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China will next month put on trial two foreign investigators linked to drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which is facing allegations of bribery, in a closed trial shut to relatives and diplomats, people familiar with the case said.

British national Peter Humphrey and his wife Yu Yingzeng, an American citizen, will on August 7 face charges of illegally obtaining personal information, a family friend who asked not to be identified told AFP.

Britain's Sunday Times newspaper has reported that GSK hired Humphrey to investigate the origin of a sex tape of the former boss of its China division, which emerged just before Beijing launched a bribery probe into the British company.

In May, Chinese authorities accused Mark Reilly, shown in the tape with his girlfriend, of ordering employees to commit bribery, following a 10-month probe. Reilly is believed to be in China after returning to assist in the investigation.

Humphrey, a veteran fraud investigator and former journalist for the news agency Reuters, is the founder of Shanghai-based risk advisory firm ChinaWhys, while Yu worked as its general manager.

A court has barred their son, 19, from attending the trial which was originally planned for July 29 but changed for unknown reasons, the family friend said.

"I'm shocked and upset, and I appeal to the authorities to let me attend. I haven't seen my parents for a year," Harvey Humphrey said in a statement provided by the friend.

The pair were detained in Shanghai last July.

A spokesman for the US Embassy in Beijing, Nolan Barkhouse, confirmed an August trial and that US government representatives were barred from attending, despite a bilateral agreement allowing them to do so.





A new Japanese nursing home has everything seniors could want, from a hair salon and 24-hour medical care to comfy beds and a swimming pool to keep those legs in shape -- all four of them.

The facility in a Tokyo suburb is throwing open its doors to ageing dogs of all shapes and sizes with the promise of a comfortable retirement for the elderly canines, and their equally wrinkly human owners.

Aeonpet Co., a unit of major shopping mall operator Aeon, billed its nursing home as the ticket for a pet-loving nation which also has a rapidly ageing population.

"Many pets are getting old while their owners are also ageing. This is a serious social issue," company president Akihiro Ogawa said during a media tour Wednesday.

"I hope this business will provide part of the solution for this problem."





Pope Francis returned from a brief respite on Saturday, receiving the Madagascan president and delegates from the Orthodox Church after a "sudden indisposition" forced him to cancel a visit a day earlier.

Witnesses said the pontiff, who is aged 77, seemed tired but was smiling as he entertained his guests.

The day before, he had cancelled a trip to a hospital in Rome at the last minute, with a spokesman mentioning "the intense pace" of the pope's schedule by way of explanation.

"With so many undertakings, it's clear there's a need for a break every now and then," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told AFP.





When Kiab turned 16, her brother promised to take her to a party in a tourist town in northern Vietnam. Instead, he sold her to a Chinese family as a bride.

The ethnic Hmong teenager spent nearly a month in China until she was able to escape her new husband, seek help from local police and return to Vietnam.

"My brother is no longer a human being in my eyes -- he sold his own sister to China," Kiab, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, told AFP at a shelter for trafficking victims in the Vietnamese border town Lao Cai.

Vulnerable women in countries close to China -- not only Vietnam but also North Korea, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar -- are being forced into marriages in the land of the one-child policy, experts say.

China suffers from one of the worst gender imbalances in the world as families prefer male children.

As a result millions of men now cannot find Chinese brides -- a key driver of trafficking, according to rights groups.

The Lao Cai shelter currently houses a dozen girls from various ethnic minority groups. All say they were tricked by relatives, friends or boyfriends and sold to Chinese men as brides.



"I had heard a lot about trafficking. But I couldn't imagine it would happen to me," Kiab said.

As trafficking is run by illegal gangs and the communities involved are poor and remote, official data is patchy and likely underestimates the scale of the problem, experts say.

But rights workers across Southeast Asia say they are witnessing "systematic" trafficking of women into China for forced marriages.

"This problem has largely been swept under the rug by the Chinese authorities," said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch.

- Tricked and sold -

Vietnamese girls are sold for up to $5,000 as brides or to brothels, said Michael Brosowski, founder and CEO of Blue Dragon Children's Foundation, which has rescued 71 trafficked women from China since 2007.

"The girls are tricked by people posing as boyfriends, or offering jobs. Those people do this very deliberately, and for nothing other than greed and a lack of human empathy," he added.




It is likely that many of the girls end up working in brothels, but due to the stigma of being a sex worker they will usually report they were forced into marriage.

Communist neighbours Vietnam and China share a mountainous, remote border stretching 1,350 kilometres, marked primarily by the Nam Thi river and rife with smuggling of goods of all kinds: fruit, live poultry and women.

"It is mostly women who live in isolated and mountainous areas who are being trafficked across the border, because there is no information for us," said 18-year-old Lang, from the Tay ethnic minority, who walked across the frontier illegally and was sold to a Chinese family by a friend.

In northern Vietnam, trafficking has become so acute that communities say they are living in fear.




A Turkish court on Thursday handed a 15-month jail term to a teacher over Twitter posts deemed religiously offensive, local media reported on Thursday.

The court in the eastern city of Mus ruled that the man, identified as Ertan P., insulted Islamic values with his Twitter handle -- @allah (cc) -- and a series of tweets he posted, Hurriyet newspaper reported on its website.

The defendant claimed his account had been hacked and appealed against the sentence, Hurriyet said.

Pretending to tweet as God, he wrote: "In my present state of mind, I would not have created the little finger of human beings".

"Here (heaven) is very safe because there is no police," he tweeted in reference to police crackdown on protesters during mass anti-government demonstrations in June last year.

The Islamic-rooted government banned Twitter in March after the micro-blogging site was used to spread corruption allegations against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his inner circle.





Though no stranger to controversy or diatribe, the European Parliament is set to usher in its first fully-fledged neo-Nazi members, from Germany and Greece.

With around 300,000 votes at Sunday's European elections the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD) is expected to claim one of the country's 96 seats in the new Parliament, in a historical ground-breaker.

A recent change in German electoral laws, scrapping all minimum thresholds, paved the way for the march into parliament of the NPD, which has 6,000 members.

It describes itself as "national socialist," just like Germany's Nazis in the 1930s, and is openly xenophobic and anti-semitic so a group of German regional governments have tried to have it banned for propagating racism.

Meanwhile, with almost all ballots counted in Greece, the neo-Nazi "Golden Dawn" party is claiming over nine percent of the vote, which would net it three seats in the 751-member Parliament.





A 100-year-old beggar in a threadbare coat, "Grandpa" Dobri, is already celebrated as a saint in Bulgaria -- a symbol of goodness in a country ravaged by poverty and corruption.

For over 20 years, Dobri Dobrev has been begging on the streets of Sofia, collecting alms worth tens of thousands of euros. And he has given it all to the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

This has made him the largest private donor of the golden-domed Alexander Nevski cathedral even as he maintains an ascetic lifestyle.

"Take some bread, it comes from God!" the hunched old man mutters under his straggly white beard, offering believers the buns that other people give him as they drop coins into his plastic cup and bend to kiss his hand.

"He gave us 35,700 leva (18,250 euros, $24,900) in 2009, while living a life deprived of all comfort," Bishop Tikhon, chairman of the cathedral’s trustees board, told AFP.

"Dobri is an extremely rare phenomenon."

Several smaller monasteries and churches also say they have received between 2,500 and 10,000 euros each from the small man wearing peasant leather sandals.

These sums are considerable in Bulgaria, which remains the European Union's poorest member seven years after joining the bloc and where the average monthly salary is about 420 euros.


Dobri is a comforting figure to Bulgarians amid pervasive corruption and deprivation, sociologists say.



"While the media is full of scandalous reports on the luxurious lifestyle of certain Church dignitaries, Grandpa Dobri personifies moral values such as self-denial and generosity," said Theodora Karamelska, a sociology professor at Sofia's New Bulgarian University.

For Bulgarians he is like a saint "thanks to his romantic appearance and the richness of his soul," she added.

The background of this man, who refuses any interviews, is patchy. Born in the summer of 1914, he partially lost his hearing in one of the bombings of the Bulgarian capital during World War II.





It's Sunday night and Giuseppe Marrone is teaching perfect strangers how to make perfect gnocchi as they slurp on Spritz cocktails in his New York apartment.

The 29-year-old would-be restaurateur who once worked at The Ritz has thrown open his home to foodies hungry for the ultimate niche experience: the New York dinner party.

In a city with so many fabulous restaurants and where so few can afford large apartments, dining at home is rare enough for people to pay to be invited.

On a mission to entertain and introduce Americans to authentic Italian cooking, Marrone and Chiara Mortaroli, 28, laid on a spectacular three-course meal complete with wine and cocktails for just $60 a head.

And how did they arrange it?

Through CookApp (, a tech start-up that expanded from Argentina to New York three months ago, allowing chefs to turn their homes into a restaurant for the night.

Mortaroli, who works in a Chelsea art gallery, discovered CookApp on Facebook and felt it was the perfect way to combine her love of cooking with meeting new people.

This is the second dinner party she has hosted, and she has been to two others as a guest.




"We do big group dinners with our friends all the time, where everyone puts in money, and then people call up saying, 'Can I bring my friend?'" Mortaroli said, clattering around the kitchen preparing lemon tarts.

"I love to meet different kinds of people, especially from different cultures and when Chiara told me about this, I said 'Let's do it!'" said Marrone.

Charming, chatty and larger than life, the two friends work the room, topping up the glasses of their eight guests as they encourage them to help make the gnocchi.


Without the Internet, along with a shared interest in Italian food and meeting new people, the eclectic crowd of diverse young professionals would never have met.

Squeezed round a table in the sitting room, each guest is given recipes for the gnocchi and lemon tarts, rolled into little scrolls and done up with ribbon.

Dinner began with seafood salad, bruschetta and salmon filo pastries, before gnocchi and ragu that Marrone took delight in saying had taken 18 hours to cook.




"Oh my God, I loved it. I thought it was super fun," publishing company executive Lauren Ruotolo told AFP.

Living in Gramercy Park, she relished the chance to do something different in a different part of New York, as well as learn about Italian regional cuisine.

"Giuseppe really made you feel you were part of his life, which I thought was great," she said.

Jeni Kreiger, a 34-year-old tour guide and masseuse, regularly dines in some of New York's finest restaurants but loved the more intimate experience.

"Oh heck yes, I already made the gnocchi at home. It was so awesome," she told AFP.

"I challenged (fellow guest) Roberth to a cartwheel competition on the terrace so you can't do that in a restaurant!"


CookApp launched in New York in February, after making a real splash in Buenos Aires, and 57 events have been hosted in the Big Apple so far, co-founder Pedro Rivas told AFP.

The city of eight million is an attractive market with its rich cultural and culinary heritage, an obsession with all things new and love of nightlife.

In a city with a constant influx of new people, Rivas says some of the best CookApp customers are those who have recently relocated to the Big Apple.

"CookApp really does connect people who don't know a lot of people in the city," Rivas said.

"There's obviously people older and younger, but the majority are between 25 and 45.




The choppers swoop in, dumping insecticide over a plague-stricken village in Madagascar's stunning central highlands.

"The goal is to break the invasion," explains Tsitohaina Andriamaroahina, head of a UN mission to end a locust plague threatening the crops of 13 million farmers on this island nation.

In their countless billions, the insatiable hordes cloud the skies as they spread across two thirds of Madagascar, affecting an area roughly the size of Germany or Japan.

Columns of thick black smoke rise from the rolling grasslands surrounding the village of Amparihibe, 200 kilometres (125 miles) west of the capital Antananarivo, as desperate farmers set fires to disperse the crop-eating swarms.


The airborne locust bombers use the tell-tale smoke signals to help them target the insects on daily patrols using three helicopters and an airplane operating from mobile air bases.

"When we fly on a scouting mission, we look at several things: the wind direction, smoke, the position of the sun. All of that shows us where the swarms are," explained Hasibelo Rakotovao, one of the team members.

The 90 people in the joint operation between the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation and Madagascar's anti-locust agency have already sprayed 500,000 litres (132,000 gallons) of pesticide over one million hectares of land.

Once the insects have been spotted, a technical team arrives before sunrise in a truck carrying pesticide containers which will be attached to the helicopter.


The team moves quickly -- they can only spray at dawn, when the locusts are immobile on the ground, their wings weighed down by the morning dew.

The pesticide only affects insects, according to the mission, neutralising their nervous system.

Villagers then collect the grasshoppers and feed them to their pigs.

"We help one another among neighbours but we aren't enough. We are up to our knees in locusts and can't cope anymore," said Marie Louise Rasoamampionona, a 50-year-old small-scale farmer.




Fiddling angrily with the radio in his car, Donetsk resident Oleksandr exclaims: "This is unbelievable! There used to be a Ukrainian radio station on this frequency, now it's Russian!"

In Ukraine's restive eastern region of Donetsk, where separatists are in control of several areas and have declared a "People's Republic", local media are being shut down, taken over and intimidated.

The pattern is always the same, said Sergei Garmash, who runs the local news website Ostrov: "Armed men have gone to the headquarters of media outlets -- including ours -- and demanded that programming be coordinated with them."

And if the outlet refuses? The men threaten to "shut it down", Garmash said.

Here in Donetsk the wider information war between pro-Moscow and pro-Kiev media over coverage of Ukraine's crisis is playing out at the local level.

After taking over local media, the well-armed rebels have dismissed journalists, blocked access to offices and cut signals to Ukrainian stations -- which are quickly replaced by Russian ones.

There have also been reports of abductions, equipment seizures and break-ins as the separatists seek to silence opposition to their efforts to bring eastern Ukraine into Russia.

"Abduction by armed separatists remains a risk for both local and foreign journalists," the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said in a statement this week.

In Donetsk, the imposing building that once housed Ukrainian public television is now empty of journalists. On the airwaves, the channel has been replaced by Rossiya 24, a state Russian news channel.

Barricades made of car tires, a makeshift "Stop" sign and sandbags piled up at the entrance now make it clear that reporters are no longer welcome. There is even a tank parked behind the fence.

"This is a military building, get away!" yelled a group of aggressive men in camouflage with a red armband that read "Oplot" ("Bulwark" in Russian) -- the name of a pro-Russian militia group.