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  Beijing Scene

Infected Apes

China's first case of an AIDS-carrying animal was reported recently when Guangxi province police seized an infected monkey from poachers, according to China Central Television's news show Thirty Minutes. The HIV-positive primate was the only one out of 45 seized diagnosed with AIDS. Three of the other monkeys recovered were found carrying tuberculosis. All four were destroyed. The monkeys, which were seized during a month-long government campaign against poaching, were about to be sold as wild fodder to a restaurant. Monkey brain is considered a delicacy in the southwestern province.

According to the director of Guangxi's agency in charge of the protection of wild animals, seized animals are customarily released back into the wild. But due to the potential for an epidemic, the AIDS and tuberculosis-infected animals were immediately destroyed. In addition, out of those seized, 40 percent had dysentery and the other 60 percent tested positive for the Hepatitis B virus. The Hepatitis B virus can be transmitted from animals to humans through blood. If it is not treated immediately, the virus can be fatal.

Panda Poachers

Police in the Sichuan province municipality of Chongqing recently arrested four men attempting to sell the fur of a giant panda for RMB300,000 (US$37,500), the Beijing Evening News reports. The panda, native only to China, is an endangered species on the verge of extinction in the wild. The police acted on tips from informants that someone was trying to sell a panda fur. Among those arrested was Lei Denggui, 38, of Kai county, Sichuan. During interrogation Lei told police he was first asked by an acquaintance in Sichuan to help sell the fur. Lei took it to Guangzhou where he tried unsuccessfully to find a bidder. He returned to the acquaintance's home, stole the fur, and then tried to sell it locally. Earlier this month Lei found himself a serious buyer, but by then police were already on to him. Lei and three others were arrested within weeks. According to animal experts, the fur belonged to a young giant panda. The fur, which included the head and tail, measured 1.1 meters long and .88 meters wide. The panda's origins, its killer and when it was killed are still under investigation.

Lottery Incites Riots

A local lottery caused a massive riot involving more than 10,000 people in the southeastern province of Guangdong, the Beijing Youth Daily reports. The melee left several security guards dead and numerous participants injured. The scratch-card lottery had been organized as a one-time event to generate local funds in Hepo township. Tickets, offered at the low price of RMB2 each, went on sale February 12 and tens of thousands sold out in just four days. But suspicions arose when all the tickets were sold but none of the top prizes claimed. Townspeople broke into the offices of lottery sponsors and began stealing prizes, which included new cars, color televisions, bicycles, clothes and cash. In addition, several automobiles were set on fire, and non-prize items, including a refrigerator, were looted.

Presidential Swindle

A 27-year-old Tianjin man was sentenced to 15 years in prison after he swindled more than 30 people out of RMB850,000 (US$106,000) with a doctored photograph of himself with U.S. President Bill Clinton, the Beijing Morning News reports. Using the picture of the foremost leader of the free world and a forged proposal of the Sino-U.S. Cultural Exchange Society, the swindler, surnamed Zhang, promised unsuspecting Chinese he could produce the proper documentation needed to travel abroad. In 1997, Zhang met the chairman for the Sino-U.S. Cultural Exchange Society, a Chinese-American named Chen. At the meeting Chen showed Zhang a picture of President Clinton along with the Sino-U.S. proposal. Zhang borrowed the document, and then copied and altered it. Zhang then placed an advertisement in a local newspaper announcing his service, charging RMB20,000 per person. Zhang registered 32 would-be travelers before his arrest. Leaving the duped without their money and travel papers, Zhang took most of the swindled money (a partner took the rest) and fled to South China where he was eventually apprehended.

Death by Corruption

A former vice-governor of Jiangxi province was sentenced to death on charges of fraud earlier this month, the Beijing Youth Daily reports.

More than 1,000 onlookers and journalists crammed a small courtroom in the capital Nanchang to attend the hearing of Hu Zhangqing. Hu, who also served as
vice-director of the State Council (China's Cabinet) of Religious Affairs from 1995-1998 before becoming vice-governor of the southwestern province, received and offered a total of 90 bribes in cash and gifts valued at RMB5.4 million (US$675,000). During the three-year period, he also extorted money from private companies, state enterprises, and joint ventures, according to trial testimony.

Hu is one of the highest ranking Communist Party officials ever put to death in China for corruption.

Web Rules Tighten

Beijing signaled a further tightening of controls on the Internet with a ban on website operators from carrying reports from overseas media or from registering overseas to avoid domestic regulations.

The Mainland-controlled Wen Hui Bao newspaper quotes an official from "the concerned department of the central Government" as saying Beijing will set up an agency to govern websites and draw up rules. He says news organizations must seek approval before launching websites and publishing foreign news.

Internet content providers and Internet service providers operated by non-news organizations will be banned from gathering and disseminating news stories, the official adds. Websites will not be allowed to carry news from foreign media, including those in Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. The aim is to prevent "illegal and harmful" news reports, the official says.

Since late last year, officials have spoken of the need to draft regulations to control the online industry. Rules in the pipeline range from those on content to limits on foreign investment. Regulations published on January 26 by the State Secrets Bureau made website owners liable if state secrets are posted on or transmitted by them. The restrictions extend to email account users who are also forbidden to transfer or copy state secrets.

But the new comments carried on the front page of the Wen Hui Bao appear to be the most stringent to date. The measures will hit some of the Mainland's most popular Web portals including Sohu, Netease and Sina which carry news reports from overseas media including those in Hong Kong.

Analysts say state-owned media organizations have been pressuring Beijing to ban Web portals from carrying news stories from overseas. One example is while local media have remained largely silent over the Mainland's biggest smuggling case, now being probed in Xiamen , many Web portals have set up special columns on the issue, with news taken from media in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

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