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.