While You Were Sleeping: 5 stories you might have missed, Dec 31 edition

Unidentified security officials stand outside a Russian compound in Upper Brookville, Long Island, New York, Dec 30, 2016.
Unidentified security officials stand outside a Russian compound in Upper Brookville, Long Island, New York, Dec 30, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

Russians leave country retreats in the US, ordered out by Obama

In small convoys of vehicles, Russians departed two countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York City without fanfare, ordered out by US President Barack Obama who said the premises were linked to spying.

The Russians were given until noon ET on Friday (1am on Saturday, Singapore time) to vacate the compounds in Centreville, Maryland, and in Upper Brookville on Long Island in New York state. By early afternoon, trucks, buses and black sedans with diplomatic licence plates had left.

"The premises have been vacated and it's under control of the government," Elliot Conway, the mayor of Upper Brookville, told reporters soon after noon, when a total of six vehicles had driven away from the Russian compound there.

"They've been quiet neighbours," Conway said, adding he had never met anyone who lived at the estate set in rolling countryside about 40km from Manhattan.


Brazil policeman confesses to killing Greek ambassador - TV report

A Rio de Janeiro police officer confessed to murdering Greece’s ambassador to Brazil, possibly at the direction of the diplomat’s Brazilian wife with whom the policeman was romantically involved, Globo TV reported, citing police sources.

Greek Ambassador Kyriakos Amiridis, 59, was missing since Monday night. Francoise, his Brazilian wife and the mother of their 10-year-old daughter, reported him missing to police on Wednesday.

Globo TV reported on Friday afternoon that officer Sergio Moreira, 29, confessed to killing the ambassador on Monday night in the Rio de Janeiro home the Amiridis owned in Nova Iguaçu, a hardscrabble neighbourhood in Rio’s sprawling and violent northern outskirts.


Choir member resigns rather than sing for Donald Trump

A member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has resigned over its plan to sing at the inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump, and more than 22,000 people have signed a petition opposing the choir's participation.

Jan Chamberlin resigned after five years with the choir, which originates from Utah, over the Jan 20 ceremony, saying it "will appear that (the) Choir is endorsing tyranny and fascism by singing for this man."

With three weeks to go before Trump is sworn in, teen classical singer Jackie Evancho is the only celebrity to have unequivocally embraced her role in an inauguration ceremony marked by soul-searching by larger invited groups, and fan backlash.


China to ban domestic ivory trade by end of 2017

China will slap a total ban on the domestic ivory trade within a year, the government announced, shutting the door to the world's biggest end-market for poached ivory.

The State Council said in a notice a complete ban would be enforced by Dec 31, 2017. A first batch of factories and shops will need to close and hand in their licences by March 31, 2017.

Conservation groups applauded the ban, with WildAid's wildlife campaigner Alex Hofford calling it "the biggest and best conservation news of 2016".


British police say George Michael autopsy 'inconclusive', more tests needed

The cause of singer George Michael’s death this week is unclear after an initial autopsy and more tests are needed, British police said.

British singer Michael, who became one of the pop idols of the 1980s with Wham! and then forged a career as a successful solo artist, died at his home in southern England on Sunday. He was 53.

“A post mortem examination was carried out yesterday as part of the investigation into the death of George Michael,” Thames Valley police said. “The cause of death is inconclusive and further tests will now be carried out. The results of these tests are unlikely to be known for several weeks,” they added in a statement.