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World Briefs

Man with 86 wives gets court reprieve

A Nigerian court has granted temporary reprieve to an 84-year-old Muslim preacher with 86 wives after local leaders threatened to force him to leave the area unless he divorced all but four of them.

Mohammed Bello launched a legal challenge after local chiefs and Muslim leaders in Bida, a town in central Niger state where he lives with his wives and some 170 children, gave him until last Sunday to comply with Islamic sharia law, which allows a man to have no more than four wives at a time.

The Islamic preacher said in his petition that the threats violated his right to life and personal liberty. "Leave is hereby granted to the applicant to enforce his fundamental human right to personal liberty, life and to freedom of movement," state news agency NAN quoted Abuja High Court judge G. Kolawole as saying.

The ruling gives Mr Bello temporary protection from banishment while the court decides whether his rights have indeed been violated.

Clueless smugglers spared jail

Three Chinese men have been spared jail after they smuggled a ball of depleted uranium into the country, ignorant the 274-kilogramme shiny lump was a health threat, local media reported.

The three scrap merchants bought the ball of low-radiation uranium metal in Kyrgyzstan last year, haggling a dealer down to a price of $2,000, the official news website of China's far northwest Xinjiang region (www.tianshan.com) reported. They smuggled it into China, evading customs checks but apparently ignorant the interesting metal could be dangerous. One of them hid it in his father-in-law's home in Xinjiang.

7Determined to make a dollar from their find, the men decided to have the ball priced by an expert and they took a piece thousands of kilometres to Beijing. But the their hopes for riches evaporated after an expert identified the substance as degraded uranium, and the men were arrested on suspicion of smuggling.

'Attic-like' penthouse cost $53.5 million

The buyer of a $53.5 million (€37.8 million) penthouse apartment in New York's famed Plaza Hotel says the apartment turned out to be an "attic-like space" with low ceilings and obstructed views, and he is suing for a refund plus damages.

The apartment's anonymous buyer, who made the purchase based on a video, is suing the hotel, developers El-Ad Properties and brokers Stribling & Associates for breach of contract, fraud, deceptive trade practices and negligence.

The buyer, whom local media have identified as Russian financier Andrei Vavilov, is asking for the return of his $10.7 million deposit and for an additional $30 million in damages.

"This is a classic bait-and-switch," Y. David Scharf, the buyer's attorney, said yesterday. "My client was led to believe that it would receive one of the most luxurious apartments in New York history. It got far less than what it bargained for."

Toad pests invade East Timor

Australia's military was accused yesterday of opening the gates to an invasion force of cane toad pests when it led international peacekeepers into East Timor to end a pro-Indonesia militia slaughter there in 1999.

Australian soldiers arriving in Dili inadvertently brought with them a number of the toxic toads, which have overrun vast swathes of Australia's tropical north in the past 70 years, a senior aid worker in the fledgling nation said.

"So many toads in East Timor. We don't know how to get them away, how to kill them," Simplicio Barbosa of aid agency Care International told Australian radio.

Scientists had introduced cane toads to Australia from Hawaii in 1935 in a failed bid to control sugar cane beetle. Native to Central America, the ugly warty amphibians can grow as big as dinner plates and weigh up to 2.6 kilogrammes. Poison glands in their skin make them toxic to predators, including crocodiles.

The 3,000 toads originally released into the Australian wild have multiplied to more than 200 million today, covering close to a quarter of the country, including the World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park.

Tories scrap picture of pooping puffin

Canada's ruling Conservative Party have removed an image of a puffin dropping bird-poo on the shoulder of Liberal leader Stéphane Dion after complaints that it was a bit too much of a dirty trick.

A Conservatives' website, www.notaleader.ca, showed an animated puffin flying across the screen and plopping a white blob on the shoulder of Mr Dion.

"It was in poor taste, and was removed as soon as it came to the attention of senior campaign officials," Kory Teneycke, spokesman of Prime Minister Stephen Harper. The image was up for less than 10 hours. Another official said Mr Harper never saw the website. In the new website, the puffin still flies behind Mr Dion, who the Conservatives portray as weak and out of touch, but it has cleaned up its act.

Postman hoards 20,000 letters

A Scottish postman, working in Germany, hoarded at least 20,000 letters at home because he felt his work was too taxing, police said yesterday. The postman in Frankfurt was caught when a neighbour saw him tipping a mail delivery into a rubbish bin and alerted police.

"It's worth mentioning the 23-year-old didn't deliver mail addressed to himself either," local police said in a statement.

Investigating officers found rubbish bags and boxes full of letters and other post stashed around the man's flat and cellar. He told police he had got behind with deliveries because of his night school studies and felt too "overtaxed" to catch up.

Police said at a conservative estimate, the hoard, which the man had built up since August last year, comprised at least 20,000 letters. Two vans were needed to remove it.

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