600 take the plunge in unusual St. Petersburg swim

ST. PETERSBURG — More than 600 swimmers from 13 countries stroked their way through one of Russia’s most scenic and historic settings on Sunday, circling the St. Petersburg island that holds the Peter and Paul Fortress.

The 1.42-mile circuit — which some swam twice — took them around the iconic site noted for the needle-thin golden church spire that rises to 402 feet. The cathedral is where most Russian czars since Peter the Great are buried.

It is a tough swim, not only for its length, but because of strong currents and seaweed in the Neva River.

Yelena Vodolazova, 46, of St. Petersburg, said it was “not only a physical challenge for oneself, but also an unforgettable experience of swimming in such beautiful historical location where swimming is normally restricted.”


Lombok lifted 10 inches by quake that killed nearly 400

TANJUNG — Scientists say the powerful earthquake that killed nearly 400 people lifted the island it struck by as much as 10 inches.

The National Disaster Mitigation Agency said on Saturday that 387 people died, jumping from the 321 it reported the previous day, as search and rescue teams continued to sift through the rubble and people already buried by relatives are accounted for.

Using satellite images of Lombok from the days following the Aug. 5 quake, scientists from NASA and the California Institute of Technology’s joint rapid imaging project made a ground-deformation map and measured changes in the island’s surface.

In the northwest of the island near the epicenter, the rupturing faultline lifted the earth by about a quarter of a meter. In other places it dropped by from 2 to 6 inches.

Almost 390,000 people, about 10 percent of Lombok’s population, are homeless or displaced after the earthquake, which damaged or destroyed some 68,000 homes.


Student who researched

rights lawyers expelled

BEIJING — A German man has learned the hard way that practicing journalism in China, even for a class project, can lead to serious trouble.

David Missal, 24, was pursuing a master’s degree in journalism and communication at prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing. He left for Germany Sunday after immigration authorities told him his student visa had been canceled and he had a week to leave China.

Missal said he thinks it’s because he reported on the plight of jailed human-rights lawyers in a journalism class. Missal said a Tsinghua representative warned him twice against pursuing the politically sensitive subject, but he went ahead because he wanted to “get to learn Chinese society and politics.”

The action underscores China’s extreme sensitivity to foreign attention to the crackdown, word of which has rarely appeared in China’s state-controlled media or on the heavily policed Chinese internet.

Missal said his work was never published beyond his personal blog and YouTube, which he thinks was seen by fewer than 100 people.


Blast near Turkey kills

at least 36; cause unclear

BEIRUT — An explosion in northern Syria killed at least 36 people Sunday and wounded many others, but the cause of the blast wasn’t immediately known, opposition activists said.

The opposition-run Syrian Civil Defense, first responders also known as the White Helmets, said the blast occurred in the village of Sarmada near the Turkish border, killing 36 people and wounding many others. The explosion collapsed two five-story buildings, burying many of the victims, it said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 39, including 21 women and children.

An opposition media collective known as the Smart news agency, said the dead included civilians as well as members of the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee.

The Observatory said an arms depot in the basement of a building had detonated. It said the depot was run by an arms dealer close to the Levant Liberation Committee.

The Associated Press