Paragliders fill Bali's skies for new world record

ULUWATU (AFP): More than 100 multi-coloured paragliders filled the sky over Indonesia's Bali island Sunday, as they set a new world record for the largest number of gliders flying at the same time.

They set off from rugged clifftops in the south of the resort island and flew high into the azure sky, floating over the sea, Hindu temples and red-roofed villages.  About 120 paragliders took part, more than the 99 involved in the previous world record, which was also set in Bali in 2009.

"The site here is perfect, and the circumstances," said Frits Brink, from the Federation Aeronautique Internationale (FAI), the governing body for air sports, including paragliding. "It's a brilliant thing." Paragliding involves foot-launched gliders, with the pilot sitting in a harness attached to a wing usually made of fabric.  Paragliders don't have engines but are still capable of flying over hundreds of kilometres for many hours, although shorter flights are more common.

The new record followed the FAI's general conference this week in Bali.




Thai woman charged with royal slur after mob action

BANGKOK (AFP): Thai police on Sunday charged a woman with royal defamation after a mob demanded action over a Facebook post allegedly smearing the "heir and regent", as the country mourns King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Thailand has one of the world's harshest lese majeste laws, with jail terms of up to 15 years for each count of defaming or insulting the king, queen, heir or regent. The woman, who has not been named, was accused of posting a derogatory statement on Facebook on Friday, according to Thewes Pleumsud of Bo Pud police in the southeastern island of Koh Samui.

"She did not post against the late King - it involved the heir and the regent," he said, referring to Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, and the 96-year-old Prem Tinsulanonda who in a surprise move became temporary regent on Friday.

He declined to give further details since doing so could violate the catch-all law.

Prem, a former prime minister and Bhumibol's Privy Council head, will act as regent until the Crown Prince formally ascends the throne.

An angry mob descended on Bo Pud police station on Sunday demanding the woman be charged.

The crowd hurled insults at the woman, according to videos widely shared on Facebook.

Police said she was charged and then publicly prostrated herself in apology before a portrait of the king, who died on Thursday aged 88 - prompting a wave of grief across the nation.

Two other similar cases since the king's death - in which angry crowds urged punishment for alleged royal defamation on social media - have raised fears of mob action.

Domestic and foreign media outlets based in the country routinely self-censor to avoid falling foul of the broadly worded law, while social opprobrium follows those perceived to have overstepped the mark.

Critics say the law - known as '112' after its criminal code - has encouraged witch hunts by the public, with police and courts obliged to investigate all accusations.

The law prevents all but the most cursory public discussion of Thailand's monarchy, or reporting or debate on the issue.

Cases have surged since royalist generals ousted a civilian government from power in 2014.

The generals have vowed to defend the monarchy from criticism. But analysts say the law has overwhelmingly been used to skewer their political rivals.

A number of people with mental health problems have also been prosecuted.

Cyber patrol teams trawl the internet for royal insults, while self-appointed ultra-royalist civilian groups also monitor the web and report violations.




Swimmer dies in Hong Kong harbour race

HONG KONG (AFP): A swimmer drowned Sunday in Hong Kong and another was left in critical condition as they took part in the city's annual cross-harbour swim, which attracts world-class international competitors.

Local media said the man who died was rushed to hospital after being pulled unconscious from the water by a rescue boat. He was reported to be in his forties. A woman thought to be in her 60s was separately pulled unconscious from the water and is reported to be in intensive care in hospital.

The 1,500-metre race saw around 3,000 people swim between two piers on opposite sides of Hong Kong's famous harbour - 500 up from the previous year according to reports. Some local media questioned why only 10 extra lifeguards had been added when the field had expanded so much. There was a total of 120 lifeguards at the event, broadcaster RTHK reported on its website.

Swimmers are split into racing and recreational groups - both the victims were taking part in the leisure category, which is for slower swimmers, according to reports.

The Hong Kong Amateur Swimming Association, who organised the event, and the title sponsor New World Development issued a statement expressing their "deepest sorrow" over what they called a tragic accident.

"The swimmer was rescued but attempts to resuscitate him failed and he subsequently passed away," the statement said.

It is the first death in the race since it was resumed in 2011 after a 30-year break, local media reported.

The decades-long hiatus was due to fears over pollution levels in the water.

American swimmer Charles Peterson won the men's title in just 16 minutes 44 seconds this year.

Rio Olympics 10-kilometre open water gold medallist Sharon van Rouwendaal from the Netherlands took the women's crown.



Australian, NZ carriers ban recalled Note 7

SYDNEY (AFP): Australian and New Zealand airlines barred the recalled Samsung Note 7 from all planes starting Sunday citing its "potential fire risk", after a similar ban was imposed by US officials. Samsung, the world's largest smartphone maker, has halted production of its latest flagship mobile device and recalled all Note 7 phones and replacements following reports of exploding batteries and fires.

"(The ban) is due to concerns regarding potential fire risk from the device's battery after a number of incidents worldwide and follows a ban put in place by regulators overseas," Qantas and its discount carrier Jetstar said in a statement late Saturday. "The ban applies to devices being carried onto the aircraft, in carry-on baggage as well as check-in luggage." Virgin Australia, Tigerair Australia and Air New Zealand issued similar announcements. Virgin and Air New Zealand "strongly advised" passengers not to bring the Note 7 phone to airports.

"They cannot be accepted for travel and there is no storage facility available for them at our check-in areas," Air New Zealand added.

The Australian carriers previously told customers not to use or charge the smartphone if they were carrying it onboard flights, after Samsung's initial recall of the "phablet" last month.

US officials Friday barred all Note 7s from airplanes and said anyone attempting to travel with the recalled handsets may face fines and have the devices confiscated.

The Note 7 crisis is set to cost the South Korean electronics giant billions in lost profits, and is a blow to a firm that prides itself on the quality production of cutting-edge technology.