Tuesday, August 31, 2010

ODI series to go on, action after police report: Pawar

Twenty20 and ODI series Pakistan and England
The ICC said the Twenty20 and ODI series between Pakistan and England will go on as per schedule and "appropriate" action on 'spot-fixing' allegations against Pakistani cricketers will be taken after the completion of investigation by London police. "It is the desire of the ICC, England and Pakistan that the game is continued," Pawar said after a teleconference with top ICC officials, PCB Chairman Ejaz Butt and ECB chairman Giles Clarke. Pakistan and England square off in two Twenty20 Internationals (September 5 and 7) before playing five ODIs from September 10-22. 

Pawar said besides the London police, Anti-Corruption Unit of the ICC is also preparing a report. The world body will take action after studying both the investigations and a report from the PCB. "I had a detailed discussion with Giles Clarke, Ejaz Butt, ICC vice-president Alan Issac, CEO Haroon Lorgat, anti-corruption wing in-charge Ravi Sawani and a few officials of ICC. We discussed in depth the Pakistani players' issue. One thing is that the British Police have not completed their investigation. Neither any player has been arrested," he said. "Until and unless the British authorities complete investigation, which we hope will be done in two-three days, and establish there is prima facie case it is difficult for the PCB to take appropriate action," he said. 

"ICC is waiting for the British police to complete investigation. ACSU is also looking into the details. It is also preparing a report in 2-3 days. The report by British Police and ACSU will give us a proper picture. This information we hope will lead us to take appropriate action if required," he added. Pawar said PCB chief Butt will submit a confidential report to Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari regarding the 'spot-fixing' allegations. "As per our information, PCB president is preparing a confidential report which will be submitted to the President and Prime Minster. He wants guidance from the country's leadership," said Pawar. 

Earlier in the day, Pawar termed the 'spot-fixing' allegations involving Pakistani players as serious. "If this is established, there will be quite a serious view that will be taken by the Pakistan Cricket Board, the England Cricket Board and the ICC," he said. "I am absolutely confident that both Boards will never encourage protecting anybody who has done a wrong thing. Whatever the allegations, the allegations themselves are quite serious," he added. The scandal broke out after a sting operation by a British tabloid in which a bookie, Mazhar Majeed, is seen boasting about the bribes he paid to get pacers Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir bowl no balls during Pakistan's Lord's Test against England, which the visitors lost by an innings and 225 runs. Asked about the Indian bookies about whom Majeed talks about in the sting operation, Pawar said he was not aware of this. "I don't know. The BCCI have to take a view on that. The BCCI is one of our member and I am sure if any serious matter is there, the BCCI will take cognisance of this," he said. "I can't come to a conclusion based on a video," he reasoned.

China's monster traffic jam rears its head again

100 km Traffic jam and need to recover 10 days

China's monster traffic jam has reared its head again, with trucks and cars backed up for up to 18 miles (30 kilometers) on Saturday on a highway north of Beijing, although that is a third the size of what it was. The traffic jam came four days after the break-up of an even bigger one -- stretching to 60 miles (100 kilometers) at one point. State media said the latest jam on the Beijing-Tibet highway was caused by an accident and road maintenance.

The worst of the jam started in Zhangjiakou, a city about 90 miles (150 kilometers) northwest of Beijing, and stretched into Inner Mongolia in northern China, with traffic creeping along in fits and starts. A woman who answered the phone at the Beijing traffic management office said drivers should not take the highway. "The traffic flow is very slow," said the woman, who refused to give her name.

Traffic jams are part of daily life in China's major cities, with vehicles moving at a crawl in parts of Beijing for most of the day. In the last traffic jam on the Beijing-Tibet highway, which started August 14 and lasted about 10 days, state media said some drivers were stuck for five days with drivers on the worst-hit stretches passing the time sitting in the shade of their immobilized trucks, playing cards, sleeping on the asphalt or bargaining with price-gouging food vendors. A bottle of water was selling for 10 yuan ($1.50), 10 times the normal price, Chinese media reports said. The main reason traffic has increased on the partially four-lane highway is the opening of coal mines in the northwest, vital for the booming economy, which this month surpassed Japan's in size and is now second only to America's.

Officials eased the first jam by directing truckers to take a 180-mile-long (300-kilometer-long) detour, the China Daily said. It quoted one truck driver, Lu Yong, who was stuck in both jams, as saying he should have prepared some food this time. "Who knows when the traffic will move again?" said the 37-year-old, who was stranded for two nights in the last jam at almost the same location. A woman at the Inner Mongolian traffic management office said it may take several days to ease the latest jam. "Please do not drive on this expressway," said the official, who also would not give her name.

Iran sets 2020 target for nuclear fusion reactor

Target for Nuclear fusion

Iran says it has set a 2020 target date to build its first experimental nuclear fusion reactor, a feat that has yet to be achieved by any nation.   Iran said in July that its nuclear agency began research on the experimental reactor. Nuclear fusion, the process powering the sun and stars, has so far only been mastered as a weapon, producing the thermonuclear explosions of hydrogen bombs. It has never been harnessed for power generation.

Asghar Sediqzadeh, the head of the new fusion research centre, is quoted by the semi-official ISNA news agency as saying the centre will hire 100 experts to join the national project. Tehran is not known to have carried out anything but basic fusion research.

Earl Batters Caribbean, Threatens East Coast

Hurricane re-entry on caribbean Island
Hurricane Earl battered tiny islands across the northeastern Caribbean with heavy rain and roof-ripping winds Monday as it rapidly intensified into a major Category 4 storm taking a path projected to menace the United States. lready dangerous with sustained winds of 135 mph, Earl was expected to gain more strength before potentially brushing the U.S. East Coast this week and bringing deadly rip currents. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami warned coastal residents from North Carolina to Maine to watch the storm closely. "Any small shift in the track could dramatically alter whether it makes landfall or whether it remains over the open ocean," said Wallace Hogsett, a meteorologist at the center. "I can't urge enough to just stay tuned."

In the Caribbean, Earl caused flooding in low-lying areas and damaged homes on islands including Antigua and Barbuda, Anguilla and St. Maarten. Several countries and territories reported power outages. Cruise ships were diverted and flights canceled across the region. The storm's center passed just north of the British Virgin Islands on Monday afternoon. By nighttime, the hurricane was pulling away from the Caribbean, but heavy downpours still threatened to cause flash floods and mudslides in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by drenching already saturated ground. Earl was forecast to approach the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region around Thursday, before curving back out to sea, potentially swiping New England or far-eastern Canada.

The Hurricane Center said it was too early to say what effect Earl would have in the U.S., but warned it could at least kick up dangerous rip currents. A surfer died in Florida and a Maryland swimmer had been missing since Saturday in waves spawned by former Hurricane Danielle, which weakened to a tropical storm Monday far out in the north Atlantic. Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said Earl's approach ought to serve as a reminder for Atlantic coastal states to update their evacuation plans. "It wouldn't take much to have the storm come ashore somewhere on the coast," Fugate said. "The message is for everyone to pay attention." 

Close on Earl's heels, Tropical Storm Fiona formed Monday afternoon in the open Atlantic. The storm, with maximum winds of 40 mph, was projected to pass just north of the Leeward Islands by Wednesday and stay farther out in the Atlantic than Earl's northward path. Fiona wasn't expected to reach hurricane strength over the next several days. The rapid development of Earl, which only became a hurricane Sunday, took some islanders and tourists by surprise. Wind was already rattling the walls of Lila Elly Ali's wooden house on Anegada, the northernmost of the British Virgin Islands, when she and her son went out to nail the doors shut Monday. "They say the eye of the storm is supposed to come close to us, so we've just got to pray. Everyone here is keeping in touch, listening to the radio," the 58-year-old said by phone from the island of 280 people. After Earl's center passed, there were reports of roofs torn from homes on Anegada, but the extent of damage across the Virgin Islands was unclear Monday night. Emergency officials said they had no immediate reports of any fatalities or serious injuries.

"Thank God we survived," said a caller to the British Virgin Islands' ZBVI Radio. In Anguilla, several utility poles were down and a couple of roofs had blown away, but it was still too dangerous to go out and assess the full extent of damage, said Martin Gussie, a police officer. At El Conquistador Resort in Fajardo, Puerto Rico, people lined up at the reception desk, the lights occasionally flickering, to check out and head to the airport. There, more delays awaited. John and Linda Helton of Boulder, Colorado, opted to ride out the storm. The couple, celebrating their 41st wedding anniversary, finished a cruise Sunday and planned to spend three days in Puerto Rico. "There was a huge line of people checking out as we were coming in, and I thought it was just that summer vacation must be over," said John Helton, a real estate appraiser. "But we paid for the room, so we might as well stick it out." "I don't think we could get a flight even if we wanted to leave," Linda Helton added. There were no reports so far of major damage from Earl. In St. Maarten, sand and debris littered the streets, and winds knocked down trees and electricity poles and damaged roofs. But police spokesman Ricardo Henson said there was no extensive damage to property.

Alisha Daya, a 24-year-old tourist from Milwaukee, wore earplugs but still had trouble sleeping overnight because of the wind and crashing waves at the Oyster Bay Beach Resort. "It was loud because we were right on the ocean," Daya said, adding that the storm delayed their planned departure Monday but the worst seemed to be over. In Antigua, at least one home was destroyed but there were no reports of serious injuries. Governor General Dame Louise Agnetha Lake-Tack declared Monday a public holiday to keep islanders off the road and give them a chance to clean up. Jeremy Collymoore, head of the Barbados-based Caribbean Disaster Emergency Response Agency, said islands such as Antigua and Anguilla appeared to have been spared worse damage because they were raked by the system's northwestern quadrant -- the most forgiving part.

Some 4 to 8 inches of rain were forecast to fall on islands including Puerto Rico. The U.S. Virgin Islands imposed a curfew for Monday night. The Hovensa LLC oil refinery in St. Croix said operations were normal except for the harbor, which was closed along with all ports in the U.S. Virgin Islands by order of the Coast Guard. By late Monday, Earl was about 105 miles north of Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, and steaming west-northwest near 14 mph, according to the center in Miami. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 70 miles from its center.

Gunman goes on killing Spree in Bratislava, then commits suicide

A Gunman killed Six people

A gunman killed six people and wounded at least nine in an attack in a neighborhood of Bratislava on Monday, then committed suicide, police said. The attacker, armed with a machine gun and two pistols, could not immediately be identified and his motive was not known, said police chief Jaroslav Spisiak. The shooting took place at midmorning in the rundown Devinska Nova Ves neighborhood on the outskirts of the Slovak capital that is surrounded by fields and industrial areas. Five of the fatalities - four women and a man - were gunned down inside an apartment in a brown high-rise building, and another man was shot and killed outside it, Spisiak told a news conference.

Police rushed to the scene as the attacker, about 50 years old, was leaving the building, and he fired indiscriminately at people in the area, wounding at least nine of them, including a policeman, said Spisiak. Previous news reports had said 14 people were wounded. Emergency crews blocked off the scene, which includes a kindergarten and a supermarket. Hours after the attack, stunned residents milled about in disbelief.

Smallest frog in Asia discovered in Borneo

Researchers on an expedition in Borneo have found a new and very tiny species of frog.Male adults of the new species, named Microhyla nepenthicola, grow to approximately one centimetre in length.The researchers first discovered the diminutive red and orange amphibian on an expedition to Kubah National Park in 2004. They have now described the discovery in the journal Zootaxa. The team found the frog when it emerged from a small pitcher plant, Nepenthes ampullaria, in which it lives.

The plant lives off decomposing organic matter that collects in its deep pitcher-shaped cavity. The little frog uses this as a habitat. It lays its eggs there and when the tadpoles hatch, they live in the gathered organic goo until they mature. Apart from its size, the amphibian has some unique features that set it apart from other species. The scientists believe that its miniaturisation and "reduced webbing" may be the result of it having to navigate the slippery zone of the pitcher plants on which it depends. Scientists Indraneil Das from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak, and Alexander Haas from the University of Hamburg in Germany, discovered and described the species, which they named after the plant.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Sharath Kamal leads India's Table Tennis brigade in CWG

Sharath Kamal leading the challenge, India can expect a few medals in table tennis. The lanky Chennai player clinched the men's singles title in Melbourne four years ago, and he has what it takes to defend his title. The Olympian paddler became the first Indian to win an ITTF Pro Tour singles title when he clinched the Egypt Open in Cairo last month. Earlier in July, he had also won the US Open title in Michigan. After garnering some valuable points with these creditable performances, Sharath became the first Indian to break into the World top-50.

Yet it is not going to be a cakewalk for India as Singapore paddlers can throw a challenge at the hosts in both individual and team events. Expectations are high from India because they are the hosts and also the defending champions in the team event. Hence, Sharath and Co need to be on the top of their game and feed off the cheer of the home crowd. China will not be here but Chinese-origin players representing other countries can be difficult nuts to crack. For example, Singapore have a few players who are Chinese and may stretch the Indians in both team and individual events. Other teams like Nigeria and England can also spring a surprise.

But then, it's not a difficult task to outplay them. Sharath, for that matter, have the experience of playing against Chinese opponents in international tournaments. In fact, he had beaten a Chinese player in the final of the Cairo Open. Other Indians who play on pro-tour also are now aware of Chinese tactics. So, it may not be very difficult for Indian players to showcase their strength and confidence. Currently, the Indian team is going through the paces at a training camp in Zhengding, China, where their strengths and weaknesses are being identified.

The players' improvement is visible under the tutelage of Italian coach Massimo Constantine, particularly if Sharath's performances are taken into account. The hosts have earned more success with European coaches because the style is similar to the Europeans. With the government providing support and TTFI also leaving no stone unturned, the future of Indian table tennis looks bright.

CWG medals won by India

table tennis is an optional sport for men and women that was first held in Manchester 2002. Athletes representing 35 countries competed at Melbourne 2006. Table tennis will feature in both Delhi 2010 and Glasgow 2014.

Gold: 2006 Melbourne: Men's singles, men's team event

Bronze: 2002 Manchester: Men's singles, men's doubles, men's team event; 2006 Melbourne: Women's team event

Core Probables

Men: Achanta Sharath Kamal, Soumyadeep Roy, Subhajit Saha, Anthony Arputhraj Amal Raj, Sourav Chakraborty, Jubin Kumar, Soumyajit Ghosh, Sanil Shankar Shetty, Devesh Karia

Women: Madhurika Suhas Patkar, Divya Chandrashekhar Deshpande, Shamini Kumaresan, Poulomi Ghatak, Mouma Das, Neha Aggarwal, Soumi Mondal, Pooja Vijay Sahasrabudhe

Coaches: Massimo Costantini ( foreign coach), Bhawani Mukherji ( chief coach), Nandini Kulkarni, Manoj Chowhan, Vijaya Sarathi, Rita Jain, T Opendro Singh

No. of exposure trips: 10

World stars: Gao Ning (Singapore), Feng Tianwei (Singapore), Paul Drinkhall (England)

First pictures of David Cameron's new daughter released

The first pictures of David and Samantha Cameron's baby daughter Florence have been released. Florence was born in the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro on Tuesday after Mrs Cameron gave birth earlier than expected. The prime minister and his family are in Cornwall on a two-week summer holiday. Mrs Cameron and Florence left hospital on Friday and Mr Cameron has said he will take paternity leave. Florence's full name is Florence Rose Endellion Cameron. The Camerons' fourth child, she was born weighing 6lbs 1oz following a caesarean delivery.

Her parents revealed on Wednesday that they had chosen Endellion - after the Cornish village of St Endellion - as one of their daughter's middle names, to reflect the county of her birth. The Camerons' first child, Ivan, who was born profoundly disabled and needed round the clock care, died in February 2009.  They have two other children, Nancy and Arthur, who are six and four years old respectively. It is the second time since 2000 that the wife of a sitting prime minister has given birth.

When Cherie Blair gave birth in May 2000 it was the first time a serving prime minister's wife had given birth for more than 150 years. Mr Cameron will become the first British prime minister to take statutory paternity leave since it was introduced in 2003. He had been due to return to work next week, but it is not yet known how much paternity leave he will take. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who is covering for Mr Cameron, said on Friday that he would "just carry on holding the fort" until the prime minister returned to Downing Street.

Nikkei jumps as BoJ meets

Asian stock markets are notching their best gains in four weeks and the yen is slumping as an unscheduled meeting of the Bank of Japan's board increases expectations of additional easing measures to tackle the yen's recent strength.Japan's Nikkei is 2.1 per cent higher as the BoJ meets to discuss monetary policy and Naoto Kan, prime minister, vows to take bold action. The yen is sinking against major currencies, lifting Honda Motor 2.8 per cent and Toyota Motor, the world's largest automaker, by 1.7 per cent higher. Canon is up 2.7 per cent. Japanese government bonds are tumbling and the Japanese currency has fallen to one-week lows versus the US dollar and the euro. It is at Y85.87 per dollar versus Y85.22 late in New York on Friday, and at Y109.50 per euro from Y108.72.

The early return of Masaaki Shirakawa, the BoJ governor, from a meeting of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, has fuelled talk that the BoJ will ease monetary policy further at its hastily-convened meeting. The BoJ has faced mounting pressure in recent weeks after it kept its key interest rate at 0.1 per cent and refrained from expanding credit measures at a meeting in early August. Mr Kan said on Friday that he expects an "expeditious" response from the central bank after the yen advanced last week to 15-year high of Y83.57 against the dollar. Japanese stocks have fallen nearly 6 per cent since the BoJ's last meeting amid concerns about faltering global growth and fears the yen's surge will derail Japan's export-led recovery. Japan's economic growth was unexpectedly slow in the last quarter.

Investors in the region are also encouraged by big gains on Wall Street on Friday after Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, said the Fed was ready to act "especially if the outlook were to deteriorate significantly". They are awaiting a slew of key economic data due later this week to better gauge the global economic outlook. The MSCI Asia Pacific Index is up 1 per cent. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 is up 1.7 per cent, South Korea's Kospi has gained 1.3 per cent and New Zealand's NZX-50 is 1.0 per cent higher. Singapore's Straits Times Index is up 0.8 per cent but property stocks are sliding on fresh government steps to cool the real estate market.

The Australian market is at a six-day high, led by financials and resources. Macquarie is up 3.2 per cent, BHP Billiton is 0.9 per cent higher and Rio Tinto has added 2.5 per cent. Builders are leading gains in South Korea after the government on Sunday announced measures to boost the sluggish property market, including a softening of mortgage lending regulations and tax breaks for first-time home buyers. Daelim Industrial has jumped 5 per cent.

Volcano Quiet for 400 Years Erupts in Indonesia

A Volcano
in western Indonesia spewed hot lava and sand high into the sky early Sunday in its first eruption in 400 years. Government volcanologist Surono, who uses only one name, said Mount Sinabung in North Sumatra province started rumbling a few days ago and the minor morning eruption has mostly stopped. It sent sand and ash up to a mile (1.5 kilometers) high but lava only moved near its crater. It caused no major damage and "only dust covered plants and trees," he said.

He said Mount Sinabung last erupted in 1600, so observers don't know the volcano's eruption pattern and are monitoring it closely for more activity. Evacuations on the volcano's slopes started Friday at the first signs of activity. Up to 10,000 people who fled are staying in government buildings, houses of worship and other evacuation centers in two nearby towns. The government has distributed 7,000 masks to refugees and set up public kitchens so people can cook food, said Priyadi Kardono, spokesman for the National Disaster Management Agency. Indonesia, the world's largest archipelago, is on the so-called "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanos and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin.

5-year anniversary of Katrina's wrath somber, reflective

Five years ago Sunday, the water rushed in, the lights went out and for thousands of Gulf Coast residents nothing was ever the same.The milestone was marked by vigils, tears and reflection on what was, what came after, what still remains to be done and what, if anything, we have learned from Hurricane Katrina.  number of events were planned in New Orleans, Louisiana, and elsewhere to commemorate the anniversary of the landfall of Katrina, the costliest and one of the five deadliest storms ever to strike the United States. President Barack Obama visited New Orleans on Sunday and spoke at Xavier University of Louisiana, where he said that the construction of a fortified levee system to protect the city is under way.

"We should not be playing Russian roulette every hurricane season," he said. Obama also vowed that reforms are being put into place "so that never again in America is somebody left behind in a disaster because they're living with a disability or because they're elderly or because they're infirm. That will not happen again." The hard-hit parishes of Plaquemines and St. Bernard were holding commemorative community events, and a third commemoration was planned in New Orleans' Jackson Square. Katrina left more than 1,800 dead in its wake. It slammed into the Gulf Coast near the Louisiana-Mississippi state line early on August 29, 2005. Most of the dead were in and around New Orleans, where more than three-quarters of the city flooded after its protective levees failed. Nearly 300,000 people were displaced.

After the storm, "We were a city that had no people in it," Ray Nagin, who was mayor of New Orleans when Katrina struck. "Now, we're a city that has over 80 percent of its population back. Lowest unemployment in the country. Construction everywhere. I think we're on our way to success," Nagin told CNN's Don Lemon as the storm's anniversary approached.  Still, it is widely agreed that more work remains to bring New Orleans and the Gulf Coast back from Katrina's devastating blow. Some say that little has improved, and entire neighborhoods in Louisiana and beyond have not rebounded. "Nothing's really changed," said Conrad Wyre III, 35, of New Orleans. Some regions are still "in shambles," he said, and some residents still feel helpless and without support, as if they are "floating in the wind." About 6,000 families own homes that cannot be rebuilt. One-third of New Orleanians say their lives are still disrupted by the storm, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation Poll. In New Orleans' Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood -- seen as ground zero for Katrina's wrath -- only 4,000 of 18,000 residents have returned.

"I don't have to tell you that there are still too many vacant and overgrown lots," Obama said Sunday. "There are still too many students attending classes in trailers. There are still too many people unable to find work. And there's still too many New Orleans folks who haven't been able to come home." "So while an incredible amount of progress has been made, on this fifth anniversary, I wanted to come here and tell the people of this city directly: My administration is going to stand with you -- and fight alongside you -- until the job is done, until New Orleans is all the way back." "This is the place ... where I think the American people witnessed a real loss of faith in their federal government," Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "I have really been moved by the spirit of the people in New Orleans in the Gulf, and their rebuilding, and the optimism in progress that I have seen. More than 90 percent of the population is back in the New Orleans area, and there is still much ahead of us." When Obama took office, 40,000 families remained in Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers or were using emergency housing vouchers, "and literally tens of thousands of them were at risk of losing their homes within weeks of us coming in," Donovan said. "Today, 98 percent of the families are in permanent housing."

Katrina made its initial landfall in Florida, where 14 people were killed. But fueled by the warm waters of the Gulf, the storm had grown into a monster Category 5 hurricane, although experts later said its intensity had decreased and it was a strong Category 3 storm when it the coasts of Mississippi and Louisiana. The storm cut a wide swath of destruction, wiping out whole sections of Mississippi's Gulf Coast and swamping downtown Mobile, Alabama, with a 20-foot storm surge. Despite the attention focused on New Orleans, it was Waveland, Mississippi that was the hardest hit. Ninety-five percent of the town's homes were destroyed, along with 100 percent of its businesses. Nearly every road was broken up or left under piles of debris. 

Waveland began rebuilding almost immediately. Bolstered by $100 million in federal aid, it has repaired utilities, roads, schools, community centers and parks, and has recovered 65 percent of its businesses. About two-thirds of residents have returned. Ironically, the city of New Orleans initially breathed a sigh of relief in those early hours, as it was spared a direct hit from the hurricane and at first seemed to have weathered the wind and rain. But Katrina's worst havoc was yet to come, as reports of levee breaches began to surface and entire neighborhoods flooded. Katrina also dealt a black eye to the government, which scrambled to launch a delayed relief effort after the storm as New Orleans residents suffered and reports of crime and looting were widespread. Nagin in a famous expletive-laced interview lashed out, telling federal authorities to "get off your asses." Then-President George W. Bush traveled to New Orleans, delivering a speech from Jackson Square as he promised, "We will do what it takes. We will stay as long as it takes to help citizens rebuild their communities and their lives." But that "turned out to be a hollow promise," Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-Louisiana, told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday. "... Because the federal government didn't stay and do everything it could. The federal government didn't make it easy. They made it very, very difficult."

Mayors of New Orleans and other areas, when they requested money to rebuild, were offered loans of $5 million, she said. New Orleans' operating budget, she said, is $460 million, and $5 million "wouldn't buy them a loaf of bread for the week." Nagin told CNN recently that he has been reflecting on his own response as the storm approached. He acknowledged the mandatory evacuations could have been issued about eight hours sooner than they were. Asked how FEMA can combat its still-suffering reputation in the region, agency chief Craig Fugate told CNN Saturday he believes responding quickly is the key.

"Speed is going to be critical," said Fugate, who distinguished himself as the head of the Florida Emergency Management Agency before being appointed to the federal post. "We cannot wait for a full assessment. We have to respond as if it's bad, bring the things together, and focus on the most immediate [goal] of keeping it safe, getting to the injured, trapped, and recovering the lost lives, getting supplies in here."  "The big lesson from Katrina is, you can't wait to find out how bad it is," he said. "You've got to respond, as a team, as [if] it is bad."Obama said Sunday a group led by Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is examining disaster recovery nationwide. "We're improving coordination on the ground, modernizing emergency communications and helping families plan for a crisis," Obama said. 

"...Together we are helping to make New Orleans a place that stands for what we can do in America -- not just for what we can't do," he said. "And ultimately, that must be the legacy of Katrina: not one of neglect, but of action; not one of indifference, but of empathy; not of abandonment, but of a community working together to meet shared challenges." The head of FEMA at the time, Michael Brown, resigned two weeks after Katrina made landfall amid criticism of the federal response -- and 10 days after Bush's famous compliment to him, "Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job." Brown told CNN on Thursday the talking points he and other federal officials used at the time did not tell the whole story, calling it a "fatal mistake." "They were factually correct, but weren't in context," Brown said. "We're moving all of this stuff in. We have teams here. Rescue teams are doing this. But we never explained to the people that it's not coming as fast as we want it to, and it's not enough, because of the number of people that were left behind in the aftermath of the storm."

"Had I said that at the time, I probably would have gotten the old hook and been pulled off the stage anyway, but the truth would have been out," he said. He criticized former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff's handling of the situation. Chertoff attended an avian flu convention in the midst of the disaster. "Here is why that's so important. In the middle of any crisis," Brown said, "whether it's a natural disaster or man-made disaster, you need to have one person in charge. And that person needs to be on the ground with the team, understanding what's going on." On Bush's infamous compliment, he said, "I knew the minute he said that, the media and everybody else would see a disconnect between what he was saying and what I was witnessing on the ground. That's the president's style. His attitude and demeanor is always one of being a cheerleader and trying to encourage people to keep moving. It was just the wrong time and the wrong place."

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Earl Strengthens Into Category 2 Storm in the Caribbean

Islanders set up emergency shelters and airlines canceled flights as newly born Hurricane Earl churned toward the northern Caribbean on Sunday. Cruise lines diverted ships to avoid the Storm's path. The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Earl strengthened into a Category 2 storm with maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, and was expected to continue picking up steam as it moved near the northern Leeward islands. Steady bands of rain began lashing islands including Antigua, where the Grand Pineapple Beach Resort on the north side battened down early for the night and tourists sought shelter inside their rooms. 

Winds were heavy but had not caused any major damage, and the surf was higher than normal but not punishing, general manager Courtney Miller told The Associated Press by phone. Center forecasters said Earl could strengthen into a major hurricane as soon as Monday -- probably while east of Puerto Rico. Major hurricanes are those Category 3 and higher.  People on several islands stuffed shopping carts with bottled water, canned food, milk, candles and batteries, while some tourists scrambled to board flights home. Others enjoyed the beach while they could.

"I'm just trying get a good suntan in while the weather is still cooperating," said Linda Curren of New York City, sunbathing on San Juan's Ocean Park beach as a few surfers paddled into pounding waves. In Antigua, the V.C. Bird International Airport closed, while regional airlines LIAT and Winair suspended flights. Cruise ships diverted to other ports in the Caribbean and Mexico. In St. Kitts and Nevis, authorities urged islanders to take all necessary precautions for the approaching hurricane, which is dwarfing the tiny island nations and territories of the northern Caribbean. "We really don't want any loss of life, whether by persons who are careless or by security or emergency persons trying to rescue people," said Carl Herbert, head of the local emergency management agency.

Hardware stores were doing a brisk business in plywood and boards as jittery residents and employees of gleaming tourist hotels prepared to safeguard windows and doors. "We haven't been hit for quite a few years, but you may never know -- this might be the time," said Ashley Benta, from the Antiguan town of Gray's Farm. Fishermen and yacht owners tied down vessels in harbors scattered across the northern Caribbean. "We're watching and waiting at this point," said June Otway, a manager of Puerto Del Rey, a 1,100-slip marina in northeastern Puerto Rico.Earl could bring battering waves and a storm surge of up to three feet (one meter) above normal tide levels in some areas, according to forecasters. Heavy rains could cause flash floods and mudslides. Forecasters said Earl had several bands of thunderstorms wrapped around its center.

Late Sunday, Earl was about 50 miles east-northeast of Barbuda and headed west-northwest at 15 mph. Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 45 miles from its center. Warm ocean temperatures of 86 F are helping to fuel the storm. Forecasters said there is a chance the hurricane could brush the U.S. Mid-Atlantic region toward the end of the week, with its closest approach to North Carolina on Thursday. In any case, the U.S. East Coast is likely to see pounding surf. As Earl approaches the U.S. Caribbean territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it stands ready to help.

"We continue to monitor the storm and stay in close contact with commonwealth and territorial emergency management officials in the region to ensure they have the resources to respond if needed," FEMA administrator Craig Fugate said. Meanwhile, the Category 1 Hurricane Danielle was bringing dangerous rip currents to the U.S. East Coast. It was gradually weakening as it headed over the open Atlantic northeast of the British territory of Bermuda.

U.N.: Niger flooding displaces nearly 200,000

Heavy rains in Niger have displaced nearly 200,000 in recent weeks, the United Nations says, calling on donors and aid agencies to send shelter material, blankets and other supplies.The flooding has displaced at least 198,740 people, according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). "Response in rural areas has been slow thus far," the head of OCHA in Niger, Modibo Traore, told the agency's news arm.

Families left homeless in the remote Diffa region in southeast Niger and Agadez in the north have not received assistance yet. About 80,000 animals have died in Agadez flooding. "We must find a way to quickly burn or bury their bodies to ensure water sources are not contaminated," Traore said. The flooding has only compounded the food security crisis in the west African nations, where nearly 15.2 million suffered from hunger after failing harvests, the OCHA said, citing the government. According to the international aid group Oxfam, Niger is the country worst-hit by the West Africa food crisis. Before the floods, half the population lived under threat of famine, the group says.

According to the international aid group Oxfam, the World Food Program in Niger has abandoned plans to provide emergency food to families with children over the age of 2 because of a funding shortfall. "We have known about this crisis for months, and yet more than a million people in Niger will continue to starve over the coming weeks and perhaps months," said Raphael Sindaye, Oxfam's deputy regional director in West Africa. Yacouba Daouda, an agricultural official in Niger's southwest Karma region, said that rains from late July and early August destroyed about 3,500 acres of crops, including rice, sorghum and cassava, according to a report last week from Niger's state-owned news agency. "These crops are flooded," Daouda said, according to the agency, le Sahel. "Sand swallowed them; only fruit trees survive."

Daouda said that 50 villages in rural Karma lack food. The head of the health care center in Karma, Zakou Ide, said the floods have provoked a spike in the number of waterborne diseases like diarrhea and dysentery, le Sahel reported. Before the flooding of the river, we had 20 visits per day," Ide told le Sahel, "and since the flooding started we register 50 visits on average." About 80 percent of those patients are children, he said, and most have diarrhea. Officials in the region say there could be more bad news ahead. "The rainy season is still continuing," said the U.N.'s Traore, "so victim numbers may rise even further."

US: 13-year-old motorcycle rider killed on race track

The death of a 13-year-old motorcycle rider at Indianapolis Motor Speedway cast a shadow over Sunday's races at the historic track and prompted mourning competitors to defend the development system for the dangerous circuit. Peter Lenz of Vancouver, Washington, fell off his bike during the warmup lap for the day's first race at Indianapolis and was run over by another motorcycle, driven by a 12-year-old. Medical workers immediately placed Lenz in a neck brace, put him on a stretcher and began chest compressions while taking him to a hospital. Several hours later, he was pronounced dead. The Marion County coroner's office said Lenz died from blunt force trauma. More details could be released Monday following an autopsy on the youngest driver or rider ever killed at the 101-year-old speedway. "Peter passed away early this morning when he was apparently struck by another rider," read a posting on Lenz's Facebook page, which was signed "Dad."

"He passed doing what he loved and had his go fast face on as he pulled onto the track," the posting said. "The world lost one of its brightest lights today. God Bless Peter and the other rider involved. 45 is on another road we can only hope to reach. Miss you kiddo." Lenz rode the No. 45 bike, and his father was at the track Sunday. It was the first death at the track since IndyCar driver Tony Renna was killed in testing in October 2003. Lenz had emerged as one of America's youngest rising stars. At age 11, he earned the "expert" license from the American Federation of Motorcyclists, and in March 2009, Lenz became the youngest rider ever to win an AFM race. This year, competing in the U.S. Grand Prix Racers Union series, Lenz had four wins, five podium finishes and was leading the MD250H classification in points.

The grown-up resume just didn't match his appearance. Listed at 4-foot-11 and 81 pounds, Lenz's face was clean-shaven and smooth, and he described his profession as "kid." "Our hearts go out to the parents, family and friends of Peter Lenz," speedway CEO Jeff Belskus said in a statement. "Words cannot adequately express the sadness of our company and our employees about this tragic incident, and Peter is in our thoughts and prayers." It wasn't the first time Lenz was involved in a serious crash. A mechanical failure last season left Lenz with four broken bones and a severed radial nerve -- all of which required surgery. By November, Lenz was healthy again and by spring, he was back in Victory Lane.

The fatal accident almost certainly will spark a debate about how young is too young for racers to be competing on one of the world's best-known tracks, whether it's inside a car or riding a motorcycle capable of exceeding 120 mph in a straightaway. The USGPRU sanctions races across the nation, billing itself as a development circuit for motorcycle racers from ages 12 to 18. The hope is these riders eventually will compete in a world-class series. Lenz seemed to be on his way to the top before the accident. He was struck by 12-year-old Xavier Zayat, of Flushing, N.Y., who escaped injury. We are deeply saddened by this tragic loss, but know that Peter is racing even faster in the sky," the Lenz family said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are now with the other racer and his family, who were also involved in this tragedy." Racers insist age has never been the issue. American Colin Edwards was running 250cc bikes at age 17, and Indy MotoGP runner-up Ben Spies was competing on the 125cc circuit at age 12.

"That's not like a bike too big for him, you know, I mean this is our sport, we chose to do it," said American Nicky Hayden, the 2006 world champ who called the death "terrible." "I mean, sure, we know going in the consequences." But are new rules needed? Those in racing circles say no, comparing the sport to other potentially dangerous sports such as football and gymnastics. When asked about running at Indy, speedway officials pointed out that the series has stops at potentially more dangerous tracks. USGPRU officials said this was the first fatality in the series in nine years. Still, racing conditions were not ideal this weekend at Indy. Hot, dry weather turned the bumpy, 2.621-mile course into a slick track that tested the world's best riders.

Reigning world champ Valentino Rossi fell four times, including a spill Sunday morning during a 20-minute warmup session. Sunday's Moto2 race was shortened after a big wreck on the first lap took out four drivers. "This was the most difficult race for everyone," MotoGP winner Dani Pedrosa said. "The conditions were very hard because of the heat and the asphalt was very greasy." After a brief delay to clear the track, the USGPRU race was restarted. Had they known the severity of the injuries, one official said they would have considered canceling the race. The three other races all started on time, though Lenz was never far from the racers' thoughts. "This is an ugly, terrible part of this sport," USGPRU chief steward Stewart Aitken-Cade said. "You do what you can to stop it from happening as best you can. That's really all that you can do." "Any time a racer is injured in this way and loses his life, it's tough, adult or child," Aitken-Cade added. "It just makes it especially difficult when it's a young guy like Peter."

Chile miners speak to loved ones for first time

The supply line which is proving vital to the Chilean miners Miners who have been trapped underground in Chile for more than three weeks have had their first telephone contact with loved ones. Families queued to use a special telephone cabin and were given one minute each to talk to the trapped men.  Psychologists have urged family members making the calls to sound optimistic. The breakthrough came as Chile's mining minister insisted that the rescue shaft drilling - due to begin on Monday - was likely to take three to four months. On Sunday reports from engineers working on a "plan B" option has suggested this could be cut by as much as half if an existing route down was adapted.

The telephone calls lent a new immediacy to communications with the miners. Until now only handwritten notes have been passed through the bore holes. Officials are looking at several plans to rescue the 33 men, who have been stuck below ground since 5 August.  Workers are due on Monday to start drilling an escape shaft going about 700m (2,300ft) underground, which is likely to take 90 to 120 days to complete. Health Minister Jaime Manalich said the men's spirits had been "strengthened" by the phone calls from their families.

He said that psychologists had asked family members making the calls "to be optimistic and to try not to break down with emotion". One of the miners' wives, Carola Narvaez, said her husband, Raul, was in good spirits after her telephone conversation. "I told him we were thinking of him and he should keep his chin up," Mrs Narvaez de Bustos told the BBC by phone. "He was talking non-stop and I found it difficult to get a word in," she joked. The atmosphere among the wives and children at the mine head was "upbeat", Mrs Narvaez de Bustos added.

Bangalore man allegedly set pregnant wife on fire after fight

A nine-month pregnant woman in Bangalore was allegedly set on fire by her husband on Sunday night. Twenty-four-year-old Meharunnisa, who sustained 35 per cent burn injuries, was due to deliver her first child in a couple of days. In her declaration to the police, she held her husband responsible for her condition. In her complaint, the victim said she married Aghori Raman Kishor three years ago. He converted to Islam after the marriage and changed his name to Syed Abdur Rehman. She alleged that her husband wanted to convert back to Hinduism and since she disagreed, he set her on fire.

After she got pregnant, the accused moved in with his parents who asked him to divorce Meharunnisa and return to Hinduism. "His parents brainwashed him, their ego spoiled our life. He was fine until I got pregnant," said Meharunnisa.  She alleged that another reason for their differences was her job. He would often ask her to quit but she, being the eldest in her maternal home, had to earn to support the family.  After repeated attempts to sort out their differences, Rehman allegedly decided to kill her on Sunday. The victim said he applied an ointment to relieve her cold and tried to push her onto the cooking stove as the ointment was highly flammable.

When she caught fire, Rehman ran out of the house but alert neighbours rushed in after they heard Meharunnisa screaming. She was admitted to Victoria Hospital. Ayaz Khan, Meharunnisa's neighbour, said "We heard her screams and rushed into the house to see what was going on. They have been unhappy for months and wanted to be separated." A still-recovering Meharunnisa said, "If he had tortured me physically, I would still have proof. He tortured me mentally and never gave me even a rupee to spend. He is a cheat and I want the world to know his true colours." Meharunnisa added that the Bangalore police officials refused to register a case against her husband. Officials at the police station remained unavailable for comment.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Japan central bank acts on stronger yen

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) has announced measures to boost lending aimed at combating the rising value of the yen. Following an emergency meeting, the central bank said it would increasing lending to commercial banks by 10 trillion yen ($117bn; £75bn). The measure is designed to stem the value of the currency, and boost lending to businesses.Analysts fear the rising yen is undermining the country's fragile economic recovery.

A strong yen makes these goods less competitive overseas. It also reduces the value of profits made abroad when they are repatriated to Japan.  In a statement, the BOJ said its low interest bank loan programme now totalled 30 trillion yen. "The bank believes that the monetary-easing measure, together with government efforts, will be effective in further ensuring Japan's economic recovery," it said. It is hoped that increasing the amount of loans available will reduce market interest rates, curbing rises in the yen. 

Last week the currency hit a 15-month high against the dollar - potentially a significant problem for the Japanese economy which relies heavily on exports for growth. A recent government survey suggested that many companies in Japan were considering moving production overseas if the yen remained strong. The BBC's Tokyo correspondent Roland Buerk said that the bank's Governor, Masaaki Shirakawa returned from the United States a day earlier than planned to handle the currency crisis. Our correspondent added that doubts persisted about whether the latest measures would have much effect, given that Japan was mired in deflation. Falling prices make the cost of borrowing higher in real terms.

City 13-yr-old raped, killed on school trip

A sinister shroud covered the death of a 13-year-old student during a school trip in the Tungareshwar jungles in Vasai on Friday with post-mortem reports establishing rape. Police had initially registered a case of accidental death after her naked body was found floating in a river.  Vishwas Nangre Patil, superintendent of police, Thane (rural), confirmed the development. "We have sought an explanation from the doctors on the kind of sexual harassment the victim faced as borne out by the post-mortem. Based on that we will include the rape charge," said Patil.

Aishwarya Pawar, a Class VIII student of Holy Cross High School in Nirmal, Nalasopara (west), was part of a group of around 150 boys and girls who had gone to the Tungareshwar hills on Friday as part of a scouts and guides camp organised by the school. They were accompanied by four teachers.  At around 1.30 pm, when the teachers were taking a head count of the students, they found Aishwarya missing. After a search, they found her body 3 km inside the jungle floating in the river. 

The police registered a case of accidental death on their report. But the post-mortem at the Vasai public health centre by a panel of three doctors established rape. According to sources, the victim had injury marks on her private parts and thighs.  Following this, police registered a case of murder and destruction of evidence, but did not add the rape charge, prompting Aishwarya's family to protest. The victim's uncle, Surendra Pawar, a sub-inspector attached to the Meghwadi police station, along with her parents, has approached police bosses and also sought a copy of the post-mortem report under the Right to Information Act. The police have begun investigations and are trying to ascertain how Aishwarya strayed into the jungles. They suspect she may have been raped and murdered by picnickers. They are also questioning the teachers who gave the drowning theory. The police have stepped up vigil in and around the Tungareshwar hills, which is a popular destination for camping and trekking during the monsoons. 

More deaths feared in Pakistan as flood waters recede

The death toll from Pakistan's massive flooding has climbed to 1,639, but the number could rise substantially as flood waters recede and more bodies surface, government officials say. More than 17 million Pakistanis -- about the population of the Netherlands -- have been affected by the monsoon floods that began a month ago. In the past few days, at least 1 million people have been displaced in Pakistan's Sindh province, the United Nations said. Authorities issued evacuation orders after a levee burst. 

Want to help Pakistan? Impact Your World suggests how, Homeless families stomped through filthy waters as clean water remains a scarce commodity. Hundreds of thousands of victims have acquired transmittable ailments such as acute watery diarrhea, scabies and respiratory infections. The United Nations says more than $1 billion has been given or pledged. On Saturday, the United States announced the deployment of 18 additional helicopters to assist with relief efforts, according to the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.  

About 15 other U.S. helicopters and three other aircraft have transported 2 million pounds of supplies, the embassy said. But the need for help is greatly outpacing the supply. "The magnitude of this crisis is reaching levels that are even beyond our initial fears, which were already leaning toward what we thought would be the worst," Maurizio Giuliano, a spokesman for the U.N.'s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said Friday. "The number of those affected and those in need of assistance from us are bound to keep rising. The floods seem determined to outrun our response." 

The U.N. also said Friday that it is increasingly concerned about flood-driven malnutrition among children. "The flooding has surrounded millions of children with contaminated water," said Karen Allen, deputy representative of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Pakistan. "Most have nothing else to drink. We fear the deadly synergy of waterborne diseases, including diarrhea, dehydration and malnutrition." Acute malnutrition was high in much of Pakistan even before the floods. For instance, 27 percent of children under 5 in Baluchistan province were malnourished, as were 17 percent of children in Punjab, according to the U.N.

A hospital in Sindh is overrun with people suffering from waterborne illness; two children share each bed and more are on the floor. A doctor at the hospital said there are "not enough resources because of huge population ... coming to this hospital." Remat Chacher, a farmer in Sindh, escaped the flood waters with his wife and two children earlier this month. But then his 3-month-old daughter Benazir got sick. "She started to get fever and couldn't keep anything down ... lots of belly pain," said Ulla, the infant's mom. A few days later, the same symptoms struck the Chachers' son, 2-year-old Wazira. Both children died on the way to the hospital, with Wazira weighing just 8 pounds and Benazir weighing 2 pounds. At least 200 health facilities across the country have been damaged or destroyed, according to the World Health Organization. Flood waters have started to recede across Pakistan, but in the Indus River delta, the potential for more flooding remained high. It is unclear when displaced Pakistanis will be able to return to their homes. But many will have no house to return to. About 1.2 million homes have been destroyed from the flooding.

Man held over Pakistan cricket 'betting scam' bailed

The man at the centre of cricket betting scam allegations concerning the Pakistan team has been released without charge on police bail. Cricket agent Mazhar Majeed, 35, was arrested on Saturday on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud bookmakers. The News of the World claimed it paid him for advance details of when three no balls would be played in the latest Lord's Test, which England won. Police also questioned several Pakistan players over the alleged scam.

Mohammad Amir, Mohammad Asif and Pakistan's captain Salman Butt had their mobile phones taken away by detectives. The three players and their team-mate, wicket keeper Kamran Akmal, were all interviewed by police. Their team manager, Yawar Saeed, said cricket was not "institutionally corrupt" in Pakistan and the claims were unproven. The allegations relate to three no-balls delivered by Mr Amir and Mr Asif on Thursday and Friday. A no-ball occurs when a bowler oversteps the line behind which balls should be delivered.

Scotland Yard said Mr Majeed, 35, was bailed to appear before police at a future date. Despite the allegations, the fourth and final Test went ahead at Lord's, with England winning the series 3-1.

Obama says he isn't worried about Muslim rumors

US President Barack Obama said on Sunday that he isn't worried about a recent poll showing that nearly one-fifth of Americans believe he is a Muslim.  "The facts are the facts," said Obama, who is a Christian. In an interview broadcast on NBC Nightly News, the president blamed the confusion over his religious beliefs on "a network of misinformation that in a new media era can get churned out there constantly."

A poll released earlier this month by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center showed that 18 percent of people believe Obama is Muslim. That was up from 11 percent who said so in March 2009. Just 34 percent said Obama is Christian, down from 48 percent who said so last year. "I'm not gonna be worrying too much about whatever rumors are floating on out there," Obama said on Sunday. "If I spend all my time chasing after that, then I wouldn't get much done."

Asked about persistent accusations that he wasn't born in the United States, the president responded, "I can't spend all my time with my birth certificate plastered on my forehead." NBC anchorman Brian Williams also asked Obama about conservative commentator Glenn Beck's rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday. While he didn't watch the event, Obama said, "I think that Mr. Beck and the rest of those folks were exercising their rights under our Constitution exactly as they should." The president acknowledged the ralliers' concerns about the economy and terrorism and observed, "Given the fact that, you know, in none of these situations are you gonna fix things overnight, it's not surprising that somebody like a Mr. Beck is able to stir up a certain portion of the country." Obama added, "I have no doubt that we are gonna rebound and rebound strong. But when you're in the middle of it, and if you don't have a job right now, it's a tough, tough situation."

Friday, August 27, 2010

CDC Updates Estimates Of US Flu Deaths

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said this week that updated estimates of flu deaths in the US in recent decades show that rather than widely cited annual figure of 36,000, which is too high anyway, the estimated numbers have fluctuated from as low as 3,500 to as high as nearly 49,000, depending on which flu viruses have been prominent.

Based on the revised estimates, the annual average is closer to 23,000, significantly lower that the previously cited 36,000. But even that figure is misleading because of the wide fluctuations, said the federal agency.

The CDC published the updated estimates for the period 1976 to 2007, the latest year for which national death certificate reports are available and so it excludes the period of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic, in the 27 August issue of their Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

The federal agency explained that the widely cited estimate of 36,000 annual flu deaths was based on an estimating model that only covered the 1990s, which were dominated by influenza A (H3N2) viruses.

H3N2 Virus

"Seasons when influenza A (H3N2) viruses were prominent had 2.7 times more influenza-associated deaths than years when influenza A (H1N1) or B viruses were prominent," said the CDC in a statement.

Experts believe that one reason could be because H3N2 mutates more quickly, thus rendering ineffective any immunity people might have from a previous infection.

Using death certificate reports covering 1976 to 2007, the CDC looked at two categories of underlying cause of death, pneumonia and influenza causes and respiratory and circulatory causes, to estimate the lower and upper bounds for the number of flu-related deaths.

Their estimates show that about 90 per cent of flu-related deaths were of adults aged 65 and over. This is in stark contrast to the recent H1N1 swine flu pandemic which claimed mostly younger lives.

The CDC also analyzed the figures by flu virus type and subtype to see if there were any links between these and the numbers of deaths in a season.

They found that flu-related deaths varied signficantly each year, by type of circulating flu virus, and by age group, and suggest that future summaries should show estimates according to these categories rather just lump them all together into one annual figure.

Because the deaths vary so much in this way from year to year, the overall message is that "there is no average flu season", as Dr David Shay of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a news conference reported by the Los Angeles Times. Shay is also the lead author of the new report.

Shay said we still have no way of predicting which strains will dominate when a new flu season begins, even in the first few weeks, the picture is unclear.

He urged people to follow the CDC's recommendation and get vaccinated every year as the best way to protect themselves from the flu.

"Estimates of Deaths Associated with Seasonal Influenza - United States, 1976-2007."
MG Thompson, DK Shay, H Zhou, CB Bridges, PY Cheng, E Burns, JS Bresee, NJ Cox: Influenza Division, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, CDC.

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Taliban attack allied bases in Afghanistan's Khost area

Suspected Taliban insurgents have attacked two coalition allied bases in eastern Afghanistan, Nato forces say.

Coalition forces repelled both attacks, killing 10 militants and capturing several more, Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said.

There was no confirmation of any allied casualties from the fighting, in Khost province south-east of Kabul.
 The Taliban had earlier told reporters that at least 28 fighters - some of them suicide bombers - were involved.

The Isaf statement said: "Insurgent forces attacked the installations with indirect and small arms fire.
"Isaf ground forces, supported by combat aviation assets, killed at least 10 insurgents, captured several more and destroyed one recoil-less rifle."
The BBC's Quentin Sommerville, in Kabul, says Taliban insurgents are increasingly using this more sophisticated guerrilla-style attack.
Commander captured
Earlier, local police chief Adbul Hakim Is'haqzai told AFP news agency that the insurgents launched rockets and began shooting at Forward Operating Base Salerno in the early hours of Saturday.

The militants had pulled back after a period of fighting, he said, and had occupied a school.

One local resident, Amir Shah, told AFP: "There are gunshots being heard all around my home. I'm scared of the attackers entering my home and of being bombarded by coalition forces."

Khost map

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told journalists that at least 28 heavily armed fighters had been sent to the area, but his claims could not be verified.
The other base that came under attack is believed to be Camp Chapman, where seven US intelligence agents were killed in a suicide attack last December.

That was the most deadly attack on US intelligence officials since the US embassy in Beirut was bombed in 1983.

Earlier this week Isaf announced that its forces had captured a senior commander of the local Taliban network in Khost - though it is not clear whether the arrest is connected to the latest attacks.

Meanwhile, across the border Pakistani security officials say four Taliban militants have been killed in a suspected US missile attack.
The missiles hit vehicles being driven by militants in the Kurram tribal area, which is not regularly targeted by US drones.

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Microsoft co-founder sues Apple, Google over patents

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Microsoft's co-founder Paul Allen is suing Apple and Google, plus nine other companies, for patent infringement.

Allen claims the 11 companies are using technology for which he owns patents, according to court documents filed in a Seattle district court Friday. The papers were filed by Allen's company, Interval Licensing.

The 11 accused companies are: AOL, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Office Depot, OfficeMax, Staples, Yahoo and Google-owned YouTube.
None of the defendants were immediately available for comment.

Allen said he owns the patents to four technologies those companies are allegedly using. An Interval press release calls them "key patents [that] are fundamental to ... leading e-commerce and search companies."

Allen did not invent the technologies; he alleges they were developed at a lab called Interval Research in the 1990s. Allen co-founded and helped finance the influential software lab.

"This lawsuit is necessary to protect our investment in innovation," Allen's spokesman said in the press release. "These are patents developed by and for Interval."

Allen's suit did not specify how much money he is seeking in damages.
Last month, patent holding company NTP Inc. also launched a slew of patent infringement lawsuits against tech giants. NTP, which does not make products, lodged complaints against Apple, Google, HTC, LG Electronics, Microsoft and Motorola for alleged infringements of eight patents related to wireless e-mail delivery.

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False alarm on Jet Airways plane triggers panic

Mumbai: Fifteen Jet passengers were injured at the Mumbai airport on Friday night when a Chennai-bound flight aborted takeoff due to a technical glitch.

Passengers on board were in for a scare when a fire alarm went off shortly before the plane took off. The alarm triggered a minor stampede as passengers rushed to evacuate. But now the airline says it was a false alarm.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered an inquiry into the incident.

The passengers were headed for Chennai, but landed up in a hospital instead. Around 15 of them sustained minor injuries after being evacuated out of Jet Airways flight 2302 at the Mumbai domestic airport.

The incident occurred after the pilot ordered an emergency evacuation after a fire alarm went off, indicating the left-hand side engine of the Boeing 737 twin engine had caught fire. But Jet Airways in a statement said the fire was a false alarm.

In the scuffle that followed to exit the aircraft from all four exits of the airplane, passengers jumped out of the safety chutes tumbling over each other and in the process sustained minor injuries.

Most of them have been administered first aid and have already been accommodated on other flights, while 2-3 of them have been admitted to city hospitals with minor injuries.

Jet Airways in a statement said: "Although there were no visible traces of a fire, the commander proceeded to declare a precautionary emergency. All passengers onboard were then deplaned safely and a thorough inspection of the engine 
carried out. Safety of our guests is of paramount importance to Jet Airways."