Japan police unmask

74-year-old ‘ninja’ burglar

TOKYO (AFP): Japanese police have finally nabbed a nimble “ninja” thief who dressed in black and scrambled over walls to commit scores of break-ins over an eight-year career - and were astonished to find he was 74. Police in the western Japanese city of Osaka had been stumped by a string of burglaries, their only lead being security camera footage showing an agile thief with a black neck-warmer pulled up to the nose and a parker hood down to the eyebrows. “He was dressed all in black just like a ninja,” a senior official at the Kawachi police station told AFP. But the master thief made a mistake in May - his neck-warmer slipped and his identity was revealed on camera. Police recognised their man as Mitsuaki Tanigawa, 74, who had a previous record of thefts.

They then started watching the aged crook and tried to trap him.

“Investigators watched him doddering out from his house like any other old man during daytime. He then went to an abandoned apartment room where he changed and waited until it got dark,” the official said.

“When he came out in the dark, he was all in black... He did not take ordinary streets, squeezing through tight spaces between houses and running on the tops of walls,” he added.

As investigators were unable to pursue the agile thief to catch him in the act, they finally pounced when he came back to his hideout at 4am after robbing an electronics store.

Under arrest, Tanigawa said he “hated working and thought stealing is quicker,” according to the police official.

He has been charged for over 254 break-ins for thefts totalling 30 million yen ($260,000) over the past eight years.

He later told the police that he needed only 10 minutes to sneak into a house, stealing mainly cash from people as they slept.

“He’s a pro. He told us ‘I have confidence in my job’,” the police official said.

“If I were younger, I wouldn’t have been caught. I’ll quit now as I’m 74 and old enough,” the thief was quoted as saying.




Indonesia seizes 101 pangolins on fishing boat

PEKANBARU (AFP): Indonesian authorities have seized more than 100 pangolins, all of them alive, an official said Wednesday, a haul of the critically endangered species that conservationists estimate to be worth about $1.5 million. Indonesian officials discovered the pangolins on Tuesday in a raid on a fishing boat off the east coast of Sumatra island, the navy said in a press statement. Authorities were tipped off by local residents who said men were attempting to smuggle the scaly mammals to Malaysia. Pangolins - docile animals with a thick armour - are indigenous to parts of Southeast Asia and Africa and are the world’s most trafficked mammal.

 Two men, aged 22 and 25, were arrested after they confessed they were paid money to transport the pangolins to Malaysia.

If found guilty the suspects could face maximum five years in prison and a Rp 100 million ($7,300) fine for violating Indonesia’s conservation law.

“We received 101 live pangolins seized by the navy yesterday (Tuesday) but four of them later died,” said the head of a local conservation agency.

The seized pangolins will be released in the nearest national park, said Mahfudz, who like many Indonesians goes by one name.

Dwi Adhiasto, from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), which works with Indonesian authorities to halt wildlife crime, said the shipment was worth about $25,000 wholesale, but could fetch as much as $1.5 million when sold internationally.

In June, naval officers discovered 223 live pangolins, 24 of which were already dead, as well as nine large bags of pangolin scales in a warehouse near Medan, North Sumatra.

Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in China and their scales are sometimes used in the production of crystal methamphetamine.

Soaring demand for the reclusive creature has seen an estimated one million pangolins snatched from Asian and African forests over the past decade, sending their numbers to perilous lows.



Anti-stroke drugs also protect against dementia

PARIS (AFP): People with heart trouble who take blood-thinning medication to avoid strokes may also significantly reduce their risk of dementia, a study published Wednesday said. Researchers found that of 444,106 patients in Sweden who had atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart condition that can provoke strokes, those taking drugs to prevent blood clots had a 29 percent lower risk of developing dementia. The risk further decreased as patients continued to take the medication, they reported in the European Heart Journal. The study - the largest ever on the link between anticoagulants and dementia in atrial fibrillation patients - looked at data from Swedish health registries covering the period 2006-2014.

The strong link with dementia suggests blood thinners are responsible for lowering risk, but clinical trials would be needed to establish cause-and-effect, the scientists said.

There is, however, a catch.

“Such studies cannot be done because of ethical reasons,” said lead author Leif Friberg, a researcher at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

“It is not possible to give placebo to atrial fibrillation patients and then wait for dementia or stroke to occur.”

Scientists had speculated that anticoagulants might stave off dementia because they prevent tiny clots that can cause unnoticed microscopic strokes, a major contributor to cognitive decline.

Researchers identified all patients in Sweden diagnosed with atrial fibrillation between 2006-2014. They then checked on what drugs had been prescribed, and followed the patients’ progress.

When they first joined the study, 54 percent of patients were not taking oral anticoagulants such as warfarin or apixaban.

The researchers found that the strongest predictors for dementia were lack of oral anticoagulant treatment, ageing, Parkinson’s disease and alcohol abuse.

They also found that the sooner oral anticoagulant treatment was started after a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation, the greater the protective effect against dementia.

Friberg said patients should be started on blood-thinners immediately after diagnosis, and continue taking the medication.

“Doctors should not tell their patients to stop using oral anticoagulants without a really good reason,” he said in a statement.

An alarmingly high percentage of patients stop taking their medication after a few years, he added.

“In the first year, approximately 15 percent stop taking the drugs, then approximately 10 percent each year.”

The study found no difference in dementia prevention between the older blood-thinning drug warfarin and the newer oral anticoagulants.



California roasts under

record-setting temperatures

LOS ANGELES (AFP): An excessive heat warning has been issued in California through Wednesday as the state bakes under extreme temperatures that are shattering records. Downtown Los Angeles on Tuesday broke the 1909 record of 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2) set for that day as temperatures rose to 104 Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) by early afternoon according to the National Weather Service. Record-shattering temperatures were also recorded in many other cities across the southern part of the state including Long Beach (105 degrees Fahrenheit) and Santa Barbara (96 degrees Fahrenheit). The unusual late season heat wave prompted officials in Los Angeles to issue warnings to baseball fans attending game one of the World Series at Dodger Stadium, urging them to “bring lots of water to the game.”

Temperatures for the evening were expected to dip to 97 degrees Fahrenheit.

The National Weather Service said the dangerous heat was expected through Wednesday when temperatures would begin easing.

“This is a very unusual late season heat wave and should not be taken lightly!” it said.

The scorching heat comes as the state is recovering from a series of massive wildfires that devastated northern California’s wine region earlier this month and killed more than 40 people.




Self-driving bus to shuttle Bavarian townsfolk

BAD BIRNBACH (AFP): German state-owned rail company Deutsche Bahn unveiled its first-ever driverless bus Wednesday, saying the shuttle will bring passengers through a picturesque spa town to the train station. The test route for the self-driving machine is in Bad Birnbach, set in the rolling hills of the southeastern state Bavaria not far from the Czech and Austrian borders. Made by French startup EasyMile, the 12-person bus will offer free rides on an eight-minute route linking the baths, the town centre and the station, Deutsche Bahn (DB) said in a statement. “We’ve just driven autonomously into a new era of transport,” DB boss Richard Lutz, who rode along on the first trip, said in a statement. The rail operator has launched a subsidiary dubbed Ioki to test future modes of transport, focussing especially on electric-powered mobility.

From 2018, the new buses will operate on test routes in several German towns, including the country’s second-largest city Hamburg.

DB hopes that in the future they will operate like a private car service, picking up passengers from home on demand and bringing them to the station - picking up others with the same destination along the way.

Across the Americas, Asia and Europe, a number of cities - including Paris, Lyon, Las Vegas and Dubai - are already experimenting on a small scale with autonomous vehicles complementing public transport systems.