

French Polynesia is a territory comprising more than 100 islands and atolls with its own government, but is still part of the French Republic. At the end of French nuclear testing in 1996, former Polynesian president Gaston Flosse negotiated a $150m annual payment to support the country's economy.

The billion-dollar claim is not universally popular in Papete. Current president Edouard Fritch said he was unaware of the assembly's demand and was "disappointed" at plans to ask Paris for the money, Radio New Zealand reported.

A French recording facility on Mururoa Atoll French Polynesia still carries the scars of nuclear testing

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Writing lessons give way to typing

A handwriting exercise book in a classroom

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

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

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

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Wheelchair protest blocks car spaces

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

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

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

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

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Police in toastie mercy dash

A toasted sandwich

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

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

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

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'Drone football game' fuels anger

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

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

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

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

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Russia's oldest McDonald's reopens

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

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

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

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

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Berlusconi makes free cinema pledge

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

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

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

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

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Man's 71-year-old banknote rejected

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

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

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

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

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No foreign reporters in pricey Nauru

An view of Nauru from the air

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

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

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

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'Comrade' survives China rules blitz

A view of a Communist Party of China National Congress

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

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

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

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App 'discourages smartphone use'

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

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

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

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

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'Police reindeer' option for Arctic

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

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

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

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

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Canadian parade 'impostor' charged

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

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

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

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

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