Thoughts Gallery December 2006
December 1
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The Lord's Prayer printed in 1952, at 5 x 5mm said by Christie's to be the smallest book in the world, rests on a bible at Christie's in London. A collection of miniature books amassed over some 35 years dating from the 17th century to the present day are due to be sold at the auction house later this year
December 2
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Phonak's team rider Floyd Landis of the U.S. and his team mates cycle past sunflower fields during the 12th stage of the 93rd Tour de France cycling race between Luchon and Carcassone.
December 3
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Surfers line up in an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most surfers on one wave at Muizenberg in Cape Town. Organisers claimed a new record of 73 surfers standing on a wave for 5 seconds, beating the previous total of 53.
December 4
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Two suspected thieves are tied to a lamp post after being caught by members of the Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO in its Spanish initials), who said they had stolen a cell phone and money from an old lady, in Oaxaca. Members of the APPO and striking teachers have been detaining petty criminals and dispensing summary justice while they have been in control of Oaxaca's city centre for weeks as part of their effort to oust the governor. The sign reads 'Here are thieves, hit them'.
December 5
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Members of the Dutch Royal guard of honour rehearse ahead of the Dutch 2007 budget presentation by guiding their horses through smoke and gunfire on a beach at Scheveningen.
December 6
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An aerial view shows pools of mineral-coloured water gathered on salt flats in holes dug by salt collectors on the Senegalese coastline near the border with Gambia. Women collect salt by hand into 50kg (110lbs) sacks, which sell for about $2, and are traded with neighbouring Gambia and Mauritania, where salt is mainly used for preserving fish in areas without electricity.
December 7
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A would-be immigrant crawls after his arrival on a makeshift boat on the Gran Tarajal beach in Spain's Canary Island. Some 38 would-be immigrants arrived at the beach on a makeshift boat and some 39 were intercepted on a makeshift boat off Spain's Canary Island of Fuerteventura on their way to reach European soil from Africa.
December 8
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A Congolese man lifts a bucket filled with mud as he searches for gold nuggets in a pit at Pkata gold mine, near Bunia in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
December 9
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Vienna to get gender-equal traffic and exit signs
A green exit sign shows a woman, rather than a man, running for the door, while a traffic light features another crossing the street in a new initiative by the City of Vienna to raise awareness about gender equality. The campaign, launched on Thursday and entitled "Wien sieht's anders" (Vienna sees it differently) is part of the City's "Gender Mainstreaming" project. Its aim is to "give both genders the same exposure and ensure an equal distribution of chances, opportunities and duties" by changing the gender of figures pictured on familiar signs, City Hall said in a statement. "Because it clashes with fixed visual habits, the campaign compels (people) to think, look and act differently," Sonja Wehsely, city councillor in charge of women's affairs, said in the statement. Thus, signs using male characters will have their female equivalent, while the opposite will also be true. Female exit signs and pictograms in bathrooms featuring a man, rather than a woman, changing a baby, will be introduced at City Hall to start with, the statement said. Seats reserved for the elderly and pregnant women on Vienna's buses and trams will soon also picture a man carrying a child on his lap. A roadworks sign picturing a woman in a skirt digging into a pile of dirt and used on a campaign poster will not see the light of day however because of traffic regulations.
December 10
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A Thai woman and her son look at A tank outside Government House in Bangkok. Thailand's army chief vowed to clean up the country's political landscape and return 'power to the people' as soon as possible after a bloodless coup against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
December 11
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Sex slavery plagues Romania and Bulgaria
BUCHAREST - Anca thought girls who spoke on television about being sold into sex slavery were paid to invent such stories to boost tv show ratings. That was until she answered a friend's invitation to join her in Germany and work as a dishwasher in a town near Hamburg. When she arrived, her passport was taken away and her captors forced her to work as a prostitute for their clients. Three months later she slid down two floors on a drainpipe, ran several kilometres (miles) through a forest and finally found a taxi that took her to a police station and safety. "The girl who invited me won her freedom by bringing in two other girls," said Anca, a quiet 20-year-old from a Romanian village. She asked for her real name to be withheld to protect her from her captors. As they prepare to join the European Union, Romania and Bulgaria are struggling to contain human trafficking and smuggling, particularly in drugs, which is endemic in the Black Sea region that will soon become the EU's eastern border. Every year, thousands of women such as Anca, some as young as 13, are kidnapped or lured by promises of well paying jobs or marriage and sold to gangs who lock them up in night clubs and brothels or force them to work on the streets.
Observers say even more women could be at risk after the two countries join the EU in January and traffickers seek to increase business by taking advantage of easier access to western Europe, where most of the victims end up. "There is a lot of exploitation in Romania and I am sure the numbers will get bigger," said Gina-Maria Stoian, Anca's case manager and the director of The Adpare Foundation, a Romanian organization that helps victims of human trafficking. "Already there is sex tourism around the Black Sea." CRIMINAL ROUTES Romania and its southern neighbor Bulgaria are among 11 countries listed by the United Nations as top sources of human trafficking, based on reported numbers of victims. Other countries in the region, the poorest in Europe, are also hotbeds for organized crime and illegal trade such as Moldova and Ukraine. Poverty, disillusionment with the region's slow reforms after the collapse of communism, and a fraying fabric of society following decades of forced repatriation of many communities help gangs flourish and find easy victims. "There is poverty, dysfunctional families, mentality. The girls have no roots, no self-esteem," said Iana Matei, who runs Reaching Out, a Romanian charity that helps trafficking victims. "The traffickers now look for 13 to 14 year olds. They are easier to control. They are trained and brain-washed here. They see they can get little help from police, the system. And they think they can make money and become independent," she said. Geography is also a problem.
Bulgaria and Romania are part of the "Balkan route" for transporting heroin from Afghanistan -- which produces the vast majority of the world supply of poppies -- to Western Europe. Eighty percent of Afghani heroin reaches Western users through this route. "Romania will be the final border, the final frontier of the EU," said Cristian Duta from Bucharest's SECI Center, which supports trans-border crime fighting in southeastern Europe. "It will be the first step for anyone who wants to get into the EU." FIGHTING ABUSE Some observers worry that Romania and Bulgaria's membership of the EU could aid the spillover of illicit trade that plagues the Black Sea region into the west. Bucharest and Sofia governments say they are doing all they can to combat trafficking and abuse. Romania has won praise from Brussels for reforming border controls, combating endemic corruption and improving police cooperation. But the EU has been more cautious on Bulgaria, rapping Sofia for not doing enough to fight rampant organized crime. "Our borders are a 100 percent secure," said Dumitru Licsandru, who runs Bucharest's state agency against human trafficking. The agency's data shows about 1,400 Romanian victims of trafficking, including sexual exploitation and forced labor, were identified in the first nine months of this year, while some 200 perpetrators were arrested. Sofia's interior ministry's organized crime unit said 4,000-5,000 Bulgarian women are trafficked a year. "We cannot deny the fact the problem of trafficking exists," said interior ministry spokeswoman Katya Ilieva, adding that the numbers had dropped compared to previous years. Observers say official figures on the numbers of people trafficked show only the tip of the iceberg. Aid workers say police work is not enough. Governments need to train judges and prosecutors, better protect victims and fight corruption which still allows traffickers to take women through borders or keep underage girls on the streets. They also need to change the mentality in the traditional Balkan societies which often blame victims for their plight. "My girls all knew about trafficking. But they thought it only happened to whores," said Matei, whose charity assists girls caught up in prostitution rings.
December 12
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One benefit of global warming is winter swimming...
Finnish winter swimmers take a bath in the icy waters of the Baltic Sea in Uunisaari in Helsinki in January 2006. Northern Europeans have been poised to celebrate the passage to the new year in a way that is out of the ordinary for them: with an ice-free Baltic Sea
December 13
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A passenger waits for a delayed flight at Heathrow airport's terminal four in London. Dieters may find some welcome assistance from a new nasal spray that could help resist the appetizing aromas of cinnamon bun stands, pizza parlors or tempting bakeries.
December 14
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Latvia SWAT team takes on boar at gas station
RIGA - A police SWAT unit was called out to a gas station in the Latvian capital early Friday after a wild boar was spotted wandering around the facility. "We received a call at about 2:00 am and sent out special operations unit 'Alfa'," state police spokesman Aigars Berzins said. "The boar was about three years old and had wandered in from a wild animal yard," he said. Such yards are becoming more and more popular in Latvia, and are often set up in wooded suburban areas near big cities. "The wild hog had broken the fence and got out. It was not afraid of humans at all," Berzins said. Without using either special weapons or tactics -- the first letters of which give SWAT units their name -- the elite police unit rounded up the boar and took it back to the yard.
December 15
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A tale of two cities for confused tourist
BERLIN - A 21-year-old German tourist who wanted to visit his girlfriend in the Australian metropolis Sydney landed 13,000 kilometres away near Sidney, Montana, after mistyping his destination on a flight booking Web site. Dressed for the Australian summer in t-shirt and shorts, Tobi Gutt left Germany Saturday for a four-week holiday. Instead of arriving "down under," Gutt found himself on a different continent and bound for the chilly state of Montana. "I did wonder but I didn't want to say anything," Gutt told the Bild newspaper. "I thought to myself, you can fly to Australia via the United States." Gutt's airline ticket routed him via the U.S. city of Portland, Oregon, to Billings, Montana. Only as he was about to board a commuter flight to Sidney -- an oil town of about 5,000 people -- did he realize his mistake. The hapless tourist, who had only a thin jacket to keep out the winter cold, spent three days in Billings airport before he was able to buy a new ticket to Australia with 600 euros in cash that his parents and friends sent over from Germany. "I didn't notice the mistake as my son is usually good with comput
ers," his mother, Sabine, said.
December 16
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Father sues after daughter spends 4 days stuck
PARIS - French police were questioning a building supervisor in a Paris suburb to find out how a 19-year-old woman who got stuck in a lift was not found for four days. Safiatou Diallo had stepped out of her family's apartment in a residential block in Saint Denis on December 19 to buy some bread. The elevator she took stopped between the first and second floors. Her panicked father started a search for her and immediately suspected the stuck lift.
"I saw our lift was broken and I right away thought she was stuck inside," Souleymane Diallo told Le Parisien newspaper. But the building supervisor and an elevator technician asked to check the lift reported back that it was empty, prompting the family to take their search farther afield. Safiatou Diallo ended up spending four days in the confined space, and was only found when a repair crew came to work on the faulty elevator. She told Le Parisien she thought she was going to be discovered earlier "because I heard my father say that I was surely stuck inside" and added that she had activated the alarm. Still trembling from the experience, which left her dehydrated, she said: "I was cold and hungry, but there was a little bit of light ... What kept me going was the certainty that I was going to be found." Her father, Souleymane Diallo, has launched a lawsuit over the matter. Police said they were questioning the supervisor and the technician to determine why they failed to find the woman earlier.
December 17
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Turkish butchers sweat for Feast of Sacrifice
ANKARA - Can a kangaroo or an ostrich be sacrificed? Can a woman be the butcher? Are children allowed to watch the ritual? These were some of the questions that dozens of Turks had to answer at an exam here to obtain official butcher certificates ahead of Eid al-Adha, the four-day Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, which starts Sunday. The exam marked the end of a training program on hygiene, proper animal slaughter and healthy meat consumption, organized by the Yenimahalle municipality as part of increasing efforts here to eradicate notoriously unhygienic practices during the feast.
"Education is a must," said Yenimahalle Mayor Ahmet Duyar, one of the pioneers of the training programs. "Unlicensed butchers are absolutely banned from slaughtering in our district." The often messy butchering of animals in public -- on streets, parks or roadsides -- has sparked mounting public outcry in Turkey in recent years, prompting the authorities to organize specially equipped facilities for the sacrificial ritual. Pools of blood staining pavements or sheep carcasses hanging from power poles along motorways have become commonplace during Eid al-Adha, when terrified animals due for slaughter often run amok, disrupting traffic and mobilizing the police. In addition, hundreds of amateur butchers end up in hospital each year, cutting themselves or having their noses and limbs broken by kicking, unruly animals. Eid al-Adha, one of the most important Muslim holidays, marks the gesture of the Prophet Abraham who was about to sacrifice his son for the love of God when God spared the child and gave a sheep to be sacrificed instead.
December 18
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When Santa Claus slips into cash machine..
ZAGREB - Dozens of Croatians could not believe their luck when a cashpoint paid out twice the amount requested just before Christmas. Instead of 50 kuna bills (seven euros, nine dollars), customers received 100 kunas. News of the machine making bountiful Santa Claus style handouts quickly got around and dozens profited from the faulty cashpoint in the northern town of Zlatar Bistrica two days before Chrismas, until police stepped in to halt the generous payments, the daily newspaper Jutarnji List reported. Authorities have confirmed the incident but refused to reveal the amount of money lost. The blunder was apparently caused by an employee of Zagrebacka bank in charge of filling the machine with cash.
December 19
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Baby Jesus went missing from the Christmas manger of Greece's second largest city Salonika after being snatched by a group of suspected anarchists, local police said.
December 20
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Maya learning to balance herself on the scale...
Photolurking, blog streaking and cheesepodding
PARIS - The Internet has given birth to a quirky range of modern addictions and maladies, the British weekly New Scientist says. They include these: - EGO-SURFING: When you frequently check your name and reputation on the Internet. - BLOG STREAKING: "Revealing secrets or personal information online which for everybody's sake would be best kept private." - CRACKBERRY: "The curse of the modern executive: not being able to stop checking your BlackBerry, even at your grandmother's funeral.". - GOOGLE-STALKING: Defined as "snooping online on old friends, colleagues or first dates." - CYBERCHONDRIA: "A headache and a particular rash at the same time? Extensive online research tells you it must be cancer." - PHOTOLURKING: Flicking through a photo album of someone you've never met. - WIKIPEDIHOLISM: Excess devotion to contributing to the online collaborative encyclopaedia, Wikipedia. - CHEESEPODDING: Downloading of a song "so cheesy that you could cover it in plastic wrap and sell it at the deli counter." Cheesepodders are especially vulnerable to soft-rock favourites from the 1970s.
December 21
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Eric Tessire of Denver makes an attempt to push his car out of the snow in preparation for Friday morning's commute after a second major snowstorm hit. The winter storm is expected to dump up to 18 inches of snow on the Denver area overnight and prompted Gov. Bill Owens to again declare a statewide disaster emergency, just a week after a pre-Christmas blizzard shut the airport for more than two days
December 22
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Immense ice shelf breaks off in Canadian Arctic
MONTREAL - An enormous ice shelf broke away from Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic, researchers said, warning it could be another symptom of global warming. The 66-square-kilometer (25.5-square-mile) ice island tore away from Ellesmere, a huge strip of land in the Canadian Arctic close to Greenland. The actual break took place in August 2005 and was detected by sensors 250 kilometers (155 miles) away, but at the time no one was able to pinpoint what had happened. The Canadian Ice Service contacted geographer Luke Copland at the University of Ottawa, who was able to reconstruct the chain of events by piecing together seismic data and satellite images supplied by Canada and the United States. "This loss is the biggest in 25 years, but it continues the loss that occurred within the last century," Copland told AFP, noting that ice cover was down by 90 percent since this area was discovered in 1906. "What is important and interesting is that it is sudden, quite large even. In the past, we looked to climate change (and) thought perhaps ice shelves ... would just melt apart by losing a little piece day by day, but it now seems that when you reach some kind of threshold, when you reach that level, the whole thing just breaks apart."
December 23
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Japanese gadget has plants talking back
TOKYO - Japanese romantics will have the chance to hear some truly flowery language with the help of a playful gadget purported to express the feelings of plants. Through the voice of a small doll, the device will share what the plant is supposedly 'thinking' when a person strokes it. The "Hanakotoba", or "Communication Flower", consists of a small rod topped with a fairy figurine that can be put inside a potted plant or vase of water. When the owner touches the stem or leaves, a small electric current passes from the rod through a wire to a small doll. "What a beautiful day!" the doll, wearing a green vest and cone hat, will say once the flower is touched, or "Let's stay friends forever!"
Hanakotoba has up to 200 different phrases, some as potentially uncomfortable as "Do you have a boyfriend?" The gadget, made by Japanese toymaker E-revolution, is the latest creation of Masahiko Kajita, who scored a smash hit in 2002 with "Bowlingual" -- a dog collar said to interpret canine barking. He said the Hanakotoba was meant to tap a female market. "I created translators for cats and dogs, which were a big success among men, so I was searching for a similar success among females, and since women love flowers, I decided to work on them," he said. "This toy doesn't use a single dirty or aggressive word, unlike Bowlingual," he said. But the plant can still become angry. If the device senses there is insufficient water, the doll says in a shrill voice: "Come on, what are you looking at? Give me more water!" The toy was released this month at 4,179 yen (35 dollars) each and, if successful in Japan, will make its way abroad, the company said.
December 24
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Transport chaos grips US but Santa's sleigh ok
SALMON, Idaho - Heavy snows have paralysed air travel in the United States but authorities in Montana have come to the aid of Santa Claus should his sleigh fall victim to the transport chaos. The head of the Montana Department of Transportation said in a statement that Santa and his gift-laden sleigh would be granted a waiver from normal rules governing oversize and overweight loads. "We want to ensure that, should visibility in the sky be poor on Christmas Eve, Santa has an alternate way to deliver presents to Montana kids," said Jim Lynch, director of the state highway agency. Lynch said Montana road crews and the state's fleet of 670 snowplows are on standby to aid Santa as well as any other holiday travelers.
December 25
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It's Christmas! Have a little more bat meat!
By Miral Fahmy Fri Dec 22, 9:05 AM ET SINGAPORE, Dec 22 (Reuters Life!) - Dogs, bats, Kentucky Fried Chicken and barramundi will grace dinner tables across the Asia Pacific this Christmas, a festival celebrated with lots of cheer, and very little turkey, in this mainly non-Christian region. Christmas Day is seen as a foreign, Western festival in many countries in Asia but that doesn't stop millions of people from cooking up banquets of local food unheard of in the West. In Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country which also has a substantial Christian community, Christmas feasts include delicacies such as pork soaked in blood and dog meat. "We usually hold a family gathering at our parents' house or in-laws' house after Christmas eve mass," said Ermida Simanjuntak, a Batak Christian Indonesian. "We do not exchange gifts, we use this event more to meet and talk." In the eastern island of Sulawesi, some Manado Christians swear by kawok, or garden rats, cooked with chilies and garlic, and paniki, or bats, cooked in coconut milk. "Paniki's meat tastes almost the same as kawok but it has more muscles," said Manadonese Stephen Lapian. "But if you cut the arm pit in a wrong way, it will be very stinky." In Japan, many people head to Kentucky on Christmas -- Kentucky Fried Chicken, that is.
The fast food joints do a roaring trade over the Christmas period, with restaurants turning away customers on December 24 if they haven't booked their chicken in advance. "Over the period from 23rd to 25th December, sales can be as high as ten times normal levels," said Sumeo Yokokawa, of the public relations department at Kentucky Fried Chicken Japan. The Kentucky Christmas habit started in 1974, after a foreign customer mentioned to a store manager that he had come to buy fried chicken because he was unable to find turkey in Japan. His words inspired a sales campaign that paid off. "The fashion at the time was to have a nice American-style Christmas," said Yokokawa. "So we offered the chicken as a set with a bottle of wine and it was very popular."
HUNGRY? Chinese sweet ham is a popular centerpiece for Christmas Eve dinner in the Philippines, where the affluent serve up roast pig or turkey. Filipinos pride themselves on celebrating the longest Christmas in the world, with decorations going up in September. Although Christmas is a normal working day in officially atheist Communist China, big hotels in Beijing and Shanghai offer glitzy Christmas lunches and dinners. Many smaller restaurants also get into the spirit with staff wearing Santa hats and windows decorated with tinsel, unthinkable in Chairman Mao Zedong's time. Down Under, where Christmas falls in high summer, an Australian Christmas lunch is more likely to be seafood and salad than roast turkey and pudding. Popular Christmas fare includes prawns or lobster, followed by barbecued barramundi or snapper, alongside cold meats. "As the weather gets hotter and hotter, people just don't want to be inside cooking over the stove," fish market marketing manager Louise Nock told Reuters. And if you still have room, try the region's vast array of desserts, which range from Filipino bibingka -- an egg-based rice cake topped with grated cheese and coconut -- to a Portuguese-style rice and fruit cake in Bangladesh. In Japan, many families opt for a plain sponge cake topped with whipped cream and strawberries. As delicious as it sounds, the term "Christmas cake" was long used to refer to unmarried women over the age of 25, who were said to be past their best, like cakes after December 25. (Reporting by Isabel Reynolds and Elaine Lies in Tokyo, Mita Valina Liem in Jakarta, Azad Majumder in Dhaka, James Grubel in Canberra, Carmel Crimmins and Karen Iema in Manila, Ben Blanchard in Beijing and Jon Herskovitz in Seoul)
December 26
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Erin's parents house burnt down to the ground today. More complete pictures of the fire can be found here
December 27
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An Australian family of four owe their lives to their pet cat after the animal prevented a house fire from turning into a tragedy, an official has said. After a mattress caught on fire in the night, the courageous moggie leapt to the aid of its sleeping owner by digging its claws into his face, waking him before the blaze engulfed the family home in north Queensland.
December 28
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Judge: Saddam to be executed by Saturday
BAGHDAD, Iraq - Saddam Hussein will be executed no later than Saturday, said an Iraqi judge authorized to attend his hanging. The former dictator's lawyers said he had been transferred from U.S. custody, but an Iraqi official said he was still in the hands of American guards. The physical transfer of Saddam to Iraqi authorities was believed to be one of the last steps before he was to be hanged, although the lawyers' statement did not specifically say Saddam was in Iraqi hands. "A few minutes ago we received correspondence from the Americans saying that President Saddam Hussein is no longer under the control of U.S. forces," according to the statement faxed to The Associated Press. The statement said U.S. officials asked the lawyers to cancel a trip to Baghdad for a last meeting with Saddam, saying he was no longer in American custody. Munir Haddad, a judge on the appeals court that upheld Saddam's death sentence, said he was ready to attend the execution. "All the measures have been done," Haddad said. "There is no reason for delays." In Baghdad, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has signed Saddam's death sentence, a government official said. The official, who refused to be identified by name because he was not authorized to release the information, said that Iraqi authorities were not yet in control of Saddam. The discrepancy could not be explained. "We have agreed with the Americans that the handover will take place only a few minutes before he is executed," the official said. The defense team statement called on "everybody to do everything to stop this unfair execution."
Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said opposing Saddam's execution was an insult to his victims. His office said he made the remarks in a meeting with families of people who died during Saddam's rule. "Our respect for human rights requires us to execute him, and there will be no review or delay in carrying out the sentence," al-Maliki said. Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said U.S. forces were on high alert. "They'll obviously take into account social dimensions that could potentially led to an increase in violence which certainly would include carrying out the sentence of Saddam Hussein," Whitman said. On Thursday, two half brothers visited Saddam in his cell, a member of the former dictator's defense team, Badee Izzat Aref, told The Associated Press by telephone from the United Arab Emirates. He said the former dictator handed them his personal belongings. A senior commander at the Iraqi defense ministry also confirmed the meeting and said Saddam gave his will to one of his half brothers. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. Saddam's lawyers later issued a statement saying the Americans gave permission for his belongings to be retrieved. However, Raed Juhi, spokesman for the High Tribunal court that convicted Saddam, denied that the former leader's relatives visited him. An Iraqi appeals court upheld Saddam's death sentence Tuesday for the killing of 148 people who were detained after an attempt to assassinate him in the northern Iraqi city of Dujail in 1982. The court said the former president should be hanged within 30 days. There have been disagreements among Iraqi officials in recent days as to whether Iraqi law dictates the execution must take place within 30 days and whether President Jalal Talabani and his two deputies have to approve it.
In his Friday sermon, a mosque preacher in the Shiite holy city of Najaf called Saddam's execution "God's gift to Iraqis." "Oh, God, you know what Saddam has done! He killed millions of Iraqis in prisons, in wars with neighboring countries and he is responsible for mass graves. Oh God, we ask you to take revenge on Saddam," said Sheik Sadralddin al-Qubanji, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, known as SCIRI, the dominant party in al-Maliki's coalition. With at least 72 more Iraqis killed Thursday in violence, U.S. officials and Iraqis expressed concern about the potential for even worse bloodshed following Saddam's execution. In the latest violence, a suicide bomber killed nine people near a Shiite mosque north of Baghdad on Friday, police said. A round of mortar shells also slammed into al-Maidan square in central Baghdad, wounding ten people and damaging shops and buildings in the area, police said. Gunmen killed two employees of an oil company and another civilian in Mosul, 250 miles northwest of Baghdad. Two civilians and a policeman were fatally shot in separate attacks in Musayyib, about 40 miles south of the capital, police said. U.S. troops, meanwhile, killed six people and destroyed a weapons cache in separate raids in Baghdad and northwest of the Iraqi capital, the U.S. military said. One of the raids targeted two buildings in the village of Thar Thar, where U.S. troops found 16 pounds of homemade explosives, two large bombs, a rocket-propelled grenade, suicide vests and multiple batteries, the military said. Iraqi forces backed by U.S. troops also captured 13 suspects and confiscated weapons in a raid on a mosque southeast of Baghdad, the U.S. military said Friday.
December 29
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Woman fakes kidnapping to avoid work
BERLIN - A 21-year-old German woman who did not feel like going to work at a fast food restaurant sent her parents a text message saying she had been kidnapped. Police in the Bavarian town of Straubing said they had launched a massive search throughout the region for the woman who disappeared on December 23 but turned up unscathed the following morning, saying the kidnapper had set her free. A spokesman said the woman was questioned over the Christmas holiday and admitted she made up the story because she owed a colleague 25 euros ($32.9) and did not have the money to pay her debt. She now faces a fine of up to 1,000 euros.
December 30
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Injured man wins damages for sex overdrive
LONDON - A devout Christian who said an accident at work boosted his libido and wrecked his marriage as he turned to prostitutes and pornography was awarded more than 3 million pounds ($5.89 million) in damages. Stephen Tame, 29, from Suffolk, suffered severe head injuries in a fall, transforming him from a loyal newlywed into a "disinhibited" character who had two affairs. He was in a coma for two months after falling from a gantry while working at a bicycle warehouse shortly after his marriage in January 2002. Doctors said it was a miracle he survived. Awarding him 3.1 million pounds in compensation at London's High Court, Judge Michael Harris said: "His life and the life of his young wife were shattered." His former employer, Professional Cycle Marketing, of Essex, had argued through their lawyers that his injuries were not as bad as suggested in court.
December 31
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