Close allies of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have been accused of using supernatural powers to further his policies amid an increasingly bitter power struggle between him and the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Several people said to be close to the president and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, have been arrested in recent days and charged with being "magicians" and invoking djinns (spirits).
Ayandeh, an Iranian news website, described one of the arrested men, Abbas Ghaffari, as "a man with special skills in metaphysics and connections with the unknown worlds".
The arrests come amid a growing rift between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei which has prompted several MPs to call for the president to be impeached.
On Sunday, Ahmadinejad returned to his office after an 11-day walkout in an apparent protest over Khamenei's reinstatement of the intelligence minister, who the president had initiallyasked to resign.
Ahmadinejad's unprecedented disobedience prompted harsh criticism from conservatives who warned that he might face the fate of Abdulhassan Banisadr, Iran's first post-revolution president who was impeached and exiled for allegedly attempting to undermine clerical power.
Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, a hardline cleric close to Khamenei, warned that disobeying the supreme leader – who has the ultimate power in Iran – is equivalent to "apostasy from God".
Ahmadinejad has so far declined to officially back Khamenei's ruling over Heydar Moslehi, the minister at the centre of the row. In the first cabinet meeting since the president returned, Moslehi was absent.
Khamenei's supporters believe that the top-level confrontation stems from the increasing influence of Mashaei, an opponent of greater involvement of clerics in politics, who is being groomed by Ahmadinejad as a possible successor.
But the feud has taken a metaphysical turn following the release of an Iranian documentary alleging the imminent return of the Hidden Imam Mahdi – the revered saviour of Shia Islam, whose reappearance is anticipated by believers in a manner comparable to that with which Christian fundamentalists anticipate the second coming of Jesus.
Conservative clerics, who say that the Mahdi's return cannot be predicted, have accused a "deviant current" within the president's inner circle, including Mashaei, of being responsible for the film.
Ahmadinejad's obsession with the hidden imam is well known. He often refers to him in his speeches and in 2009 said that he had documentary evidence that the US was trying to prevent Mahdi's return.
Since Ahmadinejad's return this week, at least 25 people, who are believed to be close to Mashaei, have been arrested. Among them is Abbas Amirifar, head of the government's cultural committee and some journalists of Mashaei's recently launched newspaper, Haft-e-Sobh.
On Saturday, Mojtaba Zolnour, Khamenei's deputy representative in the powerful Revolutionary Guard, said: "Today Mashaei is the actual president. Mr Ahmadinejad has held on to a decaying rope by relying on Mashaei." - guardian
Abused, burned and buried alive: The horrific suffering of Nigeria's child 'witches'
Children as young as two are being burned, poisoned and buried alive in Nigeria for being witches, it has been claimed.
Hundreds of youngsters are being subjected to horrific violence or chained up for weeks after being accused of withcraft, according to a report by a children's rights charity.
In one case, an 11-year-old boy was killed after acid was poured over him; in another, a girl who had a nail driven into her head was left permanently disabled.
A number of youngsters have been abused in the country over allegations of witchcraft
Last September a man tried to bury six-year-old twin boys he held responsible for the death of his wife.
Lancaster-based charity Stepping Stones Nigeria has compiled reports of more than 250 cases of violence against children accused of witchcraft in Akwa Ibom state.
Although belief in witchcraft is well established in Nigeria and other African countries, until the late Nineties it was largely women and the elderly who were accused.
Now some families blame their children for every misfortune that hits them - from death to sickness and drunkenness.
Many accusations are made by pastors who then charge the accused child's family a fee for 'exorcisms'.
After the child has been accused the pastor carries out long-winded exorcism rituals. Sometimes children are chained up in churches and forced to fast for weeks, or are beaten and tortured until they confess.
More then four out of five children accused of being witches are abandoned by their families and forced to sleep rough.
In one disturbing case, police discovered an eight-year-old boy locked in a room beside the corpse of his mother.
The boy's uncle had accused him of using witchcraft to kill her and tried to force his head into her body before abandoning him.
Gary Foxcroft, founder of Stepping Stones Nigeria, told the Times that the children were often from broken homes, or were different in ways that set them apart.
'They might be very intelligent or suffer from learning difficulties. Some of them will have physical complaints such as epilepsy, bed-wetting and sleepwalking,' he said.
The charity is set to present its findings to the Commission of Enquiry into Child Witchcraft at the Nigerian High Commission in London today. - dailymail
Infectious polio virus stolen during car hijacking
The potentially deadly virus is considered a biohazard, said South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), though the government research centre downplayed the threat of a polio outbreak.
"The risk is fairly small, but we'd like to advise that if the package was found for the public not to tamper with it. Simply return it to the NICD or to the police," said Adrian Puren, deputy director of NICD.
He said there was no risk the package could be used in a terrorist attack and that the carjackers who stole the courier vehicle carrying it probably did not realise what the box contained – stool specimens from the Congo being sent to the NICD for polio testing.
The NICD said the vehicle was stolen on Tuesday and later recovered, but that the specimen shipment was missing.
Carjacking is a pervasive problem in South Africa, which has some of the highest crime rates in the world. - telegraph
E.T. Phones Thailand and Picks Up the Tab for the Call
Everybody from fund managers to jet-setting diplomats is talking about the world's center of gravity shifting to Asia. Now, extraterrestrials appear to be taking notice, too.
Trackers in Colorado at the Mutual UFO Network, one of the oldest unidentified-flying-object research organizations in this world, say that since the slump of the Western banking system in 2008, UFO sightings among Asia's fast-growing economies have accelerated. Suspicious UFOs have shut down airports in China, buzzed resorts in Borneo and lit up the night sky in Myanmar.
All of that is dealing a fresh blow to the prestige of the U.S., which, as the DreamWorks animated movie "Monsters vs. Aliens" observed, "is the only country aliens ever seem to visit."
"It's not surprising, really," says Debhanom Muangman, a 75-year-old Harvard-educated physician and one of Thailand's leading UFO investigators. "Aliens have been coming to Asia for decades, but now they sense a change. This is where the progressive countries are, so they are coming here much more often now."
Extraterrestrials first hit the public imagination in a big way in Thailand in 2006, when villagers in the rural northeast found discarded fever-cooling gel packs and mistook them for visitors from outer space. One woman told local newspapers she cooked a gel pack and served it to her children in the hope that it would make them more intelligent. Continue reading at E.T. Phones Thailand and Picks Up the Tab for the Call