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Canadian mint under fire for Christmas 'correctness'

OTTAWA (AP) -- A Christmas ad campaign by the Royal Canadian Mint drops the name of the holiday from a jingle based on "The Twelve Days of Christmas," prompting criticism from religious figures and conservative politicians.

The government-funded mint's TV ad substitutes the word "giving" for "Christmas" in the song.

Mint spokesman Phil Taylor said Wednesday the switch was a marketing decision, because Christmas is a time for gifts and the mint wants consumers to consider giving its coins as presents -- regardless of their religious beliefs.

The Rev. Nancy Murphy, an Anglican priest in Ottawa, called the campaign an example of excessive political correctness.

"It's not the first day of giving, it's the first day of Christmas," Murphy said. "It's an ancient sacred song written to teach children about the catechism and to celebrate the birth of Jesus."

Canadian Alliance Leader Stephen Harper, whose conservative party is the official opposition in Parliament, called the ad campaign sad.

"It's part of a long list of things the government has done expunging Christian reference from government activity," he said.

Taylor acknowledged the mint received some criticism for the ad, but said there were no plans to change it.

Whale migration tracked to create a sanctuary

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) -- Scientists have wondered for years where humpback whales disappear to after they mate in the warm waters off Brazil's Atlantic coast in the spring, and show up three months later in Antarctica.

Now they're finding out. An international research team from the United States, Denmark and Brazil has tagged eight of the endangered mammals with transmitters and says it's already learning startling new things.

Scientists hope that what they learn about the whales' migration and feeding patterns could help establish a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic -- a proposal whaling nations have stubbornly resisted.

Eight whales were fitted with transmitters made by Wildlife Computers of Redmond, Wash. The signals are sporadic, but early data was exciting.

One whale was spotted "way farther out to open sea than we expected," said Ygor Geyer, a biology student who helped tag the whales. "That could suggest that humpbacks don't follow the coast at all, but it's too early to say for sure."

Private trips to the moon available to carry cargo

MOSCOW (AP) -- The moon is open for business. A California company plans to fly the world's first private mission to the moon next year, delivering messages, business cards and cremated remains for a fee.

TransOrbital of San Diego signed a $20 million contract on Tuesday with Moscow's international space company, Kosmotras, which was authorized by the Russian government to use decommissioned ballistic missiles for commercial space launches.

Kosmotras plans to test-launch a replica of TransOrbital's space vehicle next month, and then send the real spacecraft on a trip to the moon next October, TransOrbital President Dennis Laurie said at a news conference.

The unmanned space vehicle, called the TrailBlazer, would orbit the moon for about three months, taking high-resolution pictures of its surface before crashing onto its surface. Private messages, cremated remains and other commercial cargo will be carried in a capsule designed to survive the crash, Laurie said.

Messages start at $16.95. Inert materials are $2,500 per gram, according to its Web site. "Most of them who want us to take the cremated remains like the idea of seeing their relatives on a nightly basis," Laurie said.

Tycoon who was to lead free-trade zone arrested

BEIJING (AP) -- A flamboyant tycoon was charged Wednesday with bribery and fraud, nearly two months after his antics landed him under house arrest and crippled North Korea's plans to have him lead a new free-trade zone.

The voluble Yang Bin, who gave up his native Chinese citizenship for a Dutch passport and eventually accepted a North Korean one as well, faces prosecution by a Chinese government eager to make examples of corrupt businessmen -- and wary of strutting entrepreneurs who decide to dabble in politics.

It was unclear if the arrest of Yang, 39, was part of the wider campaign against corporate crime or a legal move to slap him down and derail North Korea's attempt to improve its ramshackle economy by experimenting with capitalism.

Police in the northeastern city of Shenyang accused Yang on Wednesday of running investment scams, offering bribes, using fraudulent contracts and "illegally occupying farmland," the official Xinhua News Agency said in a brief dispatch.

Watchdog bans ad mocking President Bush in Britain

LONDON (AP) -- A British advertising watchdog said Wednesday it was banning a commercial for an animated comedy series because it pokes fun at President Bush.

The Broadcast Advertising Clearance Center said the ad, which depicts a cartoon Bush inserting a videotape into a toaster, could be shown only if the makers sought the president's permission.

The commercial promotes a video and DVD of highlights from "2DTV," an animated series that mocks celebrities and politicians.

The BACC monitors advertising on British television. One of the guidelines says living people should not be caricatured or referred to in advertisements without their permission.

The producer of "2DTV," Giles Pilbrow, said it was "an idiotic request" that would mean asking Osama bin Laden or Saddam Hussein if it was OK to caricature them.

"I doubt we could get bin Laden's permission -- he's a bit tricky to track down at the moment," he said.

The offending ad shows Bush opening a copy of the video and saying, "My favorite -- just pop it in the video player."

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