x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

The power of fire and ice

A volcano in the Philippines put the country on alert, customers around the Emirates were stymied in their search for iPhones and a US military commander banned pregnancy among troops.

The crater of Mayon volcano glows as lava cascades down its slopes on Wednesday in Legazpi City, Albay province, south of Manila.
The crater of Mayon volcano glows as lava cascades down its slopes on Wednesday in Legazpi City, Albay province, south of Manila.

A two-day storm blanketed parts of the eastern United States, closing schools and airports in a dozen states and striking many travellers just as they were hoping to head off for the Christmas holiday. Record snow fell in Washington, DC, and parts of New York and Virgina. On a single day, New York's three major airports suspended 1,200 flights. In Europe, there were similar scenes as temperatures plunged to below freezing for five consecutive days and the unexpected winter storm stranded thousands of travellers. Planes, trains and ferries were all suspended for several days across the continent, including in the UK, France, Italy and Poland, where at least 10 deaths a day were attributed to the wintry weather.

A US commander in Iraq threatened to court martial any female soldier under his command who became pregnant while on duty. Major Gen Tony Cucolo, who commands US soldiers in northern Iraq, later said he would never order a court martial for a woman who became pregnant, but pregnancy still remained on a list of banned behaviour for which court martial could be a punishment. The others included drinking alcohol and drug-taking. Major Gen Cucolo defended his strict rules as the only way to retain combat power over insurgents in Iraq as the US withdraws from the country. Women's rights groups said it was a sure-fire way to deter women from joining the army.

An agreement between women's rights advocates and Dubai courts was expected to speed up justice for victims of domestic violence. The agreement between Dubai Courts and the Dubai Foundation for Women and Children, which provides counselling for victims of rape and abuse, would streamline communication between the two organisations. The charity would also be able to access the court system's legal experts and advise the courts on the most humane way of questioning victims of abuse. The new agreement would also allow the courts to fast track those cases where children are involved.

Authorities in the Philippines raised the alert surrounding the country's most active volcano, Mayon, as it continued to rumble and spew columns of ash into the sky and send fountains of red-hot lava down its slope. Scientists warned an eruption could be imminent. Tens of thousands of people have already been evacuated and are expected to spend Christmas Day in relief shelters, but many more are refusing to leave their farms. The last time the volcano erupted was in 2006.

Britain's Prince William, who is second in line for the throne, spent a night on the streets of London to highlight the growing number of teenagers sleeping rough in the country. With just a sleeping bag for warmth, William huddled down on a cement pavement behind some rubbish bins in a part of the city known for its high number of homeless.

Germany ruled out returning the 3,300-year-old bust of Nefertiti to Egypt, saying it is too fragile to travel. Egypt claims the bust was smuggled out of the country in 1913 by a German archaeologist who disguised its true value by coating it with clay. But Germany rejected this and said it had been acquired legally and therefore, Egypt had no claim to it.

Frustrated residents in the UAE struggled to get their hands on this year's must-have iPhone. Etisalat insisted the Apple-brand phone was available throughout the country and that it was sending new stock to sales staff on a regular basis. Customers and vendors, however, had a different story to tell. One Etisalat salesperson said her stand in Marina Mall received just four phones, while another said it had received just 15. One possible reason for the lack of stock was that customers, on seeing the phones, were snapping up dozens at a go. This prompted Etisalat to impose a cap of one iPhone per customer.

The US couple who triggered a major alert by claiming their son was adrift in a helium balloon have been ordered to pay the $42,000 (Dh154,000) rescue bill. The couple, Richard Heene and his wife Mayumi, were also sentenced to jail time of 90 days and 20 days, respectively. The country was outraged after it was revealed that nine-year-old Falcon Heene was not in the balloon as his parents had claimed, but hiding at home, and that the couple had orchestrated the bizarre stunt to drum up publicity for a reality TV show.

A lawyer for an Emirati man accused of sexually assaulting and killing a four-year-old boy in a mosque said he could no longer defend his client, due to the "gruesome nature of the crime". Hamed al Khazraji, the lawyer, revealed his decision in a letter to the judge, branding the suspect, RR, "an embarrassment to humanity". The judge was forced to call for volunteers to defend RR, who had pleaded not guilty to killing the boy. After several calls, another lawyer, Mohammed al Sa'adi told the judge that he was willing to represent the defendant - but only on condition that the accused enter guilty pleas to all charges.

A British vicar has amended one of the tenets of the Catholic faith by saying that in some cases, stealing, and more specifically shoplifting, is not a sin. Father Tim Jones, the parish priest of St Lawrence and St Hilda in York, said some of the more disadvantaged sectors of society have no option but to turn to crime. However, he did issue several parameters for those thinking about shoplifting, including not stealing from a small family-owned business and not to take more than is needed. York police responded that to encourage people to commit a criminal act was irresponsible.

Two Iranian men convicted of armed robbery who escaped a public execution with the help of their family were finally caught and hanged. Initial reports by the official Fars news agency said the two men had nooses around their necks when a crowd overpowered the hangmen to set them free. However, later reports omitted this detail. The men, and five of their relatives, were apprehended as they fled to the southern port city of Bandar Abbas. As police closed in on the fugitives, a shoot-out ensued, leaving two men dead and about 25 injured.

* The National