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News you may have missed...
January, 2003

We're back! After a two-year layoff, the Internet has finally caught up with us, and we can resume our monthly selection of information that may have slid past you in the busy whirl of third millennium life. We start with a story from the English-language version of Pravda. We don't believe a word of it, but it might explain the seemingly inevitable war. Or at least make it a bit more interesting! Spelling, grammar and structure all Pravda's own...

Is Hussein Owner of Crashed UFO?
Friday, January 31

Pravda.RU. “An UFO-related incident that occurred four years ago poses a troubling question whether any kind of cooperation is possible between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and extraterrestrials,” UFOlogist Joseph Trainor declared in his review UFO Roundup (issue 51 of December 17, 2002). “On December 16, 1998, during Operation Desert Fox against Iraq, a video clip aired on CNN showed a UFO hovering over Baghdad; it moved away to avoid a stream of tracer anti-aircraft fire. At that time we all thought it was another UFO sighting, although captured on videotape. But now, ufologists think it was much more than a mere incident.”

Jack Sarfatti reported that Friday evening, December 6, 2002 “someone called the Art Bell radio show, claimed his connection with the military and informed that a UFO crashed in Iraq several years ago. The USA is currently searching for any pretext to invade Iraq. In fact, the USA is motivated by the greatest fear that Saddam will reverse-engineer the crashed alien spacecraft.”

It is allegedly said that the craft crashed during the Gulf War (1990-1991), or more recently (probably in December 1998). This became some kind of Iraq’s Rosewell. The USA is currently reverse-engineering the Rosewell craft and fears that Saddam’s scientists may become even more successful than Americans in this or that sphere. It was said that these researches may give Iraq a considerable advance and even make it a leading super power.

UFO Roungup’s Arab journalists failed either to confirm or to deny these rumors. Aiasha al-Hatabi replied to Joseph Trainor that “he heard nothing about a UFO crash in Iraq.” In the words of Mohammed Daud al-Hayyat, “there are talks about extraterrestrials in Iraq, but nothing is said about any crash. It is rumored at a market in Sulaimaniya, to the south of Zarzi, that aliens are Saddam’s guests. Where do they stay then? People mention some underground base. But Saddam has a palace in this valley, an old stronghold Qalaat-e-Julundi. Earlier it belonged to the royal family. After the revolution, the government took possession of the fortress, and now, like every palace in Iraq it is “a summer residence” of Saddam Hussein. The fortress is mentioned here for a very simple reason: it is practically impossible to penetrate into it. The citadel stands on a hill surrounded with vertical precipices on three sides; the precipices plunge down to the Little Zab river. It is said that Saddam lets aliens stay there.”

Mohammed Hajj al-Amdar said on the basis of strange stories coming out of that valley: “Saddam gave the aliens sanctuary, so that they couldn’t be captured by Americans. Nobody can reach the citadel Qalaat-e-Julundi at night. They say that the aliens created “watchdogs” for Saddam. The aliens took ordinary desert scorpions and used their bio-engineering to grow the scorpions to giant size. Scorpions of a cow-size! They are wonderful watchdogs: they blend in with the desert, swiftly and silently move on their warm-blooded prey for a decisive attack. Luckless intruders hear just some strange sound from behind stones, then a pincer crushes their necks, another pincer crushes their legs; then the victims is slammed to the ground and beaten with a barbed tail six or seven times. Death comes almost immediately.”

Joseph Trainor came to a conclusion that something strange is actually happening in the valley of the Little Zab river, but it is not clear what exactly. It is not ruled out that Saddam intentionally spreads these rumors so that to scare people away from some important military object located in the old fortress of Qalaat-e-Julundi. Nevertheless, it is not the only information about a UFO crash in that area. Many years ago, on June 20, 1993, an information was published on FIDOnet’s MUFONET BBS NETWORK, it was a letter of some Steve from Britain. He openly warned: “The following information was published in Amateur Radio Packet BBS on June 13 by some short-wave transmitter for spreading all over the world. I know nothing about the man who published the information, I also cannot say whether his information is true. The man reported that some aircraft was found after it was brought down by F-16 over Saudi Arabia during raids in Baghdad.”

The information itself said: “A high-ranking source admitted that US Air Force’s F-16 brought down a UFO over Saudi Arabia during the Operation Desert Storm, and five countries are trying to conceal information about this fact. I don’t know details, but it was some plane unknown to me. Saudis who were with me at that moment, were scared so much that they asked American, British and French investigators to come to the crash site immediately.” Colonel Petrokov said that at that moment he was on a visit to Er Riyadh, where together with a Russian group he managed to examine the crashed aircraft before American troops participating in Desert Storm came to the crash site. He said: “The aircraft was round and made of some material that I never saw myself. About one third of the craft was torn out by blasts of American missiles. Saudis didn’t let us touch anything, but we managed to see appliances, mechanisms and other things that bewildered us absolutely.” Inscriptions on the control panel and on the scales were in some unknown language.

“It was a relatively small craft, of approximately 15 feet in diameter. It had three chairs, probably for crew members, but they were so small as if meant for children. To all appearance, space aliens were just about three feet tall. However, it seems incredible that there were no dead bodies at the crash site; what is more, nothing that might look like an engine was found there as well. Probably American missiles hit the engine immediately and destroyed it. Later, operators of Saudi radar stations told me that no ejection or falling of some subjects out of the craft was registered. Searching helicopters surveyed the desert, but the pilots failed to find any surviving crew member close to the crash site.

At the radar station Petrokov learnt that the target identified as a UFO emerged “from nowhere” when four F-16 headed for Baghdad. One of the American planes broke the line and directed toward the UFO. The alien craft started moving south-west, away from the American plane, and the latter pursued it. When the F-16 was three miles away from the object, the craft fired at it but missed. Then the American plane fired a missile at the UFO. A horrifying sound followed and the spacecraft dropped on the ground. Petrokov says that when American investigators came to the crash site, he and his people were ordered to leave the area for Er Riyadh. The colonel says, it is highly likely that Americans didn’t want others see some other things that were in the crash site in addition to the round shape of the craft made of some unknown material and the fact that no aliens survived after the crash.

In Petrokov’s words, people from his team managed to take pictures of the site, and neither Saudis nor Americans noticed it. But the next day the team was ordered to bring the pictures to Russian authorities. “American military engineers gathered all wreckage and removed them for further study in the USA.” This story seems to be absolutely unlikely. As we see, the source of the information is just a Russian colonel, some Petrokov. If no additional information follows in connection with the case, it may be still considered just doubtful anonymous rumors.

Based on materials of UFO navigator, translated by Maria Gousseva

Can a Giant Lava Lamp Save the Town?
Tuesday, January 14

SOAP LAKE, Wash. (Reuters) - Build a giant lava lamp and they will come? Worried that visitors don't stop at Soap Lake any more even though its medicinal waters reputedly can cure anything from sheep parasites to snake bite, civic leaders are seriously considering trying to revive the tourist trade with a psychedelic blast from the past: a towering 60-foot-high lava lamp in the center of downtown, complete with viewing platform. After all, look what the Eiffel Tower did for Paris and the Space Needle for Seattle. "Whether it will ever be finalized, I don't know, but a lot of people are interested in it," Mayor Ken Lee told Reuters by telephone. "I'm for anything that will bring tourism back into our city."

Soap Lake in eastern Washington state has been shrinking since the 1930s, when a devastating drought and the Great Depression nearly erased it from the map. The massive Grand Coulee Dam project nearby brought highways and irrigation channels that kept some businesses alive through the 1960s. But now two-thirds of its 1,700 inhabitants live in subsidized low-income housing. With little help available from the town, the lava lamp's champion, architect Brent Blake, is shopping the idea to big glass makers and philanthropists. The price tag, still as nebulous as the goo that would drift around in the lamp, could reach several million dollars.

Microsoft Corp. co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen could make an ideal benefactor, though Blake has yet to speak with him. Among many projects, Allen built a rock 'n' roll museum in an unusual colored-blob building next to Seattle's Space Needle. "There's nothing difficult about building this thing, except for the glass vessel, which is basically a giant pop bottle," Blake said. There is also no guarantee that drivers will stop for lunch or shopping in nearly deserted downtown Soap Lake. But the glistening hippie throwback would certainly get their attention. "I just thought: how can we stop the cars driving by on the highway? Then I drew a lava lamp and just thought, this was really cool," Blake said.

Virgin Mary Seen on Picture Window in Canada
Monday, January 13

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - Sightings of images of the Virgin Mary on windows and walls in northern reaches of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan have produced a minor tourism miracle for the remote villages involved. Since September, mysterious images of Mary, mother of Christ, have been reported in four villages -- three of which are accessible only by airplane -- spurring hundreds of people to visit. The latest images appeared Monday on two homes in Beauval, Saskatchewan, which has fewer than 1,000 residents. The images appear to glow at night, and have been captured on video, said Bertha Durocher, who owns one of the homes. Durocher said she didn't want to tell others about the image on her picture window at first. "I told my mom ... and she said, 'Oh you're probably seeing your own shadow,' so I thought people wouldn't believe me," Durocher told Reuters. Since then more than 300 people have come from hundreds of miles around to view her window.

"It was just glowing so beautifully, I had tears in my eyes," Durocher said, adding she believes the sightings are some kind of divine message. The Roman Catholic archbishop of the Keewatin diocese, home to the four communities, was away on retreat and unavailable to comment. A spokesman at his office said the diocese has not received any official reports of the sightings. Sightings of images of Christ, Mary and saints are not uncommon around the world, and have been witnessed in media as diverse as glass, water, a burrito and a Camaro muscle car. Possibly the most famous recent Canadian sighting was a Christ-like image on the brick wall of a Tim Horton's doughnut shop at Bras D'Or, on Canada's Atlantic Coast, in 1998.

Politician Caught Up in Vampire Rumors
Friday, January 10

BLANTYRE, Malawi (Reuters) - Hundreds of angry Malawians hounded a senior political figure from his house and stoned him late Wednesday, accusing him of harboring vampires. Blantire Urban Governor Eric Chiwaya, a member of the ruling United Democratic Front, was the latest victim of a bizarre rumor that the country's government is colluding with vampires to collect human blood for international aid agencies. Bearing severe cuts to his face and body, he told Reuters from his hospital bed that a crowd had hailed him with stones and other missiles, chanting "vampire" and threatening to kill him.

Chiwaya said he knew some of his assailants, adding that political opponents were trying to discredit him and the government. The vampire rumors have sparked several vigilante attacks on suspected bloodsuckers in recent weeks, despite official attempts to stop the rumor. One man was stoned to death, and three priests were attacked by angry villagers in the south. Political tensions are already high in Malawi. President Bakili Muluzi's attempts to stay in office for another five-year term have already sparked protests, while many face starvation in the face of a regional food crisis.

Stairway to Heaven in Shopping Mall
Wednesday, January 8

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - A new craze is sweeping the dusty Cambodian capital -- riding the escalators in the war-ravaged country's first shopping mall. Just one small step for most Cambodians, the escalator also represents a giant leap for Cambodia -- one of Asia's poorest countries -- in its quest to catch up on its more prosperous neighbors and put its bloody past behind it.

Due to decades of conflict and the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s, Cambodians have missed out on the shopping complexes common across most cities in southeast Asia. But the Shopping Center Sorya, a glitzy five-story edifice opened in Phnom Penh last month, is changing that. Its escalators, with their trained instructors, have become an overnight sensation. "I've been here for two weeks just to tell people how to use the escalator," said attendant Thy Da. "At first people were afraid to use it. Some of them fell over."

Crowds of excited Khmers, young and old, inch suspiciously forward before taking a leap of faith onto the moving steps. "I've brought my kids to see what the market and the moving stairs are like," said Siem Sytha, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who had traveled some 125 miles for his maiden voyage. "I am not familiar with it. I find it difficult to follow modern technology," he said before stepping gingerly onto the moving stairway. But for some, modernity is still too daunting. "I'm too scared to use the escalator so I'm using the normal staircase," said shopper Rith Da.

Hippos Roam Colombian Drug Lord's Abandoned Ranch
Thursday, January 23

PUERTO TRIUNFO, Colombia (Reuters) - Ten hippopotamuses roam wild among the ruins of the late drug kingpin Pablo Escobar's abandoned country home, leaving huge footprints in the mud and scaring the wits out of the local cows. The hippos are all that remain of Escobar's private zoo. In his heyday in the 1980s, Escobar imported elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, giraffes and other exotic beasts to his lavish ranch at Puerto Triunfo, 100 miles north of Bogota in central Colombia, as a testament to his fabulous wealth.

Most of the animals were confiscated by the authorities and transferred to zoos after the cocaine lord was gunned down by police in 1993 in Medellin. But the hippos were left behind. Despite the absence of a keeper, the Nile hippos -- some of which weigh 2 tonnes -- have flourished and reproduced on a muddy lake near the Magdalena River as if it were their natural terrain. And for six of the hippos born there, it is.

"I've never heard of anything like this in my life," Steve Thompson, a hippo expert at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, said in a telephone interview. He has traveled to Botswana, Kenya and Tanzania to study the behavior and life of hippos. "I've only seen hippos living in the wild in Africa but I guess that if they have the right food and the right water habitat they can do pretty well in Colombia."

The short-legged, hairless mammals share the estate with a few families of war refugees. The refugees fled their homes after leftist rebels attacked their villages and took up residence at Escobar's ranch. They live in the once-luxurious guest homes which stand decaying under the tropical sun. Hens strut beneath laundry lines hung with ragged clothing. A dozen refugee children play in the grounds all day, and the hippos watch them from the lake. Only the tops of the hippos' massive, reddish-brown heads and their constantly twitching ears show above the water. If the children come too close to the shore, the hippos snort and bluster and open their jaws menacingly, or make a rolling dive, to scare them away.

Nile hippos are plant-eaters, have a life expectancy of up to 40 years and can weigh up to 4.5 tonnes, Thompson said. At nightfall, the hippo herd leaves the lake and wanders about the ranch, grazing on the grassy slopes and making sorties to the stables, where they savor the salt lick, a large block of salt for farm animals. The refugees, unfamiliar with the ways of the giant African herbivores, have tried repeatedly to fence them in with barbed wire to thwart their raids on the salt lick and keep them from upsetting the cows. But to a hippo, a barbed-wire fence is an annoyance, not an obstacle. "They tear down the fence every time I put it up and turn everything into a mess. But what can I do? They are huge," said Luis Perea, 64, pointing frantically at a flattened barbed-wire fence crossed by a trail of hippo tracks the size and shape of dinner plates.

The 7,400-acre (3,000 hectare) Hacienda Napoles, in Antioquia province, became the symbol of Escobar's billion-dollar empire and of his extravagant lifestyle -- a place of wonders, wild parties and debauchery. Escobar built an airport, artificial lakes, swimming pools, a bull-ring, a garden with 100,000 fruit trees and towering cement dinosaurs. He assembled his menagerie to entertain guests, who included politicians, judges, soccer stars and beauty queens. The zoo, which offered free bus tours to the public, had hundreds of exotic and rare animals from every corner of the world -- from black swans to Arabian camels to flamingos.

"The Godfather," as Escobar was nicknamed, purchased and imported the animals without bothering to get any permits and chartered ships to bring them home from Africa and Asia. "I saw the hippopotamuses, the giraffes, the zebras, the lions enter the ranch on trucks," said Marcos, a 24-year-old taxi driver who sold lollipops at the gates of the ranch when he was a child. "This was paradise on earth." All that is left of the zoo is a rusty, pocked sign that reads: "Welcome to Napoles Zoological Nature Park." For a while, there were some leftover zebras, but the last one grew old and senile and vanished into the jungle, witnesses said.

Napoles harks back to a time when flamboyant Colombian drug barons flaunted their riches and bombed and killed anyone who got in their way. Escobar, who rose from tombstone robber to one of the world's most famous and feared criminals, had amassed a fortune of $3 billion by age 33. Drug lords today maintain low profiles, largely because of new laws that allow them to be extradited to the United States. Still, Colombia exports more cocaine than ever.

After it was seized by the state, Hacienda Napoles fell into disuse and oblivion. The mansions were looted by locals in search of the fortunes rumored to be hidden inside walls and floors. The light airplane used by Escobar for his first shipment of cocaine to the United States was lowered from atop the ranch's main gates and dismantled by souvenir seekers. Napoles now belongs to the children. They explore the skeletons of Escobar's vine-covered quarters, where lizards sunbathe on walls. They play hide-and-seek in the empty, moss-covered pools where the drug barons once bathed and cavorted in luxury.

The carport still houses a number of rusting, gangster-era American cars with flat tires -- including one that Escobar riddled with bullets to make it look more authentic -- and the children sit on the rotting upholstery and pretend to drive. They scramble over the abandoned hovercraft, motorcycles with sidecars and a colonial-era horse carriage. The tyrannosaurus rex and brontosaurus are their private jungle gyms. Many of them have hair-raising stories of being forced to flee their homes at dawn after seeing relatives killed by rebels or right-wing militias fighting in the country's four-decade war, but in Napoles they seem happy. "We have a lot of fun here. We have all this place to play," said Leo, 13. Sitting under a cool, swaying acacia as he swatted at the droning mosquitoes, Perea, who scratches out a living with his cows and banana trees, said he sometimes misses his hometown in western Choco province.

"I used to play the guitar at night and sing and drink with my friends, but I had to leave my guitar in the village. I miss my country but this is my home now," he said, looking at the hippos in the lake. "I guess I am like the hippos. They also came from a far place but now they are happy here."

Hockey Coach Rips Out Tongue of Rival Mascot
Tuesday, January 21

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) - Calgary Flames mascot Harvey the Hound lost his tongue after pushing Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavish a step too far. MacTavish ripped out Harvey's tongue after the 6-foot-tall, white dog repeatedly taunted him from behind the Oilers bench at a Flames home game, the NHL's official Web Site reported Tuesday. The Flames won Monday's match 4-3, but their mascot was not so lucky. Not only did Harvey lose his 12-inch tongue but it seems the mascot may now be in the dog house. "(Harvey) was in a place he shouldn't have been," Flames spokesman Peter Hanlon was quoted as saying on the Web site. Harvey, appointed to the Flames in 1983, was the NHL's very first mascot, said the team's Web site.

Man Pierces Record with 702 Needles
Thursday, January 16

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - With speed-metal music on his headphones and a picture of his deceased mother beside him, a 34-year-old Canadian pinned down the world record for body piercing on Wednesday. Finishing with one in each nipple, Brent Moffatt pushed 702 needles into his body in a little less than eight hours. Most went into his legs and feet. He had hoped to reach 1,000 piercings but stopped when the pain became too much to bear.

"I'm in a lot of pain. It feels like somebody's electrocuting my legs," said Moffatt, a piercer at the Metamorphosis tattoo studio in this Canadian prairie city. But, he added: "I'm pretty happy. I would've liked to do 1,000, but now that I'm done, I realize 700 is a helluva lot. And right now it looks like I've been in a car accident ... There's quite a lot of blood." The previous world record-holder had 200 piercings.

Moffatt wore gloves and sterilized forceps to carefully lift his skin and slide a lubricated 18-gauge needle in neat lines into his skin. He said a desire "to be different" led him to seek the record, after considering it for a couple years. Moffatt had already stretched his earlobes with holes almost 1-1/2 inches wide, allowing them to dangle thick steel carabineers normally used for rock-climbing. His eyebrows sport the beginnings of what he hopes will one day be a full Maori mask tattooed on his face.

He prepared for his latest feat by taking antibiotics, getting a good night's sleep and eating a hearty breakfast. "You get yourself used to discomfort, because it's part of the process," Moffatt said, noting his needles are several times thicker than those commonly used to draw blood. His hands shook lightly as he inserted the needles, and he feared going into shock before reaching his goal, especially while working on tender areas like his inner thighs. "I'm more nervous about the (television) cameras than the friggin' piercing," he said to a crowd of reporters. "This is too weird: I'm not used to all this attention."

Moffatt only took a few short breaks for a light lunch and cigarettes. "I just wanted to get it over with," he laughed. Once done, he left the needles in for more than five minutes. Taking them out, he said, hurt far more than putting them in. He did not expect the holes to scar. Moffatt said he planned to celebrate with a long bath and would try it again, he answered, "Sure, I'd do it again. After I forget about the pain."

TV license fee demanded from 8th Century Saint
Monday, January 6

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany's television license fee agency apologized Monday for sending an angry letter demanding payment from an eighth century saint. "This was quite embarrassing," said Eckhard Ohliger, an official at the Cologne-based GEZ fee collection headquarters, which collects 6.5 billion euros ($6.8 billion) per year from viewers. "But unfortunately mistakes happen."

Father Karl Terhorst said the agency had sent letters demanding payment of the monthly 16.15 euro fee to a woman named "Frau Walburga St." at the address of the Roman Catholic Church in Ramsdorf, 80 miles east of Cologne. "At first I just ignored the letters," Terhorst said. "But after the last letter demanding payment threatened the saint with 'legal action' and a 1,000-euro fine, I figured it was time to write back." Terhorst informed the GEZ that St. Walburga, born in 710 in England, was an abbess and missionary who played an important role in St. Boniface's organization of the Frankish church. She headed a monastery, and was later made a saint in 880.

Prostitute, 77, Mugged After Night Shift
Wednesday, January 8

BERLIN (Reuters) - A 77-year-old German prostitute was mugged after leaving a brothel at the end of her night shift and slightly injured, a police spokesman said Wednesday. The woman could be the oldest prostitute working in Germany, the spokesman in the western town of Bochum said. Prostitution is legal in most parts of the country. "It's a very unusual case," he said. The woman had finished her shift at 4:30 a.m. and left the central Bochum brothel Saturday when an assailant grabbed her handbag, knocked her to the ground, and fled.

'Exploding' Frying Pans Recalled
Wednesday, January 15

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - About 8,700 frying pans sold through the Home Shopping Network are being recalled because they can "explode" while in use, U.S. safety regulators and Innova Inc. say. Two consumers have been burned from hot oil and there have also been eight reports of property damage involving the frying pans, the Davenport, Iowa-based Innova reported to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. "The pans can explode or separate when preheated, used on high heat or used for frying," the safety commission said Tuesday in a statement. The commission said consumers do not need to return the recalled Ultrex Thermal/Double Wall pans as customers who bought the products will receive a free replacement in the mail. USA Interactive's Home Shopping Network sold the pans from October 2001 through September 2002 individually and as part of a set.

Russia Agency Fined Over Film Role in Soccer Riot
Wednesday, January 15

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian court has upheld a $10,000 fine imposed on an advertising agency for showing a clip from the American movie The Big Lebowski that the government says contributed to a rampage by soccer thugs in Moscow. One person was killed when beer-fueled hooligans fought, burned cars and smashed shop windows last summer after a giant screen in central Moscow showed Japan defeating Russia in a World Cup match. But the Russian government said the violence was spurred by the showing of a clip from The Big Lebowski on the same screen after the match, which showed a man smashing a car with a baseball bat. It fined the Russian advertising agency responsible for showing the scene around $10,000. Moscow's appeals court upheld the government decision last week, officials said Monday. "We are not saying that it was the most important reason for the violence," said a spokeswoman for the government ministry that imposed the fine. "But the prosecutors have evidence that after the clip people were more worked up," she said.

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