World Briefs

Pope New Year wishes

VATICAN CITY: Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday offered greetings to the millions celebrating the Lunar New Year, praising the occasion to “strengthen family and generational bonds.” “In various countries of Asia... and in many communities around the world people are celebrating the Lunar New Year today,” the pope said after reciting his weekly Angelus prayer at the Vatican. The holiday is a “privileged occasion for strengthening family and generational bonds,” the pope said from a window overlooking Saint Peter’s Square. He praised the “rich heritage of spiritual and moral values that is solidly rooted in the culture of these peoples.”

Valentine condoms

MANILA: The Philippine government on Sunday defended its policy of distributing free condoms to mark Valentine’s Day after influential senior church officials labelled it “vulgar”. “It was about distributing HIV information to adults, adolescents... we had this ‘be careful’ Valentine’s campaign because of the rising number of HIV/AIDS in the country,” said Eric Tayag, head of the government’s epidemiology centre. Tayag told ABS-CBN television that Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral had instructed his team to come up with “an innovative way” of getting across the safe-sex message. “It is vulgar, it is lewd, it is gross. To what extent would they entice young people to be promiscuous?” Archbishop Oscar Cruz said in an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Spacewalk concludes

WASHINGTON: Endeavour shuttle astronauts concluded the second spacewalk of their trip early Sunday, moving forward in their work on an observation dome as NASA said the crew’s mission would be extended by a day. US astronaut Bob Behnken and his British-born partner Nicholas Patrick began their nearly six-hour spacewalk at 0220 GMT on Sunday and wrapped it up at 0814 GMT. The pair spent the first part of the spacewalk connecting two ammonia loops, with two lines in each loop, from the Destiny module to Tranquility, hooking the new module to the station’s cooling system. They also opened one of those loops to initiate cooling of the module, officials said.