News you may have missed...
July 1998

Japan network mauled over tiger-meat gourmet show

TOKYO, July 10 (Reuters) - A leading Japanese television network provoked outrage on Friday for showing its entertainers eating and enjoying tiger meat in a cooking programme filmed in China. A spokeswoman for the Worldwide Fund for Nature said the Fuji Television programme, part of a series entitled "World Super Deluxe Rare Cuisine", set a terrible example for viewers.

In Thursday night's programme, three Japanese entertainment personalities shown dining on the tiger at a restaurant in Shanghai, described the meal as delicious and showed no remorse when they learned what they were eating. Newspaper television listings for the programme had said the featured dish would be "Stir Fried Bengal Tiger: Cantonese Style."

A spokesman for Fuji TV said the Bengal tiger used in the meal died a year ago in a fight with other tigers in a zoo in Shanghai. It had been been frozen since then, he said. After a first course of buffalo penis, which the entertainers said they also enjoyed, the two women and a man were given a blind tasting of a braised meat dish and asked to guess what it was. A live Bengal tiger, which is on the world's endangered species list, was led into the dining room by way of answer. "Today we partook of something really delicious," said one of the three entertainers, who gathered round the live tiger to pat it after their meal.

Fuji TV denied that eating the tiger meat violated a global treaty that protects endangered species. The Worldwide Fund for Nature said in a report earlier this year that there were only about 5,000 to 7,500 tigers left in the wild, mainly in national parks and protected areas. After the network was bombarded with viewer complaints and media inquiries and animal rights groups denounced the programme, Fuji TV issued a statement that fell short of a full apology.

"We don't believe this programme violated the Washington Treaty which prohibits international trade in endangered species," the statement said. "However, the programme was careless from the broader perspective of animal protection, and we will endeavour from here on to pay due attention to the prevention of cruelty to animals in our programming." Fuji TV public relations spokesman Hideaki Hirose told Reuters: "In ancient China, tiger meat was eaten as an elixir for longevity and we re-enacted that custom." He added: "I guess we were pushing the envelope on this."

The Worldwide Fund for Nature said there was no excuse. "Even if the tiger died in the zoo, this kind of programme shows a low awareness among Japanese of the plight of endangered species and sets a terrible example for viewers," a fund spokeswoman told Reuters. Japan's alleged lack of sensitivity over such issues is not new. Even though whaling is allowed under international agreement generally only for research purposes, whale meat can easily be found in Japanese restaurants. Raw fish, or sashimi, is also shown at some high-class restaurants to be absolutely fresh by virtue of the fact that it is carved up while still alive on the table. "This isn't just about tigers, it's about public awareness, and that's a real problem in Japan," the fund spokeswoman said. She said Japan often turned a blind eye to the import of rare animal products such as tiger bones and rhinoceros horns, which are ground into powder and sold as aphrodisiacs.

Fuji TV is Japan's leading network by revenue, taking in about $3 billion last year. Cuisine shows, including one called "Iron Chef", are also among its most-watched programmes. The three diners were Kenichi Mikawa, who frequently appears on gourmet travel shows, Tomomi Nishimura, a popular actress, and Midori Utsumi, a well-known TV personality.

Mexico reopens strip club, under federal management

GUADALAJARA, Mexico, June 12 (Reuters) - A Mexican strip club closed down because of money laundering allegations reopened on Friday under new management -- the Attorney General's Office. Fernando Lopez Hernandez of the Attorney General's Office in the western city of Guadalajara said "The Men's Club" had been reopened while still in federal hands so that its more than 200 workers would not lose their jobs.

The cabaret, which employs women who dance topless, is a franchise of a U.S. chain also named The Men's Club. The Guadalajara club was closed down on June 2 when prosecutors accused its owners of laundering money for drug lords.

Poles ski on "diplomatic" snow at Warsaw fete

WARSAW - A shipment of Alpine snow arrived at a festival in Warsaw under diplomatic protection after Polish customs officials tried to slap a duty on the frosty consignment, newspapers said. The nine-metre-high (30-foot-high) ski slope, set up in Old Town's picturesque Castle Square as part of this weekend's Tyrolian fete, came close to being a no-show, Zycie Warszawy reported.

Customs officials demanded a 20 percent customs payment and a seven percent tax on the 20 tonnes of snow from the Alps. After intervention by the Austrian Embassy, the snow was allowed into the country as a diplomatic parcel, the paper reported.

China protesters storm cafeteria, devour food

BEIJING, June 15 (Reuters) - About 50 hungry state workers protesting over unpaid salaries stormed the cafeteria of a city government building in northern China last month and devoured all the food and drink, officials said on Monday. In an example of the discontent China faces as reforms to state industry throw millions out of work with few benefits, workers from a cotton mill in Hebei province broke through a phalanx of police outside the city hall late last month, the officials said.

The workers were owed months of back pay from loss-making Handan Cotton Number One Plant in Hubei's Handan city, a city government official said. "That day, before negotiations between workers' representatives and city government leaders were over, about 40 to 50 other workers went to the cafeteria," one cafeteria worker said. "They ate all the food. They finished all the drinks," the worker said.

A city government official said the plant manager had been forced to resign and a new one had been elected. "The plant is on the brink of bankruptcy," the official said. He declined to give figures for losses or debts.

U.S. woman finds formula for happy marriage

OMAHA, Neb., June 17 (Reuters) - Janet Downes of Bellevue, Neb., is sparing no effort for her June 27 wedding. There will be a choir, a wedding gown, the usual wedding cake and flowers -- but no groom. She is getting married to herself.

Downes, who turns 40 that day, told the Omaha World-Herald she decided on the mock wedding as a way of celebrating the fact that she is "happy with herself", regardless of the men in her life. She'll exchange vows by reciting in front of a mirror, "I, Janet Downes, take myself with all my strengths and faults..." In a departure from wedding tradition, the bride also said she will be wearing black, according to the paper. The music program will include the song "My Way" and a ditty Downes penned herself: "We've got to kiss a lot of frogs/Just to find that prince/You know what girls?/I'm not convinced."

Dancer's breasts did not hurt Florida man

TAMPA, Florida - A topless dancer hit a nightclub patron with her ample breasts, but did not injure him, former New York City Mayor Ed Koch ruled in a "People's Court" trial of the clubgoer's personal injury lawsuit. Koch heard the case in New York City and deliberated about 20 minutes before ruling in favour of dancer Tawny Peaks and the Diamond Dolls nightclub, the Tampa Tribune said.

During the trial Koch instructed court officer Josephine Longobardi to take Peaks into his chambers and examine her breasts to see if they were as hard as plaintiff Paul Shimkonis testified. Longobardi told the judge she estimated they weighed about 2 pounds each and were 20 percent silicone and the rest natural. Shimkonis filed suit against the club in June, claiming the dancer injured him during a performance at the Clearwater bar during his bachelor party in September 1996. The lawsuit said she jumped on him, forcing her extra-large breasts into his face and causing his head to jerk backward.

"Real" Santa Claus to miss world congress again

COPENHAGEN, July 17 (Reuters) - More than 100 Father Christmases hold their annual get-together in Copenhagen next week -- but Finland's "one and only, real Santa Claus" says he is too busy welcoming visitors to leave his Arctic home. "I have so many guests here every day, people from all over the world. I cannot let them down," Santa told Reuters by telephone on Friday from his home in Lapland, northern Finland.

The Finnish Santa, who says children round the world know him as the real Father Christmas, said he received up to 4,000 visitors a day, adding up to several hundred thousand a year. Santa, who is nearly 400 years old, said the 35th Santa Claus World Congress to be held in Copenhagen from July 20-23 was a gathering of his semi-official assistants -- a view that might irritate some of his rivals. Some claim that Santa Claus lives in Greenland, others believe he comes from Turkey, but Finland's Santa stated unequivocally that he was the one and only real Father Christmas. The special Father Christmas post office in Finland received over 800,000 cards or letters from children in nearly 200 countries last year, and one million are expected this year, he said. If this, and his many visitors, do not prove that he is the real Santa, doubters should try to visit the other Santas. "You will find nothing," he said. "There are a lot of fakes around, just like in the CD (compact disc) market." "I am here all the time, apart from Christmas when I visit children all over the world."

Santa said he did not mind not having been invited to the World Congress for the past two or three years. He attended it once in its early years, but found that it did not suit his schedule. "Everyone wants to see the real Santa Claus here," he said. The Danish Santa Claus Association said over 100 Santas from about 10 countries will meet in Copenhagen "for a serious congress". Agenda items include a debate on whether Christmas Eve should be moved to January 6 from December 24. "A dispensation might be given to the countries that don't want to celebrate Christmas Eve on December 24," it said in a statement.

One key topic will be a demand by the Santas' wives to have their own trade union. "They want to be independent, have the right to vote at the congress and they want to be called 'Female Santa Clauses'," the association said. The four-day event will also feature a Santa Claus parade through the city centre, open-air shows, dances and games, the organisers said.

Calif. activists raise stink for "skunk safe" yogurt

SAN FRANCISCO, July 17 (Reuters) - Your tuna sandwich may not be hurting the dolphins, but is your yogurt skunk safe? In a new campaign to bring political correctness to the pantry, a California animal rights group has declared that Yoplait brand yogurt containers are leading to the agonizing deaths of skunks across the country.

"Thousands of skunks and other wildlife are dying in yogurt containers," Camilla Fox of the Sacramento, California-based Animal Protection Institute said on Friday. "They jam their heads in looking for yogurt and then get trapped." The stink over skunk-safe yogurt follows earlier campaigns for dolphin-safe tuna, in which animal rights activists targeted tuna fishing nets they said were responsible for the needless deaths of dolphins.

Fox said Yoplait, with its distinctive tapered container, is equally deadly for skunks. "They are attracted to the smell of the yogurt, and wedge their heads into the container," she said. "When they try to pull out, the rim that curves in acts as a locking mechanism against the animal's fur. "Because they have short legs, they are unable to push against the container to extricate themselves." Fox said the skunks, locked in a Yoplait helmet they cannot remove, are blinded and frequently die of suffocation. "They bump around, they get run over by cars, and they obviously are easy prey," Fox said. "It is a fairly brutal death. One they don't deserve."

Officials at General Mills Inc , the maker of Yoplait, say they have been taking the problem seriously -- enough to mount rigorous design tests involving stuffing fake skunk heads made of foam into different prototype containers. Larry Sawyer, General Mills' director of government relations, was not available to comment on Friday. But he told the San Jose Mercury News the company was trying to help. "It is a problem," he said. "We're working on a solution." Over the next several weeks, a new, "skunk friendlier" Yoplait container featuring a warning to consumers and a special ridge at the bottom to help skunks extricate themselves will hit supermarket shelves. But the familiar tapered design will stay because it makes the brand recognizable, Sawyer said.

Fox and other skunk advocates say this is not enough, and are encouraging consumers to write to General Mills president Steve Sanger to demand a total container revamp. "We are trying to negotiate with them," Fox said. "We want to talk more before we call for a boycott." Donna Backus, a Massachusetts wildlife rehabilitator who was one of the first to identify the Yoplait threat to skunks, says General Mills officials simply do not understand how dangerous the containers can be. "I'd like to put a huge Yoplait container on the CEO of General Mills and set him out loose on the streets of New York," Backus told the Mercury News.

Aspiring Paris policeman takes wrong career turn

PARIS, July 21 (Reuters) - A cyclist stopped by police in Paris riding the wrong way down a one-way street turned out to be a trainee policeman illegally carrying a gun who admitted he was on his way to buy drugs. A police spokesman said on Tuesday that the would-be law enforcer told police he was carrying the handgun because the neighbourhood where he planned to buy drugs was unsafe. "This is not exactly the type of element we want in our ranks and I think his presence in police school is about to come to an abrupt end," the spokesman told Reuters.

German barbecue ad evokes Holocaust memories

BONN, July 21 (Reuters) - A top German retailer apologised on Tuesday for inadvertently using a slogan associated with a Nazi death camp to promote its range of barbecue condiments. Cologne-based Rewe AG confirmed a newspaper report that a mailing campaign by its supermarket chain HL had used the phrase "Jedem das Seine" ("To each his own"), which hung over the entrance of the Buchenwald death camp between 1937 and 1945.

"Barbecues: to each his own...A sauce for every occasion," read the advertising leaflet, which was mailed to six million homes across Germany. "We are deeply sorry if we have caused offence," Rewe spokesman Raimund Esser told Reuters, adding that HL would not use the slogan again. He said he understood that just one person had been offended by the slogan and had complained to the Frankfurter Rundschau, the newspaper which ran the story.

Last month the German unit of Finnish telecom giant Nokia decided to withdraw an advertising campaign for cellular phones that used the same slogan after an outcry from Jewish groups. More than 56,000 people were killed at Buchenwald by the Nazis.

Whole in one...

The accompanying photo was taken at the "Breakers Golf Course" in Palm Beach County, Florida in June, 1998. As the story goes, the first foursome of the day played together to the 5th hole where one impatient golfer went ahead of the group. The remaining three, thinking that the impatient golfer finished without them and was waiting at the nineteenth hole wasn't concerned with his absence. After waiting 2 hours for his return and his car still in the parking lot the threesome notified the club and the search was on.

Of course the impatient golfer was not located but his clubs were found on the seventh hole. Three days later, Ole Mose was spotted on the seventh hole and was an immediate suspect, being an American crocodile, an infrequent course visitor for over 20 years. Not much concern was ever given to Ole Mose, who had always made a hasty retreat whenever he saw anyone coming. After consultation between course officials, SPCA, lawyers, citizens groups, the Mayor, Palm Beach PD and the American Crocodile Association of South Florida, it was decided that to put everyone's mind at ease, Ole Mose should be unzipped.

And here - not for the faint of heart - is the result...

Thai men in tongue line-up after attempted rape

BANGKOK, July 30 (Reuters) - About 50 Thai men were ordered to stick out their tongues this week after an attempted rape in a remote village in northeast Thailand. Police said an unidentified man tried to rape a 17-year-old girl in Phong Kham on Monday night but the victim managed to bite off part of his tongue in the struggle, scaring him away. The girl wrapped the piece of tongue in a plastic bag and handed it over to police to use as evidence. "About 50 men in the village turned up to prove that their tongues had not been bitten off," a police spokesman said. "Only one man in the village failed to turn up. He is now a suspect."

Singapore toilet campaign awash with success

SINGAPORE, July 30 (Reuters) - Squeaky-clean Singapore, reputed in ravaged Asia for its unsoiled banking system, is having the same success with its public toilets. The Ministry of the Environment said on Thursday that it rated 122 of 770 public toilets surveyed as "excellent" in 1998, against none in 1997 and 1996, the year the surveys began. The number of public toilets rated "poor" and "not quite satisfactory" dropped to 184 against 300 last year, a statement from the ministry said.

The statement was issued for the launch of the 1998 Clean Public Toilets Campaign, for which Singapore is rolling out a series of promotional contests including a poster competition for a "model toilet", and a People's Choice Award for the cleanest public toilet. Specially-designed educational materials, including stickers, bookmarks, badges and keychains, carrying the message "Let's keep our toilets clean and dry" will be handed out.

"As a nation, Singapore has a strong reputation for cleanliness, but if our public toilets are not of a high standard, then our reputation will suffer," Commissioner of Public Health Daniel Wang said in the statement. "Keeping public toilets clean is one simple way we can all help maintain the good name we have built for Singapore." The statement noted that in 1996 Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong "commented that the cleanliness of public toilets should be a good marker of social graciousness."

Ok, maybe Britain's not that bad...

Taleban raid shops with TVs and video players

KABUL, July 30 (Reuters) - Taleban religious police smashed or confiscated television sets, video cassette recorders and satellite dish receivers in shops in the Afghan capital Kabul on Thursday, witnesses said. The Taleban action came on the expiry of a two-week warning to shop owners to get rid of their TVs, VCRs and satellite receivers. The purist Islamic Taleban movement has outlawed music, television, dancing, photography and Western clothes in the two-thirds of Afghanistan it controls.

Witnesses said Taleban armed fighters belonging to Ministry of Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also known as the religious police, took part in the action. "Four people barged into my shop, grabbed the two TV sets I had and smashed them on the ground," said one shopkeeper who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They came and told me that, didn't I know that the ultimatum had expired, and took my dish receiver," another shopkeeper said. He said some shopkeepers had their video players confiscated by the white turbaned Taleban. They said Taleban authorities planned to continue the crackdown.

When the Taleban swept to power in September 1996, one of their first acts was to ban TV sets in Kabul. But until recently, some people in the once liberal city were able to watch video tapes and satellite channels. A Taleban official said monitoring peoples homes to insure compliance with its ban would be difficult and the militia would not be allowed to raid homes without permission from the religious police. He also said homes would not be searched unless the Taleban had accurate information. Earlier in the week, residents complained the militia broke into houses and carried away or smashed their TV sets. The Taleban say they want to build the world's purist Islamic regime in Afghanistan and will not change their stern policies.

Ok, maybe Britain's not REALLY that bad...

Caviar and cocktail sauce is another man's pureed liver

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Chefs at some of the nation's top restaurants say with some pain that customers are always right ... even if they want their liver medium rare and pureed and their beluga caviar smothered in cocktail sauce. New York-based Nation's Restaurant News, a trade publication, reports in next week's issue on some of the stranger requests the leading U.S. chefs have faced.

One chef interviewed, Ed Brown of the SeaGrill in New York's Rockefeller Center, tells of a guest whose mouth was wired up from dental work and asked for his meal pureed. That might not have been so bad, he said, but the man ordered liver sauteed medium rare with balsamic-honey glaze, fried onions and wild rice cake. "It was the most unappetizing food I ever served. It was so ugly I lost my appetite," Brown said. "It looked like what I imagine the inside of a sewer looks like. I didn't dare put it in a glass because I didn't want anyone else in the dining room to see it." Brown also recalls a request from a diner for cocktail sauce with his beluga caviar. Unable to contain his curiosity, the chef surveyed the dining room and watched the man "slamming down spoons of caviar and cocktail sauce. The beluga was over $100 an ounce (28 grams)"

Another memorable request came from a diner who wanted fried lobster. "It actually turned out to be fairly decent," the chef admitted, after he dipped the blanched shellfish in a tempura batter. "But that wouldn't be my first choice for a treatment for lobster." Jean Joho, chef-owner of Everest and Brasserie Jo in Chicago, told Nation's Restaurant News about an order for a raw veal chop with plain vegetables on the side. Joho prepared the meal. "If this is what he wants, this is what he will get," he said. But he wondered why the customer did not just eat at a supermarket.

Susan Weaver, chef at New York's Four Seasons hotel, also said diners should get what they want, the trade paper said. It said her list of unusual requests, carried out mostly by room service, included pureed pizza, all blue M&M candies, two cases of French Evian mineral water at room temperature for a bath, a bottle of Evian for a dog and a specially prepared dog's dinner (the customer provided the recipe). The dog's dish was billed at the hotel's rate for a burger, $24 a portion, but the tab for the bath water came out to more than $200 a dip, not including the tip.

In Atlanta, chef Guenter Seeger said a diner told him he had enjoyed the steamed white asparagus but wondered why the soup was so bland. The "soup," Seeger said, was actually a finger bowl served alongside the asparagus. The NRN trade publication says a sense of humor helps to defuse most potentially embarrassing situations. Michel Richard at Citronelle in Washington tells about the time a diner asked for Chinese-style duck in his French restaurant. The chef asked in his thick French accent: "Why do you come to a French restaurant for that? Do you go to a Chinese restaurant and order beef bourguignon?" NRN reported.

But Richard did his best to comply, adding some sugar on the skin and cooking the duck a little longer to make it crisper. "It wasn't Peking duck, but he liked it, and maybe I created a new recipe," the chef told NRN. Richard said his sense of humor always saves him when customers ask if vegetables and fish are fresh. "Even if they are not fresh, what do they expect me to answer? 'No, the fish is old and smelly?'"

Spinning ceiling fan kills Nigerian baby

LAGOS, May 10 (Reuters) - A spinning ceiling fan decapitated a five-month old Nigerian baby girl when a visiting relation tossed her in the air while playing, a local newspaper said on Sunday. "The fan, said to be working at its maximum speed, reportedly severed the baby's head instantly," the Sunday Champion said. It said police in the southern town of Akure planned to charge the relation with murder. The dead baby, named Bolatito, was her mother's first child after five years of trying to give birth, the paper said. It did not say when the incident happened.

Bardot calls on Austria to stop "art killing"

PARIS, July 30 (Reuters) - Brigitte Bardot, French screen goddess turned animal rights campaigner, urged Austria on Thursday to ban what she said was a planned "satanic spectacle" in which animals would be killed and pictures painted with their blood. Bardot said David Bowie and Yoko Ono were expected "at this veritable orgy where bulls and pigs will be sacrificed, split open in the name of art. Their innards are to be crushed by the feet of 100 'art' students so their blood can be used in pictures by (organiser) Hermann Nitsch, this master of horror," Bardot said in a statement.

She said the show was slated to start on Monday at Nitsch's private estate at Mistelbach, last six days and was expected to attract 2,000 spectators. Reports in Vienna suggested 1,000 people were planning to attend. Austrian state TV has acquired the rights to cover the show, which has prompted a protest from the far-right Freedom Party led by Joerg Haider. "What period of decadence are we living in?" asked Bardot. "I cannot believe that a country as dignified as Austria can accept such obscene rites of butchery from another age." Bardot called on sympathisers to write to Austrian President Thomas Klestil to ask him to ban the event.

African used "black magic" to get bank's money

MIAMI, July 30 (Reuters) - A West African millionaire who made a splash in Florida by giving away luxury cars and cash stole his fortune by threatening an employee at a United Arab Emirates bank with his "black magic" powers, a lawsuit said. In the suit, filed in state court in Miami in late June and unsealed this week, Dubai Islamic Bank alleged that Foutanga Dit Babani Sissoko, a citizen of Mali and Gambia, obtained at least $240 million of its money by convincing a bank officer that he had put him under a spell.

He told the officer that he could duplicate currency and said he had hung a black glass ball in his bedroom that enabled Sissoko to see what he was doing. In response, the suit alleges, the employee transferred $240 million to Sissoko's accounts around the world from 1995 until March. It said $41 million ended up in banks in Miami. The suit also names several bank officials and Abdou Karim Pouye, Sissoko's chief financial officer. And it lists millions in payments by Sissoko to luxury goods retailers such as Cartier, Chanel and Tiffany & Co.

Mark Schnapp, an attorney for Sissoko in Miami, was not immediately available to comment. Sissoko first became known in Miami in August 1996, when U.S. Customs officials seized an illegal shipment of two military helicopters and filed bribery charges against two men who said they were working for him. Sissoko later pleaded guilty to paying a $30,000 bribe to customs agents. But while he was detained in Miami, he made a name for himself by sharing his wealth.

He gave $10,000 to a masseuse, although he would not let her touch him because of his religious beliefs. Each of his three lawyers received a $60,000 Mercedes car. He bought a Range Rover for a complete stranger. And he donated $300,000 to the Miami Central High School marching band so it could travel to New York to play in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. The exact source of Sissoko's wealth has never been obvious. But he heads a company called Negoce International and is said to run a business empire of gold, oil, hotels, casinos and an airline.

He tried unsuccessfully to avoid a prison sentence on the bribery charge by claiming diplomatic immunity, an argument supported by African diplomats, business people and members of African-American rights groups. One of Sissoko's supporters was U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, a Democrat from Jacksonville. Pouye later gave a $50,000 car to Brown's daughter, who sold it and gave the proceeds to a church scholarship fund.

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