Russian soldier cites 'horrible' time
A Russian soldier now in Georgia said Friday he was not seized against his will but deserted because he could not stand his commanding officer's verbal abuse. The Russian military has maintained Sgt. Alexander Glukhov was seized by Georgian spies in a propaganda plot. But Glukhov, 21, told the Associated Press that he was upset by the "horrible" conditions at his post. He said he left his camp in South Ossetia in mid January and took refuge first with an ethnic Georgian family and then with a 50-year-old man before crossing into Georgian-controlled territory Monday and asking police to take him to Tbilisi, the capital, where he is seeking political asylum. "The conditions there are horrible," Glukhov said. "It was particularly hard when the frost arrived. We lived in tents, the stove produced no heat, they fed us poorly."
Malaysians report ancient axes found
Malaysian archaeologists have unearthed prehistoric stone axes that they said Friday were the world's oldest at about 1.8 million years old. Seven axes were found with other tools at an excavation site in Malaysia's northern Perak state in June, and tests by a Tokyo laboratory indicate they were 1.83 million years old, said Mokhtar Saidin, director of the Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Science Malaysia. The group released their conclusions Thursday, and other archeologists have not yet examined the results. Mokhtar said the oldest axes previously discovered were 1.6 million years old in Africa. Other chopping tools have been found in Africa that are much older, with some dating back 4 million years, he said.
Saudi Arabia hosts dazzling horses
At a green oasis in the desert outside Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, a dazzling array of horses with colors ranging from dark gray, coffee bean black and warm honey have competed all week in an extravaganza designed to celebrate Arabian horses. "This is one of the biggest such gatherings in the world," said Prince Khaled bin Sultan, host of the festival. The popular animal is intrinsic to the region's culture, and one that, according to ancient Bedouin legend, God designated as one of the "glories" of the earth.
Witchcraft kids focus of U.N.
A U.N. panel expressed concern Friday about the growing number of street children in Congo accused of witchcraft and subject to violence and torture. The Committee on the Rights of the Child said children suspected of witchcraft are kept as prisoners in religious buildings where they are mistreated or even killed under the pretext of exorcism.
U.S. military's new use for old tool
The oceans have long buffered the effects of climate change by absorbing a substantial portion of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But this benefit has a catch: As the gas dissolves, it makes seawater more acidic. Now an international panel of marine scientists says this acidity is accelerating so fast it threatens the survival of coral reefs, shellfish and the marine food web generally.
The panel, comprising 155 scientists from 26 countries and organized by the United Nations and other international groups, is not the first to point to growing ocean acidity as an environmental threat, but its blunt language and international credentials give its assessment unusual force. It called for "urgent action" to sharply reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.
"Severe damages are imminent," the group said Friday in a statement summing up its deliberations at a symposium in Monaco in October.
The statement, called the Monaco Declaration, said increasing acidity is interfering with the growth and health of shellfish and eating away at coral reefs, processes that would eventually affect marine food webs generally.
Already, the group said, there have been detectable decreases in shellfish and shell weights and interference with the growth of coral skeletons.
Jeremy B.C. Jackson, a coral expert at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said "there is just no doubt" that the acidification is a major problem. "Nobody really focused on it because we were all so worried about warming, but it is very clear that acid is a major threat."
Carbon dioxide, principally from the burning of fossil fuels, is the major component of greenhouse gas emissions. Oceans absorb about a quarter of carbon dioxide emissions, the group said, but as the gas dissolves in the oceans it produces carbonic acid.
The ancient Chinese practice of acupuncture is gradually catching on as a pain treatment for wounded U.S. troops. The Air Force, which runs the military's only acupuncture clinic, is training doctors to take it to the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan. A pilot program starting in March will prepare 44 Air Force, Navy and Army doctors to use acupuncture as part of emergency care in combat and in frontline hospitals, not just on bases back home. Col. Arnyce Pock, medical director for the Air Force Medical Corps, said acupuncture comes without the side effects that are common after taking traditional painkillers. Acupuncture also quickly treats pain. "It allows troops to reduce the number of narcotics they take for pain," he said. Col. Richard Niemtzow, chief of the acupuncture clinic at Andrews Air Force Base, cautioned that while acupuncture can be effective, it's not a cure-all. "In some instances it doesn't work," he said. "But it can be another tool in one's toolbox."