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By Devin D. O'Leary

Dateline: Japan--Over 700 Japanese children were mysteriously hospitalized last Tuesday night after viewing an episode of the popular TV show "Pocket Monsters." The children all suffered from convulsions, vomiting, irritated eyes and other symptoms after viewing the cartoon. Medical officials are putting the blame on a scene depicting an explosion followed by five seconds of flashing red lights from the eyes of the most popular character "Pikachu," a rat-like creature. Doctors in Tokyo believe that the flashing lights triggered an epileptic-like seizure in susceptible school children. Several concerned parents' organizations have now formed to pressure television cartoon shows to adhere to a stricter technical standard.

Dateline: England--A British parachutist plummeted 3,500 feet without a parachute and walked away with only minor injuries. Bren Jones, 56, jumped from a plane in Lincolnshire county last Sunday, but his chute failed to deploy. Experts say Jones' fall was slowed when another jumper became entangled with him for a while. Jones' landing was also cushioned by the soft, muddy field in which he landed. After the fall, Jones complained only of stomach pains.

Dateline: France--Marijuana activists in Paris upped their campaign to decriminalize their favorite drug by mailing a hand-rolled joint to each member of the French Parliament. The Collective for Information and Research on Cannabis hopes their "free gifts" will spark a greater understanding of marijuana. The joints were all made from French-grown cannabis. No response yet from National Assembly deputies.

Dateline: Thailand--Some 100 Buddhist monks helped perform the world's largest mass cremation in Thailand's Samat Sakorn province just south of Bangkok. About 21,347 skulls and uncounted tons of bones of unclaimed dead were cremated in a ceremony which started Monday was expected to last an entire week. The skeletons were exhumed from a decades-old Chinese cemetery in downtown Bangkok. The bones were removed to make room for a new freeway. According to Buddhist tradition, preparing unclaimed bodies and bones for cremation is one of the best ways for people to ensure passage of their own spirit into Heaven.

Dateline: New York--An associate professor at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine in East Orange, N. J., was convicted of trying to extort $5 million from McDonald's with a severed rat tail. Michael F. Zanakis took a rat tail from the medical research laboratory where he worked, fried it up and placed it in a package of french fries that he bought at a Long Island McDonald's in January of 1996. Last Monday, a federal jury convicted Zanakis on three counts of mail fraud, six counts of wire fraud and two counts of extortion. Prosecutors became convinced Zanakis had planted the tail when they discovered that it came from an albino rat of the species rattus norvegicus--the same type of animal Zanakis worked with at his college research lab.

Dateline: Illinois--Postal officials in the Chicago suburb of Mundelein said last Tuesday that Santa Claus is not entitled to his mail. A construction company owner named Robert Rion, who recently had his name legally changed to Santa Claus, is not entitled to collect all mail addressed to "Santa Claus." "It would be like someone named John Smith wanting the mail addressed to all the John Smiths," postal service spokesman Tim Ratliff said. So far, no letters have arrived for the Mundelein Santa, only for the North Pole version.

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