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In Japan, grave times for the tombstone trade Reuters 22/09/2014

Japan’s gravestone business, once very lucrative for designers making intricate personalised statues from stone, is under threat due to the country’s increasingly ageing population and ailing economy. Indeed, the number of deaths per year in Japan is expected to increase by 30 per cent over the next 25 years but while this should provide a boom for the trade many people are choosing not to have expensive statues. The move is towards cheaper memorial methods such as having remains scattered at sea or planted under a tree.

Pakistani Islamists use floods to turn opinion against India Reuters 22/09/2014

Recent floods in Pakistan have devastated the country claiming hundreds of lives and destroying homes while submerging huge swathes of the countryside. Now, Pakistani Islamist militants are accusing India of causing the floods, saying their neighbour used upstream dams to dump water on the country. The militants, considered to be some of the most dangerous in South Asia, are using the disaster to turn public opinion against India, whose relationship with Pakistan has often been fraught. India has dismissed the allegations as nonsense.

Norway to rent Dutch prisons to cut convict queue Reuters 15/09/2014

Norway plans to rent prison space in the Netherlands. Dutch prisons already house overflow prisoners from Belgium and as its prison population has been steadily falling since 2008, there will be space for Norway’s offenders too. Norwegian prisons are known for their relatively humane treatment of inmates, with non-violent offenders often held in open prisons with some free personal movement, jobs, recreation facilities and focus on rehabilitation. It also boasts one of the lowest re-offending rates in the world.

Putin is under Satan's influence: leader of Kiev Orthodox Church Reuters 15/09/2014

A top Ukrainian clergyman has claimed that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is under the influence of Satan. Patriarch Filaret, head of the Kiev Patriarchate, a branch of the Orthodox Church, said that Putin has fallen under the devil’s spell and faces eternal damnation if he does not repent. The holy man dubbed Putin the ‘new Cain’ after the Biblical character that famously killed his own brother.

Kaleidoscope of flags marks Belfast's sectarian fault lines Reuters 08/09/2014

In Northern Ireland, the flags of Israel and Palestine are potent symbols of conflict, but in this part of the United Kingdom they divide Catholics and Protestants rather than Jews and Muslims. In the complex web of alliances that underpins Northern Ireland’s flag-obsessed politics, the Star of David has been adopted by pro-British Loyalists, mainly Protestants, many of whom sympathise with Israel, while the flag of the Palestinian territories is a sign of support for Catholic Irish Republicans and their aspiration for a united Ireland. During a 30 year period known as The Troubles more than 3000 people died in Northern Ireland and although the bombs have ceased, symbols such as flags can provoke violence.

Rosa Parks artifacts sold for $4.5 million to Buffett son Reuters 08/09/2014

Rosa Parks became a symbol of the black civil rights movement in America when she refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger in Alabama in 1955, when the US state was segregated racially. Parks died in 2005 and now hundreds of her belongings, including a Presidential Medal of Freedom she was awarded, have been sold for $4.5 million. The artefacts were bought by a foundation controlled by the son of famous billionaire investor, Warren Buffett.

Tears of joy as Australian doll hospital restores childhood memories Reuters 01/09/2014

The Doll Hospital in Sydney, Australia, has been repairing treasured toys and teddy bears for more than a century now. The family business survived two world wars and restored more than three million dolls, teddy bears and rocking horses for Australian and New Zealand children. It is one of the few doll hospitals left in the world as the age of mass-production has seen many close, but there are still a steady stream of customers wishing to have an old bear sewn back together in order to restore a childhood memory.

Dutch spend 461,000 euros to fence off the king's Greek holiday home Reuters 01/09/2014

The Dutch royal family have come under fire after a report revealed that almost half a million euros of tax-payers’ money was spent on building a fence around the royals’ holiday home in southern Greece. At a time when people in the Netherlands are still struggling following the recession, the public have demanded an explanation. Indeed, this is the second controversy in as many months over lavish spending of public funds, as King Willem-Alexander faced heavy criticism after 900,000 euros was spent on renovating one of the family’s palaces in June.

New York’s superheroes form a union Reuters 25/08/2014

Costumed characters who pose for tourist photographs for tips in New York’s Times Square have faced bad publicity recently after a spate of arrests – one involving Spiderman punching a police officer after a tipping dispute. Now, dozens of people dressed as Batman, Elmo, Mickey Mouse and other children’s favourites have formed a union – or Justice League – to try and turn around public perception, claiming a few bad apples have spoiled it for the rest.

Tourists in Budapest pay to be locked up Reuters 25/08/2014

In a ramshackle old building in Budapest, tourists pay to be locked up in a room and try to escape by solving a series of mysterious clues, opening locks and finding their way out. Some 100 or so of these “escape room” games have sprung up in the Hungarian capital in the last three years to become top tourist attractions. Hungary recently celebrated its first festival of escape games, making use of its cities’ many decrepit cellars and old ruined houses – already famous among holiday-makers as so-called “ruin bars”. The idea is now catching on in other countries with Romania and Austria looking to create their own attractions.

Fly Fido to the moon in space send off for deceased pets Reuters 18/08/2014

A company in Texas, USA, is offering a unique send off for beloved pets by placing a portion of their cremated remains in a capsule and blasting them off into space. Celestis Inc has been launching human remains by way of a memorial since 1997 and has now expanded to include pets. The space send-off options range from launching the remains into space, having them taken to space on a commercial flight and returned to the other owner, or, for $12,500, have them taken to the moon.

In Greek dairy war, milkmen cut out the middlemen Reuters 18/08/2014

Following the economic collapse in Greece, the country’s bureaucratic system has been exposed as one of its major flaws – stifling creativity, encouraging corruption and choking the economy. Now, dairy farmers are attempting to sidestep it completely by selling their milk directly to customers through vending machines. Indeed, many have been able to sell milk much cheaper while making more profit, simply by cutting out the middlemen. In Larissa, local people have been queueing for up to half an hour at the new machines to save cash and support local farmers.

Inquiry finds evidence of organ harvesting in Kosovo conflict Reuters 04/08/2014

An EU-led inquiry has found that Kosovo Albanian guerrillas harvested organs from captive ethnic Serbs during the 1998-99 war in Kosovo. The investigation showed that in a small number of cases, Serb prisoners were murdered in order to remove their organs and sell them on the black market. Although there was not enough evidence of organ harvesting for a trial to take place, it is expected that other aspects of the EU investigation will lead to former leaders of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) being prosecuted for war crimes against Roma and Serbs next year. Other crimes perpetrated by senior KLA members, such as unlawful killings and forced disappearances, amounted to the ethnic cleansing of large portions of the Serb and Roma populations, and there was enough evidence to prosecute, investigators said. Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, himself a former KLA leader, has denied the accusations.

Massachusetts monks first outside Europe to brew beer Reuters 04/08/2014

Tucked off a two-lane highway in a hilly, wooded section of central Massachusetts, USA, a group of Roman Catholic monks has embraced a centuries-old tradition in order to support their ageing clergy – brewing beer. St Joseph’s Abbey is now the first outside of Europe to produce certified “Trappist” Ale - named after their Catholic order. The move came to increase profits in order to pay for infirm older members who need 24-hour care. Trappist Ale is popular worldwide among beer aficionados and St Joseph’s is already expected to reach its ten-year target of completely supporting its monastery and charities as sales already far surpass expectations.

Pressure to allow GMO farming in Tasmania Reuters 28/07/2014

Tasmania's isolation and wilderness once made it a dumping ground for the British Empire's convicts. But these same qualities, and a small population of just over half a million people, make the island one of the cleanest places on earth. Indeed, Tasmania is the only Australian state to ban genetically modified (GM) food crops and animal feed making it a model of high-end, high-value agricultural production. However, even this pristine environment is under threat from technology. Tasmania’s powerful poppy industry – which is the largest supplier of pharmaceutical opiates in the world – is pressuring the government not to extend the GM ban when the moratorium expires later this year.

Guardhouse becomes tiny venue for Cold War art project Reuters 28/07/2014

A German artist has turned a tiny surveillance booth used by the communist regime in the former East Germany to monitor citizens into an art exhibit to be installed in a museum near Los Angeles dedicated to the Cold War. Christof Zwiener rescued the booth from demolition which has so far been used by 10 artists to showcase their work in what must be one of the world’s smallest art galleries.

China’s “cancer villages” Reuters 21/07/2014

The authorities in China have been accused of trying to cover up factory pollution that has seen many children in the rural town of Dapu diagnosed with lead exposure. It was claimed that officials asked families to trade their child’s blood test results for milk which they said would flush lead from their bodies. Environmental pollution in agricultural towns is widespread and a side-effect of the country’s rapid economic growth. Cancer rates in some polluted villages are so high they are known as “cancer villages”.

Billionaire's breakup plan would split California into six states Reuters 21/07/2014

A US billionaire is leading a campaign that would see the state of California separated into six smaller states. California is America’s most populous state and has the eighth largest economy in the world. Businessman Timothy Draper said his plan would create fairer, local governments, ease traffic congestion and solve the state’s ongoing water problems. He recently gathered enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot in 2016 but critics say his proposal would damage the economy.

Muslims in China's Xinjiang told to ignore Ramadan customs Reuters 14/07/2014

Muslims in the restive region of Xinjiang in China have been told to ignore their religious customs during the holy month of Ramadan in what critics say is deliberate discrimination against the Uighur minority – a Turkic-speaking Muslim group that calls Xinjiang home. Chinese officials have stated that observing the religious holiday – which includes fasting during daylight hours – is a violation of Communist Party discipline. Xinjiang has seen sectarian violence erupt in the past between the Uighur and the Han Chinese majority.

Foreign forces help stoke anti-Roma tension in Polish town Reuters 14/07/2014

Roma families in the Polish town of Andrychow have been staying in after dark and keeping their children home from school for fear of attack following a rise in anti-Roma tension in recent weeks. Radical nationalists – with help from the far-right leader, Robert Winnicki, of Ruch Narodowy, who has ties to Hungary’s Jobbik party (the biggest far-right movement in Europe who have used anti-Roma sentiment to gain votes and are often accused of racism) – staged a rally encouraging people to drive out the 100 or so Roma people living in the town of 20,000. Both Ruch Narodowy and Jobbik deny inciting racial hatred in Andrychow.

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