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Believe it or leave it: Strange stories of 2005


Alongside tragedies, wars and natural disasters the year just ending brought its share of unusual, outrageous and tragi-comic and just downright silly news items.
A selection of the stranger items:
u The authorities running a cemetery near Tel Aviv were bemused to find tourists beating a path to the grave of a 19- year-old British soldier who died in fighting 66 years earlier. His name, engraved on the headstone, was Harry Potter.
u A German inventor had the idea of placing a specially adapted mobile phone in the coffins of the dead. That way relatives could call up and speak to their dear departed without having to leave home.
u In Japan, police were so upset to hear that a student who was caught up in a traffic accident had to get to an important exam that they gave him a full escort with sirens, arriving with 10 minutes to spare.
u Police in Newcastle, Australia, reported a spate of frozen chickens smashing into house roofs with great force. They suspected a prankster with a powerful catapult.
u Local lawmakers in the US state of Virginia threw out a bill that would have banned young people from wearing low-slung trousers. "Underwear is called underwear for a reason," said the congressman who sought the measure.
u A Thai businessman who said he was giving up his massage parlour to enter parliament sought to demonstrate his new resolve by smashing a bathtub outside the assembly and then lying immobile in a coffin. The tub represented his former business, and the coffin showed that he was no longer his old self, he said.
u A man and woman held in adjacent cells of a Turkish prison made a hole in the wall through which they managed to have sex and produce a child, papers said. They got a further four-month sentence for damaging public property.
u The northern English city of Carlisle had second thoughts about an art project in which the text of an ancient local curse was set on a stone in the city centre. Not long after it was installed the city suffered disastrous floods, a bout of cattle disease and local factory closures.
u There were red faces in the office of Croatian President Stipe Mesic after a painting given to him as a gift turned out to have been stolen from a local art exhibition.
u Workers in a German post office thought they had a bomb on their hands when a parcel began vibrating and making strange noises. It turned out to contain an inflatable sex toy.
u Before setting off to rob a bank, a man in the west African state of Mali put on charms that he believed would make him invisible. He was jailed with gunshot wounds after police guarding the place saw through him, or rather failed to do so.
u Tourism authorities in Switzerland decided to wrap an entire glacier in PVC foam to try and stop it melting during the summer months.
u Christian believers in Chicago flocked to a highway retaining wall after a stain that was said to resemble the Virgin Mary appeared on it. A graffiti artist then scrawled "Big Lie" over it, before the city authorities had the whole thing painted over.
u A pastor in Denmark's established church who had been suspended because he did not believe in God was allowed back into the fold. "We're giving him another chance," said the religious affairs minister, who oversees the Lutheran Protestant Church.
u A mute young man who was found wandering on a southern English beach, and who was reported to be a virtuoso piano player, had media around the world fascinated for months. He was later found to be a German fame-seeker -- and it turned out he didn't play the piano all that well either.
u The Virgin Atlantic airline said it was setting up a frequent fliers' club called "Flying Paws." Initial membership was four dogs and a cat; humans need not apply.
u After a row with his wife about money, a well-off Israeli man opened the family safe, took out the equivalent of 680,000 dollars in banknotes and burned it to ashes on the front lawn.
u A top official with the tennis tournament at Wimbledon, England took the opportunity of his retirement speech to complain about vocal grunting by female players, which he said was getting ever louder.
u Educational authorities in New South Wales, Australia, protested when the state board of studies proposed making surfing into a high- school diploma subject.
u A Japanese woman who paid a contract killer the equivalent of 136,000 dollars to murder her lover's pregnant wife went to the police to complain when he failed to do the job.
u The German interior ministry said that people being snapped for ID photographs should no longer smile because it messed up their biometric recognition technology.
u An Iraqi man who enjoyed a night of love with a British woman in Cyprus got into hot water because of his bad English. He had apparently decided to say "Yes" to whatever she requested -- which worked fine until she thought to ask him, after the fact, whether he had AIDS. "Yes," he answered -- erroneously as it later turned out.
u The Munch museum in Oslo refused to sell copies of a board game based on the real-life theft of its most famous painting, Edvard Munch's "The Scream."
u A Chinese company calling itself "Lunar Embassy" tried to sell real estate on the moon. Its founder claimed there was no law against such a project, but the authorities thought otherwise.
u A Los Angeles taxi-driver found a pouch containing 350,000- dollars' worth of diamonds left in his cab. The driver, an immigrant from Afghanistan, simply handed them in to the police.
u Emily, a one-year-old tabby cat from the US state of Wisconsin, strayed into an air cargo container and before she knew it she was being unloaded in the eastern French city of Nancy. Unharmed, she was flown back in style. (AFP from Hong Kong)