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21 July 2014 Last updated at 17:08

Protesters 'evict' Vancouver from park

A First Nations protester in Oppenheimer Park, Vancouver A spokeswoman says many of the homeless people are First Nation members

Homeless people camping in a Vancouver park have been facing eviction by the city council - but now Canada's First Nations say it's the officials who should go.

"We've decided to send an eviction notice to the city," says Brody Williams of Canada's Haida Nation, the Global News website reports. The notice comes after the campers were told to leave Oppenheimer Park at the weekend.

Williams says a recent court ruling shows some of Vancouver's land was never formally handed over to the Canadian authorities - and the First Nations still hold the title. "This is unceded territory, and we are very concerned about the way the city is treating the homeless here," he says. The Musqueam Nation also signed the notice, and a spokeswoman tells the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation many of the homeless are First Nation members.

It's the latest twist in a dispute over a development programme for Vancouver's Downtown Eastside neighbourhood. Protesters say the city isn't providing enough housing for people in need. But the city says it is trying to find decent housing for the homeless, and that camping in city parks is just not allowed.

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Phone app to stop drivers texting

Driver texting at the wheel

As texting at the wheel becomes an increasing concern, scientists in Finland say they've come up with a way of getting drivers to concentrate on the road.

VisGuard, a smartphone app developed at the University of Jyvaskyla, aims to get drivers to put their phones down while driving by flashing a warning triangle onto their phone screens if they spend too long looking at the device, the Helsinki Times reports. The app also uses location and speed data, and images from the phone's camera, to know if a potential hazard has appeared on the road.

"The app can give advance warning of a zebra crossing, crossroads or a tight bend," Researcher Tuomo Kujala tells Helsingin Sanomat newspaper. "In tests, drivers paid 15% more attention to the road when using it," he says, although he admits there is a "small risk" the app might actually encourage people to use their phones to identify dangers.

But Kujala says a ban on using smartphones in cars simply isn't working - the Finnish Road Safety Council reports more than half of Finns use their phones while driving, and up to a third admit to texting at the wheel. VisGuard only works on Android phones at present, but the team hope to develop a free version for all systems later this year.

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Tokyo launches samurai and ninja tour

Samurai and ninja actors stage a fight on the streets of Tokyo

Japan's largest travel agency is launching a bus tour around Tokyo that will feature flying ninjas and sword-wielding samurais, it seems.

The hour-long Samurai and Ninja Safari tour begins with a guided visit to key sights in the Japanese capital, according to The Japan Times. Then it moves on to the historic Asakusa entertainment district, where street performers dressed as samurai warriors and black-clad ninjas leap out of the shadows as the bus cruises by.

JTB travel agency and the SGRS events planner say that at one point there will even be a fight between the historical characters. "As the samurai and ninja battle in Asakusa, passengers can enjoy it from inside the bus - it's theatre in motion," Kazuhiro Kumade of SGRS says. The ride is reminiscent of New York's popular tour called The Ride, which includes theatrical performances along the bus route. Tickets for seats on the Tokyo tour with the clearest view cost £40 ($68), a little cheaper than the New York experience.

Samurai warriors and ninja spies and saboteurs are iconic figures from the Sengoku civil war period in 15th Century Japan. Contrary to their popular image ninjas did not routinely dress in black, but rather were masters of disguise.

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Azerbaijan funds dig at Roman Forum

Imperial Forum, Rome

The government of Azerbaijan has reportedly donated 1 million euros (£790,000) to the Italian capital, Rome, so it can begin excavating the city's Imperial Forum.

The plans, spearheaded by Rome Mayor Ignazio Marino, are to eventually create an archaeological park in the middle of the city by linking the Imperial Forum to other Roman forums built by the emperors Augustus, Caesar, Trajan and Nerva, the Ansa news agency reports.

The donation from Azerbaijan would fund the first phase of the project - digging for artefacts under pedestrian street Via Alessandrina - and connect the Imperial Forum to Trajan's Forum for the first time. "We believe we'll find sculptures and key architectural fragments," says city archaeology suprtintendent Claudio Parisi Presicce. Meanwhile, the city will continue fundraising and the mayor says he is in contact with Italian and international philanthropists.

Mayor Marino has made it a priority to preserve Rome's ancient heritage, and last year he restricted traffic on Via dei Fori Imperiali - a road running from the Imperial Forum to the Colliseum. This year it will be off-limits to cars between 28 June and 31 August.

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Giant rubber duck lost in China flood

People gather to see the yellow duck in Taiwan People gather to see the giant bath toy in Taiwan

A giant yellow rubber duck floating on Nanming River in China's south-west Guizhou Province has reportedly been swept away by floodwaters just months after it exploded on display in Taiwan.

The 18m (59ft) sculpture by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman disappeared around 19:00 local time on Wednesday, after the city saw days of heavy rainfall, the Taiwan-based Want China Times reports. Even though the duck weighs 1 tonne, and was sitting on a 10 tonne metal platform lashed to the riverbed with steel wires, it was easily dislodged by the storm. "The duck flopped over and was flushed away really quickly by the torrential flood," exhibition co-ordinator Yan Jianxin tells the Wall Street Journal's China Real Time blog. "It disappeared right in front of me."

It's the latest mishap for the yellow duck, which burst while on display at a port in Taiwan and deflated during its exhibition in Hong Kong. The duck has been on tour since 2007, popping up in cities including Sydney, Sao Paulo and Baku as a way of bringing people together.

Yellow duck on tour in Sydney Earlier, the duck was on show in Sydney

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Seoul city workers 'can nap at work'

Sleepy office worker Many people lose focus after lunch... perhaps a quick nap would help?

The city government in Seoul, South Korea, will reportedly let workers take an afternoon nap, in an effort to boost productivity during the summer months.

From 1 August, Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) employees will have the option to sleep for an hour between 13:00 and 18:00, as long as they make up the time by arriving to work early or leaving late, the Korea Times reports. It is thought to be the first time such a scheme has been introduced in the country, the paper adds. "Employees can use lounges, conference rooms and other places to rest," a spokesman for City Hall says. "The city government will spend more money next year to create more rest areas for employees."

It isn't clear how many people will actually take time off to snooze because they have to make up the lost hour of work - and many people already use their lunch breaks to sleep. If employees do want a nap, they will have to let their supervisors know in the morning, and arrive at 08:00 or leave at 19:00, since all SMG employees are required to work from 09:00 to 18:00, the Korea Observer says.

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S America's first opera house reopens

The restored ceiling at Teatro Colon, Bogota Teatro Colon in Bogota is older than a famous theatre with the same name in Buenos Aires

Colombia's Teatro Colon, the oldest opera house in South America, is opening its doors after more than six years of restoration, reports say.

The theatre's official reopening takes place across three evenings on 25, 26 and 27 July with performances from Colombian dancer Fernando Montano, a soloist at the Royal Ballet in London. Montano has invited underprivileged children to attend the dress rehearsal on 24 July, the Colombia Reports website says.

The grand old theatre in Bogota's colonial district closed its doors in 2008 so that the building could undergo a number of important upgrades. State-of-the-art sound and light technology was donated by the government of Japan, and the Italian government sponsored the work of one of its most eminent restorers, Ruggero Martines, the Bogota-based City Paper website reports.

The 122-year-old theatre has also had seismic reinforcements fitted, and now offers disabled access as well as a new electrical grid for better lighting. The building's opulent ornamentation has been cleaned and re-scuplted, but correspondents say the most impressive achievement is the meticulous restoration of the ceiling mural.

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'Missing' adverts for Belarus drone

Newspaper advert looking for lost drone

The military in Belarus has placed an advert in a local newspaper to seek the public's help in finding a lost drone, it appears.

"An unmanned aerial vehicle belonging to the Byaroza army base was lost while on a flight at 17:00 on 10 July 2014," says an advert in Mayak, a newspaper based in Byaroza, a small town in the Brest Region. Whoever finds the drone is "kindly asked" to telephone in with the information. The Interfax news agency did call the Belarusian army and was told that, a week after it was lost, the drone had not been found.

The picture in the advert suggests the missing done is a Russian-made Irkut-3 aircraft. The website reported earlier that drones of this type were delivered to the base in 2013. The Irkut-3 is equipped with several cameras, can stay in the air for about one hour and cover distances of about 15km (9 miles).

Tomin, a website based in Brest, points out that the military are right to be worried about losing the drone, as they will face a criminal probe if they do not find it.

Soldiers with a drone Drones were delivered to the Byaroza base in 2013

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NZ teenage girl plays men's rugby

April MIller

An 18-year-old girl in New Zealand has reportedly joined a men's rugby team and is playing competitively with them.

April Miller has already played "four or five games" for Pukerau Rugby Club, an amateur team, The Southland Times reports. Miller, whose uncle played rugby for New Zealand's national squad, the All Blacks, says she was worried she would have to give up rugby after graduating from school as there are no teams for women in Southland, New Zealand's southernmost region.

But one afternoon while watching Pukerau play rugby she asked if she could join them. To her surprise, the team said yes. "I thought they were only joking but they weren't," Miller says. "They found me a jersey so we went from there."

The club's president Jack McIntosh says Miller plays lock position well. "She's an aggressive tackler, a good ball carrier - she doesn't hang off," he says. While Miller hasn't scored a try this season, she says she has "stopped a few - that's my fame", adding that other all-male teams seem happy to play against her.

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Italian beach offers 'dog ambulance'

Dog playing at Bibione beach The beach organises lots of events for dogs

A pet-friendly Italian beach has introduced an ambulance service for dogs, to treat four-legged companions feeling ill in the heat.

Bathers at the seaside resort of Bibione, near Venice, can ring a helpline called Mi Fido di Te - the Italian for "I trust you" - and volunteers equipped with oxygen, dressing kits and a microchip reader will tend to the dog, local paper Corriere del Veneto reports. Local authorities have said it is most common to see dogs suffering from sunstroke or dehydration, or who injure themselves while playing on the sand, the Ansa news agency reports.

In serious cases, pets can be stretchered from the beach to a veterinary clinic, the Adnkronos news agency says. The service is free, but the volunteers accept donations to help cover costs. Bibione resort already has a range of canine facilities, including showers, beds and leashes, as well as Pluto Beach, which is especially for dogs.

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Beijing marathon 'public peeing' ban

Runners in the 2013 Bejing Marathon seen urinating on the walls of the Forbidden City (file) Pictures from last year's event caused outrage

Organisers of the Beijing Marathon have said runners will be disqualified if they're caught urinating in public, apparently after dozens of people relieved themselves on the red walls of the Forbidden City last year.

Contestants who exhibit "uncivilised behaviour, such as relieving oneself in public and littering" at the 42km (26 mile) race in October will be banned, the organising committee says on its website, and participants who break the rules may face extra punishment from the Chinese Athletic Association, says the South China Morning Post. The ECNS news site reports official advice for runners explicitly warns against urinating on "red walls".

Pictures of runners lining up to relieve themselves on the former imperial palace - a UN world heritage site - caused public outrage last year. But veteran marathon runners say unscheduled loo breaks are tolerated at races across the world, and former participants say that in Beijing it had almost "become a tradition" to urinate on the red walls. Plus, there were reportedly very few toilets catering to more than 30,000 runners taking part in the marathon. Organisers now say they will ensure enough toilets are available this year.

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South Africa thieves 'steal railway'

Empty trackbed left by metal thieves in Nigel, Gauteng Province, in July 2014 The new end of the line...

Metal thieves in South Africa have stolen nearly 10km (6 miles) of working railway track, causing about $2.3m (£1.3m) of damage, it's emerged.

Chunks of track were stolen over the course of several months from a line used to take trains from Johannesburg to a depot in the town of Nigel, The Star newspaper reports. Five men have appeared in court after being "caught in the act" by the security guards who patrol the track, the paper says.

"They're experts. They're not making mistakes," says Thumbu Mahlangu, a member of the local transport committee. Rail spokesman Mike Asefovitz agrees: "These aren't the little guys. To take this kind of weight and to cut it up you need specialised machinery." The stolen rails are reportedly worth about $120,000 on the scrap metal market.

The theft has left 34 brand new train cars stuck at the maintenance plant just as they were due to be put into use, and the depot now fears for its future with about 700 jobs potentially at risk. In South Africa, metal theft is a serious problem costing the economy hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

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Soap politician told to clean up act

Promotional image for the Indonesian TV soap God Seekers Politician Deddy Mizwar (right) takes a leading role in SCTV's God Seekers soap

An actor-turned-politician has been told to stop appearing in soap operas and concentrate on his job, it appears.

Deddy Mizwar was one of Indonesia's most recognisable actors before trying his hand at politics and becoming deputy governor of West Java representing the Islamist Prosperous Justice Party. However, the country's Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) has told him to stop appearing in a soap opera and "concentrate on serving his constituents", Indonesian news website Kompas reports.

According to the Jakarta Globe, Deddy has been appearing in popular Ramadan series "Para Pencari Tuhan" (God Seekers) for the last eight years on the SCTV channel, playing the role of a pious father figure, and the anti-corruption body is asking him to declare any income and advertising endorsements he's received from his acting work. "We will determine whether or not it is corruption," KPK chief Giri Suprapdiono is quoted as saying.

The moonlighting politician has the backing of his boss, West Java Governor Ahmad Heryawan, who defended the right of his deputy to hold down two jobs. Ahmad said that he's earned additional income as a conference speaker while holding office, with his own second income split between himself and charity. "There is no prohibition to act in a soap opera," he said.

Wondering what all the fuss is about, Deddy told told Kompas that he's ready to declare any money he's earned outside political office. "I always report every year," he said, "And I'm ready to report if the KPK really needs me to."

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Danes 'dislike paying' for ex-princess

Princess Alexandra of Denmark weds Second time around: Alexandra marries photographer Martin Jorgensen in 2007

People in Denmark are annoyed that they are still paying annual support for a former member of the royal family, a newspaper claims.

The Danish tabloid BK says that up to 65% of people answering a recent poll disliked the fact that Countess Alexandra still receives 2.1m kroner ($383,000; £223,000) from the state despite marrying outside the family in 2007. A further straw poll on the paper's homepage gave an overwhelmingly negative reaction of 78% from over 55,000 votes.

Reacting to the results, political academic Lars Hovbakke Sorsensen said that now Alexandra had a less important role in Danish society "people simply don't think they should spend money on her anymore". Danes would rather the money went towards the Australian-born Crown Princess Mary, Sorsensen said in comments published by The Local website.

Now styled the Countess of Frederiksborg and the mother of Princes Nikolai and Felix, Alexandra married into the royal family in 1995, but divorced Prince Joachim 10 years later. Her marriage to photographer Martin Jorgensen does not change the annual payment she receives from the state.

The former Princess Alexandra is not without her supporters. Soren Espersen of the populist right wing Danish People's Party told BK that "royals are in a class apart" and that she should be able to use state money give the young princes "the upbringing they deserve".

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Chinese told: Beware bearded men

A Chinese poster warns of the dangers of terrorism "Terrorism is the enemy of all mankind"

Posters have appeared in a southern Chinese city warning citizens against helping bearded terrorists, it appears.

The images were posted in public places in Liuzhou in south-central Guangxi region, and were spotted by local blogger Liuzhou Laowai. Describing the posters as "crude" and "racist", the writer says they show the stereotypical image of ethnic Uighur militants from Xinjiang province, who have been blamed for a number of deadly attacks across China.

One poster, showing a police officer confronting two bearded men armed with swords proclaims "Terrorism is all mankind's enemy", and is a clear reference to attacks at transport hubs which have claimed a number of lives. Another warns against helping suspects to flee the country, showing a concerned citizen dialling the 110 emergency number, as a rough-looking minibus driver accepts money from shifty bearded men for a ride. Authorities in Guangxi's neighbouring Guangdong province recently offered rewards of up to $80,000 (£47,000) for tip-offs on terrorist activity.

There's rising concern in China about the violent campaign by Uighurs which has spread across the country, manifesting itself mainly in attacks on citizens at railway stations and other public places. The mainly Muslim Uighur people see themselves as closer to Central Asia, and object to mass immigration of Han Chinese into Xinjiang province and the curtailing of their rights. Beijing, on the other hand, says Uighur militants are waging a violent campaign for an independent state through terrorism.

Chinese anti-terrorism poster "Helping terrorists flee the country is a crime"

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An even louder call to prayer

The Grand Mosque in Mecca

An extensive sound system has been installed at Islam's holiest site to make sure worshippers can hear prayers several miles away, it's been reported.

About 4,000 loudspeakers have been set up in and around the Grand Mosque in Mecca, meaning that pilgrims during the peak Ramadan and Hajj seasons experience "first-class sound quality", the Jeddah-based Arab News reports. According to Faras Al-Saadi, the mosque's operations director, the speaker system has a range of 9km (5.6 miles), and is windproof, "meaning sound will remain crystal clear even in rough weather".

In addition, green and white lights have been installed on top of the Mecca Clock Tower to inform the faithful of prayer times. At 601m (1,972ft) high, the Abraj Al-Bait clock tower is the third tallest free-standing building in the world, and the lights can be seen 30km (18.6 miles) away, "helping worshippers with hearing difficulties", Arab News says.

In April, Mecca authorities say they expected a 15% rise in the number of Ramadan visitors this year, with the Grand Mosque doubling the floor capacity of some areas, and installing an additional 3,928 toilets for the comfort of its visitors, Arab News said. Around 1.5 million visit Mecca during Ramadan, with even more expected to perform the Hajj pilgrimage in early October.

The Al-Bait clock tower in Mecca Mecca's Clock Tower

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Japan's elderly warm to living dolls

Women at a day centre interact with Kabochan toys Women at a day centre interact with Kabochan toys

Japan is seeing a surge in sales of talking dolls that help elderly people stave off loneliness and perhaps even dementia, it seems.

Several companies have developed childlike dolls that go beyond repeating set phrases to conduct a range of basic conversations. They have become a hit with many pensioners and earned some scientific plaudits too. Nobu Komatsu, 86, told Kyodo News Service about her Oshaberi Makun (Talking Makun) - a doll that recognizes certain words and responds in the voice of a five-year-old boy. "After spending about a month with this boy, I started to feel affection for him and cannot leave him alone. I feel more positive and talk more often," she said, patting Makun's head.

Others dolls include Yumenoko Neruru (Child of Dream Neruru), which sings 50 songs, Unazuki Kabochan (Nodding Kabochan), and Primopuel, which calls owners by their name. The Bandai company that developed Primopuel initially targeted 20-something women, but was surprised to see it take off among the elderly. Executives think young people are buying the dolls for relatives they don't have the time to visit.

Kabochan's manufacturer Pip had Osaka City University Graduate School of Medicine conduct a test in 2012 in which one group of elderly ladies was given the talking doll and another a silent version, Asahi Shimbun reported at the time. Cognitive skills like memory and judgment improved in the group with the talking Kabochan. "The robot could help prevent dementia," said Osaka team member Masaaki Tanaka. Neurologist Kimihiro Yoneyama agrees: "Speaking is the easiest way to stimulate your brain... and the dolls may provide an alternative for people who are unable to hold regular conversations."

The Japanese government concedes that loneliness is a problem among the country's elderly. A 2012 study showed that around a quarter of pensioners who live alone may go days without having a conversation with another person.

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NZ fights 'plague' of stoats and rats

File image of a stoat New Zealand has declared war on the European invader

The New Zealand government has given the go-ahead for the poisoning of "a plague" of rats and stoats which it says threatens the country's native wildlife.

A controversial bio-degradable poison, called 1080, is to be dropped onto one million hectares (3,861 sq miles) of forest to kill the pests, TV New Zealand reports. Government figures suggest that without intervention the rat population could increase tenfold this year to 30 million. The rise is attributed to a heavy fall of seed in the country's extensive beech forests.

It's thought that once the forests' supply of fallen seeds is exhausted, the predators will turn on native birds. According to Conservation Minister Nick Smith, the lives of millions of kiwi, kaka and kea birds are at stake. "Our kiwi will not exist in the wild for our grandchildren if we do not act now," he said.

The use of 1080 is opposed by some environmental groups. Campaigner Nicky Calcott told the New Zealand Herald there's little proof of the "plague", and said that 1080 has also been known to kill the endangered kea bird, native only to New Zealand's South Island. However the government, which has sunk NZ$21m (£10.8m; US$18.5m) into its "Battle for our Birds" programme over five years, insists that setting traps for millions of predators is not a viable or practical option. "People are dreaming if they think we can do this without poisons like 1080 - you can't trap 30 million rats," Dr Smith told Radio New Zealand.

Stoats, introduced to the islands by European settlers in the 19th Century, pose a greater threat to avian populations and number around 25,000, New Zealand Herald reports.

New Zealand's kea bird New Zealand's kea bird is one of the species threatened by predators

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Canine intuition 'saves Ukrainian troops'

Soldier with a dog

Ukrainian border guards say they have adopted a stray dog who saved their lives from separatist rebel attacks.

The mongrel wandered into the Dovzhanskyy border post in the east of the country a few days ago, looking for food and shelter. The troops adopted the dog, naming her Zhuzha, and soon had their generosity repaid, it seems. "None of the border guards doubts that Zhuzha has a sixth sense. She feels another mortar attack coming half an hour before it happens, and harries her adopted owners into taking cover," the Ukrainian Border Service says.

One soldier, called Serhiy, says Zhuzha has saved his life three times already, most recently on Wednesday night when she started barking ahead of an attack that left five soldiers injured - two of them seriously. "It could have been a lot worse, if it weren't for Zhuzha," he said. The dog gets VIP treatment from all the guards, as there's little prospect of an end to the shelling, the Border Service reports.

The guards wrested control of Dovzhanskyy from the rebels at the start of July, but still come under regular fire from pro-Russian armed groups. The infrastructure of the border post has been almost totally destroyed as a result.

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Across Europe by tractor

Old tractor with caravan

Iceland has welcomed a Swiss man who is making a grand tour of Europe - on a 54-year-old tractor.

Reiner Huttasch, a theatre technician from the town of Bellach, is making his retirement dream come true by travelling around Europe on his Buhler tractor, made in Switzerland 54 years ago. He reached the Icelandic port of Seydisfjordur by ferry from Denmark, and plans to circumnavigate the North Atlantic island's scenic coastal road.

So far he has spent 10 weeks driving through Germany and Denmark, and plans to move on to Britain, Belgium and France before returning home. Mr Huttasch expects the round journey to take six months, and told Icelandic TV he is spending a full six weeks of this in Iceland because the elderly tractor is slow - it averages 20km/h. He spends the entire time on the road and has no need for hotels, as he lives in a small wooden house that he tows behind the tractor. He built the home over the course of three years, and services the tractor himself.

He told the Swiss newspaper Grenchner Tagblatt that he's "always been fascinated by the far north, with its untamed nature. I'd rather spend my summer holidays in a thick sweater than in swimming trunks on a beach in Spain". Asked whether his family minded his absence, he said, "On the contrary, they were constantly asking when I'm going to leave."

Mr Huttasch's travels have aroused considerable interest on Iceland's media, with the tourism guide association even putting his story up on its its website. Not everyone is delighted by his visit, though. One reader complains that Europeans in large off-road vehicles, equipped with sleeping quarters and their own food, bring "nothing to our economy and often leaving deep tracks in our fragile landscape". Others point out that plenty of Icelanders go off-road themselves, and the antique tractor is unlikely to leave the well-trodden path.

Main in front of tractor Reiner Huttasch with his Buehrer tractor

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Russian MPs get their own 'Facebook'

Russian parliamentarians

Russia is launching a social network for members of parliament and local councils, it is reported.

Members of the public will only be able to read their exchanges online, but not contribute to them, Izvestia daily says. It adds that parliamentarians can also invite lawyers, economists and pundits to join the Parliamentary Portal, as it's called.

The aim is to improve cooperation between MPs and councillors at a time when "the political agenda is very difficult", says the lower house's deputy speaker, Igor Lebedev, who leads efforts to set up the social network. There are some 245,000 members of local councils and assemblies across Russia, and it is vital that they talk to each other, Mr Lebedev adds.

Given the large number of potential users, "serious steps" are being taken to make sure there are no fake accounts, Izvestia writes. To set up an account on the social network, MPs and councillors will have to provide administrators with their parliamentary ID number and also links to their personal web pages. Once a member loses their seat, their account will be deleted.

The project has been met with scepticism and even mockery from some quarters in Russia. "In addition to special canteens, hospitals and holiday homes, they are now setting up a social network for MPs. What the heck," said one Twitter user with thousands of followers.

Photoshopped picture showing a Russian  MP in a wheat field Parodies of the Parliamentary Portal have now started appearing

"That's right, the ruling elite needs to be separated from the impoverished people on the web, too," said Sandy Moustache, a political satire account.

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Copenhagen offers free bike puncture repairs

Cyclist in Copenhagen Copenhagen is already seen as one of the world's cycling capitals

Copenhagen city council has launched a free bike repair service in an effort to get even more people onto bicycles, it is reported.

A bike mechanic can now be despatched to the Danish capital's more remote housing estates, where locals tend to use cars or public transport to get to work, The Copenhagen Post newspaper reports. The repairer will fix the residents' bikes and repair punctures free of charge, so there will be no excuse for leaving the bike in the garage, the paper says.

The project is part of a wider scheme aimed at reducing car traffic in the capital. Some 5m Danish krone (more than £500,000; $900,000) has been earmarked for the scheme in 2012-15, reports say.

But not everyone is in favour the new project. "It's a strange thing to spend tax money on. Repairing punctures is not one of the city's central services," Copenhagen City Council member Jens-Kristian Luetken told Metroxpress newspaper. The money would be better spent on education or services for the elderly, he suggested.

But Morten Kabell, Copenhagen's deputy mayor for technical and environmental affairs, was unswayed. "Of course it isn't one of the city's central services to repair punctures," he was quoted by Metroxpress as saying. "However, it's our responsibility to ensure clean air for Copenhageners and maintain their health."

The Danish capital is already seen as one of the world's most cycle-friendly cities, where around 60 percent of all residents take the bike to and from work or school every day, The Copenhagen Post says.

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Is the 'last dictator' turning on Russia?

Alexander Lukashenko

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko prefers to speak Russian in public, but recently delivered a key speech in the long-neglected Belarusian language. Does this mean he's turning his back on the Kremlin?

Often dubbed "the last dictator in Europe", Mr Lukashenko has marginalised Belarus during his 20 years of authoritarian pro-Russian rule, and generally uses it only to mock the nationalist opposition. So his speech in Belarusian on the eve of Independence Day set many observers wondering whether he's decided to rehabilitate national pride. It wasn't just the language he spoke, but what he said - warning that those who "encroach on the unity of the nation" are enemies, whether they come from the West or the East.

Alexander Yarashevich writes in the opposition Belorusskiye Novosti newspaper that Mr Lukashenko is "scared by Russia's annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine", and is trying to distance himself from Moscow through "soft Belarusification" - especially as recent opinion polls show growing aversion to union with Russia. Mr Yarashevich said a statue to the 14th Century Lithuanian hero Grand Duke Algirdas, unveiled in Vitebsk last month, annoyed pro-Russians (Algirdas frequently besieged Moscow). Local governor Alexander Kasinets praised the grand duke for laying the "foundation stone of Belarusian statehood" and made it clear that the president approved of the statue.

Most analysts agree nonetheless that this is a tactical move, rather than a change of presidential heart. Opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich welcomed the speech, but said "so far it's just a trend, not a strategy". Writer Yury Drakakhrust agrees, saying Mr Lukashenko played up national sentiment during previous rifts with Russia, only to return to his usual pro-Kremlin rhetoric later: "Lukashenko is trying to amalgamate Soviet and non-Soviet Belarus, picking and choosing as he goes along." Mr Drakakhrust adds that the president's rule remains a "trap for Belarusian statehood".

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Myanmar: No map tattoos below waist

Tattooed woman in Myanmar Tattooing is a deep-rooted tradition in parts of Myanmar, also known as Burma

Myanmar citizens have been told that tattooing a map of the country below their waist could earn them a three-year jail sentence.

A regional judge also warned that it could attract a fine equivalent to $300 (£175), according to Mizzima website.

Map of Myanmar

"We can accept this symbol tattooed on the upper part of the body because it might demonstrate the wearer's pride in their country, but a tattoo on the lower part disgraces the country's pride," said Mandalay Region Advocate-General U Ye Aung Myint. He was speaking at a Mandalay Region assembly meeting convened to discuss recent communal violence in the area.

The advocate-general had been asked to clarify if any action could be taken against those with a map of Myanmar tattooed on "an inappropriate part of the body".

U Ye Aung Myint replied that anyone with such a tattoo could be prosecuted under the Union Seal Law, which is designed to protect all parts of the country's coat of arms, including the map of Myanmar at its centre, the official said.

"Although the Myanmar map is an abstract image it has gracefulness and we should prevent such disgrace befalling the country," U Ye Aung Myint said.

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'Death threats' at boules championship

Men playing petanque

One of the world's most prestigious petanque championships has been hit by scandal after one team pulled out complaining of death threats, it is claimed.

The incident reportedly took place when a team from the northern town of Marchiennes was winning a match of petanque - a form of boules - at the World Petanque Championship in Marseille, the southern city seen as the game's cradle. But when the trio from Marchiennes were 11-6 ahead, their adversaries - who were from a town just outside of Marseille - allegedly threatened to kill them if they reported their win to the referees.

"They threatened to kill us, rip our heads off," Anthony Laruelle, one of the northerners, told France 3 TV. "They said that they would crack the heads of the three of us."

One of the southerners then strolled over to the referees' table and reported their supposed win, according to Mr Laruelle. The stunned petanque players from Marchiennes decided to pack up their boules and board the next train home. The team from the South lost in the next round, France 3 TV reports.

"This sort of incident happens quite often in petanque," the tournament's organisers are reported to have said.

Others take a slightly different view of the game. "Petanque is a game many in France might associate with daytime boozing and elderly men," says The Local website, "but some take this quintessential Gallic pastime quite seriously, it seems."

The traditionally French game of petanque has enjoyed a surge in popularity worldwide in recent years. The World Championship in Marseille reportedly brings together 13,000 players from 20 countries, as well as some 150,000 spectators.

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Is praying bad for the knees?

Many Muslim men knelt down in prayer

Soaring obesity rates and a kneel-to-pray culture have put Muslims in the United Arab Emirates among the most common sufferers of knee problems, it is claimed.

The tradition of praying five times a day, coupled with the pressure to the knees caused by carrying extra weight, have triggered demand for knee-replacement operations, reports The National, an Abu Dhabi daily.

"If you are kneeling several times a day for the whole of your life, you are putting a huge strain on a joint that is not designed for that," Dr Peter Birch, a surgeon at Abu Dhabi's Mafraq Hospital, tells the paper.

Religious practices in the UAE could also mean that the anatomy of locals' knees is different from people in "non-kneeling" countries, it is suggested. "Because they kneel from a very early age we think it actually grows in a different shape because of the praying," Dr Birch tells The National.

In an earlier report looking at the problem of what is known as the "Arab knee", the paper said that Arabs appear to injure knees earlier and more often than people in other parts of the world. According to the report, a recreational football player in the UAE is five times more likely to suffer a serious knee injury requiring surgery than one in Europe or the US.

The claims set off a lively debate on social media, with one commentator wondering why most of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims do not suffer from knee problems if praying was so harmful. In a subsequent editorial, The National said: "Praying alone is unlikely to lead to degenerative knee problems in many, but overeating probably will."

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Kiev faces parking crisis

Kiev parking attendant

It's hard to find a parking space in the Ukrainian capital Kiev at the best of times, and it looks like a government decree banning valet parking could be about to make it worse.

Most parking in Kiev is kerbside or in small spaces, presided over by the ubiquitous parking attendant with his roll of tickets and satchel full of loose change. Amid frequent complaints that these parking lots block traffic and overcharge drivers, the cabinet has ordered Kiev City Council to replace them with pay-on-entry car parks, advance-purchase tickets and mobile phone apps. The council can expect hefty fines if it doesn't provide the ticket machines and online services in question, Kiev Vlast reports.

The council's chief legal officer, Lesya Veres, told Mayor Vitali Klitschko that the committees responsible for roads, safety and transport infrastructure must sort the problem out fast if the cash-strapped city isn't to face a head-on collision with the government. The danger is that the parking spaces may vanish along with their attendants, because the council can't afford to install meters. But the council's headache may not necessarily daunt Kiev's famously bold parkers. Their creative solutions to ever-decreasing spaces are already celebrated in social media, such as the Facebook page "Parking Heroes".

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Iranian 'flag' dresses upset critics

Iranian models

A fashion show in Tehran has upset Iranian authorities by using variations of the national flag and pictures of animals in its designs, it's reported.

Models at the World Cup-themed show were sent down the runway draped in garments based on flag designs, animal logos and sport motifs. Conservative TV channels covering the event criticised the clothes and were also not happy that men were in the audience. Two studios who organized and designed the show have been cautioned by the authorities, according to Iran's state-run Channel One TV.

"We cannot ignore insults against the word Allah and our holy flag," an article in the conservative Javan newspaper said. It called the event a "fashion house of Western banality" and said that the clothing did not live up to the religious and cultural standards of Iranians.

Some critics took particular issue with a design which altered the calligraphy of the flag. "Eliminating the 'Allah' emblem from the flag and replacing it with the photo of an animal which is said to be the Iranian panther, and making indecent and ugly clothes with this altered flag to show what has to be concealed and to attract the attention of unrelated men does not leave much to say," Javan commented.

The agency behind the show, Violet - which describes itself as the "first Iranian modelling agency" - originally planned it with the support of the National Fashion and Clothing Foundation, which is part of the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry.

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Maori heir in video controversy

King Tuheitia during his coronation King Tuheitia Paki

A video has been released in New Zealand showing an expletive-filled rant by one of the Maori king's sons.

Korotangi Paki, the second son of King Tuheitia, is apparently seen in the two-year-old video clip swearing at classmates, the New Zealand Herald reports. The clip was uploaded onto a Facebook page set up to express anger at the 19-year-old, who recently escaped jail on burglary and drink-driving charges.

The Facebook page, titled "Send the Maori king's son to jail" has attracted more than 25,000 likes. After the now-deleted video was shared on the page, its administrators warned members to avoid posting racist views over the treatment of the king's son: "We do not promote racism nor have we expressed racist values... This page is for people to understand that injustice is common over all aspects of New Zealand's judicial proceedings." However, royal advisor Kirk MacGibbon was angry at the emergence of the clip after two years, saying, "This has turned into a smear campaign. The person who released it has done it for his own purposes."

A former Maori affairs minister told 3News TV he thought the judge acted leniently because Paki would need an unblemished criminal record if he were to ascend to the throne. . Dover Samuels said the decision to leave the king with "the widest possible choice" for his heir "wouldn't go down well with some of my nephews (in prison)". Meanwhile, legal reform group Rethinking Crime and Punishment said that Paki's "public shaming" was punishment enough for the young man.

The affair has led to "family crisis talks" over the 19-year-old who is to become a father later this year, the news website says.

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Russians ride tanks at festival

A photo of the festival goers taken from the website of Russian daily Kommersant

Revellers at a Russia's biggest rock festival had a chance to sample some military hardware between musical acts at the weekend, it seems.

People eagerly took the opportunity to "drive tanks and learn how to defend Russia", Russian news channel Life News reported. The pro-Kremlin station said the tanks were an "emerging tradition" at the Nashestviye open-air festival, which has been going since 1999. Ten years ago, the defence ministry-sponsored event moved from around Moscow to the Tver Region, an area of lakes and historic towns to the north.

People were "thrilled to see so much military hardware" at the festival, NTV reported, adding that girls in bikinis took photos of the tanks while Russian troops politely explained how the equipment worked in combat conditions.

Not everyone thought that patriotism and rock music were a good mix, however. Russian rock star Boris Grebenshchikov told his audience at the festival, "The defence ministry and rock music have come together, congratulations! Can you imagine what strange hybrids we can expect in the future? So take care of yourselves, don't allow yourselves to accept things like that."

A wave of nationalism and patriotic rhetoric has been on the rise in Russia in recent months since tensions flared up with Ukraine.

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Uganda cop shoots 'aggressive' tortoise

File image of a tortoise

A police officer in Uganda has reportedly shot a tortoise dead after being attacked by the "aggressive" creature.

The incident happened in the Nebbi district in the north of the country near the Congolese border. The officer - named as Charles Onegiu by the New Vision newspaper - said the animal entered his home and attacked him while he was enjoying a post-work cup of tea. "I tried to scare it but the tortoise became very aggressive. I took a stick to chase it but it instead became more violent," he told the paper. After attempting to fend off the tortoise with a plastic chair, he said he "instinctively" drew his firearm and shot it dead. A local Christian group later prayed for Onegiu, "before burning the dead reptile to ashes."

Contacted by New Vision, Nebbi district police commander Onesmus Mwesigwa said that his officer's extreme reaction to the attack may have been down to local superstitions "where people think 'somebody is after me'". After consulting local elders and police colleagues, Mwesigwa appealed for calm "from the residents and police officers, maintaining that their lives are not in danger as they may have assumed", New Vision reported.

Nervousness among local law enforcers could be explained by tribal clashes in the border area with DR Congo, which have lead to dozens of deaths in recent days, according to Al-Jazeera. Additionally, Uganda is currently in a heightened state of security following "specific threats" against the country's main Entebbe Airport.

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South Koreans reject lavish weddings

Korean traditional costume

Young South Koreans are giving up on lavish weddings as economic problems are hitting them hard, it's reported.

There is even a word in Korean - sampo-jok - that is being used among 20 to 30-year-olds to describe "those who have given up on three things - dating, marriage and children - due to economic reasons", the Korea Times reports. A no-frills ceremony at a registry office is becoming the most realistic option, as the average South Korean wedding costs more than 100m won (£55,742; $99,000).

But the new frugality is causing some friction with more traditionally-minded parents, who see weddings as a social opportunity. "Couples are not the main characters in the play called the wedding. It's basically an event for parents to invite their acquaintances," 29-year-old social worker Kim Go-eun tells the paper. Some parents jokingly say they have to "collect" all the gift money they have given out at other people's weddings, a former wedding studio manager, Cho Wan-joo, is quoted as saying.

People are also postponing taking their vows. Data from Statistics Korea shows that the average age of marrying for the first time has risen by more than two years in the past decade, reaching 32.2 for men and 29.6 for women.

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Mecca rails at Ramadan food waste

Abu Dhabi Ramadan shopping

Ramadan, the Muslim fasting month, promotes self-denial, but Mecca City Council in Saudi Arabia is complaining that it's having to deal with ever greater amounts of food waste.

Council official Osama al-Zaytuni told the Arab News website that refuse workers collected 5,000 tonnes of waste in the first three days, "not including 28,000 sheep carcasses". The council of Islam's holiest city has installed 45 waste compressors near the Central Mosque and sent out an extra 8,000 street-cleaners for the duration of the holiday to try to cope with the problem.

A study by King Saud University rates Saudi Arabia as the biggest waster of food in the world, with 30% of the four million dishes prepared during Ramadan being thrown away uneaten at a cost of 1.2m Saudi Riyals (£187,000; $320,000).

Specialists blame the Ramadan practices of buying too much food in advance, cooking fresh each day rather than using leftovers, and donating more produce to the poor than charities can distribute. The government has appealed to people to cook smaller meals, and is investing in an organic fertiliser factory to absorb some of the waste.

Saudi Arabia is not alone in this. The Middle Eastern environmental group EcoMena says a quarter of the food prepared in Qatar during Ramadan is thrown away, and Abu Dhabi's Food Control Authority has issued tips on how to reduce the amount that goes to waste.

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Tonga offers Fiji island swap

Minerva Reef

A minister in Tonga is proposing to swap islands with Fiji in an attempt to end a long-standing dispute.

Tonga's land minister Lord Ma'afu suggests ceding the Minerva Reefs in return for Fiji's Lau Islands group. He told the Tonga Daily News, "We have a lot of our own people with Lauan ancestry and a lot of Lauans with Tongan ancestry... our history dates back a long, long time. So in good faith I will propose to Fiji's foreign minister that they can have Minerva Reef and we get Lau in return". Lord Ma'afu is named after a Tongan prince who tried to conquer Lau in the 19th century.

Possession of Minerva Reefs grants rights to possibly lucrative undersea minerals. Tonga annexed the atolls in 1972 to forestall attempts by US, Australian and other prospectors to develop it. Fiji does not recognise Tonga's claim to maritime waters around the reefs, and filed a complaint with the International Seabed Authority in 2005.

Fijian foreign ministry permanent secretary Amena Yauvoli says the government will await Tonga's formal proposal, but the provincial council in Lau is sceptical. Spokesman Joeli Nagera told the Fiji Times, "We don't know anything about it. Lord Ma'afu may have said that off the record, but you can't exchange the Lau Group just like that".

Steve Ratuva, an expert on the Pacific islands at Auckland University, is more forthright about problems with the proposal. "You're talking about more than half the total sea area of Fiji. So Tonga has a lot to win. It'll probably triple the size of Tonga and halve the size of Fiji". He told Radio New Zealand the deal is "so one-sided" there's a danger it could be seen as a "political joke".

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Six-eyed spider stalks Moravia

The Moravian Six-Eyed Spider

A Czech scientist says he has discovered a new type of spider with six eyes and some other novel characteristics.

Milan Rezac, a spider expert at the Crop Research Institute in Prague, found the unknown species in the Macocha Pass in the south of the Moravia region. He told the CTK news agency "it's quite a large spider, with a chestnut brown body and small dimples". It has six rather than the more usual eight eyes, and deploys a "special technique" to catch the small creatures like woodlice that it feeds on - which Dr Rezac is saving for his report to the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society in London.

He identifies it as a member of the Harpactea family, and named it the "Moravian six-eyed spider" (Harpactea Moravica). Like the rest of this family, the Moravian female dispenses with the usual spider stratagem of devouring her partner after intercourse, and the happy males go on to mate with several other females during their lifetime.

This is the third spider species that Dr Rezac is said to have found. He came across a poisonous spider on an earlier expedition to southern Moravia, and dubbed it Eresus Moravicus - the Moravian Ladybird Spider. And five years he made headlines with another discovery in Israel - a spider with a "unique and quite brutal reproduction method". He called it Harpactea Sadistica.

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Norwegian UFO mystery solved

U2 plane

Norway in the 1950s was gripped by sensational reports of UFOs, with pilots seeing mysterious craft hurtling ahead of them at incredible speeds.

These reports were matched by people on the ground who said they had seen flashing objects implausibly high in the sky.

Now the mystery is over, Aftenposten newspaper reports. What Norwegians were seeing were test flights of top secret U2 spy planes, according to a recent tweet from the CIA's Twitter account, which says: "Do you remember the reports of unusual activity in the sky in the 50's? That was us."

U2s flew at altitudes above 60,000ft (18,000m) at a time when most passenger planes cruised at 10-20,000ft, and military aircraft rarely exceeded 40,000ft. When the Sun set below the horizon the U2s were still high enough to reflect its rays, and other pilots saw them as bright, silvery objects in the night sky, the CIA said.

The US Air Force's Project Blue Book investigation into unexplained aerial phenomena concluded that Norwegian sightings tallied with U2 flights. The information was kept classified to shield the spy programme from the Soviets at the height of the Cold War, Aftenposten says.

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Egyptian women fight back with Zumba

Cairo Zumba class Logo says "Toughen up against harassment"

Women are taking up Zumba in increasing numbers as a way to counter sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt, it seems.

US instructor Emeline Lavender, who runs classes for women in Cairo, said Zumba gets women accustomed to working together and forms a "silent bond between them", Arab media reported. "The idea is a combination of Zumba dance to train women to get physically fit and then self-defence techniques to help them defend themselves,'' she explained.

One woman told the Turkish Anatolia news agency: "I always wanted to be able to stand up for myself but didn't know how," and praised the Zumba classes for helping her "defend my right and stand up and say 'no'". The dance and fitness training also helped her avoid "more dangerous situations", she said.

The HarassMap activist group that tracks sexual harassment in Egypt is an enthusiastic promoter of Zumba and self-defence courses, as is the Igmadi women's group that recently ran a "street dance" awareness-raising event in the upmarket Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. It is now planning to set up a centre in Alexandria, Al-Ahram newspaper reported.

Sexual violence made the headlines last month when a woman was assaulted by crowds in Tahrir Square after the inauguration of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Sexual harassment had been officially outlawed in Egypt a few days earlier.

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Indian police order hotel lovers to wed

Indian wedding

Police in the Indian state of Bihar are reported to have married off two couples caught having trysts in a hotel under assumed names.

"We went to the hotel in search of a runaway couple. Instead, we found these two couples registered as married under false names," Bhagalpur Town Police Inspector Kanhaiya Lal told The Hindustan Times. They had been booking hotel rooms in the town for assignations for some time, it seems. Officer Rita Kumari "convinced the lovers that the only way to escape the stigma attached to being caught in such a manner was to get married".

One young couple was a railway clerk from neighbouring Amarpur and a student at a women's college in Bhagalpur. The other - a local man and a girl from nearby Banka - are related by marriage. The twin weddings took place at the Kupeshwarnath Annapurna Temple opposite the police station.

"It was a simple wedding ceremony performed according to Hindu rituals. Relatives of the two couples were present. No dowry was given or taken, making it an ideal marriage," said Inspector Lal. The paper did not record the reaction of the couples or their families.

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Legs mark the spot

Papier mache legs sticking out of pothole

A group of artists in Kazakhstan has come up with a novel way of highlighting potholes on the streets of the country's former capital, Almaty.

The Guerrilla creative house has placed fake legs sticking out of 10 holes around the city, giving the impression someone has fallen in head-first. The aim is to alert pedestrians and also lets drivers see the hole from a distance, the artists told the Tengrinews site. "We approached the issue with irony. Rather than make the usual hue and cry about holes in the roads being bad, we simply highlighted the problem and showed it needs sorting".

The artists dressed the legs in brightly-coloured socks to make them all the more visible. They are made of papier-mache, and so can't cause pedestrians many injuries. "People are paying attention, and writing in social media to thank us. This should solve the problem after a while," a Guerrilla activist said, perhaps optimistically. The artists scored a hit with an earlier campaign, when they drew bullseyes around litter bins to help people dispose of rubbish accurately.

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Illegal gambling up in Greece

Fruit machine

Greeks place illegal bets worth 5bn euros (£4bn; $6.8bn) a year, says the country's "transparency tsar".

General secretary for transparency Giorgos Sourlas proposes a comprehensive crackdown on illegal gambling operations, which are "harming the national economy and acting as a mechanism for laundering ill-gotten gains". Greece is struggling to adjust after a swingeing austerity programme slashed wages and pensions by an average of 40%, while pushing up taxes.

Mr Sourlas told Public Order Minister Vassilis Kikilias that the Hellenic Gaming Commission, which regulates legal gambling, will cooperate with the proposed clean-up: "This makes us optimistic that an end will be put to organized crime rings operating without restraint."

Commission chief Evgenios Giannakopoulos told Kathimerini newspaper that legal betting has seen turnover drop from 8.7bn euros in 2009 to 5.5bn last year - a fall of about 37% - and gross profits slip from 2.5bn euros to 1.5bn. He estimates there are 60,000-100,000 illegal gaming machines in gambling dens, with turnover of 4-5bn euros a year and profits of 1.5bn - all of which bypasses the taxman. "This doesn't include online gambling, which had a turnover of about 1bn euros," Mr Giannakopoulos added.

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South Sudan bans foreign taxi drivers


Taxi drivers from Sudan working in the capital of neighbouring South Sudan are angry about a ban on foreign cabbies, it seems.

The interior ministry issued the rule last week without warning, angry taxi drivers told Radio Tamazuj, a Dutch station that covers the inter-Sudanese border area. They say officials are impounding their taxis in Juba and demanding a steep fee of 600 South Sudanese pounds (£61; $150) to have them released. As a result about 500 Sudanese drivers have had to quit work, not only affecting their livelihood but also, they say, causing a "transport crisis" in Juba.

South Sudan banned foreigners from operating 'boda-boda' motorbike taxis last year on the grounds that this would combat kidnappings, pickpockets and road accidents. Many observers said at the time it was simply an attempt to save jobs for locals. Ugandans, Kenyans and Sudanese have been quick to take advantage of business opportunities since South Sudan split from the north in 2011, and tensions over scarce jobs are not uncommon. The Sudanese embassy has promised to help the cabbies, but has not yet issued a statement.

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Crimea swaps Big Macs for 'Rusburgers'

A RusBurger shop-front in Sevastopol RusBurger is moving in where US fast food giants fear to tread

Russia's annexation of Crimea has had a knock-on effect on fast food in the area, it appears.

New signage has appeared on a former McDonald's restaurant in Sevastopol promising locals the delights of "RusBurger", says Sevastopolskiye Novosti (Sevastopol News). McDonald's closed its three fast-food outlets in Crimea in April, citing problems with sourcing ingredients. It promised to find work for former employees in neighbouring Ukraine if they wanted to relocate.

There was talk that rival Burger King would take over the restaurant in Sevastopol, with the CEO of the chain's Russian operation telling Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency in April that the company was ready to fill the vacuum. However, the plans were scotched just a day later in a statement by Burger King's US parent company.

RusBurger says it only uses Russian produce, such as veal, vegetables and cheese, and won't have the ingredient problems its US rival faced. With the Russia's Lifenews apparently showing the new shop front nearing completion, the company hasn't indicated when its Crimean branches will open. However, Sevastopolskiye Novosti says "judging by the redecorating work, Sevastopolitans can expect some new fast food by the end of July".

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Political taboo broken in Turkey

A protester gestures at a rally in Istanbul The move illustrates tentative moves toward a political solution to Turkey's Kurdish question

A political party in Turkey has been allowed to use the word "Kurdistan" in its name, breaking a decades-long prohibition on the word, it's been reported.

The Supreme Court of Appeals' Prosecutor's Office in Ankara has ruled that Turkey's Kurdish Democratic Party (T-KDP) should be granted a licence to operate, allowing the word to be used in a political party's name for the first time, says Hurriyet Daily News. The move allows other parties representing Turkey's large Kurdish minority to use the word as Ankara moves towards what has been described as a "peaceful political solution to the country's Kurdish issue," according to today's Zaman newspaper.

One commentator told Turkish media he thought the ruling would contribute to the end of a bloody and violent struggle for Kurdish rights. "It will prevent Kurds from resorting to violence and give people a way to seek the democratic and political rights of the Kurdish people," Imam Tascıer of the Kurdish Revolutionary Democratic Cultural Association said. Turkey waged a lengthy conflict against the banned Kurdish separatist PKK group, which resulted in a 2013 ceasefire.

The Iraq-based Iraq Kurdish Basnews website says that the T-KDP party was set up in 1965, and has spent 49 years trying to acquire the licence that allows it to operate legally in the country. The party's symbol is the sun rising behind Mount Ararat in red, yellow, and green - colours widely used by the Kurdish movement in Iraq and Turkey. The use of the mountain may raise eyebrows in both Turkey and Armenia, where it is of particular symbolic significance.

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Inter-city foot spa

An E3-type Shinkansen train The special bullet train probably won't reach 'bullet' speeds

Passengers on a new Japanese railway service will be able to relax in specially-designed foot baths, it's been reported.

The East Japan Railway Company is to run a new Shinkansen (bullet train) service between Shinjo and Fukushima in the north of the country featuring the special foot baths and other luxury facilities, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reports. Passengers on the two-hour journey can sit, four at a time, with their feet in the baths, before retiring to the "after-bath lounge car" for locally-brewed sake, the Japan Times says.

According to the company, it cost 500m yen ($4.9m; £2.9m) to convert the rolling stock on the six-carriage E3 bullet train, even though the special excursion service will only run for three months. An official says that designers had to overcome the effects of Newton's laws of motion to avoid unnecessary spillage. "We had to be creative, like placing cushions inside the tubs so that the hot water won't spill out even when the train sways hard," Hideyuki Terui told Asahi Shimbun.

Now 50 years old, the Japanese Shinkansen bullet train system covers nearly 2,400km (1,490 miles) at speeds up to 320km/h (200mph). The footbath-equipped trains are expected to cover the 157km (97-mile) trip from Shinjo to Fukushima at a rather more stately speed.

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N Korea 'bans' chocolate snack

A box of six Choco Pie snacks Choco Pies are popular in North Korea, where they are traded as an unofficial currency

North Korean workers are being denied a popular chocolate snack, it's been reported.

Workers employed by South Korean companies at the joint Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea are used to getting Choco Pie chocolate treats with their lunches, but officials have apparently prevented this symbol of Southern decadence from entering the Stalinist country, the Seoul-based newspaper Chosun Ilbo reports. The chocolate-and-marshmallow snacks are popular with the North Korean workers at the complex not for their taste, but for the fact that they are worth substantial sums when sold on the black market, a trend Pyongyang is keen to stamp out.

Since the ban came into force last month, workers are instead getting sausage, noodles, coffee and other chocolate bars instead. Chosun Ilbo says that some workers "wanted to be paid in US dollars".

Kaesong is an anomaly in relations between North and South Korea. It's an industrial complex on Northern territory where South Korean companies can tap into cheap labour, earning Pyongyang hard currency. Founded in 2004, the complex closed for a period during 2013 amid nuclear sabre-rattling by North Korea.

Pyongyang's Unification Ministry explains the Choco Pie ban by saying that workers are "fed up" with the snacks "and want something else", Chosun Ilbo says. According to BBC Monitoring's North Korea expert, the snack has proved enormously popular among North Koreans, and the ban appears to be an official attempt to clear them, Western goods, and creeping capitalism from open-air markets across the country.

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Police blog gets cult following

Chinese police officers reflected in bus window in Beijing There's a national campaign to make police and officialdom appear more human

A police officer's rumour-busting social media account has earned hundreds of thousands of followers in China, it's been reported.

The account, run by police officer Wang Haiding, has more than 640,000 followers reading his quirky crime advice and posts debunking rumours, China's state-owned Xinhua news agency reports. One such piece of advice squashes a long-running urban myth about kidney thieves: "A kidney dies only hours after removal. You can do nothing with one stolen from a stranger, except stir fry it," he says.

However, the blog isn't personal, but belongs to Jiangning district police in Nanjing where Wang works, where it's part of a campaign to give a more human face to both the police and officialdom. While the account is full of cute pictures of dogs and internet slang, Wang told Xinhua that there's a serious point to it. "The essence of my work is to build trust," he says, pointing to his debunking of rumours. "You can't just declare something as false, people may not believe it. So instead of making statements, I explain to them using previous cases and rational analysis."

He's become so popular that he regularly has to tell his followers to dial the 110 emergency number to report a crime, rather than tell him first.

According to one Chinese internet observer, online rumours have become a major concern in China, and government attempts to control the conversation lack trust because their social media presence is often a "one-way information pipeline". Instead, the new style of account "puts on a more personal style. They voice their opinions on public issues and use vivid internet language," Professor Shen Yang tells Xinhua.

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Anti-Hamas lollipops dropped in West Bank

Sweets and matchboxes bearing anti-Hamas messages Sweets and matchboxes have been found in Ramallah and Nablus

Israel has dropped hundreds of lollipops bearing anti-Hamas messages on two cities in the West Bank, it appears.

The sweets, found in both Nablus and Ramallah, are adorned with the message "Ramadan Kareem… Some sweetness, after Hamas has made life in the West Bank bitter," the Ramallah-based Ma'an news agency reports. According to witnesses in Nablus, Israeli troops threw the sweets after deploying heavily in the region as part of their search for three teenagers who went missing while hitchhiking in the West Bank.

The Times of Israel suggests that the misuse of the the Arabic word for "bitter" on the lollipops has caused locals to assume that the source of the message was Israeli. However, the Israel Defense Forces told the Jerusalem Post that it "was not familiar with the incident".

Ma'an says the sweets are not the first "gifts" left by Israeli troops in the last week. Residents of Nablus tell the agency they have found matchboxes bearing the Arabic words "Beware! Hamas is inflaming the West Bank". More than 600 people have been detained in the two-week search for the missing Israelis, Ma'an reports, while Israel has named two suspects over the suspected abduction.

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Tajikistan: Bake up or break up?

Naan bread

Schools in northern Tajikistan are teaching girls homemaking skills in an attempt to slow the country's divorce rate, it's reported.

On the orders of Sughd Governor Abdurahmon Qodiri, 530 of the region's 912 secondary schools have already had clay tandoor ovens installed for baking naan bread, and 840 have stoves for preparing national dishes like mantou and pilau. The schools have also received 300 looms for weaving traditional carpets and wall-hangings, with expert teachers on hand to instruct their charges.

Muzaffar Yunusov, Mr Qodiri's press secretary, told the website that the aim of is "to prevent the collapse of young families", alleging that one reason for local divorces is that "brides can often neither sew on a button nor prepare a meal". Tajik official statistics show a steady rise in divorces in recent years and, since 2012, a decline in the registration of marriages, the site said.

Some teachers and doctors, while approving of the move, express reservations at this narrow focus on domestic skills - not to mention the suggestion that the bride is somehow to blame. Dr Faroghat Sodriddinova of Kanibodom Central Hospital says broader education is more of a problem: "Experience shows that young families fall apart when one partner is illiterate or semi-literate". Khujand headmaster Fayzullo Fayziyev says the decisive factor in the failure of marriages is not baking, but money. "We need more jobs that pay a decent wage if we want to halt divorces," he warns.

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Crimean breaks for Chinese tourists

Yalta promenade, Crimea - taken from Wikipedia under wiki commons, user Podvalov

Russia hopes to entice Chinese tourists to Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that it annexed this spring, it's reported.

A roadshow in Beijing called "Successful Russia" is promoting a plan to arrange visa-free travel, says Russian Tourism Board official Vladimir Fomin. Chinese tourists overtook Germans in terms of numbers visiting Russia in the first quarter of this year, having topped a million for the first time in 2013, government newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta reports.

Russia sees the Asia Pacific region as a growth area not only for tourism, but also for attracting investment. Moscow is in talks with China about developing the Crimean port of Yevpatoria and even building a bridge to link Russia with the peninsula. But attracting visitors to Crimea's beaches may prove difficult, given the international crisis over Russia's seizure of the territory and the shortages of water and power caused by severing ties with the rest of Ukraine.

Yevgeny Tomikhin of the embassy in Beijing says Chinese tourists tend to head for the cultural highlights of Russia's historic cities, as well as "red tourism" sites associated with the Bolshevik Revolution. Russian media has also reported empty hotels in Crimea amid vain campaigns by the Kremlin to persuade civil servants to spend their summer holidays there. A package deal to Turkey is cheaper and more comfortable than a week in Crimea, it seems.

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An end to Mrs Merkel's phone woes?

Angela Merkel with phone

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has waited a year, but at last she has a phone that will keep her free from eavesdropping by foreign secret services, it seems.

Last June US National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that his employers had been intercepting Mrs Merkel's calls, to her public anger, and the German media have been rife with speculation ever since as to what sort of mobile she will chose to enhance her security. Now Focus magazine reports she has opted for a Blackberry Q10 phone with encryption by the German company Secusmart.

The phone shields not only phone calls, but also provides a secure link to the German government's intranet. It allows the chancellor to send emails through a highly-secure "virtual private network" connection, as well as brief text messages. The only snag is that the phone of Mrs Merkel's interlocutor must also have the same level of encryption, and it doesn't come cheap. Secusmart's chip costs 2,500 euros (£2,000; $3,400).

Smartphone enthusiasts may like to know that the conservative Mrs Merkel opted for the traditional Blackberry keyboard over a touch-screen function.

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Is this the oldest person ever?

Almihan Seyiti

A woman in western China claims to have just celebrated her 128th birthday which would make her the oldest person in recorded history.

Almihan Seyiti, from the Xinjiang region, lives in a village near the city of Kashgar. A member of the Uighur Turkic minority, she is vigorous, and enjoys singing, playing the dutar musical instrument and occasionally helping out on the farm, Xinjiang TV-2 reports. The state channel, aware of separatist sentiment among Uighurs, is keen to have Mrs Seyiti express her gratitude to the Chinese Communist authorities: "They threw a good birthday party for me with my family, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My life is good. The authorities treat me well. They have built a house for me, where I live. I am very happy," she told the reporter.

But no one outside China is likely to accept Mrs Seyiti's claim at face value. Birth records in the outlying regions of the 19th Century Chinese empire were sparse and unreliable, especially for the ethnic minorities, and China has reported Uighurs living into their 120s before without any solid evidence. The oldest verified person was a Frenchwoman, Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 aged 122, but Mrs Seyiti enjoyed her party nonetheless.

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Snakes 'flush out' Boko Haram

Black spitting cobra

The Nigerian Army is struggling to flush Boko Haram Islamist fighters out of their forest fastness, but it seems snakes may be doing the job for them.

Two suspected Boko Haram gunmen captured by local volunteers in Maiduguri, northeastern Nigeria, said they had fled the Sambisa Forest because of "incessant snake bites", the Vanguard newspaper reports.

One of the suspects, Kolo Mustapha, said bees have also been known to join in the attacks, often leaving their victims fatally injured. Some of his fellow-fighters think there is a supernatural aspect to the attacks, fearing that Boko Haram's victims are wreaking vengeance on their killers. Mustapha said he was caught because, like many others, he was trying to sneak back into town "as we have nowhere else to go". "Our leaders have fled to Cameroon," he added, saying they had forced local youths to join the group.

The other captive, Umar Abor, said "almost all our comrades are leaving the Sambisa because of constant attacks by snakes and bees". Many accuse Boko Haram leaders of having brought the plague upon themselves by kidnapping and killing civilians. The Civilian JTF volunteers agree that fighters have been fleeing the forest in growing numbers over the past two weeks, and were helping the security forces find weapons caches.

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Iranian MPs up in arms over leggings

Woman in leggings passes poster of President Rouhani

Iran's interior minister has been called before parliament to explain why he isn't doing more to stop the country's women wearing leggings.

Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli was summoned to answer questions about why his ministry has not been doing more to enforce "modest dressing". MPs claimed that women who wore leggings on the streets of Teheran were flouting the official Islamic dress code, according to the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA).

There was a loud reaction from MPs as photos of what was dubbed "transgressive legwear" were shown on large screens during the parliamentary session. One of them, Ali Motahhari, said the previous hardline government of President Ahmadinejad had been rather lax on such examples of "bad hijab". He expected the relatively liberal President Rouhani to make it an issue.

Leggings, called "support" in Iran, are typically worn by women who only loosely observe the dress law, and have irked some religious conservatives, according to the Al-Monitor analysis site. "We have to accept that solving this issue is not possible in the short term," Mr Fazli told MPs, adding that the modesty law has been in force for eight years, whereas he has been in his job only six months.

Mr Fazli received a "yellow card" warning from parliament for giving unsatisfactory answers, said ISNA.

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No nose jobs on Iran TV?

Iranian woman after cosmetic surgery Cosmetic surgery is commonplace in Iran, particularly among young women.

A state-run TV channel in the Iranian capital Tehran is banning all actors who have undergone cosmetic surgery, it appears.

"Those actors and actresses who have undergone aesthetic surgery will be excluded from our lists," says Ali Akbar Mahmudi-Mahrizi, the head of the film and TV series department at Tehran Channel. ISNA news agency also reported that the ban is being put in place to "prevent aesthetic surgery from becoming contagious among actors and actresses".

Tehran Channel broadcasts to the Iranian capital and its surroundings.

The move has drawn scorn from some social media users. One quipped that nose jobs were likely to become "the biggest concern for the cows and donkeys" in the Iranian parliament, while another pleaded that some of the more familiar faces on Iranian TV be given less airtime.

Enforcing the ban may be difficult given how widespread cosmetic surgery is in Iran, particularly among young women. Since the Islamic revolution in 1979, Iran has become one of the world's leading centres for cosmetic surgery and Tehran has been called "the nose job capital of the world".

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Indian hotel for Japanese only

Uno-In Hotel in Bangalore Briton Howard Murphy says he was not allowed to eat lunch at the hotel

A hotel offering a taste of Japan in Bangalore is discouraging all customers who are not Japanese, it's reported.

The Uno-In Hotel advertises as a "home away from home" for its mainly business clients. When a group of reporters from a local newspaper tried to dine in the hotel's rooftop restaurant, they were told Indians were not allowed, the Bangalore Mirror reports.

"This is a dedicated place for Japanese people alone," they were told by Nic U Iqbal, managing director of Nippon Infrastructure which runs the hotel. "It is really hard to maintain the quality system," he added, in comments that were recorded by the Mirror. To find out if the hotel was "fair-handed" in its discrimination, the paper sent in two other potential customers, a British and an African man, who were both turned away.

The hotel's website clearly states that it is "exclusively for Japanese". But it's unclear if the policy is legal. An official from Bangalore's trade licensing authority, the BBMP (Bangalore Mahanagara Palike) told the Mirror: "We issue licences, check if the health, safety and cleanliness standards are being maintained. Nothing beyond it."

Bangalore is home to around 200 Japanese companies, and 12,000 Japanese visit the city every year on business, according to The Times of India.

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'Selfie' statue removed after ridicule

Controversial statue in Kazakhstan

A monument in Kazakhstan has been hastily removed after locals likened the figures on it to hobbits taking a "selfie", reports say.

The statue in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk was built to honour two 19th Century figures - Abay Kunanbayev, a local writer and thinker, and Yevgeny Mikhaelis, a Russian scientist and pro-democracy activist who was exiled to eastern Kazakhstan. But it immediately attracted the scorn of locals who - according to Tengri News website - took to social media to point out that the figures looked like they were taking a selfie. Other people pointed out their similarity to hobbits, said the news website

Even one of the co-authors of the monument, Vladimir Samoylov, admitted that there was something wrong with it. The sculptors were given too little time to finish the monument, he told, a website based in Ust-Kamenogorsk. "We were in a huge rush, and look what happened."

Following the criticism, the monument was removed on 24 June, just one day after it was erected at the intersection of Abay Avenue and Mikhaelis Street. It "deviated from the agreed design", and the sculptors were told to correct the deviations as soon as possible, the local government told Tengri News.

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Aboriginal cave art 'not antique'

Aboriginal hand stencil

A piece of cave art resembling an ancient Aboriginal hand stencil, found near a controversial Australian coalmine project, has turned out to be less than four years old, it's been reported.

The drawing was found by environmentalist Chris Jonkers in a cave in the Ben Bullen forest west of Sydney in April. Mr Jonkers is non-committal on the possible origins of the painting. "We're not experts on Aboriginal heritage," he told The Australian newspaper. "We're sort of plant people, interested in water quality and environment, but the Aboriginal heritage stuff is not our forte."

The Australian coal-mining company Coalpac is trying to expand the operations of the Invincible Colliery and Cullen Valley Mine in the area, a project opposed by some environmentalists and Aboriginal groups. The Lithgow Environment Group, which has Mr Jonkers as its vice-president, says it has serious concerns that the proposed highwall mining practices would destabilise the cliffs and lead to a "permanent loss of irreplaceable cave art" and yet-to-be-discovered archaeological sites.

The report assessing the stencil as a modern replica was written by the engineering consultancy firm Aecom Australia for Coalpac. It says the "questionable" hand stencil has none of the hallmarks of genuine traditional stencils, and that its colour pigment has been applied too thickly and is easy to see.

The "now obvious" rock stencil was not there when the site was previously inspected by archaeologists in December 2010, the paper reports. But Mr Jonkers says he did not think the stencil would be so young. "I didn't think anyone would do such a thing," he says. "I must admit I didn't look all that carefully."

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Russia: Golden phones for Putin fans

iPhone with a picture of Putin on it

An iPhone covered in gold and bearing an image of President Vladimir Putin is going on sale in Russia, it is reported.

It is marketed under the brand name Caviar, but the company that makes the gadget also calls it simply "Putin phone", TJournal news website reports.

The back of the phone is made of 18-carat gold, and below an engraved portrait of President Putin there is also a quote from the Russian anthem. The limited-edition phone is on sale for 147,000 roubles (£2,500; $4,300).

It is made by Perla Penna, an Italian company which is now Russian-owned and headquartered, but still employs Italian designers and jewellers.

In a press release, the firm says that the gadget is aimed at "patriotic senior government officials and top executives".

As many of them are known to enjoy holidaying abroad and even own property there, one particular feature of the Putin phone will come in handy. "Place a phone with a picture of Putin on it on a bar counter somewhere in Nice or Monte Carlo, and you can expect to get priority service," the Perla Penna press release goes on. Why? Because "the worried international community sees the Russian president as an embodiment of power, robustness and strength, an uncompromising and aggressive figure ready to take drastic steps".

There has been a surge in support for Vladimir Putin in Russia following the country's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea earlier in 2014. It is reflected in rocketing sales of merchandise such as T-shirts with his portraits, but relations with the West have soured.

Over the past months, the Russian media has been giving the impression that Italy is among the more Russia-friendly nations of the West, and Vladimir Putin is known to be friends with Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian prime minister.

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Weddings break no-shooting rule

Men at a wedding in Saudi Arabia Gunfire is out and fireproof decorations are in at Saudi weddings

Gunfire will no longer be tolerated at weddings in the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, as police have reportedly shut down more than 15 venues because of over exuberant celebrations.

Families have been violating safety rules by allowing people to fire guns in the air to celebrate, a police spokesman told Arab News. First Lt Nawaf Al-Bouq says that the tribal tradition is a "potentially fatal activity, which may result in the death of bystanders". Saudi Arabia banned the practice of "joy gunfire" at weddings in 2012, and Jeddah deploys undercover patrol cars to monitor and arrest violators.

In 2012, 23 people were electrocuted after an electric cable was shot down by celebratory gunfire at a wedding in Eastern Province, as The Blaze website reported.

Wedding hall owners have also been warned not to neglect fire safety during the summer season when they compete to attract clients, the International Fire Protection Magazine says. Flammable decorations are apparently the most common fire hazard.

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Crisis hots up in air-con dispute

Air conditioning units on the outside of buildings in Turkmenistan People will have to pay to have their air conditioning removed

It seems that some residents of Turkmenistan's capital Ashgabat are feeling the heat after authorities demanded they remove the air-conditioning units on the exterior walls of their flats to improve the city's appearance.

Fights have broken out in the central Parakhat-7 district between residents and police in protest at the unpopular government directive, according to, a Moscow-based news agency reporting on Central Asia. Over the last few years, the municipal authorities have been removing what they consider to be unsightly air-con units and satellite dishes as part of a plan to revamp buildings and standardize their appearance.

The average temperature in Ashgabat in summer is more than 40C and in multi-storey blocks of flats it can rise to 60C. "Leaving people, especially old, sick people and children, without air-cons means subjecting them to torture," the Turkmen opposition website says.

The residents in Parakhat-7 were relocated there by force as part of the reconstruction plan, a regional BBC journalist says. They were re-housed in smaller flats with no compensation for being forced to move. Although the flats are new, they are said to be in poor condition already, with malfunctioning sewage systems. The district lies close to streets which the Turkmen president regularly uses.

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Official saves shoes, loses job

A man wearing leather shoes being carried on another man's back through ankle-deep water in Lantian Village June floods are displacing thousands in southeastern China

A Chinese official visiting a flood-hit village has reportedly been sacked for accepting a piggyback ride from a villager to avoid getting his shoes wet.

A picture of a city official being carried on the back of a local resident who wades through ankle-deep water in Lantian village in the eastern province of Jiangxi has been widely shared on the internet. The official, named Wang, was apparently searching for village children who had gone missing in a swollen river, state-run China Radio International reports.

A villager named Ding, described as a low-level clerk, offered Wang a personal lift over a flooded path, but Wang's acceptance of the gesture cost him his job. Local authorities thought the "inappropriate act" would have a negative social impact and "tarnish the image of party officials", state news agency Xinhua says.

It's not the first time such a picture has attracted disapproval. Last year a young Communist Party official visiting Zhejiang Province was photographed being carried over floodwaters by an old man in gumboots, the Epoch Times reported.

This man wearing leather shoes was carried on another man's back through ankle-deep water in Lantian Village

He was later removed from his post as director of the local government's construction office, to the delight of some social media users. "If you dare to put on airs, civilians will force you to step down," one blogger was qutoed as saying.

Torrential downpours have affected Jiangxi since 16 June, Xinhua says, displacing more than 18,500 people.

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The 16,000km trip to the cashpoint

Man using cash card

An Australian man has racked up thousands of kilometres in flights trying to withdraw money from his bank account, after a security upgrade rendered his cash machine card invalid.

Education consultant Robert Lewis had trouble accessing his cash when he tried to use his HSBC bank card, issued in Hong Kong in 2011, in his hometown of Wagga Wagga Australia, the South China Morning Post reports. He was told he would have to make a 10-hour round trip to the HSBC branch in Sydney to fill out a change of address application form in person in order to get an internet security device.

But his problems grew when his original Hong Kong branch rejected the application, saying his signature didn't match their records. Lewis was left with no choice but to fly another 7,400 km (4,600 miles) to Hong Kong to show bank officials his passport and identity card, where the blunder was finally sorted out.

"Hong Kong could have spoken to Sydney and faxed a copy of the documents," says Lewis, who is seeking redress for his travel costs and a goodwill payment for the hassle. He says he expected more from a bank which advertises itself as the "world's local bank".

"This has cost me an incredible amount of time and income, inconvenience, stress and anxiety. It is hardly the thing you expect from an international bank," he told the Post.

The bank has apologized for its mistakes in processing his application.

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