Briefs, February 1, 2013

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 February, 2013, 3:40am

86 camels killed by fire on German farm

BERLIN - A fire has destroyed a camel farm in the Black Forest region of southwest Germany, killing 86 animals and causing up to €2 million (HK$21 million) in damages. The farm's 73-year-old owner was able to save five of his camels, but the rest were trapped in their stalls and died. It took around 100 firefighters to bring the blaze under control and experts are still trying to determine the cause. AP


French minister backs UN force for Mali

BAMAKO - French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian backed the idea of sending UN peacekeepers into Mali, saying France would play a role in any such plan. The UN Security Council was to begin talks on the possibility of deploying troops in the stricken West African nation, envoys said of an idea it had previously been uncomfortable with before France's military intervention. The French military took control of the airport in Kidal, the last town held by al-Qaeda-linked rebels, and plans to quickly hand over to a larger African force, who will rout the insurgents in their mountain redoubts. Reuters


Smelly sperm find nets a whale of a price

LONDON - One very smelly sperm whale secretion may soon make one lucky British beachcomber a very happy man. Ken Wilman told British broadcasters that he had been walking along Morecambe beach in northern England when his dog, Madge, discovered a hard, soccer ball-sized piece of smelly rock. Curious, he looked online and realised that Madge had found ambergris, a waxy byproduct of sperm whale digestion that has traditionally been used in perfumes, spices, and medicines. — and can fetch large sums of money. He said he had been offered €50,000 (HK$525,000) for the musky material. AP


Israeli settlements 'violate human rights'

GENEVA - The UN's first report on the broad policy of Israeli settlements concluded that the government's practice of "creeping annexation" clearly violates the human rights of Palestinians, and called for the country to immediately stop the practice. In its report to the 47-nation Human Rights Council, a panel said Israel was violating international humanitarian law under the Fourth Geneva Convention, one of the treaties that establish the ground rules for what is considered humane during wartime. AP


Brother jailed over British actress' murder

LONDON - The brother of a former star of the British soap Eastenders was jailed for life for murdering his sister and dumping her dismembered body in a London canal. Window cleaner Tony McCluskie, 36, had denied murder but admitted the manslaughter of his sister Gemma, whose headless and limbless torso was found last March. He faces a minimum of 20 years in prison. The court heard that McCluskie attacked his sister during an argument about an overflowing sink at the apartment they shared. AFP


Andrews Sisters' lead singer Patty dies at 94

LOS ANGELES - Patty Andrews, the last surviving member of the Andrews Sisters, died at her home in the United States. She was 94. The trio's hits, including Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B and I Can Dream, Can't I?, captured the home-front spirit of the second world war. Patty Andrews was the lead singer and chief clown, whose raucous jitterbugging delighted US servicemen abroad and audiences at home. AP


Woman killed as quake triggers panic in Chile

SANTIAGO - A 6.7-magnitude earthquake jolted northern Chile, leaving a woman dead, knocking out electricity and phone services, and sending panicked residents running into the streets. The earthquake occurred some 102 kilometres from the mining town of Copiapo, the site of a famous 2010 rescue operation, the US Geological Service said. AFP


Ex-lawmaker arrested in Australia over fraud

MELBOURNE - Craig Thomson, a former parliamentary member of Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's ruling Labour party, was arrested at his electoral office north of Sydney over 150 fraud charges. He was scheduled to appear at Melbourne Magistrates' Court next week. After being granted bail, the lawmaker said he had done nothing wrong. Thomson has been investigated by police in the past 18 months over claims he misused a Health Services Union credit card to pay for prostitutes, air travel and cash advances between 2002 and 2007, before he entered Parliament. Bloomberg


Spanish party denies PM took backhanders

MADRID - Spain's ruling Popular Party denied wrongdoing after leading daily El Pais said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy and top party officials received regular under-the-table payments. El Pais said Rajoy collected €25,200 (HK$264,400) a year between 1997 and 2008, citing accounts allegedly kept by two former party treasurers. AFP