Monday, January 29, 2007

World's oldest woman dies four days after assuming title

A woman from Connecticut who had inherited the title of 'world's oldest person' only last Wednesday has died aged 114.

Emma Faust Tillman died in a nursing home in the Hartford where she had lived for the last four years, surrounded by her family.

Born to former slaves, she had seen 21 American presidencies, and up until the age of 110, she had lived independently.

She died last night, setting another record by being the world's oldest person for a mere four days. She was confirmed as the oldest on Wednsesday after the death of Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, who lived to be 115, according to Guinness World Records.

The oldest person is now is believed to be Yone Minagawa of Fukuoka of Japan, who is 114, says the International Committee on Supercentenarians. This is yet to be confirmed by Guinness World Records.

John B Stewart Jr, Ms Tillman's great-nephew, said that she never smoked or drank, did not need glasses and only reluctantly agreed to wear a hearing aid.

Her family have also described her as a deeply religious woman, who attributed her long life to God's will.

Karen Chadderton, administrator of Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Centre in East Hartford said: "She went peacefully. She was a wonderful woman.

"She has a lot of faith and says, 'Whatever the good Lord wants is what will happen."

Mrs Tillman was born on November 22, 1892, on a plantation near Gibsonville, North Carolina and was one of 23 children, some of whom died at birth. Others lived almost as long as she did: a brother died at 108, a sister at 105 and two others at 102.

Her family later moved to Glastonbury where her father worked on local tobacco and milk farms while she picked and cooked berries to sell along with working as a cook and maid for several white families.

While she was the only black student in her class when she graduated from highschool in 1909, she said she never experienced discrimination there.

"In Glastonbury, I didn’t know if I was white or black," she said in 1994. "People were just fine, even way back then, to me. They treated me just like everybody else."

She later ran her own baking and catering service which was frequented by Dr Thomas Hepburn, the father of actress Katharine Hepburn.

In 1914, she married Arthur Tillman and they had two daughters. He died in 1939.

She is survived by an 80-year-old daughter, Marjorie, and a large number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Yone Minagama was born on January 4, 1893. She has been living at a nursing home for several years and is said to maintain a healthy appetite even though she seldom leaves her bed.

Iraqi cult and its 'messiah' destroyed near Najaf

An apocalyptic sect, led by a man claiming to be an Islamic messiah, has been wiped out in Iraq just as it was planning to disrupt the holiest day in the Shia Muslim calendar, Iraqi officials claimed today.

Iraqi soldiers, backed by US tanks and helicopters, concluded one of the strangest battles in four years of fighting in the country at dawn this morning near the city of Najaf.

Local government officials claimed that as many as 300 militants from a Shia sect calling themselves Jund al-Samaa (Soldiers of Heaven) were killed in fierce fighting that lasted for nearly 24 hours and cost the lives of five Iraqi personnel and two US servicemen whose helicopter crashed. A further 100 rebels were reported captured.

Reports from Najaf today described the city as calm but awash with Iraqi soldiers and roadblocks, ordering men out of their cars and demanding identity papers. A sandstorm enveloped the streets in an orange mist.

Iraq’s national security minister said the leader of the sect was a 40-year-old Iraqi who claimed to be the Mahdi -- an Islamic prophet who is destined to rise again and judge good from evil. The man, believed to be from the nearby Shia city of Diwaniya was killed just as he was preparing to lead an attack on Shia clerics in Najaf, said Shirwan al-Waeli.

"He claimed to be the Mahdi," said Mr al-Waeli, adding that that the man used the full name Mahdi bin Ali bin Ali bin Abi Taleb, claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad.

"One of the signs of the coming of the Mahdi was to be the killing of the Ulema (Islamic clerical leaders) in Najaf," he said.

Sectarian attacks have accompanied Ashoura, the holiest festival in the Shia calendar, in each of the last three years in Iraq, including the deadly, synchronised bombings of shrines in 2004 that cost nearly 200 lives.

The festival, during which devout Shia flagellate themselves, causes tension between Sunnis and Shia because it commemorates the 7th-century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, that led to the schism between the two main strains of Islam.

But the violence has typically been perpetrated by Sunnis on Shias and vice versa, not because of splits within the communities.

So there was confusion today about the origins and motives of the sect. US officials have declined to comment on the battle, saying the operation was still continuing but the deputy governor of Najaf claimed that the group was a Shia cult linked to al-Qaeda and had foreign fighters within its ranks.

Iraqi military officials said that 30 of the dead were Afghans and Saudis and that of the 13 arrested, one was from Sudan.

The role of al Qaeda is unclear, because the group has typically allied itself with extremist Sunni militants, regarding Shia Muslims as apostates and heretics. The deputy governor of Najaf, Abdel Hussein Attan, said the militia "appears to be a Shia group but its deep-rooted conviction is different".

"I have come to the total conviction from what I have seen with my own eyes on the ground that al-Qaeda is behind this group," he said. "Based on the confessions of interrogated militants and other information, this well-structured group intended to attack Shia clerics and take control of Najaf and its holy sites."

The Mahdi is a key figure in Islamic ideas of the apocalypse. Much as Christians believe in the second coming of Jesus, Sunnis maintain he will return to divide good from evil and deliver peace to mankind, while Shias believe he is the Twelfth Imam, a descendant of Muhammad who was been missing since the Ninth Century.

The coming of the Mahdi, and the need for a vanguard of soldiers to prepare the way, has inspired other Islamic uprisings, including the rebellion against British rule in Sudan in the 1880s and the occupation of the Grand Mosque at Mecca by militants in 1979.

Ashoura has caused tension across Iraq, with the festival due to reach its climax tomorrow. At least 15 people have already died following sectarian attacks in Baghdad and the Sunni town of Jurf al-Sakhar, south of the capital.

Five schoolgirls were killed yesterday in Baghdad when mortar shells rained down on a Shia school. A further 20 were injured. And ten people, including three children and four women, died in a Shia quarter of the mainly Sunni Jurf al-Sakhar, when they came under mortar attack this morning, local police said.

The sectarian hatred highlighted by Ashoura caused one of Iraq's most influential Shia leaders to say today that the country should split into three regions. Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Shia bloc in Iraq's 275-seat parliament, reiterated his call to divide Iraq into a Kurdish north, a Shia south and a mixed central zone of Sunnis and Shias.

"I reaffirm that the establishing of regions will help us in solving many problems that we are suffering from. Moreover, it represents the best solution for these problems," said Mr al-Hakim. Iraq's Government, the US and Britain have repeatedly stated that they do not want the country to divide along sectarian lines.

Top 10 airports in the world

Why spend your next layover in a mind-numbingly dull airport terminal when you can spend it catching a flick or taking a dip? "Enjoyable" might be the last word you would associate with air travel these days, but the experience of passing through one of our ten favorite airports comes pretty close. Pick your arrival or connecting airport from this list and enjoy fine art, city excursions, spas, and cowboy-hat-wearing welcome committees on your next trip, because whether an airport made this list because of its stellar amenities, spectacular natural surroundings, or award-winning architecture, it's guaranteed to remind you that getting there is half the fun.

1. Aéroport de St. Jean
Despite being the chicest island in the Caribbean, the airport on St. Barths is as simple and diminutive as it gets – but landing here is an experience nearly as memorable as the French savoir vivre and bikini-clad rock stars that make the island so alluring. Tiny puddle-jumpers (some with only 7 seats) arrive from St. Maarten and Guadeloupe during daytime hours, landing on a miniscule strip that ends abruptly at the edge of the Caribbean Sea, right on the cusp of the island's famed St. Jean beach. Upon descent, your heart rate will escalate as you dip between steep emerald hillsides and fly over gingerbread-trimmed Creole cazes before arriving with the nose of your plane so close to the Caribbean, you'd be forgiven for thinking you could just dive right in upon disembarking. Alas, you'll have to go indoors, and pass through customs, before being allowed to hit the surf.

2. Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
As one of the world's busiest aviation hubs, Amsterdam Schiphol Airport could be deemed a travel destination in its own right – it boasts an on-site art gallery, casino, and even organized city excursions. You can easily arrive early here, and spend your pre-flight time viewing the Dutch masters on display from the famed Rijksmuseum, or trying your luck at the slots and gaming tables in the terminal's Holland Casino. Connecting passengers can rent mini office space to get work done, snooze in oversized lounge chairs, get a massage, or even head out on a short city excursion – regular bus tours leave from the airport. You can even plan on getting married here! All of this, coupled with worthwhile eateries and fantastic duty-free shopping, makes Schiphol one of our very top picks.

3. Calgary International Airport
Many travelers find themselves passing through Canada's Calgary International Airport on their way to Banff and the Canadian Rockies in ski season, but there's fun to be had no matter what time of year you find yourself in this airport. Sign up for a "white hat welcome ceremony" and be greeted at your gate by a group of white-cowboy-hat-wearing volunteers, who'll present you with your very own hat and Calgary-style welcome.

Proceed to baggage claim, where conveyer belts are anchored by rotating exhibits ranging from life-sized local animals to dinosaurs (all stuffed, of course). If you've got some time to kill, the airport also touts over 110 shops and restaurants with a "street-pricing" philosophy, guaranteeing prices won't be padded.

4. Changi Airport
There's so much to do at Singapore's Changi Airport, you may just want to miss your flight. If you're deplaning, make a beeline for the spa services, showers, or napping cubicles, all of which are available 24/7, or head out for a free tour of Singapore (choose from the Colonial, Cultural, or Lifestyle tours), swim a few laps in the pool, catch a flick in the airport movie theater, or take a nature walk through the onsite sunflower garden complete with Koi pond. Shoppers and diners won't be disappointed, either, what with the upscale stores (think Burberry, Celine, Hermes, Gucci, and Ferragamo) and over 50 restaurants here. No matter what you decide to do, a stopover in Changi promises to rejuvenate you.

5. Heathrow Airport
Two words: Duty free. At London's Heathrow airport, killing a few hours is both easy and enjoyable, especially when you board the plane with some extra goodies (tax free, of course). The long, glossy promenades in Terminals 1 to 4 are lined with stores, restaurants, bars, pubs, and cafés vying for your attention, but why not get gorgeous with a manicure or pedicure at Manicure Express or prep yourself for a long flight with a refreshing spa treatment at Rejuve? You can also pick up some last-minute souvenirs at Harrods – a mini-version of the retail staple in Knightsbridge – and revel in some heavy-duty shopping at high-end shops like Chanel, Hermes, and Christian Dior, so you can at least look like a first-class passenger, even when flying coach.

6. John F. Kennedy International Airport
This airport makes our list for one reason: JetBlue's Terminal 6. Besides having a dedicated online bag-drop counter (allowing you to check in for your flight online and still check your bags on arrival), the terminal also boasts a full-service Oasis Day Spa where you can get a pre- or post-flight manicure, facial, or massage. You can also let the kids blow off some pre-flight steam in the children's play area (your fellow passengers will thank you) or grab some made-to-order sushi at Deep Blue (just one of the many on-site restaurants) while taking in the sounds of one of the live bands that occasionally serenade terminal passengers. One caveat: While Terminal 6 is widely regarded as the best of all three New York airports, you'll need your own JetBlue boarding pass to see what the fuss is about.

7. Keflavik International Airport
Though Keflavik Airport is tops for being hassle-free (thanks in large part to its small size) and its design (white, mod, and virtually noiseless), the real reason Iceland's main airport makes this list is because of what's outside its perimeters. The country's main carrier, Icelandair (, offers a plethora of packages that allow passengers a free stopover en-route to one of the airline's other European destinations. Passengers can stay in Iceland for up to seven nights, and enjoy the country's stark beauty and legendary nightlife scene before hitting their next European capital without having to pay extra for an ongoing ticket. What's more, you can decompress before or after your flight with a mineral soak in the nearby Blue Lagoon, as airport shuttles conveniently offer drop-off/pick-up services to and from the airport.

8. Los Angeles International Airport
Although the TV series LAX was short-lived, the popularity of this mega airport (the world's fifth--busiest passenger airport) hasn’t dwindled. Get out your camera phone and keep an eye out for passengers sporting dark sunglasses indoors, because this airport is second to none for celebrity sightings. But even if no one famous crosses your path, you don't have to settle for reading a copy of US Weekly here – you can handily pass your time in one of the nine terminals, each filled with eateries, lounges, gift shops, duty-free stores, and business centers. The space-age-like Encounter Restaurant (in the central terminal area) is a standout, located 70 feet above ground and serving fresh California fare in a mod setting.

9. Madrid-Barajas Airport
Spain's busiest airport doubled its capacity in early 2006 and, with the addition of the sleek new Terminal 4 at Madrid's Barajas International came straightforward linear layouts and light-filled hallways. Along with extensive dining opportunities (including tapas and wine bars) and shopping (look for an outpost of chic boutique Zara), as well as banking, medical, tourism, and business amenities, the new terminal – designed by the same group responsible for London's Millennium Dome and the Centre Pompidou in Paris – is tops for architecture buffs, having reeled in a slew of accolades, including Britain’s most prestigious architecture award, the Stirling Prize.

10. Sydney Airport
The Aussies are known for being friendly, so it should come as no surprise that their hospitality starts as soon as your plane lands. Keep an eye out for the Gold Ambassadors, the smiling people in bright yellow jackets whose mission is to welcome and assist you. If you have a long layover, freshen up in the shower facilities (but bring your own towel) before storing your bags and heading into Sydney for some sightseeing via the Airport Link (it runs every 10 or 15 minutes, depending on the time of day, and takes just 15 minutes to the city center). If you choose to hang in the airport, you'll enjoy internet kiosks (free in Terminal 1), a children’s play area (in all terminals), 150 shops throughout the airport, and a multitude of dining opportunities.