Monday, March 27, 2006

Germans probe Merkel spy camera
By Ray Furlong
BBC News, Berlin

An investigation is under way after it emerged a museum's security camera was used to spy on the private Berlin flat of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

German newspaper Bild am Sonntag first reported the camera had been turned towards the flat, opposite the renowned Pergamon Museum of antiquities.

The camera on the museum's roof is supposed to ensure its artefacts from ancient Rome and Troy are safe.

But bored security guards used it to peek into Chancellor Merkel's flat.

Watching TV

The scandal was uncovered by a journalist from Bild am Sonntag, who was doing a feature about the nightshift at the museum.

A security guard used the camera's powerful zoom to hone in on Mrs Merkel's husband, Joachim Sauer, who was sitting on the sofa watching television.

It was hardly compromising stuff, but the implications raise obvious security concerns and the police are now investigating.

The museum, meanwhile, says it has altered the camera so that it cannot be turned towards the chancellor's flat.

Unlike her predecessor, Mrs Merkel opted not to use the official chancellor's residence, a tiny penthouse flat in the sprawling chancellery building.

Her private flat is a five-minute drive from the office - and is, according to officials here, otherwise very well protected.
Story from BBC NEWS:
vCJD transmission 'risk for all'
Everyone could be susceptible to vCJD infection via blood transfusions but their genes could determine how it will affect them, a study suggests.

So far, virtually all cases of vCJD in humans have been in people with one particular genetic profile.

But mouse tests by National CJD Surveillance Unit and Institute for Animal Health scientists suggest those with other gene types are at risk.

The Lancet Neurology said incubation periods could be longer for some.

To date, 161 cases of vCJD (variant Creutzfeld Jakob disease) have been reported in the UK, 18 in France and 12 in the rest of the world - most of those of UK origin.

At present, it is not clear how susceptible people might be to transmission of vCJD through routes such as blood transfusions.

As there is currently no test for the disease, this could potentially mean that someone receives blood or blood products from someone who is carrying vCJD but does not know it.

The researchers, who are based in Edinburgh, focused on differences in a gene which makes the normal version of the rogue "prion" protein involved in vCJD.

The gene encodes for two different types of amino acid - methionine (M) or valine (V).

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.

Everyone has two copies (alleles) of the gene, so they can be MM, MV or VV.

Virtually all those who have developed vCJD so far have had the MM genotype, carried by around 40% of the population.

There has only been one exception - an MV patient developed the disease following a blood transfusion.

'Species barrier'

Around 50% of the population are MV, while the rest carry the VV genotype.

The researchers altered mice to have one of the three human genotypes, or a bovine form, before injecting them with brain material from cases with vCJD or the related cattle disease BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy).

Post-mortem brain tissue tests were used to see if there were signs of BSE or vCJD.

BSE was transmitted to mice with bovine genes, but not to those with human ones, which the researchers say shows there is a significant "species barrier" which could explain why relatively few people have been infected and developed vCJD.

However, vCJD was successfully transmitted to mice with all three human genotypes, but behaved differently in each.

Transmission occurred least easily in the 16 VV mice compared to the 16 with the MV gene pattern and the 17 with MM.

However, most of the MV animals did not develop clinical signs of vCJD during their short lifetime compared to those with MM, most of whom did.

Only one mouse with VV showed signs it had contracted the disease, though it had no clinical symptoms.

'Partly reassuring'

Writing in Lancet Neurology, the researchers led by Jean Manson at the Institute for Animal Health, said: "Our findings raise concerns relevant to the possibility of secondary transmission of vCJD through blood transfusion, blood products or contaminated surgical instruments."

They added: "For human-to-human vCJD infection it should be assumed that all genotype individuals - not just MM - can be infected, that long incubation times can occur, and that a significant level of subclinical [symptom-free] disease might be present in the population."

In an editorial in the journal, Dr Corinne Lasmezas, of the Department of Infectology at Scripps Research Institute in Florida, agreed with the researchers' conclusions.

She added: "Some MV individuals, and a very small number of VV individuals could become asymptomatic carriers.

"In this regard, it is unfortunate that only 10% of the population carries two V alleles, reducing the impact of this partly reassuring finding."
Hyundai to build Czech car plant
South Korean carmaker Hyundai has announced a plan to build a huge plant in the Czech Republic.

The 1bn euros ($1.2bn; £700m) factory in the Moravia-Silesia region will produce about 300,000 cars a year and employ 3,000 people.

The Czech government is thought to have offered tax breaks and other investment incentives to attract Hyundai to the region, which has high unemployment.

A strong car industry helped drive the Czech economy to 6% growth in 2005.

Czech economists say the plant could boost the country's economic growth by up to 1.3% a year.

Last year the Czech economy received a similar boost from the launch of a Toyota Peugeot Citroen plant in Bohemia, which employs 3,000 workers.

The Hyundai plant is due to begin car production in October 2008, and the government hopes it will create an extra 9,000 jobs indirectly.
Police 'neglect' in custody death
Police officers were guilty of "the most serious neglect of duty" in the death of former paratrooper Christopher Alder in 1998, a watchdog has ruled.

The four Humberside police officers were also influenced by "unwitting racism", the Independent Police Complaints Commission said.

Mr Alder choked to death at a police station in Hull. CCTV footage showed officers chatting as he gasped for air.

Humberside chief constable Tim Hollis apologised for Mr Alder's treatment.

His two predecessors had only expressed regret at the death, but Mr Hollis said he was willing to publicly apologise.

Five officers were cleared of manslaughter and misconduct in 2002 regarding his death, but his family campaigned for a further inquiry.

I do believe the fact he was black stacked the odds more heavily against him
Nick Hardwick

Mr Alder, a father-of-two and a Falklands veteran, was injured during a scuffle outside a Hull city centre hotel and taken to Hull Royal Infirmary for treatment.

He was arrested for an alleged breach of the peace and taken to Queens Gardens police station.

Half an hour later he choked to death on his own blood and vomit as he lay on the floor of the police station, without moving, for 11 minutes with his trousers round his ankles.

In a 400-page report published on Monday, Independent Police Complaints Commission chairman Nick Hardwick described the officers' behaviour as "disgraceful".

Racial stereotypes

Mr Hardwick said: "I believe the failure of the police officers concerned to assist Mr Alder effectively on the night he died were largely due to assumptions they made about him based on negative racial stereotypes.

"I cannot say for certain that Mr Alder would have been treated more appropriately had he been white - but I do believe the fact he was black stacked the odds more heavily against him."

Hr Hardwick said that although there were "serious failings" by the four police officers, they did not assault him.

"Nor can it be said with certainty, such are the contradictions in the medical evidence, that their neglect of Mr Alder, as he lay dying on the custody suite floor, caused his death.

"However, all the experts agreed that, at the very least, the officers' neglect undoubtedly did deny him the chance of life."

He said their behaviour "disgraced police officers and the police service as a whole."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Burma's new capital stages parade
Burma has staged its first official ceremony in its new administrative capital with a massive display of military force.

More than 12,000 troops took part in a parade in the capital, near Pyinmana, which was officially named Naypyidaw or "seat of kings" on Monday.

It is not clear why the secretive ruling junta moved the capital from Rangoon.

State TV only showed footage of troops, rather than of the capital itself.

Monday's parade was to mark Armed Forces Day which commemorates the Burmese military's uprising against the Japanese during World War II.

Addressing the troops, head of state Than Shwe said the country needed a strong military during its move to "disciplined democracy".

Burma has not had a constitution since the junta seized power in 1988.

In his address, Senior General Than Shwe said the military was striving to create peace and stability so that a multi-party democracy could exist.

In order to ward off any danger befalling the country, our military, together with the people, must be strong, efficient, patriotic and modern
Sr Gen Than Shwe

"The people, together with the military must also strive hard to build a modern, developed state where disciplined democracy flourishes," he said.

Burma has pledged to allow democracy under strong pressure from its neighbours as well as the US and other Western powers, but has so far failed to deliver.

The State Peace and Development Council abruptly announced in November it was moving the government to remote Pyinmana, 600km (373 miles) north of Rangoon.

Than Shwe made no mention of the capital in his speech on Monday.

The reasons for moving the capital are unclear. Some analysts point to a paranoia among senior military figures that they might come under attack, potentially from the United States, and that a location further from the coast is strategically safer.

But others suggest the military leaders are simply repeating the habits of the Burmese kings in pre-colonial times who built new towns and palaces on the advice of fortune tellers.

Civil servants, who received a sharp pay increase at the weekend, complained on Monday about poor infrastructure and boredom, Reuters news agency reported.

"I'll probably save some money if I stay here. I'm single and I'm not after any amusement or pleasure," Ko Soe Aung, a clerk, told the agency.

Some top-ranked officials will see their salary soar more than 1,000%, according to a document circulated to various ministries.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Serbia deportee fights Australia A man deported by Australia to a country he had never before set foot in has vowed he will campaign until he is allowed to return "home".
Robert Jovicic, 38, who had lived in Australia since he was two, has been camping on the steps of the Australian embassy in Serbia's capital, Belgrade.
Mr Jovicic was born in France to Serbian parents.
He was deported to Serbia in 2004, when his permanent residency was revoked after a jail term for drug crimes.
Belgrade has not recognised Mr Jovicic - who had never been to Serbia before his deportation - as a citizen, leaving him stateless with no right to work or welfare.
If I'm considered Australian trash that I will rot on Australia soil Robert Jovicic
His plight is the latest immigration row to hit the government in Canberra which has faced growing criticism from human rights groups for its tough immigration policies.
The Australian authorities have recently been under fire for mistakenly deporting one of its own citizens to the Philippines and locking up a German-born Australian national in an Outback detention centre.
But the government has shown some sign of modifying its approach.
Earlier this year, the government ended its policy of detaining children suspected of being illegal immigrants.
'I'll die'
Mr Jovicic began the protests in Belgrade two days ago.
"I've explained to the embassy if I'm considered Australian trash, that I will rot on Australia soil," he told Australia's ABC television.
"If I don't... get back home, I'll die".
Mr Jovicic was sent to Serbia on "character grounds", following his conviction for a series of drug-related burglaries.
His brother and sister, who live in Australia, are demanding his immediate return to Melbourne.
"You can't just throw someone who's been here all their lives and calls this place his home, and just dump them somewhere else," Susanna Jovicic told ABC.
Australia's department of foreign affairs official said that Mr Jovicic had been given temporary accommodation and the embassy has arranged for a medical examination.
Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said in a statement that she had asked her department for a detailed report on Mr Jovicic's case.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/24 12:40:32 GMT© BBC MMV
Kazakh widow makes bugging claims
By Ian MacWilliam BBC News, in Almaty
The widow of an opposition politician apparently murdered in Kazakhstan earlier this month has accused the authorities of bugging her house.
Zamanbek Nurkadilov's widow also said she feared the police were going to accuse her of killing her husband.
Mr Nurkadilov had accused the Kazakh president and his family of massive corruption.
His unexplained death in the run-up to Kazakhstan's presidential poll has cast a shadow over the election campaign.
Mr Nurkadilov's widow, Makpal Zhunusova, called a news conference in Almaty to display what she and her lawyer said was an illegal listening device, which she had found hidden in her house on Wednesday.
She said it had probably been planted the day before while police were searching her house.
The lawyer said the police apparently wanted to gather evidence illegally by eavesdropping on private conversation.
Suspicious death
Mr Nurkadilov was found dead in the house nearly two weeks ago with one bullet wound in his head and two in his chest.
The police have said they are investigating the case as either a suicide or murder.
But Ms Zhunusova, who is well known in Kazakhstan as a singer, said that suicide was out of the question because her husband had not been in a depressed mood.
She suggested that unnamed relatives of her husband might have been involved in his death.
Her lawyer has said the killing was connected with Mr Nurkadilov's political activity. A former minister, he was a close associate of the president, Nursultan Nazarbayev.
But last year he unexpectedly accused the president and his family members of massive corruption. Nurkadilov said he was gathering information to prove they had illegally acquired many state properties and enterprises.
The main opposition alliance, whose candidate is President Nazarbayev's chief electoral rival, has also said the killing was politically motivated.
Nurkadilov's violent death has thus become the main event of an otherwise unremarkable electoral campaign.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/24 16:44:06 GMT© BBC MMV
S Korea cloning pioneer disgraced A cloning pioneer regarded as a hero in his South Korean homeland has resigned and apologised for using human eggs from his own researchers.
Professor Hwang Woo-suk was chairman of the World Stem Cell Hub, which opened this month, based in Seoul.
"I am very sorry that I have to tell the public words that are too shameful and horrible," he announced publicly.
International medical standards warn against using eggs from researchers who may be vulnerable to pressure.
However, the health ministry in Seoul insists that he is not guilty of any moral or legal wrongdoing, as the eggs were given voluntarily, without the professor's knowledge, and before South Korea introduced a bioethics law in January.
Dr Hwang, 52, gained worldwide fame after producing the world's first cloned human embryos and stem cells tailored to be used on individuals.
Human cloning science offers the possibility that stem cells harvested from cloned embryos could be used to treat diseases like Parkinson's, diabetes and heart disease.

Dr Hwang's breakthrough was seen as particularly important as the stem cells he created were a perfect match for the patient, which could mean treatments without the risk of the body rejecting them.
However, opponents argue that creating and experimenting with human embryos is unethical.
Paid for eggs
Earlier this month Gerald Schatten, a prominent American colleague of Dr Hwang, broke off their collaboration saying he was concerned by the way the group procured human eggs.
Being too focused on scientific development, I may not have seen all the ethical issues related to my research Professor Hwang Woo-suk
When the medical journal Nature pressed Dr Hwang in 2004 about the origin of the eggs, he denied they had been donated by his own researchers.
At a press conference on Thursday he admitted he had not told the truth.
Dr Hwang said when two women on his team offered their own eggs he turned them down.
Later, the women donated their eggs under false names, without his permission.
When asked about this he investigated, and was told about the provenance of the eggs, but lied to Nature because of a "strong request by the researchers to protect their privacy", he said.
South Korea's health ministry also admitted that other women were paid thousands of dollars for their eggs, though this took place without Dr Hwang's knowledge and before a new law outlawed trading in human eggs.
Egg shortage
The professor said he was resigning from all public posts, including his chairmanship of the World Stem Cell Hub, which is designed to produce stem cell lines for disease research worldwide.
"It is my way of seeking repentance," he said.
He added he would continue his research at Seoul National University.
"I again sincerely apologise for having stirred concern at home and abroad," he said.
"Being too focused on scientific development, I may not have seen all the ethical issues related to my research.
"We needed a lot of ova [eggs] for the research but there were not enough ova around," Dr Hwang said, explaining why standards may have slipped.
The research conducted by his team requires large numbers of human eggs, which are difficult to obtain.
The revelations have shaken fellow scientists.
"We are saddened by the confusion that has arisen in Korea and the distress that has been caused to those concerned," said British professors Ian Wilmut and Christopher Shaw.
There are no international laws governing the use of cells and embryos, but scientists said a tough regulatory climate - like that in force in the UK - could prevent such abuses or misunderstandings.
"The excellent research carried out by Hwang and his team must continue, but in a way that considers the ethics in an appropriate way," said Prof Robin Lovell-Badge of the UK's National Institute for Medical Research.

Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/24 12:38:41 GMT© BBC MMV
Indonesia's Aceh hit by bird flu Hundreds of chickens have died of bird flu in Aceh province, Indonesia says.
Bird flu has been found in more than 20 other provinces in the country, but its emergence in Aceh is especially worrying, analysts say.
This is because thousands of Acehnese still live in crowded refugee camps as a result of last year's tsunami.
The news follows China's confirmation on Wednesday of its second human death from bird flu - a 35-year-old woman from eastern Anhui province.
Indonesia's Agriculture Ministry said that chickens had been infected with the deadly H5N1 strain in at least three districts of Aceh.

Seven people have so far confirmed to have died from the disease in Indonesia.
In China, the latest human fatality from bird flu was a farmer, who died 11 days after she developed pneumonia-like symptoms following contact with sick and dead poultry, state news agency Xinhua reported.
Tests confirmed she had the deadly H5N1 form of the disease, China's Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said.
China's first human fatality also came from Anhui. A boy in central China also caught the disease but recovered.
The H5N1 virus has killed more than 60 people in South East Asia since the latest outbreak began in 2003.
Outbreaks of the H5N1 strain among birds were first spotted in Vietnam and Thailand in 2003.
It spread to several other countries in the region and beyond, with reports of the disease among poultry in Russia and Kazakhstan in July - and outbreaks in Turkey and Romania.

The disease generally still does not transmit easily to humans, but fears of a pandemic have been reinforced by its spread.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/24 16:03:55 GMT© BBC MMV
Anger as Singapore hanging looms A former Australian prime minister has called Singapore a "rogue Chinese port" for ignoring appeals to save a drug smuggler from the death penalty.
Gough Whitlam, in office in the 1970s, made the remark in an interview about the case of an Australian national who is due to be hanged next week.
Australia has appealed for clemency to be granted to Nguyen Tuong Van.
Singapore insisted the law must take its course, saying that drugs ruined the lives of addicts.
Nguyen's lawyer welcomed Mr Whitlam's support but said his remarks about Singapore would not help.
Mr Whitlam said the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, should go further by raising the issue at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Malta on Friday.
"If [the meeting] is of any use then it should be raised there, because it concerns many other countries - some larger, some smaller than the rogue Chinese port city," he told The Age newspaper.
Nguyen is due to be executed on 2 December after being convicted of trafficking 400 grams (14.11 ounces) of heroin in 2002.
Mr Howard said he would not campaign for support in Malta for his clemency pleas, saying that would likely harden Singapore's determination.
Story from BBC NEWS: 2005/11/25 02:29:25 GMT© BBC MMV

Monday, November 21, 2005

To launch a series on celebrities and their health, the BBC News website talks to British explorer Ranulph Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes about his life after a heart attack and bypass operation.
Sir Ranulph, 61, began leading major expeditions in 1970.
He had earlier been dismissed from the elite SAS regiment following a practical joke in which the set of the movie Doctor Doolittle was blown up in Wiltshire.
He then went on to work in the Middle East with the Sultan of Oman's forces, before setting off around the globe.
Described by the Guinness Book of Records as "the world's greatest living explorer", one of his greatest adventures was the 52,000-mile Transglobe Expedition - the first surface journey around the world's polar axis.
In 1993, the Queen awarded Sir Ranulph the OBE for human endeavour and charitable services. He has gone on to develop a career as an author and motivational speaker.
How did you first realise something was wrong?
I had absolutely no indication anything was wrong until I woke up in a hospital bed and was told I'd suffered a heart attack.
It took 13 attempts to get my heart beating and I was in intensive care at Bristol Royal Infirmary on a life-support machine for three days
Sir Ranulph Fiennes
Before that there had been no obvious signs - I hadn't experienced any pain and was living my life as normal.
In fact, before my heart attack I had boarded a plane and was reading a magazine. I was later told that I slumped forward without warning.
Luckily one of my fellow passengers was a nurse, and the stewardess was very quick to call the emergency services, which arrived, with a defibrillator, within four minutes.
It took 13 attempts to get my heart beating and I was in intensive care at Bristol Royal Infirmary on a life-support machine for three days.
Looking back, my annual check up with my GP had shown my