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China's love-struck looking to Olympics for marriage luck
AFP 2008/7/7


BEIJING (AFP) — Zhang Jie and Ma Yue plan to be among the crush of love-struck Chinese getting married at the start of the Olympics despite a series of disasters that have cast doubt over the auspicious day.

The opening of the Beijing Games falls on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008, which is no coincidence as the number eight is traditionally considered lucky in China due to it sounding like the word for wealth.

"Eight is a number that brings good luck in China, and that's why the Chinese often choose the eighth to get married," said Zhang, 24, at a registry office in southwest Beijing as the couple booked their place to tie the knot.

But a succession of disasters in China -- extreme bad weather in the south during Chinese New Year, violence in Tibet, and the earthquake in Sichuan -- has made some Chinese doubt the benefits of 2008.

Some Chinese netizens have even gone as far as to say the mascots of the Olympic Games are cursed.

Jingjing the panda, for them, represents the devastating 8.0-magnitude earthquake two months ago in Sichuan province, where the majority of the endangered animals live.

Yingying the Tibetan antelope evokes this year's deadly unrest in Tibet, while Huanhuan is a flame that for many brings back memories of the protests that embarrassed China during the Olympic torch's international journey.

But Zhang emphatically rejected these bad omens surrounding number eight.

"That's only superstition. When one portrays accidental events as inevitable, that's a form of superstition, isn't it?" the university student said.

Registration for weddings on August 8 opened on June 20, and will last until August 5 in registry offices as well as on the Internet, to avoid any last minute scrambles.

"More than 100 people have registered so far, which is more than usual," said Zhao Yongfu, an official at the registry office, where the Chinese characters of "double happiness" hung on the walls.

Around the country, thousands of people are also planning to get married on August 8, with China's press carrying countless articles on the phenomenon.

Zhang and Ma's special day also carried an additional meaning for them, as they are both volunteers for the first ever Olympic Games organised in China.

"Our work during the Games mainly involves welcoming the foreign sports delegations and to look after their living arrangements and daily needs," Zhang said.

The young couple said they would spare a few hours of their busy volunteering schedule on the eighth to get married, but the party would have to wait.

"The eighth of August is only the date to get our marriage certificate," Zhang said.

"Our wedding ceremony, however, will not be this basic. We will organise it in 2009, but we must first devote all our efforts to the Olympic Games.

"The eighth of August 2008 will be a lucky day. And the Olympic Games will be successful, and we are very proud of the event."


Bush 'concern' at N Korea issues
BBC 6 July 2008


US President George W Bush has said he remains concerned about North Korea's alleged enrichment of uranium and other security issues.

But, speaking after talks with Japanese PM Yasuo Fukuda ahead of Monday's G8 summit in Japan, he acknowledged North Korea had addressed some concerns.

Mr Fukuda said he would attend the Beijing Olympics opening, which other leaders will miss over rights concerns.

The G8 summit is being held at a resort

on the northern island of Hokkaido.

Our economy is not growing as robustly as we'd like

George W Bush

North Korea handed over a long-delayed list of its nuclear activities to Washington on 26 June, but it is not thought to have given details of uranium enrichment, which the North denies.

"North Korea did provide a declaration of its plutonium-related activities and did blow up the cooling tower of its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon," Mr Bush said at the summit venue in Toyako.

"That's been verified and is a positive step, but there are more steps to be taken.

"We are concerned about enriched uranium and proliferation, human rights abuses and ballistic missile programmes."

Mr Bush also promised Mr Fukuda that he would "not abandon" the question of Japanese citizens allegedly abducted by North Korea to help train North Korean spies.

Asked by reporters about the ailing US economy, the American leader said he was committed to a strong dollar.

"Our economy is not growing as robustly as we'd like..." he said.

"The United States believes in a strong dollar policy and believes the strength of our economy will be reflected in the dollar."

The Group of Eight (G8) consists of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Leaders began arriving on Sunday. Mr Bush arrived in time to celebrate his 62nd birthday in Japan.

China, India and South Africa will be among other key nations attending.

Boycott 'affront'

Speaking at a joint news conference with Mr Bush, Mr Fukuda officially announced he would attend the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing in August.

Some world leaders are missing the 8 August opening ceremony amid international concern over China's human rights record.

Germany's Angela Merkel is not attending and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown will be in Beijing for the closing ceremony only.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says his attendance depends on progress in dialogue between Beijing and the Tibetan government-in-exile. President Bush said on Sunday that skipping the event would be an "affront" to the Chinese people.

Japan has spent a record sum of money and deployed about 20,000 police to seal off the summit at the remote lakeside resort of Toyako.

Hundreds of protesters have again marched through Sapporo, the city closest to the venue, to demand G8 leaders take action on global warming, poverty and rising food prices.

The demonstration, which followed a similar protest on Saturday, was heavily policed and ended peacefully.

Violent anti-globalisation marches have marred past G8 meetings.

Last year, Japanese officials said this summit would be about climate change and reaching agreement on a post-Kyoto Accord framework to cut greenhouse gas emissions, says the BBC's Chris Hogg in Tokyo.

Mr Fukuda had said he would like to get agreement on 50% overall reductions in greenhouse gases by 2050.

But the rising food and oil prices and their effect on the global economy and the world's poorest nations have moved up the agenda.
Sarkozy decides to go to Olympics
BBC 9 July 2008


French President Nicolas Sarkozy has confirmed that he will attend the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on 8 August.

The French president at one stage said he had not ruled out boycotting the Olympics in protest over Chinese actions in Tibet.

But, after meeting China's president at the G8 summit, he said he would attend.

Human rights groups have urged world leaders to condemn China's rights record by refusing to attend.

Meanwhile, China's President Hu Jintao thanked his US counterpart, George W Bush, who confirmed earlier this week that he would attend the opening ceremony in Beijing.

After talks with the US president at the G8 summit, Mr Hu said he "highly appreciated Mr Bush has on various occasions expressed his opposition to politicising the Olympic Games".

EU representative

President Sarkozy stressed "the Olympic values of peace, friendship and brotherhood" at the meeting, according to a statement from his office.

France holds the EU presidency, and Mr Sarkozy plans to represent the 27-nation bloc at the ceremony in Beijing.

Following a crackdown on protests in and around Tibet in March, Mr Sarkozy had urged the Chinese leadership to hold talks with envoys of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, and release political prisoners.

In March, he suggested his decision on attending the Games would hinge on progress in talks between the two sides.

But the French announcement of Mr Sarkozy's acceptance of the Olympic invitation made no mention of the Dalai Lama.

Two meetings between envoys from Tibet and China are reported to have already taken place with a third planned for October, according to French officials.

On Tuesday, China's ambassador to France said there would be "serious consequences" if Mr Sarkozy met the Dalai Lama when the Tibetan spiritual leader visits France in August.

Mr Sarkozy said he had discussed his decision with other European Union countries.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper plan to stay away.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will not be present on 8 August, but plans to attend the closing ceremony.


Closure slow in Wakayama curry murders
Japantimes July 26, 2008


Friday marked the 10th anniversary of the high-profile Wakayama festival curry poisonings that killed four people and sickened 63 others.

Although Masumi Hayashi, 47, was sentenced to death for the murders and attempted murders by the Wakayama District Court in 2002 and the Osaka High Court upheld her sentence in 2005, much of the story remains unresolved.

Hayashi, who proclaimed her innocence throughout the trials, has appealed her case to the Supreme Court.

The district and high courts said the life-insurance saleswoman added arsenic to a vat of curry served up during Wakayama's Sonobe district festival on July 25, 1998, while neighbor women she was unfriendly with were not around.

Police had charged Hayashi based on circumstantial evidence. She remained silent all through her first trial.

Hayashi was also charged with conspiring with her husband, Kenji, a termite exterminator who handled arsenic, in a failed attempt to murder an acquaintance with arsenic-laced food for insurance money. Kenji Hayashi was sentenced to six years in prison in 2000.

Although Masumi owned up to the murder-for-insurance attempt in court, she claimed innocence for the curry murders. She was also convicted of trying to poison her husband for insurance. Prosecutors obtained a wealth of circumstantial evidence, but no confession.

Given the situation, Sonobe residents and kin of the victims say their sorrow and sadness persist 10 years later.

A 75-year-old Sonobe woman who helped cook the curry with other housewives, said: "I still regret that we left (Hayashi) alone near the curry vat."

A victims' group is urging Hayashi to come clean, but to no avail.

"The situation has come to a point where we can no longer expect her to tell the truth. After all, lost lives can't be brought back and our sorrow can't be healed, even if she speaks up," group leader Mitsuo Hamai, 58, said.


Blasts in B'lore, Ahmedabad a conspiracy: BJP
Hindustan Times July 28, 2008


BJP on Monday made a surprise allegation that the weekend blasts in Bangalore and Ahmedabad were a conspiracy to divert attention from the 'cash-for-votes' scandal.

The party also claimed that the blasts in two states ruled by it also made it believe that there was something more than meets the eye.

"The blasts are a conspiracy to divert attention from the cash-for-votes scandal," party leader Sushma Swaraj said in a press conference in New Delhi claiming that the incidents took place just a few days after the government won the trust vote.

"These are not off-the-cuff remarks. I mean what I say," she added.

When asked if she was pointing towards the Centre and alleging that the Congress-led UPA government had a role in the blasts, she said, "I have said what I wanted, it is for you all to interpret the rest."

The senior BJP leader also alleged that the blasts were an "attempt to win-over the Muslim votes which got divided after the pro-American deal pursued by the government."

Swaraj claimed that the blasts and its locations had enough "circumstantial evidence" to support her charge.

"Attacks in two BJP-ruled states in a span of two days and within four days of the UPA government winning the confidence vote has some meaning and what I am saying is proved by enough circumstantial evidence," she said.

She said absence of an anti-terror law like that of the POTA was the prime reason for the increased terrorist activity in the country.


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