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World Briefs

Half-price fashion models feel the pinch

Free designer dresses, an army of admirers and $15,000 to stroll down a catwalk: no wonder thousands of teenage girls aspire to being a top model. But at the haute couture shows in Paris, the leggy blondes in silk dresses who advertise a life of luxury are finding their world turned inside out by the economic crisis.

"Half price! It's half-price everywhere, in Milan, even in New York," cried Anna Chyzh, a 23-year-old from Kiev who had just changed out of a Stephane Rolland haute couture gown into jeans and was headed to the next show.

Shunned by scrimping shoppers amid rising unemployment and fears of a long, deep recession, retailers across the board have cut profit forecasts and marketing budgets. At the January fashion shows in Paris and Milan designers hired fewer models than last year as models and agents feel the pinch.

Thieves go for rare tortoises

Ten rare and expensive tortoises have been stolen from a private museum in Singapore, its third theft in two years, local media reported yesterday. The thieves struck on Saturday, escaping with tortoises worth S$75,000 ($49,730) that were on display at the Live Turtle and Tortoise Museum.

Three endangered radiated tortoises, one of the rarest tortoises in the world, and seven Indian star tortoises were stolen, owner Danny Tan told local media.

"I opened the tortoise museum to educate the public about tortoises, yet thefts happen. Of course I feel disappointed," Tan said.

Trade in radiated tortoises is illegal due to their endangered status, while Indian star tortoises are banned as pets in Singapore.

Bull-run hits moonshine

Bulls charged down the winding in Mexico streets Tlacotalpan on Sunday in a chaotic version of Spain's famous "Running of the Bulls".

The tradition traces its roots to the Pamplona bull-run in Mexico's former colonial power. But unlike Pamplona, where bulls chase people down a carefully cordoned-off path, in Tlacotalpan the beasts are let loose to rampage through the streets as crowds taunt them. The town lies near a river where the bulls are lashed to the side of boats and forced to swim across before being released wet, exhausted and angry as men on horseback rope the animals and steer them near raucous crowds, many chugging beer after hours of drinking sweet creamy cocktails called "toritos" (little bulls) made with local moonshine, sugar, milk and fruit or peanut flavouring.

The bull run is part of a week-long religious celebration with all-night parties. The climax is a boat parade down the river of a statue of the Virgin Mary clad in golden robes.

Venezuela has Chavez holiday

Venezuela's government, known for spur-of-the-moment decisions, last Sunday created a new national holiday on February 2 to commemorate populist President Hugo Chavez's taking power.

The announcement came less than 24 hours before the holiday was to begin. The popular anti-US leader, who yesterday celebrated 10 years of his self-styled socialist revolution, has changed the country's flag, coat of arms, and moved the time zone by half an hour. Vice President Ramon Carrizalez said on Sunday the day would declare "a day of festivity, because the people have things to celebrate and many things to defend".

In two weeks time there is to be a vote to determine if Mr Chavez should be allowed to stay another decade. The vote would amend the Constitution, which he helped rewrite, to remove a provision limiting presidents to two successive terms.

Smoking ban at interrogations?

Offering suspects a cigarette during police questioning may become a thing of the past if a Tokyo police experiment with a ban on smoking in interrogation rooms works out.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Police will implement the ban on a trial basis from mid-February due to health concerns about second-hand smoke as well as worries that offering cigarettes from a police officer's own pack may be seen as doing the suspect a favour.

Police are expected to formalise the ban after a three-month trial period, although some officials have expressed concern that requests by suspects to take a smoking break may decrease the level of "tension" during an interrogation.

Japan last year tightened rules for police interrogations, barring officers from touching suspects or grilling them for long hours.

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