Nick Drainey's world view: Money no object for Putin the painter

RUSSIAWhen the auctioneer asked if there were any more bids, there must have been a bit more pressure than normal for buyers to keep going.

A picture sketched by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin fetched 37 million roubles (820,000) at a charity auction.

The painting of snowfall seen through a window, finished by a professional artist, features a sprawling "Putin" signature and was introduced at Saturday's auction with the words: "Here is a new artist."

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The auctioneer started bidding at 20,000 roubles, the same as the other lots, only to meet cries of "Let's not be penny-pinchers" from the buyers, who demanded a starting price of five million roubles.

A black belt in judo, Putin has cultivated an image of a tough man, lionised by Russian media, but so far not known for artistic talent.

An auction organiser said Putin had painted the picture in 20 minutes and then a professional artist had filled in the details.

"Of all the paintings presented there, this was the best one," said a spokeswoman for Our Artists, the Moscow-based gallery which bought the painting.


Inviting people to pucker up seems to be all the rage in Mexican cities.

The Mexico City government is urging people to converge on the huge Zocalo city centre and simultaneously kiss on Valentine's Day. City tourism secretary Alejandro Rojas says the goal is to break the world record for the most people kissing at one time.

The announcement on Thursday came two days after Guanajuato mayor Eduardo Romero declared his colonial city in central Mexico the "kissing capital" of the world. Romero was trying to disprove claims that he had banned kissing through an anti-obscenity law.

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the biggest mass kiss to date came on September 1, 2007, when 6,980 couples smooched in Tuzla, Bosnia-Herzegovina.


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The Vatican has launched its own YouTube channel, showcasing clips of Pope Benedict XVI in a bid to engage with the digital generation and better control the papal image online.

In its inaugural foray on YouTube, the Vatican highlighted one of the pontiff's latest appeals for peace in the Gaza Strip and showed him welcoming viewers to "feel involved in this great dialogue of truth".

The site, www., was launched the same day the pontiff praised as a "gift to humanity" the potential benefits of social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace.

But Benedict also warned that virtual socialising had its risks, saying "obsessive" online networking could isolate people from real social interaction and broaden the digital divide by further marginalising people.

And in his message for the World Day of Communications, he urged producers of new media to ensure that the content respected human dignity and the "goodness and intimacy of human sexuality".

The 81-year-old pope has been extremely wary of new media and their effect on society.


France is investigating what it says is a scam mounted by a French woman who sold thousands of Chileans kits to make "magic cheese" for French beauty products.

Gilberte Van Erpe, who was arrested and placed under investigation in France last year, is suspected of setting up a vast pyramid scheme, telling buyers the fermented mass produced by the kits could be sold to cosmetics companies in France.

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A French investigator, examining magistrate Sylvie Gagnard, will fly to Chile to register the lawsuits of thousands of people who claim they were victimised, said Isabelle Montagne, a spokeswoman for the public prosecutor's office.

"We call it the 'case of the magic cheese'," Montagne said.

"She swindled people, she abused their trust to make them believe that she could commercialise that material."

The spokeswoman said three other people were arrested last year and placed under investigation for their role in the suspected fraud, conducted through a company called Fermex.

It is believed Van Erpe ran a similar scheme in Peru in 2003 to 2004 and then moved on to operate in Chile from 2004 to 2006.

Claiming that the fermented substance was all the rage in Paris as an ingredient for expensive moisturisers and shampoos, Van Erpe charged clients some ?300 (280) for the kits, which had a market value of about ?3.

However, the product never made it to French cosmetics labs and most investors lost their money, the spokeswoman said.


Advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi has won a 5.3m contract to improve Kosovo's international image.

The country's ministry of finance said the company's Israel-based unit will run an international branding and media campaign for the new country.

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Kosovo – regarded as Europe's poorest region – declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, and has been recognised by 54 states. However, the tiny country has struggled to gain more because of resistance from Serbia, backed by Russia.

The Saatchi & Saatchi advertising company is owned by the Paris-based communications company Publicis Groupe.



The raven-haired reincarnation of striptease artistes from 1940s America, is returning to one of the most famous nude revues in Paris, happy to be back in a city with a respect for her craft.

"Paris is a place that still appreciates its showgirls," she said in an interview before a two-week run at the celebrated Crazy Horse theatre from next Sunday.


New Zealand Prime Minister John Key broke his right arm after falling down some steps, but he did not see the doctor until after he had shaken hands with more than 100 burly rugby players.

"I went to give the awards at Touch Rugby NZ: that was about 120 handshakes with rather large rugby players," Key said the day after, his broken limb in a plaster cast.

"By the end of the evening I thought this isn't quite right, so the next day I had it looked at."


A California appeal court has granted a request by Roman Polanski's lawyer to stop a Los Angeles Superior Court hearing on the fugitive director's bid for dismissal of a 1977 rape case.

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Lawyer Chad Hummel asked the 2nd District Court of Appeal for review of his claim that the Los Angeles court was biased against Polanski and that its 600 members should be disqualified from hearing the case.

The Los Angeles court's presiding judge has rejected that claim, but the stay issued by the appeal court prevents it from going ahead with a hearing scheduled for last week. Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977 but fled to France before sentencing.


The actor pleaded not guilty last week to a speeding charge in which police say they spotted the actor doing 106mph on an interstate highway. Dillon's lawyer, Mark Kaplan, entered the plea on behalf of the 44-year-old. Kaplan said there was no reason for Dillon to attend the arraignment, and he hoped to resolve the case without going to trial.

In an affidavit filed with the Vermont District Court, a state trooper said Dillon was apologetic and cooperative.

"I screwed up, I know, I know," the affidavit quoted Dillon as saying on December 30, as a trooper approached his car for driving over the 65mph limit on the interstate highway.

The charge carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

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