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« Reply #8100 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:22 AM »

Darjeeling tea stocks threatened by Gurkhas' independence fight

Campaign by India's ethnic Gurkhas for separate political and administrative unit leads to total shutdown in Darjeeling hills

Maseeh Rahman in Delhi and Sam Jones, Monday 12 August 2013 16.37 BST   

Its fragrant, delicately flavoured leaves have enthralled Britain's tea drinkers for generations, but stocks of Darjeeling tea are being threatened as India's ethnic Gurkhas fight for a separate state in the Darjeeling hills of West Bengal.

The demand for 'Gorkhaland', a separate political and administrative unit to be carved out from the Gurkha populated districts of West Bengal state, has enforced a total shutdown in the Darjeeling hills since 3 August. For the past 10 days, Gurkha men, women and children have taken over the winding roads and hill habitations in the 3,150 sq km (1,200 sq mile) region, stopping traffic, closing shops and restaurants, and preventing all economic activity.

Even though the tea industry has been "exempted" from the shutdown, the knock-on effect could mean losing two months of tea production.

The Indian Tea Association will hold an emergency meeting in Kolkata on Tuesday as tea companies deal with the crisis.

"It's an extremely worrisome situation," said Manojit Dasgupta, the secretary-general of the association. "All the 74 operational tea estates in the region are facing insurmountable problems. At risk is the entire July and August production of Darjeeling tea, amounting to nearly 3m kilos. This is around a third of the region's annual production."

This is the region that was once ruled by the Gurkha kings of Nepal until it was annexed and incorporated into British India in the 19th century.

Not coincidentally, this is also the region where, in 1841, a Scottish doctor named Campbell, the superintendent of a local sanatorium, planted seeds stolen from China to create Darjeeling's first experimental tea garden.

Darjeeling's terrain and climate, at an altitude of around 6,700ft (2,000m), were perfect for the transplantation of the Chinese Camellia sinensis tea. It did not take long for the tea rooms of London to acknowledge the superior quality of Darjeeling leaf, which came to be known as "the champagne among teas.

On Monday, the Gorkha People's Liberation Front (Gorkha Janmukti Morcha – GJM) announced a three-day let-up in action from 16 to 18 August. But there has also been talk that the fight for a separate state will take a new form with a kind of "curfew" descending on the Darjeeling hills. The entire population of 1.8 million is being asked to remain indoors.

"In a worst-case scenario, we face the prospect of huge losses at a time of peak production, threatening our future operations," said Dasgupta.

Dasgupta said the action meant trucks with coal supplies used in furnaces to turn the green tea leaves to black tea are failing to get through. The supply of rice to tea gardens has also stopped and with pickers partly paid in rice, the picking of the leaves could be delayed. Finally almost 65% of Darjeeling's annual tea production is exported but the black tea is currently stuck in the factories. "The factories have limited storage space, and have to take the tea out," said Dasgupta.

Nick Gandon, the director of the UK-based Reginald Ames tea merchants and brokers, said the action in Darjeeling would inevitably disrupt the market and lead to a rise in the price of the tea.

"Production is still continuing but it's only going to go on for a little while longer because everyone's coal stocks are running pretty low," he said. "As soon as they run out, they're not going to be able to manufacture and that's going to have an impact on prices. If you miss out on a week's worth of production, you've still got to pay the workers and there's not going to be that tea to sell. When it does start selling again, there's going to be a lot of people wanting it, so it's going to push prices up."

But Gandon, who also sits on the board of the UK Tea Council, said the effects of the strike were unlikely to be felt by the overwhelming majority of tea drinkers in the Britain.

"It won't affect the bog-standard teabag market," he said. "The UK tea market is about 96% teabags and it's not going to touch that at all; it's only going to affect the speciality market. It will affect that a bit, but if it's only another week, you're probably talking a few pennies a box. If it's another month, it might be a bit more."

There is only one silver lining to the gloom in the tea gardens – the tea presently lying in the factories and on shrubs is what's known as "rains tea", an inferior grade of "monsoon tea" used largely in blends. The superior "first flush" and "second flush" Darjeeling teas from this year's production are already in the international market.

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« Reply #8101 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:24 AM »

Cardboard cathedral takes centre stage in earthquake-ravaged Christchurch

A world-first building gives New Zealanders hope, but it's hard for people to let go of a much-loved Gothic materpiece

Jane Bowron in Christchurch, Tuesday 13 August 2013 08.51 BST   

With its celebration of the Gothic revival style and pride in being called that most English of cities, conservative Christchurch is an unusual place to host the world's first cardboard cathedral.

Two years and seven months after the February 2011 earthquake which physically and mentally rocked the foundations of Christchurch, killing 185 people, the Transitional Cathedral has opened its doors.

Designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban and delivered by Christchurch architectural firm Warren and Mahoney, the cardboard cathedral cost $5.3m, accommodates 700 people and has an expected life of 50 years. In a city without a town hall, and limited performance space, an expectant flock and the curious public are streaming in.

But in a broken place that has experienced so much loss – more than 220 heritage buildings have been demolished in a wasteland CBD where the wrecking ball is still swinging – it is hard for many to let go of a 132-year-old Gothic cathedral whose image was the city's brand in every postcard.

Much in evidence after the quake were pendants dangling tiny images of the rose window of the cathedral as people struggled to find a civic identity.

A bitter battle that has become personal rages over the fate of the old Christ Church cathedral with the Great Christchurch Buildings Trust. In one corner, wanting to restore the old cathedral, are the unlikely bedfellows Philip Burdon, a wealthy former National party cabinet minister, and former leftwing minister Jim Anderton. In the other is Bishop Victoria Matthews, referred to as the iron lady, who wants it demolished.

The Wizard of New Zealand, a political character and public speaker played by Ian Brackenbury Channell, used the cathedral as a prop in his public rants in which he compared Matthews to the damaged cathedral.

"She is in a very dangerous state, being seriously cracked and I can see no evidence that she can be made safe. Even if it were possible there would be no point in restoring her as she is as dull and bland as her cardboard cathedral," he said.

It was initially thought people had died when the quake struck the cathedral and the Canadian-born Matthews, relatively new to the job, had to wait anxious days for confirmation that there were no deaths.

She has earned some respect for having to endure misogynistic and xenophobic attacks and for showing strong leadership during the rebuild.

As the acting dean, Lynda Patterson, says, the old cathedral was caught up in the story of the Canterbury settlement, and "if you put 10 Cantabrians in a room you'll have at least 12 opinions". This is borne out in the pages of the local paper where those deeply into ancestral worship slug it out with a majority who have been polled and ticked the box for a contemporary cathedral some have likened to an upturned dinghy or "women's parts".

Campaigners battling to save the old cathedral are determined to keep fighting even though the latest court ruling allows the demolition to proceed.

Inside the new cathedral the space has a transcendental tranquility, with a Danish interior of white walls contrasting with a beige cardboard cross and a steeple of enormous cardboard tubes inserted with timber.

Shaped like an old-fashioned ridge tent, the cathedral is located next to the 185 White Chairs art installation representing the dead, and sits diagonally opposite the CTV site where 115 people perished.

The minimalist cathedral's frontage has a large trinity window with brightly coloured panels and faces north-south looking over Latimer Square, which accommodated so much drama on the day of the quake.

A triage area was set up at one end to tend to the injured as helicopters dropped off medical equipment into a panic of traumatised students, tourists and city workers who had fled there to shelter from falling buildings.

In about 10 years, the temporary cathedral will be handed over to St John's, an evangelical Anglican church demolished on the site after the quake.

Patterson says it had been tough being a refugee cathedral and sees the transitional cathedral as a sacred space in the city where the diocese can draw breath and "offer a place of worship in new circumstances".

Luckily the renowned choir and its music director are intact, and the opening has been celebrated by a series of packed concerts in a festival irreverently called Joyfully Un-Munted. It is hoped this will kick-start an income stream that has been impossible without a cathedral. The old one brought in $100,000 a year from the bell tower tours alone.

The arrival of the cardboard cathedral might take the heat off and allow for a more considered approach to the rebuild in the square, but with Aftermath, a pro-heritage documentary about to be aired, the raking over the rubble looks set to continue.

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« Reply #8102 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:27 AM »

Study details ‘severe’ brutality against women in Papua New Guinea

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 8:04 EDT

Women in poverty-stricken Papua New Guinea suffer “severe brutality” with violence, including savage attacks involving knives, axes and whips, occurring in two-thirds of all families, a new study revealed on Tuesday.

Based on interviews in Central Province’s Rigo district, the report by Australian charity ChildFund detailed extreme acts of violence including a woman who had her lower lip bitten off by a stranger and one whose infant son’s unconscious body was used as a weapon against her.

Although there was no official government data on violence against women and children in the rugged Pacific nation, ChildFund said it was widely reported to occur in two-thirds of PNG families and “the incidence is likely to be higher than two in three”.

One study cited by the charity in its report found that half of all women would be raped in their lifetime, and another reported that 86 percent were beaten during pregnancy.

Of those seeking medical help after being raped, half were younger than 16, one quarter were younger than 12 and one in 10 were under eight years of age.

ChildFund interviewed 37 women in four villages and 14 men for the case studies used in the report.

“Most women interviewed during our field research in Rigo district, Central Province had experienced violence, and not one claimed to have a husband who had never beaten them,” ChildFund said.

The case studies included a woman whose one-month-old baby was punched unconscious by her husband and his body used as a weapon against her. The baby survived the attack.

Another, Helen, had her lower lip bitten off in a random attack in the capital Port Moresby.

“Sometimes when I sleep, I dream he will come to me and I am really scared about it. I think he is coming back again,” she said.

At the city’s Family Support Centre, ChildFund said they saw women with chunks of skin, cheeks, noses and ears missing after violent biting attacks, as well as injuries from spears, bush knives or machetes and whips.

PNG’s government enacted harsh new laws earlier this year making sexual and other crimes against women punishable by death after a spate of violence including the burning alive of a young mother accused of witchcraft, the beheading of another, and the rape of two foreigners.

Aid organisation Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has labelled PNG’s sexual and domestic violence a humanitarian crisis, with epidemic levels of abuse unique outside of a war-zone or state of civil unrest.

The group has said that violence is inherent in the way the population resolves disputes at a tribal, family and interpersonal level. The extremely low status of women in the country is also a factor.

PNG ranks 134 out of 148 countries in the 2012 UNDP Gender Inequality Index, and 156 out of 186 in the Human Development Index – the lowest in the Pacific.

Life expectancy is low, at 61 years for males and 65 for females. Infant mortality is high, and maternal mortality is the highest in the Pacific, among the highest in the world.

Currently, 37 percent of the population lives in poverty, and less than half of school-age children are enrolled in classes.

MSF estimates that 70 percent of women in PNG will be raped or physically assaulted in their lifetime.

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« Reply #8103 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:28 AM »

Forty-four killed while praying at Nigerian mosque

Islamic militants suspected of killings, the latest since Nigeria declared state of emergency to quell Boko Haram uprising

Associated Press in Maiduguri, Monday 12 August 2013 22.22 BST   

Suspected Islamic militants have killed 44 people praying at a mosque in north-east Nigeria, the latest in a spate of violence blamed on religious extremists in the country.

The killings occurred on Sunday morning at a mosque in Konduga town, 22 miles outside Maiduguri, the capital of Nigeria's Borno state.

A state security service agent and a member of a civilian vigilante group working with the military said they counted the bodies at the mosque after the attack.Usman Musa of the civilian group says four of its vigilantes were also killed when they responded to calls for help.

Along the way from Maiduguri to Konduga, the civilian activists encountered "fierce resistance from heavily armed terrorists", Musa said.

Nigeria has been besieged by an Islamic uprising led by the Boko Haram militant group, which has gone after a range of targets including Christians outside churches, teachers and schoolchildren and moderate Muslim clerics who have spoken out against extremism.

Nigeria declared a state of emergency in much of the north-east on 14 May to fight the Islamic uprising, whose goal is to impose Islamic law across a country divided almost equally between the predominantly Muslim north and the mainly Christian south.

The insurgency poses the greatest threat in years to the security of a country of more than 160 million, which is Africa's biggest oil producer and most populous nation.

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« Reply #8104 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:31 AM »

Barrage of drone strikes in Yemen show flaws of US counter-terrorism strategy

Four years after identifying al-Qaida in Yemen as a major terrorist threat, the US seems stuck with a plan of 'bombing and hoping'

Spencer Ackerman in Washington, Monday 12 August 2013 19.09 BST   

If the barrage of US drone strikes over the last week weakened al-Qaida's Yemen affiliate, the terrorist organization that has captured Washington's attention isn't acting like it. Not only is it vowing another attack, it has prompted the US to keep its Yemen embassy closed while reopening all the others – implicitly highlighting the weakness of the US policy of launching drone strikes first and asking questions later.

Intelligence chatter indicating an imminent attack by al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula (Aqap) prompted two reactions by Washington. The first was to order a dramatic, temporary shutdown at embassies and consulates throughout the Middle East and Africa. The second was to order a surge in drone strikes in Yemen.

A Saturday strike marked the ninth such attack in two weeks. At least 38 suspected "militants" are reported dead. Throughout 2013, the US has launched 21 airstrikes in Yemen, the vast majority from drones; displacing Pakistan as the epicenter of the covert air war, which has seen 18 strikes thus far, according to statistics compiled by the Long War Journal, which tracks the drones closely.

Should that trend hold, it would mean there would be more annual US drone strikes in Yemen than in Pakistan, the home of al-Qaida's central leadership, for the first time in the entire post-9/11 era. The steady rise in drone attacks strikes some as an ominous sign about America's true capabilities in Yemen four years after identifying Aqap as a major terrorist threat.

"The US doesn't seem to have good human intelligence [in Yemen]. It's essentially bombing and hoping, which is neither sustainable nor wise," said Gregory Johnsen, author of The Last Refuge: Yemen, al-Qaeda, and America's War in Arabia.

"It doesn't seem to have an impact on al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula."

The strikes, conducted under parallel programs run by the CIA and the military's Joint Special Operations Command, are significant not only for their intensity and timing. A US official acknowledged to the New York Times that they are no longer targeting simply the top tier of leadership in Aqap – an expansion that may be hard to reconcile with President Obama's May pledge to rein in the drone campaign.

"Before, we couldn't necessarily go after a driver for the organization; it'd have to be an operations director," an anonymous official told the Times. "Now that driver becomes fair game because he's providing direct support to the plot."

But while Obama indicated he would restrict the drone campaign during a May 23 speech at the National Defense University, his criteria for using lethal force left the CIA and the military with significant leeway. He did not pledge to only kill senior leaders of terrorist organizations – although his reference to "highly skilled al-Qaida commanders, trainers, bomb makers and operatives" may have left that impression.

A White House factsheet issued after the speech referred to killing "a senior operational leader of a terrorist organization or the forces that organization is using or intends to use to conduct terrorist attacks" as long as the strike is lawful.

Either way, expanding the pool of eligible targets for strikes is rarely a sign that the power launching them believes itself to be winning. Yet such expansion has been a feature of the drone campaigns in Yemen and Pakistan before it: intelligence and military officials have succeeded in both countries to launch strikes against suspected militants without even knowing their names, something known by the shorthand "signature strikes."

Any individual strike might perhaps be sound; or have a tactical effect on Aqap. But the organization hardly sounds like it's under stress.

On Monday, Aqap's leader, Nasir al-Wuhayshi, vowed in an unusual letter to free Aqap prisoners in Yemen. "Your brothers are about to bring down the walls and thrones of evil," Wuhayshi said in a rare public communication. Not only did Wuhayshi himself break out of a Yemeni jail in 2006, but several recent prison breaks around the Middle East and south Asia have sparked fears of resurgent al-Qaida affiliates, particularly when compared to weak governments in their host countries.

Wuhayshi's message came a day after gunmen ambushed and killed five Yemeni soldiers guarding an oil and gas installation in the country's south. Aqap is suspected of involvement – just days after Yemen boasted of disrupting a major Aqap plot; and despite the drone barrage.

The US State Department, meanwhile, has reopened all the diplomatic facilities it abruptly shuttered last week in response to fears of an Aqap attack. The exception is in Yemen, where the Sana'a embassy remains closed.

State Department representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The human consequences of the interlocking wars in Yemen – Aqap's war against the Yemeni government; the Yemeni government's war to reestablish its control over its population; the US war against Aqap and its support of the Yemeni government– are profound.

While it is unknown exactly how many people have died in US drone strikes, cruise missile strikes and raids, several hundred is a consensus range. Then there is the psychological effect.

On July 31, a Yemeni man named Faisal bin Ali Jabar wrote to Yemeni president Abdo Rabu Mansour Hadi and Barack Obama to seek answers about the deaths of his brother-in-law and nephew in an August 2012 drone strike.

"Our family are not your enemy. In fact, the people you killed had strongly and publicly opposed al-Qaida. Salem was an imam. The Friday before his death, he gave a guest sermon in the Khashamir mosque denouncing al-Qaida's hateful ideology. It was not the first of these sermons, but regrettably, it was his last," Jabar wrote.

Earlier this year, a US Senate panel heard for the first time from a Yemeni, activist and journalist Farea al-Muslimi, who sought to explain how deeply drones had affected average Yemenis, even those who never lost anyone in a strike. Muslimi testified that parents now scare their children into behaving by threatening to send a drone after them. He warned that the drone strikes were instilling "psychological fear and terror."

Muslimi spent last week tweeting about surveillance planes loitering overhead of his home in Yemen to underscore the fears ordinary Yemenis have during the current emergency. He vented about the way presumption given in the media to the US that anyone killed by a drone was a member of Aqap.

"Th # of times media says "suspected militants n #Yemen" makes me thnk All living n yemen, including foreign diplomats, r suspected militants," Muslimi tweeted Sunday.

"The US is running to drones every time its counter-terrorism efforts fail," Muslimi wrote in Sunday's Independent. "On each occasion the public rage against al-Qaida in the Arabian peninsula grows and its image is tarnished, and the US – via drone strikes – restores it again. In its recent actions, the US has become al-Qaida's public relations officer."

As the US keeps the Sana'a embassy closed and drone-fired missiles keep pounding Yemen, experts are wondering when Washington will develop a strategy for Yemen more sophisticated than bombing and providing a measure of foreign aid.

"I don't see the US having a strategy or policy. I see it as having an approach – one that's fluctuating, depending on how severe the threat is," Johnsen said. That being: drones strikes.

"I think US has two goals in Yemen," Johnsen explains. "One is: it wants to prevent any sort of Aqap attack on the US homeland or US interests in the Middle East. Second: making sure no official Americans die. Those are both very defensive goals. The two primary, goals when you see what US is doing in Yemen – those are things the US wants to avoid."

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« Reply #8105 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:33 AM »

08/13/2013 12:56 PM

Terror Retooled: Al-Qaida Thinks Globally But Acts Locally

By Christoph Reuter

The new warning last week of possible imminent attacks by al-Qaida fueled fears far beyond America's borders. But the movement founded by Osama bin Laden has long since shifted from mass international attacks to local battles -- with success.

Osama bin Laden didn't make telephone calls. During his years in Abbottabad, Pakistan, he avoided anything that might have put intelligence agencies on his track, communicating only via messengers. But reporting published last week by two journalists at the US news website The Daily Beast suggests that al-Qaida's current leadership has abandoned such precautionary measures.

It appears the reason for the closing of 21 American embassies from Yemen to Pakistan was an intercepted online conference call among the terrorist organization's Top 20. According to the article, al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri took this opportunity to name Nasir al-Wuhayshi, head of the organization's Yemen branch, as his official second-in-command. Also participating in the call were al-Qaida leaders from Iraq, North Africa and Uzbekistan, as well as Pakistan's Taliban, Nigerian group Boko Haram and a representative of the emerging al-Qaida group in the Sinai Peninsula.

"This was like a meeting of the Legion of Doom," one of three US intelligence officers interviewed by The Daily Beast told the site. During the virtual meeting, the article continued, the al-Qaida operatives also discussed future targets for attack and mentioned that one or several teams were already in place for such attacks.

For the world's most wanted terrorists to meet for an online briefing precisely at the same time as the NSA scandal would seem to amount to a break with all the rules to which someone like al-Zawahiri owes his survival after two decades of being sought by US intelligence agencies.

But there was also some astonishment over the US government's announcement it would close so many embassies. "It's crazy pants," former State Department counterterrorism adviser Will McCants told reporters. The US government, meanwhile, declined to comment.

The article also presents a further inconsistency by assuming that al-Qaida remains a centrally run organization -- and al-Zawahiri a leader everyone obeys -- despite internal tensions and the pressures of being wanted by intelligence agencies.

In reality, the portrayal contradicts developments observed in recent years, including an August 7 United Nations analysis of al-Qaida and its associates -- the 14th report of its kind to be released. It states that "Al-Qaida's decimated core has seen no revival of its fortunes over the past six months. A degraded senior leadership based in the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region continues to issue statements, but demonstrates little ability to direct operations through centralized command and control."

Al-Zawahiri, the report continues, "has demonstrated little capability to unify or lead al-Qaida affiliates." In fact, it says, more of a threat is posed by individuals who commit attacks after self-radicalizing through online terrorist propaganda, such as the two Chechens who set off bombs at the Boston Marathon this spring. An additional danger, says the report, is that al-Qaida will take advantage of new conflicts such as the current war in Syria, which has given the terrorist organization "a significant boost."

Is Turkey Doing Too Little to Stop Jihad Tourists?

European intelligence services take the same view. Syria has become the preferred destination for jihadists, who have arrived in the war-torn country by the thousands over the last 12 months. These fighters are the only ones coming to rebels' aid against the military machinery of the regime, which gives them devastating power.

And no one seems to want to stop them. On domestic flights to Hatay, in southern Turkey, bearded passengers from Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and Russia's Caucasus republics sit side by side. They travel into Turkey unchallenged, then meet with comrades who bring them over the nearby border into Syria. Meanwhile, similar figures are lined up at Hatay's departure gates, carrying little luggage and often with the red dirt of northern Syria still clinging to their shoes.

Turkish authorities seem unbothered by these jihad tourists. At the border crossings, smugglers openly advertise their services. It's certainly strange in a way, a former Syrian follower of "Emir" Asadullah al-Shishani said in June from the jihadist stronghold of Atmeh, near the Turkish border. "A month ago, a dozen Chechens flew back home from Hatay unchallenged, even though they'd told us they were all wanted by Interpol."

Al-Qaida's diffuse ideology of perpetual warfare gives the organization the tactical advantage of being able to be present at various conflicts simultaneously. Its individual branches feed like parasites off a variety of opponents. In Yemen, they fight against the government's army and the United States; in Syria against Bashar Assad's Alawite dictatorship and the Kurds; in Mali against the government and the Tuareg; in Iraq primarily against Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's Shiite government.

Bin Laden's one-time maxim of meeting the "distant enemy" in the United States and Europe has been replaced by the principle of appropriating local conflicts of many different kinds.

'Limits of Al-Zawahiri's Authority'

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the former Iraqi al-Qaida leader who has since been killed, recognized this sectarian war against the Shiites as a convenient opportunity to turn an already smoldering conflict to his own goals. At the time, bin Laden tried to stop him, but today the terrorist organization is once again on the rise in Iraq, benefitting from the prime minister's policy of systematically pushing Sunnis out of important posts in favor of supporters from his Shiite power base.

The "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) has become al-Qaida's most powerful branch, gradually taking over fighters and bases belonging to the Al-Nusra Front, which once served as a gathering place for jihadists in Syria. Here, though, al-Qaida's leaders have little say. "The unsuccessful attempts of … al-Zawahiri to mediate internal conflicts between al-Qaida and (the Nusra Front) point to the limits of al-Zawahiri's authority," the UN report suggests.

Al-Zawahiri's weak leadership position led Washington Post writer Max Fisher to develop an entirely new speculation as to why al-Qaida's leader would talk so openly during the purported conference call. "For Zawahiri, merely the appearance of ordering a big operation could help him with internal al-Qaeda politics," he wrote.

Washington's hectic reaction to the intercepted call -- half a dozen drone attacks in Yemen and a global travel warning for Americans -- must have pleased al-Zawahiri, seeing as it showed he had achieved the effect he intended. Assuming, that is, that the story of the conference call is true.

Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein

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« Reply #8106 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:35 AM »

Uganda motorbike deaths: concerns grow over silent killers

Boda-bodas help to combat youth unemployment, but they are also maiming and killing thousands of people every year

Amy Fallon in Kampala, Tuesday 13 August 2013 07.01 BST   

They have been dubbed Uganda's silent killers. Boda-bodas, the country's ubiquitous motorbike taxis, snake through gridlocked traffic, navigate potholed roads and provide much-needed employment for young people. They are also maiming and killing thousands every year, monopolising hospital budgets and wiping out livelihoods.

Since they appeared on the streets of Uganda in the 1960s, the number of boda-bodas has swelled. One recent news report estimated there were more than 300,000 bikes operating in the capital, Kampala.

The number of motorbike accidents has increased exponentially. According to the Injury Control Centre, there are up to 20 boda-related cases at Mulago National Referral hospital in Kampala every day.

The strain on the country's limited health budget is growing. According to a report by Makerere University College of Health Sciences and the department of orthopedics at Mulago, about 40% of trauma cases at the hospital are from boda-boda accidents (pdf). The treatment of injured passengers and pedestrians accounts for almost two-thirds of the hospital's annual surgery budget.

Dr Michael Edgar Muhumuza, head of Mulago's neurosurgery unit, believes the boda-bodas are deathtraps. "These are young people, the youth of tomorrow," he says as he examines x-rays. "It's a big problem [for] this nation. The last two, three years the number of these accidents has become much greater. It's now very bad."

As well as those who are injured or die in accidents, Muhumuza is seeing an increasing number of riders who have been beaten and left for dead after being robbed of their vehicles.

While boda-bodas are helping to reduce youth unemployment – one recent study estimated that 62% of young people in Uganda are jobless – the impact of a serious injury can prove catastrophic for riders and their families.

Ali Niwamanya, 25, a boda-boda driver, spent three months in Mulago hospital and another five at home recovering after a collision with a car in the capital in September. "I had a broken leg. It was too painful," he recalls. "It was hard for me to get money because I could not work, and so my family had to suffer during that time." Niwamanya is now in debt after taking out a 3m Ugandan shilling loan (£765) for a new bike.

While the human impact of the boda-boda craze is evident in the packed hospital wards, the strain that spiralling road fatalities could have on the economy is worrying politicians.

The death toll on Uganda's roads is twice the average across Africa. The Ugandan annual crime and traffic/road safety report showed 3,343 road deaths were registered in 2011 (pdf) although the World Health Organisation has estimated the figure to be more than double that. Some are warning that, if action is not taken, the death toll from Uganda's roads could top that from diseases such as malaria – and be second only to HIV and Aids as the leading cause of death in the country.

"This translates into a monetary loss to the country," says Winstone Katushabe, secretary of the transport licensing board at the transport ministry. "It's about 1 trillion shillings [£255m] in terms of loss to the economy, [with] investigations of accidents, post-trauma care, families you have to look after."

Kampala's metropolitan traffic police director, Lawrence Nuwabiine, agrees. He says Uganda must "fight this road carnage" with the same commitment it used to tackle HIV and Aids a decade ago.

"When we started [with] the issue of Aids, the president … said: 'We are dying, every person must talk about Aids'," Nuwabiine says. "And people started talking about Aids in churches, in schools. We managed to reach somewhere. But [with] this one, people are not talking about death as a result of these boda-bodas."

Some measures are being taken to try to stem the problem. Last month, the government announced that the works and transport sector would be allocated one of the biggest chunks – about 15% – of the 2013-14 budget to improve and maintain roads.

Even though road safety measures were not specifically included within the budget, the government is establishing a national agency to run advocacy campaigns and manage roads.

In Kampala, the Capital City Authority is attempting to introduce regulations, including mandatory registration of drivers, first-aid training, reflector jackets and helmets, and a monthly fee of 20,000 Ugandan shillings paid by the city's 250,000 motorbike taxis.

Other initiatives are also springing up. The Global Helmet Vaccine Initiative is holding a one-day workshop for 100 riders, part of a national scheme under which it has trained 1,800 boda-boda riders in basic road safety. On completion, each participant receives a yellow helmet bearing the slogan: "Your life is your wealth".

It is a message that seems to be getting through. Ronald Katetemera, 27, says he will not be taking his new headgear off. "Every day it's going to be the first thing I put on," Katetemera says. "They say life has no money value. I have my children. I don't want to die."

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« Reply #8107 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:38 AM »

Road deaths, cancer and diabetes becoming Africa's hidden epidemics

Urbanisation accelerating rise in health problems, while more cars on the road are pushing up accident rates, says World Bank

Oliver Balch, Monday 5 August 2013 11.34 BST   

Road traffic deaths in sub-Saharan Africa are predicted to rise by 80% by 2020, according to a World Bank report, which found the region to have the highest number of accidents, but the fewest vehicles on the road.

An estimated 24.1 people per 100,000 are killed in traffic accidents every year, according to the bank. Younger and poorer people are disproportionately vulnerable: accidents on the road are expected to become the biggest killer of children between five and 15 by 2015, outstripping malaria and Aids.

"The poorest communities often live alongside the fastest roads, their children may need to negotiate the most dangerous routes to school and they may have poorer outcomes from injuries, due to limited access to post-crash emergency healthcare," the report says.

Aside from the obvious distress caused by accidents, sub-Saharan Africa's high-risk roads have a significant economic impact too. Crashes are estimated to cost African countries between 1 and 3% of their GNP each year, the report finds.

Roads and disease: common ground

The report considers road safety alongside rising rates of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and cancer. The authors maintain that both represent largely hidden epidemics in Africa.

While there are a "whole bundle of different drivers" behind the rise in road accidents and NCDs, some of the causes show remarkable parallels, Dr Jill Farrington, the former Europe co-ordinator for the World Health Organisation's NCD programme and the report's co-author, says.

The shift towards urbanisation is a case in point. City residents typically take less exercise, triggering diabetes and cardiovascular problems. Rising incomes are driving demand for processed foods that are higher in sugar, fat and salt. The same factors result in increased car use and ownership, and more traffic accidents.

Alcohol consumption links the two. Though seven in 10 adults abstain from drinking alcohol in sub-Saharan Africa, those who do have the highest prevalence of heavy episodic drinking globally, the report says.

A lack of data makes it difficult to determine the extent to which traffic accidents are caused by alcohol. However, a study of police reports in Nigeria between 1996 and 2000 found that half of all car crashes involved drink-driving.

There is growing awareness of NCDs. Between 2001 and 2008, funding for cancer, heart disease and diabetes in developing countries grew sixfold. In 2011, the UN held a major summit on the theme. Even so, programmes to combat NCDs comprise less than 3% of global development assistance.

The lion's share of public health spending and health-related donor aid goes to infectious diseases, particularly malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV and Aids. Policies and intervention to tackle these "big three" diseases are typically managed through separate "vertical" systems. The authors of the World Bank report argue that this silo approach is often counterproductive and co-ordinated health programmes are needed.

Integrated healthcare

The logic of a more holistic healthcare system is compelling, says Farrington: "If cars get faster on the roads and it's unsafe, it will actually reduce walking and cycling, which will then have consequences for the development of obesity."

There are practical arguments for a more integrated approach to disease interventions too. Many African countries have agreed to continent-wide commitments to combat NCDs, but they lack the resources to tackle each individually.

With the financial downturn, additional aid is unlikely, Farrington says. "The concern would be that if these [commitments] are all implemented separately, it would need resources and capacity beyond what is available."

The report flags up early examples of where integrated, or "horizontal", thinking is emerging. In Botswana, for example, health facilities set up for patients with HIV and Aids are being used to carry out screening and vaccinations for the human papilloma virus.

South Africa has developed a similar approach. Eight of the top 10 diagnoses in primary care are respiratory conditions. These relate as much to NCDs such as acute bronchitis or asthma as they do to infectious diseases such as TB and HIV. As a result, nurses are being trained to adopt a people-centred, rather than a disease-focused, approach to diagnosis.

"We wouldn't be able to run a health system in the UK or any other so-called developed country that has these vertical programmes running right through it," Dr Kalipso Chalkidou, international director at the London-based National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, says.

The aid sector's obsession with targets is seen as a reason for the persistence of disease-specific policies; it is easier to measure vaccinations than calculate how many people have access to healthcare, Chalkidou says.

"Those who champion this individual approach to diseases and conditions should try and think more laterally," she says. "It [integrated health provision] is going to happen, but how it's going to happen and whether everyone involved is keen to make it happen is another question."

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« Reply #8108 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:39 AM »

August 12, 2013

Timing of Israeli Housing Plans May Be Part of a Political Calculation


JERUSALEM — Israel’s announcement this week that it was building more than 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem and the West Bank appeared to be part of a political balancing act to satisfy many Israelis before it released 26 Palestinian prisoners, whose names were announced Monday.

While Israel was not violating any formal agreement — Secretary of State John Kerry spent months persuading the Palestinians to talk without a settlement freeze or a promise of negotiations based on 1967 boundaries — analysts said the move had dealt a blow to the credibility of the fragile Palestinian leadership in the West Bank.

“For two years, the leadership has been preaching that it would not go back to the talks as long as settlement activity continued,” said Zakaria al-Qaq, a Palestinian expert in national security at Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem. “Now the leadership is suddenly deaf and dumb.”

And if that principle is so easily abandoned, what of the other core issues for Palestinians, few of whom have much faith in talks anyway?

“Jerusalem has to be negotiated,” Mr. Qaq said, adding, “Israel is determining the outcome of the negotiation before it has started.”

The atmosphere was just as grim in Israel after the authorities announced the names of the 26 veteran Palestinian prisoners to be released late Tuesday or early Wednesday, the day the talks are to open, as part of the American-brokered deal for talks. Among them was one of the killers of Isaac Rotenberg, 67, a Holocaust survivor who was bludgeoned to death in 1994, and the man who killed an Israeli, Avraham Kinstler, 84, with an ax.

Mr. Kerry said Monday that Israel’s announcements about settlements “were to some degree expected because we have known that there was going to be a continuation of some building in certain places.” But Mr. Kerry added that one announcement may have been “outside of that level of expectation,” and that he intended to speak to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Monday or early Tuesday.

“I’m sure that we will work out a path forward,” Mr. Kerry told reporters on a visit to Colombia.

The discord between the Israelis and Palestinians underlines the gaping distance between them on crucial issues like the land and borders of a future Palestinian state.

Much of the world views the settlements — in territory that Israel seized from Jordan during the 1967 war, and where the Palestinians envision their future state — as a violation of international law.

But Israeli officials have been blunt in rejecting criticism about their latest announcement. Mark Regev, a government spokesman, said Sunday that the housing “is in areas that will remain part of Israel in any possible future peace agreement. This in no way changes the final map of peace. It changes nothing.”

“This has been the position of all Israeli prime ministers,” Mr. Regev said Monday. He said that every peace plan that had been put on the table included Israel’s retention of major settlement blocs, with varying details. He said the Palestinian negotiators accepted it, too, at least privately, something they deny.

“Does any serious person believe Maale Adumim is not going to remain part of Israel?” Mr. Regev asked, referring to a large settlement in the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, where the Israeli government is marketing plots for nearly 100 new apartments.

Some see the Palestinian protests as also intended for domestic consumption. Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a onetime adviser to Mr. Netanyahu, said: “The Palestinians may have understood from past negotiations that certain settlement blocs are going to remain in Israel under any agreement. But for internal purposes, they feel compelled to protest and complain.”

The Palestinians have little unilateral power and a fractured political voice. The United States and Europe have repeatedly pushed the sides to negotiate, but without securing an agreement. Western powers continue to rebuke Israel over the settlements, to little avail.

After the European Union published new guidelines last month banning the financing of and cooperation with Israeli institutions in territory seized during the 1967 war, including the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli leaders condemned the move, saying the Europeans were setting conditions that in Israel’s view even the Palestinians had abandoned.

During a meeting with the German foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, here on Monday, Mr. Netanyahu said he thought that the European guidelines had “actually undermined peace.”

“They’ve hardened Palestinian positions,” he said. “They seek an unrealistic end that everybody knows is not going to happen, and I think they stand in the way of reaching a solution which will only be reached by negotiations by the parties, and not by an external dictate.”

But Palestinian officials insist they have not accepted the Israeli concept of retaining settlement blocs and have agreed to only minor land swaps along the 1967 borders.

The latest Israeli settlement plans were “a stab in the back for everyone who has worked to have negotiations,” said a Palestinian official involved in the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “It legitimizes the fears everybody had that the negotiations are just a smoke screen.”

Michael R. Gordon contributed reporting from Washington.

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« Reply #8109 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:42 AM »

Egypt's coup sounds death knell for Arab spring, says Nobel laureate

Tawakkul Karman says Morsi's ousting reset the clock on gains made since uprisings and warns that remnants of toppled governments are clawing back

Reuters in Cairo, Tuesday 13 August 2013 11.49 BST      

Tawakkul Karman, who shared a Nobel peace prize for her pro-democracy campaigning in Yemen, has said she views the Egyptian army's overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi as a death knell for Arab democratic movements.

The removal of Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected leader, on 3 July "reset the clock" on the gains made since a popular uprising ended 30 years of Hosni Mubarak's one-man rule in 2011, she said on Monday.

"The first emerging democracy in Egypt's history and the first in the region since the Arab spring is quickly being dismantled," said the 34-year-old Yemeni mother of three.

Karman, the first Arab woman and second Muslim woman to win the Nobel peace prize, was turned away from Egypt on 4 August after she announced on social media her intention to join Muslim Brotherhood protesters at a huge pro-Morsi vigil in Cairo.

Egyptian authorities gave no reason beyond saying Karman was on a list of people banned from entering the country.

"Denying me entry means only one thing. Egypt's new government is returning to the autocratic ways of the past. They are not willing to tolerate difference in opinion," she said.

Karman described Mursi's fall as part of a broader counter-revolution gripping the region and said remnants of governments toppled in 2011 and 2012 were clawing their way back into power.

"The Arab spring is about building democracy. A military coup is the antithesis of that. It undermines everything," she said.

"The destruction of Egypt's revolution means death for the Arab spring."

The Egyptian military says it deposed Morsi in response to the "will of the people" after a bout of mass protests calling for the Islamist leader to resign. An army-installed interim government is overseeing a "road map" leading to elections.

Karman, a member of Yemen's Muslim Brotherhood, became a figure of symbolic importance in the 2011 Yemeni uprising that gained strength from Mubarak's overthrow in Egypt.

Karman was arrested at one of Yemen's first pro-democracy protests in January 2011. Outrage over her plight helped turn demonstrations near Sana'a University into fully-fledged revolt.

Her tours of the Middle East since winning the Nobel prize have made her a controversial figure in the eyes of some Egyptians, who say she is meddling in others' internal affairs.

Karman criticised the refusal of the US, which gives Egypt $1.5bn in mostly military aid, to condemn Morsi's removal by the army as a coup. Washington would be legally obliged to cut off the aid if it did so.

"It is shameful for the US secretary of state to describe the coup as 'restoring democracy'," she said.

"Supporting the overthrow of a democratically elected leader sets a precedent. It will destabilise the region and the world in the long run. The US administration has yet to learn the lesson of the Arab spring revolutions."

The 2011 Nobel peace prize was jointly awarded to Karman and two Liberian women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, for their work for women's rights and building peace.

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« Reply #8110 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:43 AM »

August 12, 2013

In Move for Economy, Mexican President Seeks Foreign Investment in Energy


MEXICO CITY — President Enrique Peña Nieto of Mexico on Monday, pushing one of the most sweeping economic overhauls here in the past two decades, proposed opening his country’s historically closed energy industry to foreign investment.

The president’s plan, which would rewrite two constitutional amendments, challenges a bedrock assumption of Mexico’s national identity — its total sovereignty over its energy resources — by inviting private companies to explore and pump for oil and natural gas.

Mr. Pena Nieto’s goal, like those of presidents before him, is to recharge Mexico’s economy by tackling areas that analysts agree hinder its expansion, which has averaged just 2.2 percent a year since 2001, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Perhaps the worst of those is the creaky energy sector. Demand for energy in the country is growing so fast that Mexico could turn from an energy exporter to an energy importer by 2020, the government says.

Already, Mexico must import almost half its gasoline, mostly from the United States. Mexican companies pay 25 percent more for electricity than competitors in other countries, the government says. Although Mexico has some of the world’s largest reserves of shale gas, it imports one-third of its natural gas.

In advancing the plan, Mr. Peña Nieto is making a gamble that the support he has built with opposition parties to make deep changes in education and telecommunications policy will carry over into the debate over energy and a related tax proposal he will send to Congress next month.

“With the reform that we are presenting, we will make the energy sector one of the most powerful engines in the economy,” Mr. Peña Nieto said at a ceremony to present the plan on Monday.

So far, Mr. Peña Nieto has proved astute at negotiating changes based on a list of commitments that all three major political parties agreed on last December. He has been helped by the two main opposition parties’ weakness after the 2012 election, which gave Mr. Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, a majority in Congress.

But his two major victories in education and telecommunications were comparatively easy. There was already consensus on the need to rein in the power of the teachers’ union and the companies that control telecommunications and television broadcasting.

In energy, the divisions are much deeper. In particular, Mexico’s left-wing parties have been adamant that the Constitution’s 75-year-old prohibition on private investment should remain ironclad. From the right, the National Action Party, or PAN, proposed energy reform last month that would go even further than Mr. Peña Nieto to invite in private investment.

Public opinion is also suspicious about opening up the industry. A survey last year by CIDE, a Mexico City university, found that 65 percent of the public opposed private investment in Pemex, the state-owned oil monopoly.

“The entire energy reform is a potential source of conflict,” said Luis Miguel Labardini, a consultant with Marcos y Asociados, a Mexican energy consulting firm. “Sometimes in Mexico we are conflict-averse.”

The proposal would allow private companies to negotiate profit-sharing contracts with the government to drill for oil and gas. Under such a scheme, the reserves would continue to belong to the Mexican state, but investors would get a share of the profits. Private investment would be allowed in refining, oil pipelines, and petrochemical production.

Although most analysts believe that Mr. Peña Nieto has the votes in Congress to pass the reform if the PAN votes along with his party, the president appears to want to sway public opinion, as suggested by his decision to make a prime-time televised address on the subject Monday.

“It is fine to appeal to rationality, but when it is about these issues, it’s indispensable to touch the audience’s heart,” wrote an analyst, María Amparo Casar, in the Excelsior newspaper last week.

The left-wing leader, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who won more than 30 percent of the vote in last year’s general election, is planning street marches to protest the change. If he succeeds in filling the streets of the capital it may be harder for party leaders to stand behind the plan.

Since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement exempted energy from Mexico’s broad economic opening, presidents have attempted to loosen the prohibitions that give Pemex sole control over all oil and gas exploration and production. No joint ventures are allowed. Those past proposals have often withered in Congress.

But this time, the precipitous decline of Mexico’s energy industry may work in Mr. Peña Nieto’s favor.

Pemex, which was long an important source of crude imports into the United States, is spending more to pump less. As Mexico’s giant Cantarell oil field in the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico has declined, production has dropped 25 percent from the peak in 2004, to just over 2.5 million barrels of oil a day.

At the same time, the amount the government budgets for Pemex to invest has steadily climbed to $26 billion this year. To increase production and reserves, Pemex needs to drill in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico and in onshore deposits of shale oil and gas. But the company has neither the capital nor the expertise to increase production significantly, analysts say.

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« Reply #8111 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:46 AM »

One-man mission in Haiti spearheads new wave of British diplomacy

Britain's first chargé d'affaires in Haiti in nearly half a century is greeted with mix of enthusiasm, scepticism and suspicion

Rashmee Roshan Lall in Port au Prince, Monday 12 August 2013 18.01 BST   

Britain's first chargé d'affaires in Haiti in nearly half a century follows in the fictional footsteps of a diplomat from a Graham Greene novel set in the darkest days of the dictatorship of François "Papa Doc" Duvalier.

Rick Shearn, the new one-man mission in Port au Prince, is in the vanguard of a new wave of British diplomacy that aims to reverse the retreat of UK influence in Latin America. His arrival in June has drawn a mix of enthusiasm, scepticism and suspicion in this heavily French-influenced Caribbean nation, where the last representatives of the Queen were expelled.

One of his predecessors, Gerard Corley Smith, was kicked out in 1962 for criticising the excesses of the Tontons Macoute militia who allegedly tortured or murdered thousands of Haitians. The Duvalier government accused Smith of "impertinence and haughtiness as a British colonialist".

But he was an inspiration for a character in Greene's 1966 novel, The Comedians. In that account of Haiti's "deepening night", the author describes an unnamed British diplomat as "courageous and humorous … intelligent, watchful, amused and critical in just the right way … the perfect spectator". Papa Doc promptly banned the book, and the British embassy closed soon afterwards.

The historical significance of reopening the mission is not lost on Shearn. "It was quite a realisation that Greene's British chargé d'affaires referenced in The Comedians is my immediate predecessor," he says.

The relaunch is part of the foreign secretary William Hague's plan to have 20 new missions around the world by 2015 and to spread "British diplomacy to places that have not felt it in decades". It is being done in a cost-effective and pared-down fashion within the large and well-appointed Canadian embassy.

The long UK absence has made recent shared experiences hard to find. When the Foreign Office searched for a prominent figure out of the 400 or so British Haitians in the UK, the best they could find was a third-division goalkeeper. Even Shearn, who must fly the flag and plan for an annual trade mission, admits: "We may no longer be the first partner that Haiti and Haitians think of when deciding where to purchase goods or send children to university … though the UK's reputation for quality in manufacturing, academia and construction is still here."

There are hopes that the new chargé d'affairs can pursue the kind of shrewd mercantile statecraft that boosts UK plc. But Land Rover and JCB heavy machinery export deals and building contracts for quake-destroyed Port au Prince may be some way off. "It's early days for that," says the foreign office minister Hugo Swire, "even though Britain has had diplomatic relations with Haiti longer than any other country in the Caribbean, having recognised it in 1833," three decades before the United States.

Reactions among Haiti-watchers have varied. Robert Maguire, an old Haiti hand and director of George Washington University's Latin America and hemispheric studies programme, is sceptical. "What are UK interests in Haiti?" he says. "Potential mining? Garment assembly? Keep an eye on the Turks & Caicos?"

Stuart Leiderman, a US environmental and refugee specialist, suggests the British government's interest may be "the Bahamas [which] is now at least 25% Haitian".

But Bernard Craan, chairman of Sofides, Haiti's only private development bank, which hands out loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, says every opportunity to formalise relations with "a country as developed and structured as the UK can only be a good thing, and Haiti's organised private sector is of the same opinion".

In the short term, a permanent UK diplomatic presence is likely to help get promised projects off the ground, not least an urban development funded by the Prince's Trust and badly needed housing planned by Haiti's honorary consul in the UK, architect John McAslan. There's also talk of Britain playing a greater role in Minustah, the UN peacekeeping mission, and helping to train the Haitian national police.

Having arrived with no more than schoolbook French and a brief to rebuild networks, Shearn will have his work cut out. But with his brief career path already including another of Greene's more challenging locales, Sierra Leone – the setting for The Heart of the Matter – he will be hoping not to suffer the same fate in Port au Prince as his fictional predecessor who ultimately found "conditions of life in the capital have defeated him".

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« Reply #8112 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:51 AM »

Researchers Develop ‘Early Warning’ Probe for Alzheimer’s Disease – Advance May Lead To A Cure

By Planetsave
Tuesday, August 13, 2013 8:36 EDT

Researchers at Northwestern University have developed a hybrid nanoparticle-antibody probe that functions as an “early warning system” for detecting Alzheimer’s Disease (AD).

Neuroscientist William Klein and nanotechnologist Vinayak Dravid combined an engineered  antibody (an immune molecule that binds strongly with an antigen or pathogenic molecule) with iron-oxide nanoparticles to create a probe that — in conjunction with MRI technology — was able to distinguish between healthy and diseased human brain samples.

It is well-established that an uncontrolled accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins into plaques represents the hallmark of AD and its progression throughout the brain. Most neuroscientist agree that a smaller, particulate, form of the protein — called an oligomer* — is the primary pathogenic agent of the memory-destroying disease. These toxic oligomers clump together to form the characteristic plaques associated with the onset of AD. At that stage, the disease has already progressed, and so, the goal is to predict disease risk prior to this advanced oligomerization stage.

The antibody-nanoparticle probe is able to detect and bind to these oligomer toxins, and, due to the magnetic potential of the iron-oxide nanoparticles, the location and volume of the oligomers are readily detected via magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology.

The earlier the detection, the sooner patients can start treatment. The new detection system permits earlier detection than was previously possible — so newly diagnosed AD patients can begin treatment earlier.

“Once the chain reaction of negative events starts, it’s like a lit fuse. You want to intervene as soon as possible,” Klein says.

More Details, More Research

In initial clinical applications, the detection system would be used to verify how well a patient is responding to a new therapeutic medicine, but the researchers also foresee their system being used as a primary treatment to deliver anti-oligomer therapeutics (or to trigger a powerful immune response) to eradicate the brain-wasting plaques and/or possibly reverse the disease entirely.
Alzheimer dementia 'senile plaques'

Histopathologic image of senile plaques seen in the cerebral cortex of a person with Alzheimer’s disease of pre-senile onset. Silver impregnation (image: userKOH).

The detection system described in the research was used on human brain samples — not actual living brains. The next step in this research is to test the the system on the brains of living animals (mice). Preliminary tests  have been successful in delivering the nanoparticles to a mouse’s brain via a nasal spray. This result alone is a significant proof of principle that such particles can effectively penetrate the blood-brain barrier (BBB) — an obstacle that has in the past hindered delivery of therapeutics directly to brain tissue.

It is believed that the same delivery technique will work with living humans; what remains is testing this technique with the combined antibody therapy, and, of course, determining how effective it is in detecting early stage AD, and, if utilized as a primary therapeutic, in controlling the spread of the oligomer plaques.

The use of iron-oxide nanoparticles in this system is deemed safe; if no oligomers are present (detected) in the brain, the iron-oxide particles pass safely out of the body.

However, there is evidence (Huang et al, 2004, M.A. Smith et al, 1997) for a link between abnormal concentrations of metal ions in the brain and the neurodegeneration associated with AD. Such redox-active metal ions (like ions of iron) can lead to a build up of radical oxygen species (ROS) causing oxidative damage to cells. So, the success of this technique as a treatment may partly depend on how quickly and thoroughly such metal nanoparticles pass out of one’s brain tissue.

The design of such therapeutic antibodies is typically the domain of the bioengineering industry working in conjunction with the pharmaceutical industry. This combining of bioengineered antibodies  with nanoparticle technology represents a fairly recent trend: the convergence of the biotech and nanotech industries.

This current research was published by Klein Lab News under the title: ‘Nanotechnology That Detects and Treats Alzheimer’s’.

While the beta-amyloid hypothesis of AD causation is the current, dominant theory, there are other hypotheses of AD etiology, such as the tau protein hypothesis (in which “hyperphosphorylated” tau-proteins combine to form the neurofibrillary tangles inside nerve cell bodies, causing the cells’ microtubule structures to disintegreate); also, some researchers have posited the Herpes simplex virus type 1 as a causative agent in those with a mutation in the apoE gene (Itzhaki RF, Wozniak MA, 2008). Further, some researchers, including Klein, are beginning to view AD as a form of diabetes (see note below).

* The soluble oligomers (comprising the Beta-amyloid proteins) are termed ADDLs, for amyloid-derived diffusible ligands. These ligands are spcialized proteins that bind to insulin receptors, damaging them, and interfering with insulin absorption. These ADDLs were discovered by Klein (2007), who has stated: “I think it’s likely that if you block ADDLs, you will be able to reverse or prevent Alzheimer’s…”

Note that Beta-amyloid is itself a fragment from a larger protein called amyloid precursor protein (APP), which is a type of (neural) transmembrane protein.

Some General Facts About Alzheimer’s Disease:

Alzheimer’s disease is among the most common brain disorders affecting the elderly population the world over, and is projected to become a major health problem with grave socio-economic implications in the coming decades. The total number of people afflicted by Alzheimer’s disease (AD) worldwide today is about 15 million people, a number expected to grow by four times by 2050.

The pathogenesis of AD is characterized by loss of neurons and synapses, resulting in gross atrophy across multiple brain regions. The disease is presently hard to reliably diagnose, particularly in its early stages when it is often mistaken for more normal age-related or stress-related changes. While an accurate diagnosis can only be obtained post-mortem (via examination of brain tissue in an autopsy), current clinical methods involving brain imaging and neuropsychological testing are only about 85% accurate, and that too only at later stages.

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« Reply #8113 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:55 AM »

The neuroscience of dying: Brain activity continues up to 30 seconds after blood flow stops

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 12, 2013 16:49 EDT

There may be a scientific explanation for the vivid near-death experiences, such as seeing a shining light, that some people report after surviving a heart attack, US scientists said Monday.

Apparently, the brain keeps on working for up to 30 seconds after blood flow stops, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

University of Michigan scientists did their research on nine lab rats that were anesthetized and then subjected to induced cardiac arrest as part of the experiment.

In the first 30 seconds after their hearts were stopped, they all showed a surge of brain activity, observed in electroencephalograms (EEGs) that indicated highly aroused mental states.

“We were surprised by the high levels of activity,” said senior author George Mashour, professor of anesthesiology and neurosurgery at the University of Michigan.

“In fact, at near-death, many known electrical signatures of consciousness exceeded levels found in the waking state, suggesting that the brain is capable of well-organized electrical activity during the early stage of clinical death.”

Similar results in terms of brain activity were seen in rats that were asphyxiated, the researchers said.

“This study tells us that reduction of oxygen or both oxygen and glucose during cardiac arrest can stimulate brain activity that is characteristic of conscious processing,” said lead author Jimo Borjigin.

“It also provides the first scientific framework for the near-death experiences reported by many cardiac arrest survivors.”

About 20 percent of people who survive cardiac arrest report having had visions during a period known to doctors as clinical death.

Borjigin said she hopes her team’s latest study “will form the foundation for future human studies investigating mental experiences occurring in the dying brain, including seeing light during cardiac arrest.”

Mainstream science has long considered the brain to be inactive during this period, and some experts questioned how much a study on rats can truly reveal about the human brain.

“Do we know if animals experience ‘consciousness’? Most philosophers and scientists are still at loggerheads over what the term refers to in humans, let alone in other species,” said David McGonigle, a lecturer at Cardiff University.

“While recent research now suggests that animals may indeed have the kind of autobiographical memories that humans possess — the kinds of memories that allow us to place ourselves in a certain time and place — it seems unlikely that near death experiences would necessarily be similar across species.”

Anders Sandberg, a research fellow at Oxford University described the research as “simple” and “well-done,” but urged caution in interpreting the results.

“EEG tells us things about brain activity a bit like listening at traffic noise tells you what is going on in a city. It is certainly informative, but also an average of a lot of individual interactions,” he said.

“No doubt some people will presumptuously claim that this is further evidence for life after death, which is doubly silly. Near-death experiences are in themselves just experiences,” he said.

“But if one believes that, then one should also conclude the afterlife includes a lot of lab mice.”

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« Reply #8114 on: Aug 13, 2013, 07:57 AM »

New finding suggests Neanderthals had more advanced tools than early humans

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, August 12, 2013 16:53 EDT

Sophisticated leather-working equipment found in a cave in France offer the first evidence that Neanderthals had more advanced bone tools than early modern humans, researchers said Monday.

The four fragments of hide-softening bone tools known as lissoirs, or smoothers, were found at two neighboring sites in southwestern France, according to the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Radiocarbon dating shows that the tools with smooth edges and rounded tips — found at the sites of Pech-de-l’Azé I and Abri Peyrony — are about 50,000 years old, said scientists.

That would make them the oldest known bone tools in Europe, having been made and used well before modern humans replaced the Neanderthals some 40,000 years ago, researchers said.

Neanderthals are better known for using stone tools, and many archeologists have believed that more advanced bone tool use was introduced to Neanderthals by modern humans.

While the latest findings are far from conclusive, they may lead to different ways of thinking about which groups were using bone tools for leather-working, and when.

Perhaps the Neanderthals came up with the idea on their own, said lead author Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany.

“For now the bone tools from these two sites are one of the better pieces of evidence we have for Neanderthals developing on their own a technology previously associated only with modern humans,” he said.

But researchers also cannot rule out the possibility that modern humans entered Europe earlier than thought and passed on this technology to Neanderthals.

Still, the artifacts were uncovered in places that show no evidence of any other cultures.

“If Neanderthals developed this type of bone tool on their own, it is possible that modern humans then acquired this technology from Neanderthals,” said co-author Marie Soressi of Leiden University in The Netherlands.

“Modern humans seem to have entered Europe with pointed bone tools only, and soon after started to make lissoirs. This is the first possible evidence for transmission from Neanderthals to our direct ancestors.”

Other bone tools have been found from Neanderthal sites, but those have been scrapers, notched tools or handaxes.

“But here we have an example of Neandertals taking advantage of the pliability and flexibility of bone to shape it in new ways to do things stone could not do,” said McPherron.

The bone lissoir, shaped from deer ribs, is run back and forth against a hide to render it more supple, shiny and water-resistant.

In fact, the researchers said similar instruments are still being used by leather workers today.

Neanderthals lived in parts of Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East for up to 300,000 years. Just why they vanished some 40,000 years ago is a matter of debate.

According to some theories, their population dwindled due to extreme cold winters.

Others believe they were massacred by smarter, more sophisticated homo sapiens who moved into Neanderthal territory from what is now Africa and eastern Europe.

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