Granny army helps India’s school children via the cloud

No-one does love and encouragement better than a granny. Now that love is being spread across continents, as UK-based grandmothers extend their embrace to school children thousands of miles away in India.

Jackie Barrow isn’t a granny yet but as a retired teacher she felt she might qualify for an advert in The Guardian newspaper calling for volunteers to help teach children in India.

She did and today, three years on, she is reading Not Now Bernard via Skype to a small group of children in the Indian city of Pune.

They love it and are engaged in the experience as she holds up an Easter egg to show them how children in the UK celebrated the recent holiday — via

Ghana pioneers new child vaccines

Ghana has become the first country in Africa to start protecting children against two of the continent’s deadliest infant diseases with simultaneous vaccinations.

Rotavirus, which causes diarrhoea, and pneumococcal disease kill more than 2.7 million children worldwide each year.

The project is backed by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation — via

Afghan schoolgirls in hospital after ‘poison attack’

More than 100 schoolgirls in north-eastern Afghanistan are in hospital suffering from suspected poisoning.

The health director of Takhar province said the girls fell ill shortly after drinking water at their school.

An education official in Kabul said preliminary investigations suggested the water had been poisoned.

A local official in Takhar suggested that people opposed to education for girls were responsible — via

Mugabe ‘gravely ill’ in Singapore hospital

Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe is reportedly gravely ill in a Singapore hospital.

Local media is reporting that the 88-year-old, who is believed to be suffering from prostate cancer, is surrounded by close family members.

A Zimbabwean cabinet meeting has been postponed amid reports Mr Mugabe will hand power to defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa — via

Shattered children condemn murderous father

Three children whose mother was stabbed to death by their abusive father in front of hundreds of people at the Adelaide Convention Centre have spoken of their shattered lives.

Zioalloh Abrahimzadeh is awaiting sentencing for the murder of his estranged wife Zahra in March 2010.

He stabbed her repeatedly in front of about 300 people at a Persian new year festival because he felt she had dishonoured him by fleeing his abuse.

The family’s three children testified against their father at trial, before he changed his plea to guilty.

Now they have read tearful statements to the South Australian Supreme Court — via

‘Metal moles’ begin work below London

Tunnelling work is about to begin on a grand scale in London as the £16bn Crossrail project gets set to build 26 miles (42km) of tunnels beneath the capital.

The first of eight highly specialised Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM), which each weigh nearly 1,000 tonnes, is being positioned at Royal Oak in west London. From here it will begin its slow journey east, as it carves out a new east-west underground link. The scheme is currently the largest civil engineering project in Europe — via

Government uses special powers to slash cancer drug price by 97%

In a landmark decision that could set a precedent on how life-saving drugs under patents can be made affordable, the government has allowed a domestic company, Natco Pharma, to manufacture a copycat version of Bayer’s patented anti-cancer drug, Nexavar, bringing down its price by 97%.

In the first-ever case of compulsory licencing approval, the Indian Patent Office on Monday cleared the application of Hyderabad’s Natco Pharma to sell generic drug Nexavar, used for renal and liver cancer, at Rs 8,880 (around $175) for a 120-capsule pack for a month’s therapy. Bayer offers it for over Rs 2.8 lakh (roughly $5,500) per 120 capsule. The order provides hope for patients who cannot afford these drugs.

The approval paves the way for the launch of Natco’s drug in the market, a company official told TOI, adding that it will pay a 6% royalty on net sales every quarter to Bayer. The licence will be valid till such time the drug’s patent is valid, ie 2020. As per the CL (compulsory licence) order, Natco is also committed to donating free supplies of the medicines to 600 patients each year — via

Lorem Ipsum / Charles Stross

A month ago, while I was camping out in a hotel in Colorado Springs, a copy of USA TODAY slid under our hotel door in the night. A question — does anyone actually read that thing? I look at the front page and all I can see is Neque porro quisquam est qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit… in turgid American journalese. The so-called stories on the front page are not news; they’re perfectly shaped pieces of text that outwardly conform to the aesthetic of modern American journalism while actually containing nothing of any significance — via

Mexico violence: taxi drivers gunned down in Monterrey

Five taxi-drivers have been shot dead in the city of Monterrey in northern Mexico, the authorities say.

Gunmen with assault rifles fired on the drivers as they waited for passengers at a taxi-rank in the mid-morning.

The motive for the attack is not known, but it is thought they may have been targeted by criminal gangs who extort money from local businesses — via

Denmark’s Navy Dogsled Team Is Serious

Sirius is an elite navy unit — perhaps comparable to our Navy SEALs — the only military dogsled unit of its kind in the world. It’s been around since World War II, and to this day remains one of the most competitive military positions: For each rotation, there are only six two-man units, with about a dozen dogs to each unit. And it really is just men. According to National Geographic, no women have applied yet.

Over the phone, Hoffmann explains that he was interested in the relationship between man and animal — how they seem to have a rhythm and understanding with survival at the core. But capturing that is no easy feat — via

Alyssa Bustamante pleads guilty

A Missouri teenager who told authorities she wanted to know what it felt like to kill has pleaded guilty to murder, telling a judge that she strangled a nine-year-old neighbour with her hands, stabbed her in the chest and cut her throat with a knife.

Alyssa Bustamante pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed criminal action in the 21 October 2009, killing of Elizabeth Olten in St Martins, a rural town just west of Jefferson City. The plea avoids a trial that had been scheduled to start later this month.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Bustamante looked down, her long brown hair covering her eyes, as the judge read out the amended charges and asked her if she understood she was giving up her right to a trial. She replied, yes — via

Crisis turns Mafia into Italy’s ‘No.1 bank’

Organised crime has tightened its grip on the Italian economy during the economic crisis, making the Mafia the country’s biggest bank and squeezing the life out of thousands of small firms, according to a report.

Extortionate lending by criminal groups had become a national emergency“, said the report by anti-crime group SOS Impresa, released overnight.

Organised crime now generated annual turnover of about 140 billion euros ($175 billion) and profits of more than 100 billion euros, it added — via

The Greek parents ‘too poor’ to care for their children

Greece’s financial crisis has made some families so desperate they are giving up the most precious thing of all — their children.

One morning a few weeks before Christmas a kindergarten teacher in Athens found a note about one of her four-year-old pupils.

I will not be coming to pick up Anna today because I cannot afford to look after her, it read. Please take good care of her. Sorry. Her mother.

In the last two months Father Antonios, a young Orthodox priest who runs a youth centre for the city’s poor, has found four children on his doorstep — including a baby just days old.

Another charity was approached by a couple whose twin babies were in hospital being treated for malnutrition, because the mother herself was malnourished and unable to breastfeed.

Cases like this are shocking a country where family ties are strong, and failure to look after children is socially unacceptable — and it’s not happening in a country ravaged by war or famine, but in their own capital city

Médecins sans Frontières workers shot dead in Somalia

Médecins sans Frontières says two of its employees in Mogadishu — a Belgian and an Indonesian — have been killed in gunfire that occurred in one of its offices.

The aid group said the exact circumstances of the gunfire on Thursday in Somalia’s capital were not immediately clear. However, a security guard, Ahmed Ali, said a disgruntled former employee of MSF, a Somali dismissed the day before, had returned and opened fire.

The aid group identified the victims as Philippe Havet, 53, of Belgium, and Andrias Karel Keiluhu, 44, an Indonesian doctor known as Kace — via

Kim Jong-il, North Korean leader, dies

Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s dear leader, has died aged 69, state television announced this morning.

An announcer said he died on Saturday from physical and mental over-work. It is thought that he suffered a stroke in 2008, but had apparently recovered.

A tearful anchor, dressed in black, said he had died at 8.30am while on a train trip on the way to give field guidance to workers — via

Florence gunman shoots Senegalese street vendors dead

A lone gunman with extreme rightwing sympathies has gone on a shooting spree in Florence, killing two Senegalese street vendors and wounding three others before killing himself.

Gianluca Casseri, 50, an accountant, first shot dead two vendors and wounded a third with a .357 Magnum at the crowded Piazza Dalmazia street market on the outskirts of the city on Tuesday morning.

He then fled in a car after threatening to shoot a stall holder who attempted to stop him, reappearing later in the day at the central San Lorenzo market where he fired at two African vendors, wounding both.

Police officers found Casseri back in his car in the car park of the market, where they fired warning shots before he reportedly shot himself dead — via

Egypt imports 21 tons of tear gas from the US, port staff refuses to sign for it

The arrival of 7 and half tons of tear gas to Egypt’s Suez port created conflict after the responsible officials at the port refused to sign and accept it for fear it would be used to crackdown on Egyptian protesters.

The shipment has been moved by the ministry of interior to its Cairo storage facility, amidst strict and secretive security measures. Local reports say the staff, initially under investigation, have been spared investigation after having a discussion over the matter with their superiors.

Local news sites published documents regarding the shipment shows that the cargo that arrived in 479 barrels from the United States was scheduled to be delivered to the ministry of interior.

The reports also mentioned in the documents that a second shipment of 14 tons of tear gas was expected, making the total 21 tons, in one week.

The importing of tear gas comes after thousands of tear gas canisters were fired at Egyptian protesters last week as clashes raged in downtown Cairo, just off from the iconic Tahrir Square, where thousands of protesters had gathered

Landmine use ‘highest since 2004’ despite record clearances

More countries deployed anti-personnel mines last year than in any year since 2004, an international survey of landmines has found.

The Landmine Monitor report says use of the weapons increased despite record areas of land being cleared of them.

Four countries which have not signed an international treaty outlawing the devices – Syria, Libya, Burma and Israel – laid new mines this year.

Armed groups in Afghanistan, Colombia, Burma and Pakistan also laid new mines — via

Nurse charged over aged care home blaze

A nurse charged with murder over the fatal nursing home fire in Sydney’s north-west was at the scene of the blaze yesterday.

Roger Dean, 35, was arrested last night and charged with four counts of murder over the fire that tore through Quakers Hill Nursing Home.

Dean, who was a nurse at the facility, was remanded in custody after appearing via a video link in the Parramatta local court today.

Police say they expect to lay more charges against the nurse, who will face court again next Thursday — via

Australian homes targeted by property scam

There are calls for tighter identity checks for people selling property in Australia, after several homeowners have been conned by so-called Nigerian scams.

The fraud involves identity theft, and using faxes and emails to try to sell a property without the true owner’s knowledge.

The latest attempt, in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, was foiled soon before the apartment was due to be auctioned.

It followed two successful frauds in Perth.

In all three cases, the real owners were living in Africa — via

Residents killed as fire rips through nursing home

Up to nine elderly people died when fire ripped through a nursing home in western Sydney this morning, in what fire crews are calling the city’s worst blaze for 30 years.

Fire crews were forced to crawl through thick smoke on their hands and knees to search beds and cupboards for residents after the fire broke out at the Principal home in Hambledon Road, Quakers Hill, shortly before 5:00am (AEDT).

Police say up to nine people lost their lives. Around 20 people have been taken to hospital. Most have smoke inhalation or minor burns, but some have suffered serious injuries.

At least one woman in her 80s has received burns to 20 per cent of her body — via

Neo-Nazi terror scandal grows in Germany

More damaging evidence has emerged of the German authorities’ failure to stop a group of neo-Nazi terrorists who killed 10 people, robbed 14 banks and planted two nail bombs during 13 years on the run.

On Tuesday, the Hessen branch of the domestic intelligence service, the Verfassungsschutz, or BfV, admitted that one of its agents had been present in April 2006 when two members of the National Socialist Underground (NSU) shot dead a 21-year-old Turk in an internet café.

It has now emerged that the agent, who was transferred to less-sensitive work following an investigation at the time, openly held rightwing views and was known in the village where he grew up as “Little Adolf”. When police raided his flat following the murder, they found a cache of guns, for which he had a legitimate licence, and extracts from Mein Kampf, according to Der Spiegel. There are unconfirmed reports that the man was present at three or more other neo-Nazi murder scenes — via

Sun-drop diamond in Swiss auction

A 110-carat diamond is expected to fetch up to $15m (£9m) at auction in Geneva next week, Sotheby’s says. The so-called Sun-Drop Diamond is described as fancy vivid yellow, the highest colour grading, and is the largest known diamond of its kind, at 110.3 carats — via

German police link ‘kebab murders’ to neo-Nazis

German investigators have linked an unsolved series of murders of eight foreign-born food vendors and shop owners, nicknamed the doner murders to a neo-Nazi terrorist cell, the federal prosecutors’ office said on Friday.

They also linked the same neo-Nazi group to the killing of a policewoman in Heilbronn in south-west Germany in 2007 — via

Japanese government wants to build ‘back-up’ Tokyo

The Japanese government has unveiled radical plans to build a standby city for Tokyo’s political functions to move to in the event of a disabling earthquake or other natural disaster.

The back-up city, which has been codenamed IRTBBC (Integrated Resort, Tourism, Business and Backup City) will sit 300 miles west of Tokyo on the site of Itami Airport, which is politically unpopular and has been largely superseded by other airports, including Kansai and Kobe.

The site, which is approximately five square kilometres in area, will contain facilities for parliament and ministries, so that government will be able to continue in the event of a disaster. However it will also include office complexes, resort facilities, casinos and parks, as well as a 652-metre-high office building.

The infrastructure has been planned for a population of 50,000 residents (which we should note is some way short of Tokyo’s population of 13 million) and a workforce of 200,000 — most of whom will commute from Osaka, Japan’s second city, which the site lies to the north of — via

Two-year-old Superhero Saves Mom’s Life

Lia Vega is only 2, but her mother is calling her a superhero. The little girl made a phone call Thursday that saved her mother’s life.

Lia was at her grandmother’s house in Houston with her mother, Larissa Taylor, and her baby sister when Taylor blacked out and collapsed, according to Houston affiliate KTRK-TV. Lia picked up her mother’s phone and called her grandmother, Bobbie Gonzalez, for help.

She said, ‘My mom fell down,’ Gonzalez told KTRK. I said, ‘Let me talk to your mom.’ And she said, ‘She won’t wake up.’

I never taught her how to use the phone, so I have no idea how she picked it up. I assume just by watching us, Taylor said — via

Milat relative pleads guilty to axe murder

A relative of serial killer Ivan Milat has pleaded guilty to murdering a teenage boy last year in the Belanglo State Forest, south of Sydney.

The teenaged accused appeared via video-link in the Campbelltown Children’s Court this morning over the death of David Auchterlonie in November last year.

Police had alleged he lured his friend to the forest to celebrate his birthday before killing him.

The 17-year-old was bludgeoned to death with an axe and then partially buried — via

Teen caught out lying about abduction

A 13-year-old girl has lied to police about being abducted and undressed by two men on the NSW north coast.

Police appealed for calm in the Coffs Harbour area after it emerged the girl gave false information to police about the incident, which she said happened at 8.00am on Friday.

The teenager told police she was walking along a bush track when two men grabbed her and started to undress her.

She said an unknown man had intervened, allowing her to run away.

Police on Monday said a major investigation had been launched after the report, but it emerged the girl had not been telling the truth — via

Muammar Gaddafi killed in Libya

Libya’s ex-leader Col Muammar Gaddafi has been killed after an assault on his birthplace of Sirte, officials say.

Acting Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril announced the death, saying it was the moment Libya was waiting for.

Mr Jibril gave few details of how Col Gaddafi died, but video footage emerged showing him captured alive. Other images apparently showed him being dragged through the streets.

Some fighters claim to have shot him, though it is not clear when he died — via

Basque group ETA says armed campaign is over

In a statement provided to the BBC, ETA called on the Spanish and French governments to respond with “a process of direct dialogue.

The declaration, if followed through, would bring an end to Eta’s campaign of violence, which has lasted more than 40 years and killed more than 800 people.

Spain’s PM said the move was a victory for democracy, law and reason — via

Internet in developing countries: Hailing the Google bus

Like the travelling fairs that still roam India, a snazzy white bus trundles along the subcontinent’s B-roads, stopping in small towns for a few days at a time and inviting locals into another world. But in place of tightrope-walking girls and performing monkeys, its main attraction is access to the internet. For some visitors, it is their first time online.

The Google Internet bus is a free, mobile cybercafe dreamed up by the search giant and run in association with BSNL, a large state-owned internet service provider (ISP). It has covered over 43,000km and passed through 120 towns in 11 states since it hit the road on February 3rd, 2009. Google estimates that 1.6m people have been offered their first online experience as a result. Of those, 100,000 have signed up for an internet connection of their own. Like a high-school drug dealer, though admittedly less nefarious, the idea is to hook them young and keep them coming back. In return for its efforts, Google says it gains a better understanding of their needs. That, in turn, lets it develop products for the potentially huge local market — via

Who’s afraid of multiculturalism? Mythical Muslims and moral panic in the West

Fictional news stories ought to be exceedingly rare. But they are not – and where Muslims are concerned, they represent something of an emerging genre.

British journalists Peter Oborne and James Jones catalogue several examples of such stories, drawing on a study performed by the Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. Here are a couple of examples from an edited summary published in The Independent — via

Paris-style train plan for city

Rail services on the north shore, inner west, Bankstown, Hurstville and north-west lines would operate as single-deck, high-frequency metro-style trains under a plan being drawn up by Transport NSW.

The plan would convert about a third of the CityRail network to metro services similar to those in Paris or London. They would have far fewer seats than they have now but offer greater frequency — via

Rogue landlord told to pay

Notorious rooming house operator George Maatouk has been ordered to pay more than $9000 in accumulated fines and costs for breaches of the residential tenancies act over the past two years.

As the operator of the Sydney Road rooming house that burned down in 2006, causing the deaths of a young couple, Mr Maatouk featured prominently in the 2009 Coroner’s inquiry, which heard that he earned $40,000 a week running 60 properties.

Mr Maatouk, who has convictions for fraud and forgery, is one of the four directors of Melbourne’s largest rooming house service, Victorian Accommodation Centre — via

Buddhist nuns embrace the power of kung fu

A Buddhist monastery near Kathmandu is enjoying a surge in popularity after its spiritual leader directed its 300 nuns to use martial arts techniques.

Enrolment is rising and Buddhist nuns as far afield as the Himachal Pradesh in India want to become kung fu instructors.

The Druk Gawa Khilwa (DGK) nunnery near the Nepalese capital teaches its nuns a mixture of martial arts and meditation as a means of empowering the young women. In Buddhism, like many religions, the voices of women have traditionally been muted. But the leader of the 800-year-old Drukpa – or Dragon – order, to which DGK belongs, is determined to change all that — via

Women in Saudi Arabia to vote and run in elections

Women in Saudi Arabia are to be given the right to vote and run in municipal elections, the Gulf Kingdom’s King Abdullah has announced.

He said they would also have the right to be appointed to the consultative Shura Council.

The news will be welcomed by activists who have long called for greater rights for women in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

The changes will take effect from next year, the king said — via

FBI Trainer Says Forget Irrelevant al-Qaida, Target Islam

The FBI has publicly declared that its counter-terrorism training seminars linking mainstream Muslims to terrorists was a one time only affair that began and ended in April 2011. But two months later, the Bureau employee who delivered those controversial briefings gave a similar lecture to a gathering of dozens of law enforcement officials at an FBI-sponsored public-private partnership in New York City.

And during that June presentation, the FBI’s William Gawthrop told his audience that the fight against al-Qaida is a waste, compared to the threat presented by the ideology of Islam itself.

At the operational level, you have groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaida. Like teeth in a shark, it is irrelevant if you take one group out, Gawthrop said during his lecture to the New York Metro Infragard at the World Financial Center in downtown Manhattan — via

FBI Teaches Agents: Mainstream Muslims Are Violent, Radical

The FBI is teaching its counter-terrorism agents that main stream [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathisers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a cult leader; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a funding mechanism for combat.

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more devout a Muslim, the more likely he is to be violent. Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: Any war against non-believers is justified under Muslim law; a moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.

These are excerpts from dozens of pages of recent FBI training material on Islam that Danger Room has acquired. In them, the Constitutionally protected religious faith of millions of Americans is portrayed as an indicator of terrorist activity — via

Five arrests in slavery raid at Greenacre travellers’ site

Twenty-four men suspected of being held against their will have been found during a raid at a travellers’ site.

Four men and a woman were arrested on suspicion of committing slavery offences in the raid at Greenacre travellers’ site, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, on Sunday.

The men, who are English, Polish and Romanian, were found in filthy and cramped conditions, police said.

Detectives believe some may have been there for up to 15 years — via

Texas wildfires torch 1,000 homes

Dozens of wildfires raging in rain-starved Texas are now reported to have engulfed more than 1,000 homes.

The biggest of the blazes — 16 miles (26km) wide — in rural Bastrop County, is burning out of control for a third day, having destroyed 600 homes.

Two people were reported to have died in the Bastrop blaze, a local sheriff said, amid hopes for calmer winds to help control the fires.

Texas has been suffering its worst drought since the 1950s — via

Thieving postie handed jail sentence

A former Australia Post contractor has been sentenced for stealing almost 3,000 items of mail from the Castlemaine area in central Victoria.

Peter Jackson, 53, has been sentenced to 10 months’ jail for stealing the articles between 2005 and March this year when they were seized by police at his Chewton home.

Police estimate the items to be worth more than $60,000 and include clothing, books, jewellery, pornographic material, wedding photos, a funeral DVD, war medals and cancer medication — via