Hymenoplasty - Restoring Virginity In France

Sitting in a cafe near the Champs Elysees, the 26-year-old French-born woman of Algerian descent looks like any other Parisian. But two months ago, she did something none of her friends have done.

She had her hymen re-sewn, technically making her a virgin again.

"I'm glad I had it done," said the woman, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. "I wanted to reconstruct part of my life, to reconstruct myself so that I could feel better about myself."

This 30-minute outpatient procedure, called "hymenoplasty" and costing between 1,500 and 3,000 euros ($2,000-$4,000), is increasingly popular among young women of North African descent in France.

No exact figures exist to say how many such operations are done, but the woman's surgeon says he gets three to five queries and performs one to three hymenoplasties each week. Demand has been rising for the past three or four years.

Doctor Marc Abecassis, whose office is near the chic Champs Elysees, sees the rise in religion among France's five million Muslims fuelling this trend. His patients are between 18 and 45 years old, Muslim, born both in France and in North Africa.

"Many of my patients are caught between two worlds," said Abecassis. They have had sex already but are expected to be virgins at marriage according to a custom that he called "cultural and traditional, with enormous family pressure".

For this woman, the decision to have the surgery came after she broke up with a boyfriend who had pressured her into having sex. Unable to cope with breaking family tradition, she felt a hymenoplasty would help put her life back together again.

Another of Abecassis' patients, a 22-year-old Algerian immigrant who asked to be called Karima, said most young women had the operation to respect their culture or family tradition, not for religious reasons.

In fact, neither woman is a practicing Muslim. They dress, speak and act like other young Parisians, but are also part of a growing silent group of women who juggle traditional Muslim and modern French values.

All the women who spoke to Reuters did so condition that their identities not be revealed.


Karima also lost her virginity to an ex-boyfriend. She plans to marry soon and her fiancé expects her to be a virgin. So last month, she commuted in from an eastern suburb of Paris, where she lives with her parents, and had the surgery.

The next day she was back at work. "I don't want to disappoint my fiancé," she said, adjusting her glasses and brushing her highlighted brown hair from her face. "I wouldn't have had the surgery if I hadn't met him."

A leading Muslim spokesman said Islam says bride and groom should be virgins before marriage, but did not take a clear stand for or against hymenoplasties.

"If someone committed a sin, the essential thing is to repent," said Lhaj Thami Breze, head of the Union of French Islamic Organizations.

For many doctors, resewing the hymen goes against their ideals of sexual freedom and personal liberty.

"The surgery is an attack on women's dignity," said Professor Jacques Lansac, president of The National College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians of France. "We will not take part in a market that places value on the quality of a woman -- if she's good or not. It is an attack on women's liberty."

He also argued that any doctor who performed these operations at state hospitals violated France's legal separation of church and state.

The church-state issue flared up in 2004 when France passed a law banning religious garb, notably headscarves, from state primary and secondary schools.

Since then, Abecassis said, some Muslims in France have been putting much more emphasis on certain customs as a way of expressing their identity. "Today it's the two 'V's' -- veil and virginity," he said. "It's a social phenomenon."

Surprisingly, French social security reimburses some of the cost of the operation in cases of rape or trauma. "Ninety-nine percent of the time, the claim is a fraud," he added.

Still, Abecassis defended the operations and said he helped patients who could not pay his 2,500 euro fee. "This surgery gives them another chance," he said. "It's a rehabilitation. For many, it's the only solution."


Sitting in the same cafe, a 19-year-old Moroccan studying in Paris who asked to be called Amel spoke just before her first consultation with Abecassis.

"I dated a boy when I was 15 and I didn't even realize what had happened," she said, referring to her first and only sexual experience. "I didn't understand what I did."

Her parents introduced her to a young man earlier this year, and they plan to wed when she returns to Morocco in June. But he would not accept a non-virgin, so she needs the operation soon.

Amel is scraping together the monthly allowance sent by her parents and emptying her savings account to pay for it. Two friends back home will lend her the remaining 1,000 euros.

"If my mother ever found out about this, she would have a mental breakdown," Amel said. "I don't want to have this surgery, but I don't have any choice."

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Mongolian Folk Songs - Gradually Dying Away?

Yaru can sing popular songs in Chinese to great effect but her real preference is for traditional Mongolian folk songs that she sings to guests in a big restaurant in downtown Hohhot.

"I'm proud to sing Mongolian songs," says Yaru. "And it's much better singing them in the original than in a version translated into Mandarin Chinese."

The 27-year-old, an ethnic Mongolian who grew up on the grasslands in northeastern Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, has been working for three years at the Caoyuancheng restaurant where servers dress in traditional Mongolian costume and customers eat in compartments shaped like Mongolian yurts.

As rapid economic development transforms the vast, resource-rich autonomous region, hundreds of thousands of people over the past decade have done what Yaru did and move to towns or cities from pasturing and farming areas in pursuit of a better life.

But they are also increasingly aware of the efforts needed to ensure the survival of their language and culture in a modern world where the lifestyle is vastly different from centuries-old nomadism.

China has about 5.8 million ethnic Mongolians, 4.2 million of whom live in Inner Mongolia which has a total population of 24 million. The rest mainly live in northeastern Heilongjiang, Jilin and Liaoning, and northwestern Gansu and Xinjiang provinces or region.

In traditional yurts -- now very rare -- and in Mongolian family houses, portraits of Genghis Khan -- the man who united Mongolian tribes eight centuries ago and ruled an empire that stretched from Southeast Asia to Central Europe -- are commonplace.

Ethnic Mongolians in the region regard him as a hero.

Every year, thousands of Mongolians from all over China and from Mongolia attend grand sacrificial rituals at the Genghis Khan Mausoleum, located in Erdos City, some 200 kilometers southwest of Hohhot, the regional capital.

The mausoleum, rebuilt in 1956, contains sacrificial tablets. It has become a gathering place for Mongolians to offer sacrifice to the spirit of Genghis Khan.

"I have not attended such rituals yet, but I will some day,"

said Yaru, for whom Genghis Khan is a brave, wise man.

The sacrificial rituals, with a history dating back 780 years, are now presided over by the descendants of the Mongolian tribe of Dalhut, who were once Genghis Khan's garrison army.

Nowadays, more Mongolians in the region prefer to give their children Mongolian names, rather than use three-character names standard among Han Chinese. Some Mongolians have even started to reconstruct their family trees.

"Offering sacrifice to ancestors, giving children Mongolian names and building family trees, all these phenomena indicate that ethnic Mongolians are keen to protect and pass on their cultural legacy to the generations to come," said Bao Siqin, director of the Literature Studies Institute of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Regional Academy of Social Sciences.

According to Bao, also an ethnic Mongolian, his current surname Bao is a simplified form of his original Mongolian surname Borzhijin while Siqin means "clever" in Mongolian.

More Mongolians have begun to send their children to schools with classes taught in Mongolian to ensure they do not forget their language.

"The number of classes taught in Mongolian in our school has risen to 12 from seven in 2001," said Dalai Duren, headmaster of Xing'anlu Ethnic Primary School in Hohhot. "The school has seen anannual increase of nearly 100 students studying Mongolian."

The school has now 1,200 students, and 98 percent of them are ethnic Mongolians. Each of them enjoys a monthly living subsidy of 30 yuan (3.8 U.S. dollars) from local governments. China encourages schools in autonomous regions to have classes taught both in the language of the ethnic minority groups and in Mandarin Chinese.

Preferential policies in schooling for students of ethnic minorities are also an attraction, according to Dalai Duren. The school has seen more mixed-blood children -- one parent a Han and one a Mongolian -- enroll and study in Mongolian.

Namula, the school's doorman, said his eight-year-old grandson studies in Second Grade classes taught in Mongolian. "I want him to master both Mongolian and Chinese," he said.


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Sex, Ignorance And Longitivity

A 116-year-old Ukrainian goat herder says the secret to long life is never having sex.
Grigoriy Nestor, from the village of Stariy Yarichev, says his strong religious beliefs have kept him alive.
He said: "According to my Christian beliefs there is no sex before marriage, so I never had a wife.
"People that were not married like me live longer. People who get married just argue all the time, and that's not good for your health.
"People who know too much always come to a nasty end. Better to stay stupid and not wonder too much about anything." Nestor, who only spent two days in school, says ignorance is bliss.
He explained: "The less you know, the longer you live. Ignorance is long life and happiness."

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Americans Without Basic Human Rights

Immigration is a hot subject today in America. Most Americans are concerned about the illegal activity as well as any amnesty for people who commit illegal acts by skirting the law. I am all for reform in our immigration laws which seem outdated and conflicting because they seem to protect the wrong people and make it hard for others who want to get into this country the legal and proper way.

But there remains one issue that many people seem to know little or nothing about, and this concerns orphaned children fathered by Americans overseas, most of them servicemen. In Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Korea, and Japan live hundreds of thousands of these children who are denied citizenship. Many can prove their heritage and still cannot come to this country. The American government claims that these children will not be allowed because they are products of prostitution and the government feels it should not take any responsibility for them. These children are called Amerasians.

Many of these children were such products of what the government here believes are illegal acts of prostitution. But look at the facts here. In many of those countries, prostitution is legal. So it cannot be construed as an illegal act, can it?

Prostitution is legal in Nevada. And you can bet your last dollar that if a child was born out of an act of prostitution there, not only would the child be a full citizen without question, but the father would certainly be held responsible for support as well. But let someone sneak over from Mexico in a train car, and even have a criminal past, and they are given a slap on the wrist, a drivers license, and amnesty.

These Amerasian children were born of American parents. Most of them live in abject poverty and daily scorn because they are not fully from either world. Many are sold as babies and into prostitution or worse for less than most of us spend on video rentals every year. So the question is how can most of them afford the stringent process required for them to gain what should be theirs by right of birth?

There have been people through the years trying to fight this battle, from the Pearl S. Buck Foundation to local churches and missionaries abroad. But one site I know of is a new site, run by an amazing young woman of Amerasian heritage who began this as a favor for friends and family who were seeking to find their parents. She charges nothing for her time and service and has been instrumental in reuniting several families and finding parents and children for those who were separated for various reasons. Jennifer Williams runs the site called Amerasian Family Finder at amerasianfamilyfinder.org and is a dedicated individual who seeks nothing but reunification for these children and parents.

Going through her site you will see a large cache of information on Amerasians and their plight. Many of these fathers were separated from their children in various ways, whether the mother sold the child, or died, and some never knew they had a child. The stories are heartbreaking for these forgotten Americans. I came upon the site after Jennifer reunited a friend of mine with his son, and the story behind it is unbelievable.

There are still children from WWII in Japan, all over Korea from that war, Vietnam, and the Philippines from WWII to now as the islands provided a strategic vantage point to most Asian and South Pacific countries. Many European nations have already accepted the responsibility for their forgotten children, and assist them in becoming citizens and reuniting with their families. They feel it is their responsibility since they sent their soldiers there in the first place.

If the American government excludes acts of prostitution as a reason to be admitted as an American, I doubt we would have many politicians left at all if they applied this to themselves. Do they ask the millions of Hispanics who their daddy is before they allow them amnesty? If the government is so concerned, perhaps they should have the American parents who fathered these children take responsibility. Many of these children eventually find their parents here, only to be told they were a mistake from the past. I know of one mother who sold her Amerasian son at birth, changed her name, and now lives here in America with a husband and 3 children. She refuses to speak with her son. His father has looked for him for decades, and has finally found him. But his mother lied to immigration, and simply married a serviceman, and lives the good life while she sold her own flesh and blood to get here. Just the kind of citizen we all want living next door. I hear slave traders can raise the property value.

Another father in California who refuses to accept his own daughter even after she found him breaks my heart. But what can be done if the government has no way for these children to find their way into our society? We can allow people into this nation who sold their own child, even though slavery has been abolished and is illegal here, to be a citizenship via marriage. But we cannot allow a child with American blood in? Again, the illegal activity wins citizenship over those who have no recourse, but have American blood. An illegal can give birth here and the child becomes a citizen. But they claim that illegal activity is cause to reject citizenship. What is going on here? Why does this pendulum swing only one way?

They should allow them to become citizens, and if these parents do not want these children, at least have them pay for the testing and paperwork for these children to have a start here. Small child support payment in my opinion, but it is something. Otherwise, many of these children will always be outcast. They will remain in poverty and prostitution, they will continue to be statistics for crime, and they will never know their full heritage.

It is high time to change our immigration laws here. According to the Amerasian USA group: "Introduced by Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), the Amerasian Naturalization Act of 2005 [Bill Number: H.R. 2687] has so far generated bipartisan support of 20 members of Congress." A little progress has been made, but more support is needed.

I would prefer to have my tax money go to accepting these Forgotten Children and giving them the head start that their birthright gives them, than to have it used to pay the high cost of illegal immigration activity as we see it today. In the end I believe we would have better citizens, those who will be putting back into the system rather than remain a drain on it.

I challenge anyone reading this to visit Amerasian Family Finder and see if you can walk away from there without weeping for those who still cry for their parents. As adults, children, and those who will never have the opportunity to tell their story.

May God have mercy on these Forgotten Children, and on our nation if we continue to abandon our own.

Pete Fisher is a concerned citizen in the Chicago area who has written several articles on the economy, educational system, politics, and religion. He is a 6 year veteran of the Armed Forces.

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Naomi Lay's Sex Tape To Be Released Soon

One of The Apprentice 3's more likely winners, Naomi Lay, is reportedly terrified that a sex video she made with a boyfriend is about to be made public.

The News of the World reports that the explicit 40-minute video was made three years and her ex-boyfriend assured her that it had been destroyed when they split up.

But a source claims the video made its way into a third pair of hands and her because of her new-found fame, she's worried that it will be leaked onto the internet.

Without dwelling on the finer details, the source said the Naomi gives Meg Ryan's performance in When Harry Met Sally a run for her money.

It would seriously harm the reputation of the Cornish 26-year-old and it would be hard to see her winning The Apprentice despite appearing to be one of the most capable candidates.

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Christine Gambito Making Head Way As A Celebrity

While actors of Asian descent have been trying make it big by breaking into mainstream Hollywood, usually with limited success. Thirty-one year old Christine Gambito, an American born to Filipino immigrants in Virginia, took a different route and achieved what others have been trying to do for years in only a matter of months – become famous.

With a little help from technology, Christine is now one of the most popular faces on the Internet. Proof of this is that an entry from her video blog, or vlog, HappySlip.com, garnered enough votes to be named second Best Comedy at the 2006 YouTube video awards. Her video “Peelings”, which is a spoof on a fractured conversation between three family members – all of them played by Christine ‑ has had more than 200,000 viewers on YouTube and admirers have even begun posting videos about Christine herself on YouTube, praising her as a new star for the Internet age.

Happy Slip, which is a one-woman production team, is a play on the term “half slip”, which her mom, in her Filipino-English accent, always reminded her to wear as a young girl. “Christine, put on your happy slip!” she parodies in one of her videos.

Begun only in September 2006, the vlog, which features a variety of short homemade video parodies, gained almost instant success. Her channel on YouTube currently ranks as the 11th most subscribed channel of all time, with over 32,500 subscribers, well ahead of others that have been in the widely popular video hosting site longer. With viewers from countries like the UK, Germany, and Canada, along of course with those from the US and the Philippines, Christine can practically be called an international star.

While Christine admits that she has been to the Philippines only once when she was barely a walking toddler, her most popular videos are those that parody the Filipino family culture but she also muses on the wonders of Mac computers and stages parodies of television soap operas.

“Growing up with my parents, grandparents, and all the aunties and uncles created a little Philippines for me,” she told Asia Sentinel in an email interview.

In these videos, she makes fun of how hard it is to carry on a normal conversation with adults who sport bad English and terrible listening skills, as exemplified by her parents and an aunt – characters she hilariously mimics in the videos. In “Mixed Nuts”, the video that won at the YouTube awards and that has been viewed almost 3 million times, she shows how relatives always try to pry or find something wrong with you. In “Peelings”, she tackles how parents are always showing off their children.

“From the feedback that I get, people of all different cultures are able to relate to the characters and little stories. Immigrant families seem to all have these types of characters in their lives, and have the same communication problems,” she says.

Image Thus, in a borderless world existing in a digital age, Christine was right on target with Happy Slip.

Not that she really set out to become an Internet star when she uploaded her first video. It was, as she says in one of her vlogs, just about fulfilling the desire for creative expression.

Since the age of 4 or 5, Christine was already entertaining family members gathered during holidays by spoofing her mom. By the time she was in middle school, she knew she wanted to become an actress. But not wanting to be “so desperate to take on any acting job just to pay the rent,” she went to nursing school.

“There’s a stereotype that every Filipina is a nurse, but I actually did this with foresight,” she explains in one of her vlogs. “It’s flexible, and you can quit doing it for a time and go back to it. They always need nurses, and it’s just a good skill to have.”

She worked on and off as a nurse for about eight years, quitting only when she gave birth to her son two years ago. Throughout this time, she did the conventional auditioning-here-and-there route towards becoming an actor. But while she has appeared in some commercials and industrial training videos, she was tired of being cast as the “token Asian woman” and longed to put her wacky, creative energy to use. Happy Slip is her answer to this need.

“Commercials are about being in the right place at the right time and having the right look. It’s so random, but with doing your own show, you can showcase the full potential of your talent and build your audience – all the while calling your own shots,” she says.

Taking ideas from her family, television shows, and Internet culture, Christine sits down to write a script, sets-up her digital video camera and floodlamps, does her own hair and make-up, acts, edits the videos in her laptop, and uploads them on to the Internet.

Happy Slip has become so successful that she decided last month to work on it full time ‑ through advertisements and merchandising, she does earn money from it. There are already offers for it to go mainstream, but none appeal to her at the moment.

Her acting dreams and need for a creative outlet are all fulfilled by Happy Slip in its current form, and Christine says she is already is already happy with that.

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Chinese Turn To Japanese For Online Porn

Justin Mitchell

Much ado has been made over China's constant efforts to protect its citizens from the nefarious influence of free flowing Internet information. Falun Gong, Wikipedia, Reporters Without Borders, BBC News, any reference to June 4, 1989, Taiwan independence or a free Tibet are no-nos, of course. Selected blog sites, such as the popular Blogspot, also are often blocked but then unblocked and blocked again in an unpredictable cycle that defies logic.

Lured by all those eyeballs, western companies have enabled the crackdown in their desire to get a share of the rapidly expanding China market. Yahoo, Google, Microsoft and Cisco Systems were widely criticized in 2005 for their complicity in what the conservative American pundit David Kopel called, "China's stranglehold on information." Although, complicit or not, the overwhelming mass of Chinese Internet users continue to favor the country's leading search engine, Baidu - not Yahoo or Google - for their online needs.

But to be honest, it's not the real low-down on Tiananmen Square, updates on imprisoned intellectuals or the aspirations of the people of Tibet that lead to yearning for a breach in the Great Firewall.

It's porn. Pure and simple. The quest for online porn satisfies the same itch in Beijing as it does in Boston, Manchester or Melbourne. In China, though, finding it online it isn't as simple as typing in "Jenna Jameson," "Bang Bus" or "Japanese Race Queens." Official scrutiny of naughty net sites is arguably more focused than that of content championed by western democracy advocates, though access to pirated Korean, Taiwanese, Japanese, vintage American and European porn on DVD is usually as easy as a running to the corner shop for a couple bottles of Tsing Tao and some sesame chips.

Quietly, however, in mid-March Baidu, the monster NASDAQ-listed portal, did a favor for China's smut seekers when it launched a US$15 million Japanese version called Baidu.jp. With its server based in Japan, it allows users from China to access pages otherwise banned by Beijing - images included. "It's just a test version at an early stage, so we don't want to make a fuss about it in the press," Baidu spokesman Xu Jiye, told Shanghai Daily.

I know what you're looking forOn its corporate Website, Baidu explains the company's mission in lofty terms. "Baidu was inspired by a poem written more than 800 years ago during the Song Dynasty. The poem compares the search for a retreating beauty amid chaotic glamour with the search for one's dream while confronted by life's many obstacles," the company says. "Hundreds and thousands of times, for her I searched in chaos, suddenly, I turned by chance, to where the lights were waning, and there she stood."

For those who have found the Japanese site, and the numbers appear to be growing, Baidu has revealed what they want to see. Baidu.jp placed 908th in terms of overall traffic in Japan last week, according to the ranking site Alexa.com. But nearly 60 percent of those searching were from China. Despite friction over still-festering World War II issues such as the Nanjing Massacre, sex slaves, the Yasukuni War Shrine and unexploded chemical weapons, Chinese Internet users have put aside any antipathy. They like what they're seeing: Japanese adult video stars in their mostly R-rated glory

Here's what a few bloggers had to say shortly after Baidu.jp's modest debut:

Someone calling himself Lu Xinxin trumpeted the announcement at www.lvxinxin.com: "Baidu Japan is good stuff! (Girls, don't click, neither should anyone under 18!)"

"Baidu Japan is finally online! Liu Xinxin said it's good stuff. It is, it is! All the search results pop up easily!"

"Is this legal in Japan?" wrote "Kereal" in seeming astonishment.

"I'm sweating!" confessed "Aether."

"You can put in a few words and come up with this astonishing stuff," wrote an anonymous poster. "You can tell how good it is by noticing how the female comrades here react to it. It is really very good, but nothing stunning for other countries, especially Japan which has a large, specialized pornography industry. Still this is huge for China!"

"I hope now Baidu.jp can develop a video search engine," wrote "Ivxnxn."

There were words of caution, too. "You're a bunch of idiots!" scolded "Gdgfd." "After you talk about it here it will probably be banned by the GFW (Great Fire Wall)."

You can also find banned politics on Baidu JapanRest easy, Gdgfd. Official oversight is capricious. For example, how does one explain China's official state news agency Xinhua, and its frequent postings of partially clad females - Chinese and foreign models and actresses alike - on its website under the guise of "art" or "culture," sometimes on the same page as a dictum/news release from the Party about the dangers of online titillation? Xinhua's predilection for saucy pics led one of China's leading foreign bloggers, Jeremy Goldkorn at Danwei.org, to dub it "Skinhua." The nickname has stuck.

It's not all T&A, though, At Baidu.jp. Type in "6./4/89," "Tianamen 89" or variations of them in Chinese characters and the results roll in, albeit in Japanese and many appear to be academic or government documents related to the massacre. Included among the results, though, are graphic, bloody photographs not easily found even on western websites as well as a skillfully edited YouTube tribute that uses documentary footage, still photos and a banned-in-China song urging the world not to forget.

As for Baidu.jp's future in Japan, porn and politically sensitive topics aside, it faces substantial challenges. Yahoo Japan is the country's top pick, with about 86 percent of Japan's Internet users, according to JapanNet. The current version of Baidu.jp has no advertising and offers nothing more than a search engine minus its popular Baidu blogging service and news.

In vaguely addressing the issue, Baidu's chairman and CEO said in a press release that 'We believe that our proven strength in non-English language search, the high internet penetration in Japan, as well as similarities between the Chinese and Japanese languages make this market an ideal next step for Baidu.''

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Why Parents Of BC Sextuplets Are Heading Back To Court

One of them grabbed Veny roughly and dragged her onto the sofa, at that moment I knew that Veny was in danger, and I tried to yell as loud as I could and one of them slapped me, then it was my father who also yelled out and was hit with a wooden beam until he passed out, my mother had already passed out from the moment she saw them drag Veny away. At that moment, I just prayed to God, oh God, don't let this disaster come upon us.... Dodi, who at that moment continued to try to persuade them with offers of money but without success. And ... eventually Veny was raped forcibly by them. I couldn't stand to watch that or hear Veny's screams, so I cried and closed my eyes tightly.... There were about 5 people raping Veny, and every one began with the cry, 'My god is great'.... They are sadists.... They are cruel...

No doubt thats how the Jehovah's Witness parents of sextuplets born in Vancouver three months ago felt when their kids were forcefully transfused with blood and so they are heading to court today.

They're appealing the B.C. government's decision to seize some of their babies for blood transfusions, which is forbidden under their religion. When the parents first went to court, the province handed back control over the infants' medical futures.

Lawyer Shane Brady says his clients want the court to rule their constitutional rights were violated when the government authorized transfusions which the parents say "weren't medically necessary."

The six children were born to the parents on Jan. 7, but two of them died soon afterwards.

The parents' names and those of their four surviving children - two boys and two girls-are under a publication ban.

However a group of top academics as well as former Jehovah's Witnesses are raising stark warnings about the ethical ramifications of a Vancouver court case delving into whether blood transfusions should have been forced this year on at least two of the surviving premature sextuplets of Witness parents.

The critics of the Jehovah's Witnesses maintain the controversial case, which will be heard in B.C. Supreme Court today, reflects a pattern in which the religion fails to give adherents true freedom of choice about whether to accept life-saving transfusions.

While some former Witnesses are promising to picket outside the Vancouver courthouse, a group of scholars and legal specialists has written a statement declaring the Jehovah's Witness religion often pressures followers not to follow their individual conscience, including while deciding whether to accept transfusions.

The Watchtower Society, the legal and political body representing the six-million-member religion, portrays itself as a champion of religious freedom. Asked whether some Jehovah's Witnesses might feel coerced into refusing transfusions, Mark Ruge, Ontario-based spokesman for the Canadian Watchtower Society, said: "People can say whatever they want. I don't have the time to counter every accusation that's made."

The group of legal and religion specialists claims the society fights mainly for freedom for the religious organization -- not for freedom of conscience for individual Witnesses.

"We've all come together because of the number of people who are dying," says Juliet Guichon, who teaches health law and medical ethics at the University of Calgary.

In a recent public statement, Guichon joined two religion scholars and two former Jehovah's Witnesses with legal expertise in saying that the actions of the Watchtower Society "suggest that these leaders value doctrinal adherence more than they do the lives of their members."

The statement says senior medical officials confronted by Jehovah's Witnesses who refuse blood transfusions for themselves or dependents are often unable to make sound ethical decisions because they're limited by their own "ignorance of the Watchtower's authoritarian rule." In other words, the statement claims, medical staff often don't realize individual Witnesses in medical emergencies may be overwhelmed by their fear of the religious and social repercussions of accepting a transfusion.

Today, lawyers for the B.C. government will face off against Watchtower Society lay lawyers over the province's decision in January to seize the four surviving sextuplets of Jehovah's Witnesses parents to force at least two to have blood transfusions.

Jehovah's Witnesses are taught that transfusions are forbidden by the Bible and adherents who voluntarily submit to accepting another person's human blood will suffer eternally in hell, a scriptural interpretation firmly rejected by other Christians and Jews. Their belief is based in large part on the Book of Acts 15: 28-29, in which the Revised Standard Version of the Bible says early Christians were taught: "For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: That you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled, and from fornication."

Lawyer Shane Brady, a Jehovah's Witness who works closely with the Watchtower Society, will argue in court that the government was wrong to do the emergency transfusions, in part because the Jehovah's Witness parents - whose identities are protected by court order - were denied a fair hearing before the apprehensions. In late December, Jehovah's Witness officials had written a letter cautioning a respected medical journal, Paediatrics and Child Health, against publishing an article by Guichon, the medical ethicist, and scholar Ian Mitchell, in which the authors questioned whether Jehovah's Witnesses always make truly "voluntary" decisions to reject transfusions.

The article, which was published in December, 2006, said there is evidence some Jehovah's Witnesses who have to make life-and-death decisions about transfusions for themselves, their children or family members in comas feel pressured into refusing blood because they don't want to be excommunicated from the religion.

"Coercion by actual or threatened shunning and excommunication can occur, and these factors may affect ... decision-making," says the academic article. The authors urged medical staff to make sure Jehovah's Witness patients who refuse blood are "acting without coercion."

Calgary architectural project manager Lawrence Hughes - the former Jehovah's Witness whose daughter, Bethany, died four years ago after a high-profile court battle over transfusions - said this week his life fell apart after he was shunned by the Jehovah's Witnesses when he initially allowed his cancer-ridden daughter to receive blood.

"When I signed the consent card (to allow his daughter to have blood), I didn't have anyone I could phone or talk to," Hughes said Friday. "I was disfellowshipped, kicked out. For many people who are excommunicated from the Witnesses, they lose their family, their friends and even their jobs, because they're often working for Witnesses."

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251 Sexual Acts With 70 Men Over A 10-hour Period - Hero Or Whore

Miral Fahmy

Few Singaporeans have courted controversy like sex star Annabel Chong, but a new play about her life which opens on Thursday aims to reveal the person behind the pornography.

"251" is named after Chong's most famous film, "The World's Biggest Gang Bang", in which she set a world record for engaging in 251 sexual acts with around 70 men over a 10-hour period in January 1995.

Starring, produced and directed by Singaporeans, the play also marks a milestone for this city-state which has long considered Chong a pariah and where oral and anal sex, as well as pornographic films, are banned.

"Singapore has definitely opened up much more in terms of what it's willing to allow on stage," said playwright Yi-Sheng Ng, who has been fascinated by Chong's life since he heard about her infamous film as a teenager.

"She's an icon, a figure of the taboo, of doing that which is forbidden and scandalous in Singapore, she's one of our country's great anti-heroes," he told Reuters.

Chong, born Grace Quek, was born in 1972 to a conservative Christian family in Singapore, where she excelled at some of the country's top schools. While studying law in London on a government scholarship, she was gang-raped in a rubbish tip.

Aged 21, she went on to do graduate studies in California and then started working in adult films. Today, she still lives in the United States, where she is a Web designer, and refuses to talk to the media about her days as Chong.

"251" is the second biographical production about the actress, who is perhaps one of Singapore's best-known exports.

In 1999, a US film student produced a documentary titled "Sex: The Annabel Chong Story", which was nominated for a Grand Jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival the same year.

The film, which highlights her substance abuse and tendencies towards self-harm and depression, is also banned in Singapore.

Loretta Chen, the director of "251", said government authorities had vetted the script and laid down some "guidelines" that included toning down some of the language as well as ruling out nudity and scenes that depicted group sex.

But she said the staging of the play showed Singapore's government was also changing with the times.

"Ten years ago, this would not have happened, but with the Internet and the accessibility of porn today, this forces the authorities to address such issues," she said.

Chen, who got Quek's blessings, hopes audiences will come out of the play realising that Chong was a product of Singaporean values, as well as "a person with family, friends and feelings".

"When I started researching, I got intrigued with the idea of her being a national hero ... someone who dared to break boundaries," she said. "The only reason she is not considered a hero is because what she did was a sexual act and we don't consider that to be heroic in any way."

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High-Priced Prostitution Ring Broken Up In Vietnam

Ho Chi Minh City police raided the Quang Hotel in District 1 Tuesday, cracking a major prostitution ring that provided women for affluent clients and arrested its leader, who also worked as a prostitute.

Chu Hoang Thao Tram, 29, who was caught red-handed "entertaining" a customer in the raid, had allegedly supplied girls to wealthy businessmen at USD $100 per customer.

Besides, Tram also procured prostitutes for clients on business trips or travel tours in other provinces at up to USD $500 a person.

Tram admitted in her statement to police that she regularly scoured bars and discotheques in districts 1 and 3 as well as northern Vietnamese provinces for beautiful girls to entice them to work for her ring.

Of sex workers hired by Tram, there were even university students and, wryly enough, men who had undergone gender-conversion surgeries.

Further investigations would be continuing, the police said.

Elsewhere, the police also smashed Tuesday another prostitution ring in Rach Gia town in southern Kien Giang province.

The ring, organized by 27-year-old Thai Thanh Long, had clandestinely carried on prostitution activities since January 2006.

Eight people involved, including pimps and procurers, were under police custody pending further investigations.

Prostitution is illegal in Vietnam.

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Faith In The Face Of Adversity

Gazette Staff Writer

Although probably the least life-threatening injury from her March 14 accident, it may be the most life changing for 33-year-old Allison Bowling. Since she was a toddler, dance has been part of her life, eventually developing into a career, too, with the creation of her own dance school - N'Step Dance Troupe.

Although Allison said she has had a rough life, this may be the toughest challenge for her, and her school, to try and overcome.
Jaws of Life
Allison was on her way to visit her grandmother in Columbus. Her sister, Jane LeMaster, 26, was driving along U.S. 23 North when a Freightliner box truck crashed into the vehicle as it entered the highway from High Street at 84 Lumber. Jane was fine, as well as the children in the car - Allison's 7-month-old and Jane's 7-month-old and 3-year-old - a testament to seatbelts and car seats and using them correctly, Allison said.

"I remember everything up until the point of impact ... I can remember the on ramps and moving to the left lane when all of a sudden I see a truck right there in front of us," she said. "The next thing I saw was rescue people around us."

Allison was cut from the Dodge Neon and rushed to Grant Medical Center, all the while moving in and out of consciousness and unable to see.

"I was pretty much blind," she said, adding she is still having some difficulties possibly from the fractures in her face.

Upon arrival at the hospital, they realized she was bleeding internally and they immediately took her into surgery, cutting her open to pick through her organs piece-by-piece, she said, to make sure they didn't miss anything.

"They literally run through all of the organs," Allison said, adding that they discovered her intestine was bleeding and removed about a foot-long portion before using 32 staples to close her back up.

After the surgery, doctors set her ankle.

"It's a very bad break for me being a dance teacher," she said, adding that it had dislocated and pushed out through her ligaments and nerves. "Once it heals, we'll have to see how those nerves and ligaments move ... It's discouraging."

Unit success story
Although unsure of the recovery of her ankle, Allison is very thankful for her life, which she credits to the team in the Center for Blood Conservation at Grant. The center is the first of its kind in Columbus and the area which provides patients a blood transfusion-free surgery. For Allison, her choice to not take blood transfusions is a matter of faith.

"My belief is I don't take blood transfusions because blood is sacred and it represents life and God gives us life. It's not up to us (to give life)," she said.

Although her hemoglobin count was dangerously low at times, the methods in the unit progressively raised it from two points to around seven by the time she left the hospital at the end of last week - normal range is between 11 and 13 points.

"I'm glad they took me to Grant because if they took me anywhere else, they may not have had the technology I needed," she said, adding that thinking of her family needing her helped keep her going.

Aside from the Blood Conservation team, she had one special nurse - who said she was from the Chillicothe area - who helped her calm down after coming to and realizing what had happened.

"I have no clue who she was ... All of the nurses were great, but there's one in Chillicothe who really encouraged me. She made me focus," she said.

Focus is something Allison has been keeping for quite some time.

Growing up in Los Angeles, she focused on dancing and dancing better. After moving to Chillicothe - the family following one of her brothers who married a woman from Pike County - she looked for an adult group to dance with. All she found was a group of senior citizens who clogged.

"I didn't mind. I thought, 'They're adults, great. I'm going to dance with them,'" Allison said.

Her love for her new dance style continued, especially after going to Columbus and seeing the range of clogging, outside bluegrass.

"I was blown away by this whole world of clogging," she said.

The fascination led her to become a certified trainer, and she officially started N'Step five years ago - evolving from a volunteer dance group she had run for about five or six years.

When she became pregnant with her daughter last year, Allison was placed on bed rest which hampered her participation with her team. Then, in July, all of their costumes, awards and paperwork was destroyed in the fire that claimed the Majestic Box Office.

"I just told them March 5 that we've just been through a rough year but I'm here, and back ... then two weeks later, this," she said.

Aside from maybe having lost the ability to really do something that has been a part of her nearly her entire life, Allison is worried business-wise too. She and her husband have six children, ranging in age from 7 months to 16 years old.

"I want to (continue N'Step). I'm determined to. At this point, I can't. I don't know when and if I will," she said, adding she'll probably have to hire another person to help teach. "That's a sad thing. I've always danced with my team."

However, Allison's two sons, Arthur and John, have been very active with the group and have tried to continue practices.

"They did the whole thing without asking," she said, adding how wonderful she thought it was.

Arthur may even go on to do the same clogging certification that Allison did to help out. Her Tiny Tots class has been continuing without missing a beat, too. After realizing how full her plate was with the new baby and her other classes, Allison hired Rhonda Carver to teach the toddlers so they would get the dedication she felt she couldn't give.

"I'm looking into different options," she said. "Maybe an assistant teacher. I still want to do choreography. I can hardly give that up, it's my baby," she said.

Part of her mission with N'Step was to create a fun environment for the children - allowing them to pick what level of competition they wanted, whether purely just dance classes, performances or full-fledged competition - and at an affordable rate. When they make it to national competition - which is rare because of the cost associated - they have won at times, both as a team and individually.

"It's been great and I don't want to lose it," she said. "I have to keep on trying to keep going ... So many on my team have backed me up ... it makes me feel like I need to give them something back in return."

Allison's relationship with God and her family is where she continues to draw strength. People from her church, The Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses, come to sit with her during the day while her family works - helping her with her daughter and other things that need done.

"Out of anyone in the car, I'm glad it was me," she said. "People tell me I'm feisty. I think it took the feisty to keep going in the hospital."

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Another Virgin Mary Stained By Tears Of Blood

A statue of Our Lady in Sri Lanka’s war-torn Mannar district has reportedly shed tears of blood.

This is the third such report to come from the north of the island since last month, following similar claims made about two statues in Jaffna District. All three statues are in places that are in the thick of Sri Lanka’s civil war.

Church sources told AsiaNews that the statue, which was situated in a house of religious Sisters, has been moved to St Sebastian’s Cathedral on Mannar Island. People are flocking to see it.

In Jaffna town, a statue said to have cried blood in early February was transferred to St John the Baptist Church, where it remains to this day. The other statue that reportedly shed tears of blood is an image of Our Lady of Vailankanni (a Marian shrine in southern India) in Chavakacheri, another town in Jaffna peninsula.

The reports come as the war goes from bad to worse in Sri Lanka, inflicting untold suffering on civilians. Ongoing fighting between the Sri Lankan security forces and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Meanwhile, civilians are being abducted and killed daily in the north and east and elsewhere. Others are arrested and detained for long periods without formal legal charges against them.

One priest from Mannar Diocese told AsiaNews: “I think every mother in the north and east is crying blood in her heart because of the atrocities taking place here. Anyone who has a heart - and I think Blessed Mary has a big heart - will cry these days in Sri Lanka.”

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