Must-Reads from Around the World

Air pollution in the Afghan capital is caused by congested traffic rather than fecal matter, British woman sentenced to death in Bali for drug smuggling, and Japanese Finance Minister believes the country's elderly should die and stop living off welfare benefits

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Ahmad Jamshid / AP

Afghan security officer are seen at the roof of the Kabul traffic police headquarters as it is attacked by insurgents in Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Jan. 21, 2013.

Kabul’s Pollution — Despite exaggerations that the air in Kabul contains the world’s highest amount of fecal particles, there is no scientific evidence to support that claim, notes the New York Times. The threat of fecal matter in the air, however, is real: most household waste in Kabul flows into the city’s open roadside drains and when it dries out it becomes part of the dust in the air. A 2008 U.N. study of Kabul’s air revealed that most of the pollution comes from heavy traffic. “Kabul may not have an aerial fecal problem, but it is far from off the hook on air pollution,” writes the daily.

Singapore’s Birthrate — The Singaporean government’s efforts to boost the country’s birthrate is not working, as young men and women delay marriages and childbirth, reports Bloomberg. In 2012, the city-state’s birthrate was 1.3 children per women, compared to 4.7 in 1965. The government announced Monday that it will set its annual budget on marriage and parenthood to $1.6 billion, compared to $406 million in 2001, for spending on matchmaking, fertility treatments, housing grants, childcare and cash gifts for babies.

Endangered Condors — Peruvian lawmakers have introduced a bill to protect a vulture known as the Andean Condor, writes Reuters. The population of condors, one of the world’s largest flying birds, has been dropping rapidly because of a distinctive Peruvian bullfighting ritual — tying a condor to the back of a wild bull — performed during “yawar” festivals. Under the proposed bill, the bird would be declared as a national treasure and people who capture or kill the birds would receive jail sentences of three to five years.

Death Penalty — A British grandmother has been sentenced to death after an attempt to smuggle £1.6m ($2.5m) worth of cocaine into Bali, writes the Guardian. Lindsey Sandiford, 56, who was arrested in May 2012, was expecting the 15-year prison term sought by the prosecution and her lawyers were “surprised” to hear the final ruling. Sandiford’s lawyers are determined to appeal against the sentence while the British Foreign Office confirms that it is in close contact with the accused. The British citizen claims she was forced to take the drugs because “the lives of my children were in danger.” With 40 foreigners on death row convicted of drug crimes, Indonesia has one of the strictest drug policies in the world. Five foreigners have been executed since 1998.  Three other Britons are believed to have been involved in the drug smuggling.

Inside Job? – Algeria’s Prime Minister, Abdelmalek Sellai, has said that the hostage raid on an Algerian gas plant was co-ordinated by a Canadian national, reports the BBC. The Canadian, who has been named as Chedad, was among the 29 militants killed during the siege. So far 37 foreigners of eight different nationalities are believed dead following the hostage crisis. The Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird has said, through the embassy in Algiers and a team in Ottawa, they are “working to try to verify this information and get the names of these alleged Canadians.” Five hostages, believed to be from France, Norway, Malaysia, the Philippines and Romania, are still missing.

‘Hurry Up And Die’ – The Japanese Finance Minister, Taro Aso, has come out and said that the country’s elderly should “hurry up and die” so the state no longer has to pay for their medical care, notes the Guardian. The 72-year-old minister has said that he would refuse end-of-life care for himself, and referred to elderly people who can no longer feed themselves as “tube people.” Almost a quarter of Japan’s 128 million population is over the age of 60 and this is expected to rise to 40% in the next 50 years. In 2010, 4.6 million elderly people lived alone while the number who died at home grew 61% between 2003 and 2010. Aso later acknowledged that his use of language had been “inappropriate” and that he was referring to his own personal preferences.