The Sao Paulo art museum from which thieves stole a Picasso oil painting worth as much as $50 million had no alarm system and four unarmed guards on duty at the time of the robbery, officials and media said yesterday.

The thieves broke into the Sao Paulo Museum of Art - home to one of Latin America's most important collections - before dawn on Thursday and grabbed Pablo Picasso's Portrait of Suzanne Bloch and Brazilian painter Candido Portinari's The Coffee Worker.

In a raid lasting just three minutes, they used a hydraulic jack to prise open the main door and a crowbar to smash a glass door, police said.

The total collection, which includes works from European masters, including Velazquez, to modern artists like Dali, was not insured, the museum said.

Gay discrimination censured

Nepal's Supreme Court ordered the government yesterday to end discrimination against gays and guarantee sexual minorities the same rights as other citizens.

Nepali men and women who identify themselves as transgender say they are discriminated against in jobs and education, and do not get government identification certificates with their gender as the "third sex" instead of male or female.

Gay rights activists say they have difficulties in inheriting property in the Hindu-majority nation because they belong to neither the male or female category.

Supreme Court judges Pawan Kumar Ojha and Balaram K.C., in response to a petition by Nepal's main gay rights group, Blue Diamond Society (BDS), ordered the government to scrap or amend laws that discriminate against the sexual minority.

In conservative Nepal, "unnatural sex" can fetch punishment of up to one year in jail.

Miss Belgium fails her first test

The language divide that has led to Belgium's political deadlock has also spread to its Miss Belgium contest. French-speaking Miss Belgium winner Alizee Poulicek, 20, was booed by parts of a 3,400-strong Antwerp audience when she revealed she could not speak Dutch.

When the show's presenter quizzed her on her hopes for the future, she said: "I didn't understand, can you repeat?"

Ms Poulicek says she has been taking language lessons and has promised to improve her standard of Dutch.

The beauty queen's language skills take on a wider significance as Belgium is still without a government six months after elections amid political stalemate between the main Dutch- and French-speaking parties.

Maverick lawmaker mulls top job

A maverick Greek Cypriot lawmaker who once triggered a security alert by stealing a Turkish flag from a sentry post in war-divided Cyprus may bid for the island's presidency, he said yesterday.

European Parliament member Marios Matsakis, 53, said he would make up his mind in coming days. "I am contemplating it. None of the candidates reflect my aspirations or trust to be President," Mr Matsakis told Reuters.

A presidential election is scheduled on February 17. Four candidates are in the running, including incumbent Tassos Papadopoulos seeking a second five-year term.

Dalai Lama 'not a call girl'

When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to explain in a year-end interview why he'd met the Dalai Lama in his Ottawa office, it was clear he wanted to show respect for the exiled Tibetan leader.

Unfortunately, it didn't quite come out that way. "I met the Dalai Lama in my office but I meet everyone in my office. I don't know why I would sneak off to a hotel room just to meet the Dalai Lama. You know, he's not a call girl," Mr Harper told Omni television.

He quickly added: "As I say, he's a respected international spiritual leader."

China condemns the Dalai Lama as a separatist and presses world leaders to shun him. German Chancellor Angela Merkel met him in September, but only in private, and last month the Vatican called off a meeting with the Pope set for December 13.

Sign up to our free newsletters

Get the best updates straight to your inbox:
Please select at least one mailing list.

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By subscribing, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing.