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Monday, July 6, 2009

Mousavi: Iran Protests 'Will Not End'

TEHRAN, July 6 -- Opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, appearing in public for the first time in nearly three weeks, vowed Monday that protests against the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "will not end" and predicted that the new government would face problems in the future because it lacks legitimacy.

But the former presidential candidate, who maintains he was denied victory in the June 12 election by massive vote-rigging on behalf of Ahmadinejad, stopped short of calling for new street demonstrations, which the government has declared illegal and largely crushed with a massive crackdown by security forces. Instead, Mousavi indicated that the opposition movement would take a new tack, moving toward political action and protest "within the framework of the law."

Mousavi made the remarks at a religious gathering as Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a new warning to Western nations that he said have "openly intervened" in Iran's internal affairs by criticizing the crackdown.

At the same time, however, Khamenei appeared to draw a line against denunciations of Mousavi, who has faced calls for his arrest from hard-line Ahmadinejad allies because of his refusal to accept the officially proclaimed election results. In a speech broadcast on state radio, Khamenei stressed the importance of unity.

"Friends should not be treated like enemies for the sake of a mistake," the supreme leader said.

But top commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps were less conciliatory. "Today, no one is impartial," Gen. Yadollah Javani said at a conference, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "There are two currents: those who defend and support the revolution and the establishment, and those who are trying to topple it."

Mousavi spoke Monday at an art gallery of the Iranian Academy of the Arts, which he heads, on the occasion of a holiday commemorating Imam Ali, the most important saint in Shiite Islam, Iran's dominant religion. Surrounded by colorful impressionistic paintings, he addressed about 200 guests as his assistants handed out sweets and tea, according to a local journalist who was present.

"Though it might seem that the protests have become quieter, they will not end," Mousavi said. "This protest will continue." He said the Ahmadinejad government would face unspecified problems in the future.

"The legitimacy of this government is questionable because people don't trust it," Mousavi said. "This makes the government weak inside even if it keeps up appearances."

According to the pro-Mousavi Web site Parsine, the former candidate also said the election exposed "flaws in the system" and ended up weakening the government despite its show of force in putting down the demonstrations.

"When a government doesn't take shape within the framework of the law, it has no legitimacy in the eyes of the people," he was quoted as saying. "This weakens the government and encourages the government to resort to violence against the people."

The fact that "protests subsided or were silenced" does not resolve the issue, Mousavi said. "We need to make efforts to show our protest . . . within the framework of the law," Parsine quoted him as saying.

Commenting on government attempts to control the flow of information in Iran, Mousavi urged people to continue to spread news, local journalist Hossein Hormozi reported.

"In recent weeks, all communications methods have been cut . . . but the people are helping and informing each other very well," Mousavi said.

SMS text-messaging service, which resumed Wednesday after having been inactive since the election, was again switched off by authorities on Monday without explanation.

In a speech marking Monday's holiday, Khamenei urged all sides to show unity and asked Iranians to distinguish enemies from friends. Mousavi and Khamenei were respectively prime minister and president in the 1980s when Iran fought a protracted war with neighboring Iraq. They are also related and trace their roots to the same part of Azerbaijan, a Turkish-speaking Iranian province.

On Saturday, Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor of Iran's most influential state newspaper, Kayhan, called for Mousavi to be put on trial. He called the former prime minister a foreign agent and said a political organization affiliated to him was "a fifth column" working for Iran's enemies.

Khamenei has warned Mousavi to accept defeat or face legal consequences, but he has indicated that the candidate would not be severely punished if he would stop calling for an annulment of the vote. The supreme leader also cautioned authorities not to brand all protesters as "rioters," as some have done.

"Those whose candidates did not have enough votes in the election were naturally somewhat upset," he said. "But they were not rioters."

In a conference on Sunday, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, the top commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, said his elite military organization had "taken the initiative" to quell the street protests in Tehran, IRNA reported. The remarks illustrated the growing importance of the 120,000-strong force, which Jafari said would remain highly influential in the future.

"We are convinced that the IRGC must play a deciding role in the preservation and continuation of the revolution," he said.

While denying that the Revolutionary Guard played a role in politics, Jafari said its members' actions on the streets caused "a revival of the revolution and clarification of the value positions of the establishment at home and abroad."

He indicated that a new phase of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution has started.

"All of us must fully comprehend its dimensions," Jafari said.

Hamas Arrests Female Journalist for Laughing in Public...

A Palestinian female journalist complained over the weekend that Hamas policemen attempted to arrest her under the pretext that she came to a Gaza beach dressed immodestly and was seen laughing in public.

A Palestinian female journalist complained over the weekend that Hamas policemen attempted to arrest her under the pretext that she came to a Gaza beach dressed immodestly and was seen laughing in public.

The journalist, Asma al-Ghul, said that the policemen instead confiscated her passport. Since the incident, she added, she has been afraid to leave her home, especially after receiving death threats from anonymous callers.

"They accused me of laughing loudly while swimming with my friend and failing to wear a hijab," Ghul told a human rights organization in the Gaza Strip. "They also wanted to know the identity of the people who were with me at the beach and whether they were relatives of mine."

In a phone interview with the Dubai-based Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya news Web site, the journalist said that the policemen who stopped her belonged to the Hamas government's Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice security force.

* 'Fatah detainees told to bring own food'
* 'Palestinian support for Hamas waning'

The special force reports directly to the Ministry of Waqf Affairs and is said to be a copy of units that have long been operating in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan.

The Hamas government, according to local reporters, has refrained from publicly admitting that the force exists out of fear of being branded fundamentalist.

The Hamas force consists of dozens of plainclothes police officers who patrol beaches, public gardens, restaurants, hair salons and coffee shops to make sure that males and females are not mixing together and that the women are dressed modestly.

Ghul said that many Palestinian women have noticed the presence of the police officers at the beaches and other sites. She said that the talk in the Gaza Strip these days was about Hamas's intention to impose the hijab on all female school children from first to 12th grade.

She said she was astonished by the fact that the Hamas security forces were providing security to hotels that are frequented by women wearing miniskirts while at the same time targeting "common people" who go to the beaches and public parks.

Ghul said that Hamas has banned men in the Gaza Strip from swimming topless. "And as in my case, Hamas has banned women from laughing while swimming," she added.

She and her friends were stopped by Hamas policemen while swimming in the sea. She said that the policemen confiscated her passport and laptop after accusing her of laughing loudly and appearing in immodest clothes in a public place.

Two of her male friends were detained for questioning for three hours. They said the police officers beat them and abused them verbally before releasing them.

Hamas security commanders initially said that the journalist and her friends were stopped because they were having a mixed party at the beach. Later, one of the commanders said that Ghul was stopped because she was not wearing a hijab while swimming. Another commander claimed that the journalist and her friends were stopped because they had been seeing smoking nargilas and partying in a public place.

Islam Shahwan, spokesman for the Hamas security forces, said that policemen have been deployed at the beaches at the request of the Ministry for Waqf Affairs. He said the policemen's task is to impose law and order and prevent harassment of families picnicking and swimming at the beaches.

"We are there for the safety of the people," he said. "We operate there to prevent men from harassing women. We've received many complaints about these negative practices."

Shahwan said that Hamas does not interfere with the way women want to dress. However, he stressed, "we must preserve our Islamic culture and traditions. If there's a woman who wants to dress as she wishes, she must go to a private swimming pool and not to a public place."

Abbas: peace talks to be resumes if US exerts pressure on Israel

RAMALLAH, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hinted on Monday that there is a possibility to resume the peace negotiations with Israel, if the U.S. administration exerts pressure on Israel to halt settlement activities.

Abbas made the remarks in a first interview aired on al-Felastineya, a new Fatah movement satellite channel based in Amman. The channel was recently inaugurated and is directed by Palestinian ambassador to Cairo Nabil Amer.

"There is a possibility to resume the stalled peace negotiations (with Israel) if the American administration presses on Israel to halt settlement activities and accept the two-state vision solution," Abbas told the new Fatah satellite channel.

Abbas reiterated that he was ready to discuss "with open mind all the negotiable issues according to the international resolutions (related to resolving the Palestinian cause)."

The peace negotiations with Israel had stopped last year after Israel decided to enlarge Israeli settlements in the West Bank and carried out a series of military offensives on the blockaded Gaza Strip ruled by Hamas movement.

Asked about his Fatah movement's general assembly, due to be held on August 4 in Bethlehem in the West Bank, Abbas said "the general assembly's members can practice democracy to choose their movement's leaders."

Around 2,500 Fatah members are scheduled to convene in Bethlehem on August 4 to elect new members of the movement's central committee and the revolutionary council.

Talking about the inter-dialogue with rival Hamas movement, Abbas revealed that Hamas wanted to postpone the general elections due to be held on January 25 next year, adding that he rejected the demand to postpone the elections.

Abbas also assured that there will be no final peace agreement signed with Israel "before (Israel) releasing all the Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails," adding that "we will never stop calling for the release of all the prisoners."

Talking about captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been in captivity since June 2006, Abbas said "Hamas' kidnapping of Shalit was completely wrong and has cost the lives of hundreds of our people."

Abbas, meanwhile, denied that there are political prisoners in his jails, adding "there is nothing called political prisoner, and we don't have any prisoner imprisoned because he belongs to Hamas."

Another "aid" ship without aid intercepted near Gaza

The Free gaza movement lies again....

Once again, the "Free Gaza" movement is claiming that Israeli naval vessels are threatening their lives, and once again they are lying.

It will be recalled that last December a Free Gaza boat tried to get to Gaza. The Israeli Navy intercepted them and stopped them. They claimed that they were fired upon, that they were surrounded by six boats, that they were rammed by the Israeli boats and lots of other things. Yet the journalists on board and all the terror supporters with cameras and video could never show any video that corroborated any of their outlandish claims.

Today's edition follows the same script. From the Free Gaza mailing list:

We just spoke to the passengers. Everyone is OK, but the situation is still very tense. They continue to be surrounded by Israeli warships which are threatening to open fire. The Israeli Navy is actively jamming all navigation systems in violation of international maritime law, endangering the people on board.
Huwaida Arraf, one of the delegation leaders, was on the phone with the Israeli gunboats, and we could hear her saying, "You Cannot Open Fire on Unarmed Civilians" several times.
Of course they are now choosing claims that could never be disproven - and of course we will never hear any recording of the radio or loudspeakers threatening to open fire on them.

From Reuters:

Overnight, the activists -- in a small ferry boat sailing from Cyprus to Gaza -- said they had received threats they would be fired upon unless they turned back.

Yigal Palmor, Israel's foreign ministry spokesman told Reuters no such threats had been made. He said the boat's declared destination was Port Said in Egypt and that the boat appeared to be heading in that direction.

"If it changes course and tries to go to Gaza or declares that it intends to do so, the navy can take action, although they would definitely not fire at the boat," Palmor said.

The activists from U.S.-based Free Gaza Movement have publicly said their destination was Gaza, which is under an Israeli blockade, and activists on board the boat earlier told Reuters an Israeli patrol boat had approached them.

"We were told that if we did not turn back they would open fire," said Derek Graham, an Irish activist.

"We are continuing our course to Gaza," he said.

Keep in mind that Free Gaza is not interested in humanitarian aid - they are only interested in publicity. They want confrontation. They define themselves as a "resistance group," not an aid group. They support and encourage Palestinian Arab violence. They came out publicly against any humanitarian aid to Gaza going through Israel. They've shown reckless disregard for Gazan lives (if you believe their statements.)

Oh, and all that cement that they tell journalists they are bringing to Gaza? From their Twitter account:
We left this morning, one boat, 21 passengers, 20 olive trees, one symbolic bag of cement.
Sounds like last time, when they claimed to be bringing "60 tons" of aid - and it was all a lie.


The latest "aid" ship had no aid

Last night, Israel intercepted a freighter that was supposedly filled with 60 tons of aid for Gaza, that originated in Tripoli.

Predictably, the moonbats have been hysterical over this, saying that Israel was shooting at the people on the ship and then beating them.

Free Gaza's update on the ship last night was telling: its 8 PM (Central European Time) report said

The Israelis said the boat can not go to Gaza, and it appears they will try to force it to Arish, but the captain intends to push forward. (And having been aboard the TALI I think it will take more than a ramming to sink it)
In other words, the "peace activists" were really hoping for a fight.

From the times of the reports, it is clear that Israel warned the ship for several hours before boarding it.

The only reporter who is saying that Israel beat and threatened them is the embedded Al Jazeera reporter.

Israel took the ship to Ashdod to examine the contents and question the passengers. According to Haaretz, the "60 tons" of aid was imaginary:
The Israel Defense Forces said that troops found about 150 bottles of mineral water and a few dozen kilograms of food and medicine on board, despite earlier claims that it was carrying dozens of tons of humanitarian aid.

The Tali, a cargo vessel flying the flag of the West African state of Togo, was sent by the Palestinian National Committee Against the Siege in cooperation with the U.S.-based Free Gaza Movement. Its cargo was claimed to have included about 60 tons of medicine, food and toys, plus 10,000 units of human blood plasma which requires constant refrigeration.
So these pro-terror "peace activists" are caught lying. Again.

And one of the "human rights" activists on the ship has a bit of a checkered history:
Military sources said that on board the vessel - dubbed the "Brotherhood Ship" - were nine people, including Greek-Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem Monsignor Hilarion Capucci, who was arrested in 1974 after being caught smuggling weapons from Lebanon to activists in the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Which is exactly what one would expect a "peace activist" to do, right?

For context, here are the amounts of aid that Israel shipped into Gaza over the past few days:

February 1 - 4,656 tons of supplies
February 2 - 5,354 tons of supplies
February 3 - 6,106 tons of supplies
February 4 - 5,367 tons of supplies

So even though they were lying about the "60 tons," it is about what three trucks carry. This is hardly an efficient way to get aid to Gazans. (I have not heard about any shortage of blood plasma in Gaza, either.)

Mariah Carey among Jackson memorial participants

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Singers Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder, Usher and Lionel Richie, and Motown records founder Berry Gordy, will be among those taking part in Michael Jackson's memorial on Tuesday, the family's spokesman said.

In the first official details of the public memorial in the Staples Center arena in downtown Los Angeles, Jackson's family said civil rights leader Al Sharpton, Martin Luther King III, and basketball stars Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant would also be among the participants.

The statement from the family said the list was preliminary, subject to change and that there would be no further information on the program. It was not clear whether singers like Carey and Wonder would perform at the event, which is expected to last two hours.

Lawyers for Jackson's ex-wife, Debbie Rowe, said she had decided against attending because "her attendance would be an unnecessary distraction." Rowe has not decided whether to challenge the family for custody of Jackson's three children.

Actress Elizabeth Taylor, one of Jackson's closest friends, will also be absent. Taylor said in a Twitter message on Monday that she had been asked to speak but "I cannot be part of the public whoopla. And I cannot guarantee that I would be coherent to say a word. I just don't believe that Michael would want me to share my grief with millions of others," she wrote.

About 1.6 million people registered to be among the 8,750 to receive two free tickets to the event. Successful fans lined up on Monday to collect their tickets, although some tried to auction their vouchers on websites like eBay and Craigslist.

Both websites were swiftly removing the listings, which carried asking prices of up to $10,000.

The "Thriller" singer, who died June 25 of cardiac arrest at age 50, is expected to be buried in a private family service in Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, ahead of the public memorial.


As the family and lawyers attempted to sort out Jackson's complex business and personal affairs, a Los Angeles judge on Monday took temporary control of his estate away from the singer's mother, Katherine Jackson, and handed it to two men named as co-executors in the pop star's 2002 will.

Katherine Jackson, 79, had won temporary control of his estate last week before the will surfaced.

But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff said "the law compels" that he now put lawyer John Branca and music industry executive John McClain in charge temporarily.

Beckloff set another court hearing for August 3 and said Branca and McClain must keep Katherine Jackson apprised of their dealings.

In the 2002 will, Jackson left his estate, valued at more than $500 million, to a trust benefiting his three children, his mother and charities.

"We are relatively pleased with Judge Beckloff's ruling this morning. He's taken the unusual step of requiring that Ms. Jackson be kept informed of the administration of his estate in this preliminary phase," said Burt Levitch, an attorney for Katherine Jackson.

About 1.6 million people registered to be among the 8,750 to receive two free tickets to the event. Successful fans lined up Monday to collect their tickets, although some tried to auction their vouchers on websites like eBay and Craigslist.

Both websites were swiftly removing the listings, which carried asking prices of up to $10,000.

Tobacco Stocks May Thrive Despite FDA Regulation

Cars, alcohol and fatty foods also kill a lot of people every year, but Washington reserves its real wrath for cigarette makers.

President Barack Obama, who smokes the occasional cigarette himself, last week took the fresh air of the Rose Garden to sign the second anti-smoking law of his young administration. It gives the Food and Drug Administration power to regulate cigarettes for the first time, and imposes some new restrictions on marketing. An earlier law raised the federal tax to $1.01 per pack from 39 cents.

These laws may actually prove a net positive for tobacco stocks.


First, uncertainty surrounding the effects is keeping many shares cheap. Institutional investors in particular tend to shy away from stocks in these kinds of uncertain situations. As a result, tobacco stocks are languishing and dividend yields are hefty. Marlboro parent Altria yields 7.9%. Reynolds American stock yields about 9% - more, remarkably, than the bonds: Its 2016 bonds are yielding about 7.5% to maturity, the 2018 bonds, 8.3%.

Second, the new laws may help the big players by reducing independent competition. Adam Spielman, industry analyst at Citigroup, says industry profits have been held back in recent years in part by small, independent makers of cut-price cigarettes. He expects a lot of those companies to respond to the new regulatory burdens by closing up or selling out. A major beneficiary may be Britain’s Imperial Tobacco, which has been building market share at the discount end with brands like USA Gold and Sonoma.

Third, while the new laws may spur some people to quit smoking, many people have been trying to quit anyway -- they have been for years. That trend hasn’t hurt the industry because the companies’ profits have rises faster than their volumes have fallen. Cigarettes have still been a solid investment, because the companies generate so much cash and the shares have been cheap. Some numbers: If you had invested $100 in a broad stock market index fund at the start of 1985, you’d have about $1,100 today. If you’d invested that money in tobacco stocks, according to FactSet, you’d have more than $16,000.

Fourth, FDA regulation may actually help legitimize the industry - and further reduce the rapidly diminishing litigation risk.

Rising cigarette taxes will spur some people to trade down to cheaper cigarettes. But quitting - as the President’s own story shows - is a lot harder than it sounds . (From my own experience, I suggest reading Alan Carr’s “The Easy Way to Stop Smoking”. It worked for me).

The riskiest stock in the pack is probably Lorillard, because nearly all its profits come from menthol brand Newport. It is possible, in theory at least, that the FDA might ban menthol cigarettes. Analysts think it highly unlikely. But any investor who is nervous could buy some insurance against a total collapse in the stock. How? By purchasing “put options,” a type of contract that only pays out if a stock falls a long way. Lorillard stock is about $69. The January 2011 $40 put options, which will pay out if the stock falls below that level, cost about $2.10 per share.

Many people feel uncomfortable about the idea of investing in tobacco stocks and “profiting from smoking.” But if you benefit from any government services you already are. Average state, local and federal taxes come to about $2.14 per pack. Big government and big tobacco are increasingly hard to distinguish. That, too, may reassure investors.

Reasons Not to Panic Over a Painkiller

Few drugs are more ubiquitous than acetaminophen, the pain reliever found in numerous over-the-counter cold remedies and the headache drug Tylenol.

But last week, a federal advisory committee raised concerns about liver damage that can occur with overuse of acetaminophen, and the panel even recommended that the Food and Drug Administration ban two popular prescription drugs, Vicodin and Percocet, because they contain it.

The news left many consumers confused and alarmed. Could regular use of acetaminophen for pain relief put them at risk for long-term liver damage?

To help resolve the confusion, here are some questions and answers about acetaminophen.

What prompted the committee to look at acetaminophen in the first place?

Every year about 400 people die and 42,000 are hospitalized as a result of acetaminophen poisoning. When used as directed, the drug is not hazardous. But acetaminophen is now in so many products that it is relatively easy to take more than the recommended daily limit, now four grams.

“People often don’t know what products acetaminophen is in,” said Dr. Lewis S. Nelson, a medical toxicologist from New York University who was the panel’s acting chairman. “It isn’t that hard to go above the four-gram dose. If you took a couple acetaminophen for a headache until you got to the maximum dose, and then maybe later you take Tylenol PM and some Nyquil for a cold. And your back hurts, so you take Vicodin — by now you’ve probably gotten to a seven-gram dose.”

What did the panel recommend?

Besides a ban on Percocet and Vicodin, it called on the F.D.A. to lower the total recommended daily dose of acetaminophen from the current level of four grams, which is about 12 tablets of regular strength Tylenol. The new maximum dose is likely to be 2.6 to 3.25 grams, equal to 8 to 10 regular pills.

The panel also recommended that “extra strength” doses — equal to two 500-milligram pills — be switched to prescription only, and that the largest dose available over the counter be limited to two 325-milligram pills. It also recommended that infants’ and children’s doses be standardized to prevent errors.

As a precaution, should consumers switch to other types of over-the-counter pain relief?

Emphatically, no. Every drug has risks and side effects, but over all the risk of acetaminophen to any individual is low. Far more people are harmed by regular use of aspirin and ibuprofen, which belong to a class of medicines called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or Nsaids. By most estimates, more than 100,000 Americans are hospitalized each year with complications associated with Nsaids. And 15,000 to 20,000 die from ulcers and internal bleeding linked to their use.

By comparison, there are only about 2,000 cases of acute liver failure, and about half of them are related to drug toxicity. Of the drug-induced cases, 40 percent are due to acetaminophen, and half of those are a result of intentional overdose.

“Nearly everybody on the panel recognizes that from a public-health perspective, ibuprofen is much more concerning than acetaminophen,” Dr. Nelson said.

For users of Percocet and Vicodin, the picture is cloudier. Hydrocodone, the narcotic in Vicodin, is not available as a single drug. Oxycodone, the narcotic in Percocet, will remain available. But these ingredients are tightly controlled, and prescriptions may require extra time and paperwork.

If I’ve been using a drug like Vicodin, should I be worried about long-term liver damage?

The risks associated with acetaminophen overdose are acute or immediate liver failure, not chronic liver disease. Even if you’ve been taking Tylenol or other drugs with acetaminophen for years, there is no reason to worry about long-term liver damage as long as you are using them as directed. (By comparison, regular use of Nsaids like aspirin and ibuprofen can lead to chronic gastrointestinal problems over time.)

An overdose of acetaminophen does not typically produce immediate symptoms. Instead, drug-induced hepatitis is likely to develop within a week, leading to loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fever and abdominal pain. Dark urine and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) suggest a more serious case. Usually the liver will recover once the drug is stopped or with medical treatment, but many patients in acute liver failure will die without a transplant.

About 15 percent of liver transplants result from drug poisoning. In one study, 40 percent of drug-related liver transplants were due to acetaminophen, 8 percent to tuberculosis drugs, 7 percent to epilepsy treatment and 6 percent to antibiotics.

What’s the main lesson from the panel review of acetaminophen?

Because acetaminophen is in so many products, consumers need to be vigilant about reading labels, and they need to keep track of how much of the drug they are ingesting daily.

“It would be a real shame if people in reading these stories got the idea that acetaminophen is not safe,” said Dr. Paul Watkins, director of the Institute for Drug Safety Sciences at the Hamner Institutes and the University of North Carolina. “It’s totally safe when taken as directed. The problem is that people end up unknowingly taking much more than recommended.”

Supplement eases hair-pulling in some: study

CHICAGO (Reuters) - More than half the people participating in a study of hair-pullers got help for their compulsion from an over-the-counter supplement called N-acetylcysteine, researchers said on Monday.

The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, suggests the inexpensive supplements might compete with prescription drugs for some obsessive-compulsive type disorders.

Estimates of how many people suffer from chronic hair-pulling, or trichotillomania, vary between one and seven out of every 200 people. The compulsion can create bald spots, and anxiety if sufferers resist the urge to yank out hair. Some pull out the hair of others.

Antidepressants and other drugs are generally not helpful.

Researcher Jon Grant and colleagues at the Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis tested N-acetylcysteine, an amino acid available in health food stores and also sold by prescription for other purposes.

It has been shown to have a some benefits for those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. It is also sold by prescription as a nasal spray to help with mucus buildup, to counteract an overdose of the painkiller acetaminophen and other uses.

But its impact on brain function likely accounts for the benefits for hair-pullers, the researchers said. It appears to boost the supply of glutamate, a message-carrying chemical or neurotransmitter.

The researchers conducted a 12-week trial among 50 people with trichotillomania, giving an initial daily dose of 1,200 milligrams of N-acetylcysteine and then doubling it after six weeks if no improvement occurred.

"Fifty-six percent of patients were 'much or very much improved' with N-acetylcysteine use compared with 16 percent taking placebo," they wrote in their report.

No participants reported adverse effects.

As for the 44 percent of people who did not respond to the treatment, the researchers said there are types of hair-pulling that may respond better to other drugs and to talk therapy.

Could caffeine be used to treat Alzheimer's?

July 6, 2009 (WLS) -- Caffeine may do more than keep you alert. There is increasing evidence that your coffee habit could do wonders for your brain.

Two new studies are adding to the evidence that coffee consumption may help treat or even prevent Alzheimer's disease and dementia. Researchers at the University of Florida say this means caffeine in coffee could be used as an effective treatment for Alzheimer's.

But there's a catch. Humans would have to drink five 8 ounce cups of ordinary coffee every day.

Scientists say it is not clear if the caffeine would work for everyone or just people who are at higher risk of Alzheimer's.

UN chief: $1 billion needed against swine flu

GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations may need more than $1 billion this year to help poor countries fight the global swine flu epidemic, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday.

Ban said the money is needed to ensure that poor countries get some vaccine doses and antivirals if the global epidemic continues to spread. But he could not provide exact details on how the $1 billion would be spent.

"The funding has not been flowing as we have been expecting," Ban told reporters. "We are now mobilizing all resources possible."

Since the World Health Organization declared swine flu to be a pandemic, or global epidemic, last month, experts have worried about the virus' impact on developing countries.

For the moment, swine flu is mild and most people recover without needing treatment. But the virus could have a more devastating impact in countries where populations are fighting other health problems like AIDS, pneumonia, malaria and tuberculosis.

World Health Organization chief Margaret Chan told potential donors that she wants to start a minimum stockpile of vaccines to 49 of the world's least developed countries as a first step. She did not name the countries.

"Many of the developing countries have weak health systems," said Chan. "They actually go into this pandemic what I call empty-handed. They don't have antivirals. They don't have vaccines. They don't have antibiotics."

Many rich countries like Britain, Canada and France have stockpiles of the antiviral Tamiflu, as well as orders for pandemic vaccine to cover their entire populations. The vast majority of developing countries have no such plans. WHO has a small stockpile of Tamiflu donated by Roche for developing countries.

In May, the U.N. asked vaccine producers to reserve a portion of their pandemic vaccine production for poor countries. Some companies have agreed to help. GlaxoSmithKline PLC offered to donate 50 million doses of pandemic vaccine to WHO for distribution to developing countries.

Chan said she estimated that covering about 5 percent of a country's population would be reasonable for vaccine stockpiles to make sure that doctors, nurses and other health care workers are protected. But she also gave no detailed cost estimates.

"We hope to mobilize some funds to procure commodities, including antibiotics, antivirals and vaccines to countries," Chan said.

Some 429 people have died of swine flu and over 94,000 have been infected, according to the latest totals by the WHO. But experts fear the number of infected people may be much higher than those confirmed.

Last week, Britain's health minister said the country faces a projected 100,000 new swine flu cases a day by the end of August. Britain is the hardest-hit nation in Europe amid the global swine flu epidemic, but officials say they have secured vaccines for the country's entire population.

At an EU health conference, Sweden's health minister said Monday that countries must prepare for a second wave of infections that could be deadlier than the current outbreak.

There is a risk the virus could mutate and spread rapidly as European children return to school in the fall, Maria Larsson said in Jonkoping, Sweden.

"We have to plan for the worst, and hope for the best," she said. "We should have the preparedness to be able to handle, not just a mild form but also a more powerful form."

The EU ministers decided Monday to hold an extra meeting in October to determine joint measures for tackling the rapid spread of swine flu, including possible financial support to help some member states buy vaccines.

Teacher and pupils have swine flu

Two pupils and a teacher at a school in Somerset have been confirmed as having swine flu.

Both sixth formers and the member of staff are from The Blue School, Wells and have been diagnosed with the virus and are being treated at home.

In a statement on the website head teacher Steve Jackson said the school was to remain open.

He went on to say that they were informing parents in case any children had underlying medical conditions.

Final rules out for government stem cell research

WASHINGTON (AP) — The government issued final rules Monday expanding taxpayer-funded research using embryonic stem cells, easing scientists' fears that some of the oldest batches might not qualify and promising a master list of all that do.

President Barack Obama lifted previous restrictions on the field in March, but left it to the National Institutes of Health to decide just what stem cell research was ethically appropriate: Only science that uses cells culled from leftover fertility clinic embryos — ones that otherwise would be thrown away — the agency made clear in draft guidelines.

But the final rules issued Monday settle a big question: Would new ethics requirements disqualify many of the stem cells created over the past decade, even the few funded under the Bush administration's tight limits?

The NIH came up with a compromise, saying it deems those old stem cell lines eligible for government research dollars if scientists can prove they met the spirit of the new ethics standards. Further, NIH will create a registry of qualified stem cells so scientists don't have to second-guess if they're applying to use the right ones.

"We think this is a reasonable compromise to achieve the president's goal of both advancing science while maintaining rigorous ethical standards," acting NIH Director Raynard Kington said Monday. "We believe that judgment is necessary."

He wouldn't speculate on how many old stem cells ultimately would qualify, but scientists welcomed the change.

"I expect that most existing lines will be found to have been ethically derived," said Dr. Sean Morrison, director of the University of Michigan Center for Stem Cell Biology. "This will eventually make hundreds of new stem cell lines available for use."

The issue: Trying to harness embryonic stem cells — master cells that can morph into any cell of the body — to one day create better treatments, maybe even cures, for ailments ranging from diabetes to Parkinson's to spinal cord injury.

Culling those stem cells destroys a days-old embryo, something many strongly oppose on moral grounds. Once created, those cells can propagate indefinitely in lab dishes.

The Bush administration had limited taxpayer-funded research to a small number of stem cell batches, or lines, already in existence as of August 2001. This spring, Obama lifted that restriction, potentially widening the field — there now may be as many as 700 stem cell lines around the world — but letting NIH set its boundaries.

Federal law forbids using taxpayer money to create or destroy an embryo. At issue here are rules for working with cells that initially were created using private money.

NIH sifted through 49,000 comments from the public in finalizing the rules, which take effect Tuesday. The draft changed little: Stem cells created solely for research in whatever manner, including cloning, won't qualify.

Any newly made stem cells must come with documentation that the woman or couple who donated the original embryo gave full informed consent. For example, they must have been told of other options for leftover embryos, such as donating to another infertile woman, and the donation must have been voluntary.

That kind of documentation may not exist for stem cell lines created years ago, Kington said, but "some and perhaps many of those lines might be eligible" on a case-by-case evaluation.

Palin Confidante Cites Distraction of Investigations

WASILLA, Alaska -- Sarah Palin resigned as Alaska's governor because the volume of state investigations and public-record requests scrutinizing her activities kept her from doing what she wanted, said one of her closest confidantes.

Kristan Cole, who has been friends with Gov. Palin since both were in the same elementary school nearly 40 years ago, said she heard personally from the governor over the Fourth of July weekend. She was one of the few to speak with Gov. Palin, who stunned the political world when she announced Friday she was resigning, effective July 26. The governor gave no specific reason for her exit, beyond citing relentless complaints into her affairs that were hampering her ability to do her job.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Ms. Cole said the investigations and scrutiny kept Gov. Palin from doing what she loved, which was interacting with Alaskans on issues such as her belief that there should be smaller government. Gov. Palin had faced increasing scrutiny after her run as the Republican vice-presidential nominee last year, with investigations launched into situations such as one dubbed "Troopergate," when officials looked into whether Gov. Palin or members of her family used their influence to try to get her former brother-in-law fired as a state trooper.

In the "Troopergate" matter, an investigation by an agency under her office cleared her of any wrongdoing, while one headed by a legislative committee concluded she had abused her office.

"Here's the bottom line: She has a ton of support, but she felt behind a desk her resources were being wasted," said Ms. Cole, who runs a real-estate business. "She thinks she can get things done more efficiently this way."

Since the resignation announcement, friends and supporters have sought to explain Gov. Palin's departure. Some have speculated the governor is resigning to pursue a presidential run in 2012. But Ms. Cole said Gov. Palin didn't mention 2012 to her, adding that the governor simply wanted to put the state first. Gov. Palin "feels at peace with the decision as she believes it is the right thing for Alaskans," Ms. Cole said.

On Monday, Gov. Palin, 45 years old, remained out of public view. On her Twitter site, she said she was going to some villages in western Alaska this week on state business and once again defended her resignation.

"Critics are spinning, so hang in there as they feed false info on the right decision made as I enter last yr in office to not run again," Gov. Palin tweeted Sunday. In another message the same day, she said she planned to join her husband and their children for one day "picking fish" at a commercial fishery the Palins work at each summer in Alaska's Bristol Bay.

Ms. Cole, 47, is part of an inner circle of the governor's friends from the Wasilla area, an hour's drive north of Anchorage. Some from that circle have been selected to positions in the Palin administration, including Ms. Cole, who once served as chairman of the state Creamery Board. Both women are also mothers of five, including a special needs child.

More recently, Ms. Cole has helped coordinate fund-raising efforts to defray the governor's more than $500,000 in personal legal expenses from fighting ethics complaints. Ms. Cole said she has received phone and email threats "and things in the mail" because of her association with the Palins.

Ms. Cole said the governor never faced the kind of personal attacks she has since running for vice president. "In Alaska, her family was off-limits," she said. That changed when bloggers and other critics began scrutinizing the pregnancy of her unwed teenaged daughter, Bristol. Bristol dealt with the attention calmly, Ms. Cole said.

"I've talked with Bristol, and when you've got a mom like Sarah, the kids are pretty tough as well," Ms. Cole said.

Harder to take was the sexual-innuendo joke made recently about the governor's 14-year-old daughter, Willow, by CBS late-night host David Letterman, said Ms. Cole. "I don't think she [Gov. Palin] anticipated that attack by David Letterman," Ms. Cole said. "I sent her an email, and just told her that was a bunch of garbage. Actually, 'crap' is the word I used."

Mr. Letterman later issued an apology, saying he intended to refer to 18-year-old Bristol, not Willow, but said he shouldn't have made the joke about her, either.

In the end, Ms. Cole said her friend concluded she could be more effective out of the governor's office "where she seems to be this huge target."

Supporters of Gov. Palin said her departure could be good for Alaska because the state will be able to focus on other matters -- such as getting a deal finalized to build a gas pipeline from the state's North Slope to markets in the lower 48 states.

Though Gov. Palin initiated the project and got TransCanada Corp. to agree to oversee building it, any pipeline remains more than 10 years away because of complications such as rights to the North Slope gas still not being secured.

US admiral lauds NKorean ship surveillance effort

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — The impending return home of a North Korean ship suspected of possibly carrying illicit cargo shows that efforts are working to enforce U.N. sanctions imposed against the country after its nuclear and missile tests, the chief of U.S. Naval operations said Monday.

The U.N. Security Council punished the North after its May nuclear test with a resolution and tough sanctions to clamp down on alleged trading of banned arms and weapons-related material, including authorizing searches of suspect ships.

The reclusive nation has engaged in a series of provocative acts this year and increased tensions Saturday, firing seven ballistic missiles into the ocean off its east coast in violation of three U.N. resolutions. It was the North's biggest display of missile firepower in three years.

The cargo vessel Kang Nam 1 was tracked by the U.S. Navy after it left port last month. The ship, which was believed destined for Myanmar, suddenly turned back on June 28. South Korean defense officials said it had entered North Korean waters and should reach port late Monday.

"I think that's an indication of the way the international community came together," Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of Naval operations, said of the ship's reversal.

Speaking to reporters in Seoul, he called the monitoring of the Kang Nam I "a very effective way" of stopping proliferation, and said the Navy will continue to "conduct operations" that support the effort to sanction the North.

The Kang Nam 1, which has drawn attention in the past for suspected proliferation activities, was the first ship to be monitored under U.N. Security Council Resolution 1874 passed last month.

It bans North Korea from selling a range of arms and weapons-related material, and allows other countries to request boarding and inspection of suspected ships, though the vessels do not have to give permission.

North Korea has said it would consider interception of its ships a declaration of war.

It remains unclear, however, exactly why the Kang Nam 1 turned back or what kind of cargo was on board. Speculation has included the possibility it was carrying weapons, possibly to Myanmar. The ship has been suspected of transporting banned goods to the Southeast Asian country in the past.

Separately, Akitaka Saiki, Japan's envoy to the stalled six-nation nuclear negotiations with North Korea, said that efforts to implement the U.N. resolution will yield results.

"We expect numerous effects through consistent implementation," he told reporters in Seoul after meeting with South Korean officials.

Malaysia, meanwhile, pledged Monday to work with the United States to block the North from using the Southeast Asian nation's banks to fund any weapons deals. Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said his government "does not condone" any illegal activities.

The assurance came as Philip Goldberg, a U.S. envoy in charge of coordinating the implementation of sanctions against Pyongyang, met with Malaysian officials.

South Korean media have reported that North Korea sought payment through a bank in Malaysia for the suspected shipment of weapons to Myanmar via the Kang Nam I.

U.S. Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey is also traveling to China and Hong Kong this week to gain support for U.S. efforts to keep North Korea from using banks and businesses to buy and sell missile and nuclear technology. He arrives Monday and will meet with government officials and private sector executives Wednesday through Friday.

The Naval operations chief denounced North Korea for its volley of weekend missile tests, calling them "very unhelpful and clearly counter to the desires of the international community for a peaceful and stable region."

The tests added fuel to tensions already running high after the May 25 underground nuclear test blast.

Japan's defense chief called the North's launches "a serious act of provocation" that poses a threat to his country. Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada also said Pyongyang may fire more missiles.

The U.N. Security Council was holding closed meetings in New York on Monday to discuss the North's missile tests. The council was discussing a possible condemnation of North Korea at the meeting, which was requested by Japan, said a diplomat who asked to remain anonymous.

The recent launches on July 4 — the U.S. Independence Day holiday — appeared to be a poke at Washington as it moves to enforce U.N. sanctions as well as its own against North Korea.

Despite speculation that the North might try to launch a long-range missile toward Hawaii, U.S. defense officials said there have been no imminent signs of such a move.

Israeli FM praises Biden on Iran stand

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's hard-line foreign minister on Monday welcomed Vice President Joe Biden's statement that Israel can make its own decision about whether to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, calling it "logical."

But other Israeli leaders avoided comment, a low-key reaction that suggested Israel did not see Biden's comments as a green light to strike against its biggest Mideast rival. President Barack Obama underlined that diplomacy with Iran remains an option.

Israel considers Iran a strategic threat because of its nuclear program and long-range missile development, dismissing Iranian denials that it intends to build nuclear weapons. Israel has been nervous over the Obama administration's attempts to engage Iran, and Israel has pointedly sent clear signals of its military capabilities while urging world action to rein in Tehran.

Meanwhile, the U.S. goal of dialogue with Tehran has been rattled by Iran's heavy crackdown on protesters in the country's disputed presidential election, though Washington says it still hopes the policy will bear fruit.

Interviewed by ABC-TV on Sunday, Biden appeared to depart from his previous comment that an Israeli attack on Iran would be "ill-advised."

Asked about the possibility of an Israeli attack against Iran's nuclear facilities, Biden replied Sunday, "Israel can determine for itself — it's a sovereign nation — what's in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else."

The White House said Biden's remarks did not signal a shift in U.S. policy. In an interview published by the New York Times on Monday, President Barak Obama indicated the diplomatic option was still viable. "We have offered a pathway for Iran to rejoining the international community," he was quoted as saying.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's response to Biden's comments was relatively measured. "I think he said things that are very logical," he said. "Israel is a sovereign state and at the end of the day, the government of Israel has sole responsibility for its security and future, not anybody else."

"Sometimes there are disputes between friends, but at the end of the day the decision is ours," he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office has refused to comment, underlining Israel's sensitive position on Iran and on U.S. policy toward Tehran.

Israel, which is widely believed to have a nuclear arsenal of its own, says it would likely be targeted by Iran, based on repeated statements by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad referring to Israel's destruction.

But even Israeli hawks like Lieberman recognize the limitations of an Israeli strike. Israel destroyed Iraq's nuclear reactor in a 1981 airstrike, but experts do not believe Israel can do the same with Iran's nuclear operations, which are spread around the country, some of them hidden and heavily fortified.

Israel would also have to take into account the desires of the U.S., Israel's most important political and military ally.

The top U.S. military officer, Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned Sunday of the danger of an Iranian nuclear weapon — and of the fallout from an attack against Iran.

"I worry about it being very destabilizing not just in and of itself but the unintended consequences of a strike like that," he told CBS TV.

Netanyahu has been warning about the dangers of the Iranian nuclear program for years, calling for intensive world action to stop it. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, leader of the dovish Labor Party, speaks frequently of leaving all of Israel's options open.

Israel has sent several military signals to Iran.

This week an Israeli submarine said by foreign experts to have the capability of carrying nuclear-tipped missiles returned to the Mediterranean after crossing to the Red Sea in the direction of Iran, a mission seen as a warning. Also, Israel has held air force maneuvers that were described unofficially as practicing an attack on Iranian targets.

Lieberman, who has advocated radical military responses to a range of challenges over the years, could be expected to beat the drum for an Israeli attack on Iran.

Instead, he has voiced a contrasting concern — that Israel might be expected to do the world's dirty work by hitting Iran, leaving the world community free to criticize Israel afterward, as happened after the attack on Iraq in 1981.

During a visit to Russia, Lieberman said, "We do not intend to bomb Iran, and nobody will solve their problems with our hands."

US, Israel looking for a way to resolve settlements dispute

Tel Aviv - A new round of Israel-US talks in London failed to defuse the standoff over Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank, though analysts and aides say the two sides are looking for a face-saving compromise for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to yield on continued growth.

After a three-hour meeting with Middle East Envoy George Mitchell, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reported progress but added, "there's still a way to go," Ha'aretz reported on its website.

Israel is open to a temporary settlement freeze, but is demanding a conciliatory gesture from the Palestinians or the Arab states so Mr. Netanyahu can deflect political criticism from supporters already upset at his recent endorsement of a Palestinian state. An advisor to Netanyahu said the settlement issue is secondary and both sides want to put the dispute behind them.

"Even if the matter of a temporary freeze comes up, it can't be a unique or an isolated issue," says Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the US and foreign policy aide to Netanyahu. "In every quid pro quo there has to be a quo. Israel will want to hear what we can expect from the other side."

A joint statement released after the meeting named the formula for promoting "regional peace" between Israel and its Arab neighbors: Israel must lift blockades in the West Bank and "act" to curb settlement activity, while the Palestinians must boost security and the Arab states move toward normalization of ties with Israel.

Mr. Mitchell is expected to visit the region in the coming weeks for talks with Netanyahu.

In recent weeks, Israel has tried to parry favor with the US by lifting restrictions on Palestinian movement around the West Bank, but it hasn't alleviated pressure on the settlement issue.

"It's my sense that the US is not letting up," says Yossi Alpher, the coeditor of Israeli-Palestinian online opinion journal "The pressure has got the Netanyahu government squirming, bargaining for a way out," he said, adding that he sees signs of Israel backing down.

Mr. Alpher said that if the US is able to convince its Arab allies to make a normalization gesture to Israel as a quid pro quo, it could help Netanyahu present the talks as a diplomatic victory even before the start of peace talks.

Indeed, Netanyahu is coming under increasing criticism at home over the peace process. Israeli Television Channel 2 news reported that the prime minister is facing a group of about 12 lawmakers from within his own party who have signed a letter against his endorsement of a two-state solution.

The focus on the settlement issue is helping the US to recast itself as a more neutral broker in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, said one former Israeli diplomat. But the elusiveness of a deal on settlements could be a preview of the difficulties that are likely to arise if the sides ever resume peace negotiations.

"The talks with Mitchell look to me like technical talks," says Alon Liel, a former director general of the Israeli Foreign ministry. "They don't look to me as talks on the implementation of the Obama vision of two states. This is only beginning of the beginning."

Israel frees Hamas MP after three years

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AFP) — Israel on Monday released a Palestinian MP with the Islamist movement Hamas, Ibrahim Abu Salem, who was held behind bars since the capture of an Israeli soldier in Gaza, Hamas said.

He was arrested amid a West Bank crackdown on Hamas in which more than 60 elected officials were detained, including a third of the then government and more than two dozen MPs.

Some were later released, but 36 remain in custody.

The crackdown came after Hamas and other Gaza militants seized Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006. He remains in captivity to this day.

Hamas swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006 in a surprise rout of the long dominant Fatah party of president Mahmud Abbas. But the parliament has been paralysed since the wave of arrests.

Calls grow within G8 to expel Italy as summit plans descend into chaos

While US tries to inject purpose into meeting, Italy is lambasted for poor planning and reneging on overseas aid commitments.

Preparations for Wednesday's G8 summit in the Italian mountain town of L'Aquila have been so chaotic there is growing pressure from other member states to have Italy expelled from the group, according to senior western officials.

In the last few weeks before the summit, and in the absence of any substantive initiatives on the agenda, the US has taken control. Washington has organised "sherpa calls" (conference calls among senior officials) in a last-ditch bid to inject purpose into the meeting.

"For another country to organise the sherpa calls is just unprecedented. It's a nuclear option," said one senior G8 member state official. "The Italians have been just awful. There have been no processes and no planning."

"The G8 is a club, and clubs have membership dues. Italy has not been paying them," said a European official involved in the summit preparations.

The behind-the-scenes grumbling has gone as far as suggestions that Italy could be pushed out of the G8 or any successor group. One possibility being floated in European capitals is that Spain, which has higher per capita national income and gives a greater percentage of GDP in aid, would take Italy's place.

The Italian foreign ministry did not reply yesterday to a request to comment on the criticisms.

"The Italian preparations for the summit have been chaotic from start to finish," said Richard Gowan, an analyst at the Centre for International Co-operation at New York University.

"The Italians were saying as long ago as January this year that they did not have a vision of the summit, and if the Obama administration had any ideas they would take instruction from the Americans."

The US-led talks led to agreement on a food security initiative a few days before the L'Aquila meeting, the overall size of which is still being negotiated. Gordon Brown has said Britain would contribute £1.1bn to the scheme, designed to support farmers in developing countries.

However, officials who have seen the rest of the draft joint statement say there is very little new in it. Critics say Italy's Berlusconi government has made up for the lack of substance by increasing the size of the guest list. Estimates of the numbers of heads of state coming to L'Aquila range from 39 to 44.

"This is a gigantic fudge," Gowan said. "The Italians have no ideas and have decided that best thing to do is to spread the agenda extremely thinly to obscure the fact that didn't really have an agenda."

Silvio Berlusconi has come in for harsh criticism for delivering only 3% of development aid promises made four years ago, and for planning cuts of more than 50% in Italy's overseas aid budget.

Meanwhile, media coverage in the run-up to the meeting has been dominated by Berlusconi's parties with young women, and then the wisdom of holding a summit in a region experiencing seismic aftershocks three months after a devastating earthquake as a gesture of solidarity with the local population.

The heavy criticism of Italy comes at a time when the future of the G8 as a forum for addressing the world's problems is very much in question. At the beginning of the year the G20 group, which included emerging economies, was seen as a possible replacement, but the G20 London summit in April convinced US officials it was too unwieldy a vehicle.

The most likely replacement for the G8 is likely to be between 13- and 16-strong, including rising powers such as China, India, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa, which currently attend meetings as the "outreach five" But any transition would be painful as countries jostle for a seat. Italy's removal is seen in a possibility but Spanish membership in its place is unlikely. The US and the emerging economies believe the existing group is too Euro-centric already, and would prefer consolidated EU representation. That is seen as unlikely. No European state wants to give up their place at the table..

Vote leaves Mexico reforms in opposition's hands

By Catherine Bremer

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A worse-than-expected congressional election defeat for Mexico's ruling conservatives has left President Felipe Calderon's economic reform agenda firmly in the hands of the opposition.

Voters tired of a recession and crime wave handed victory at Sunday's mid-term vote to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which has flourished in opposition since it was ousted in 2000 from seven decades of one-party rule.

Calderon's National Action Party, or PAN, moved Mexico into a new era of democracy with the victory over the PRI nine years ago but it has failed to create the jobs it promised, leaving millions to cross the U.S. border illegally in search of work.

Mexicans have praised Calderon's war on drug gangs, but are worried by a surge in brutal cartel murders and kidnappings, and Calderon's defeat now risks leaving him a lame duck.

A determined former lawyer, Calderon wants economic reforms like tax and energy overhauls to be part of his legacy.

Bumped down to second place in Congress, his party will only achieve a tax reform seen crucial for Mexico's credit ratings if the PRI backs it.

The PRI has left behind its authoritarian past, and some investors hope it will end its old habit of stalling reforms as it eyes 2012 presidential elections and will instead favor laws to dynamize the sputtering economy.

PRI leader Beatriz Paredes said on Monday the party has a "very clear" agenda of the need for deep economic changes and solutions to the economic crisis.

Her comments helped pare overnight losses in the peso, and Barclays Capital analysts called them "encouraging".

Other analysts took the remarks with a pinch of salt, noting the party must avoid irking its old-school support base. Its intentions regarding a tax reform may not become fully clear until a proposal is voted on in September.

"The PRI is clearly a front-runner to win in 2012, so they have an incentive to make sure the economy is in good shape," said Damian Fraser, head of Latin American research at UBS.

"(But) the big uncertainty over what the PRI is going to do remains an uncertainty and I don't think will be clarified over the next few weeks -- I don't think it will be clarified until the day of the vote on any specific legislation," he said.


Mexico is a top U.S. trading partner, supplying it with everything from oil and cars to avocados and strawberries.

The U.S. downturn has battered Mexico more than other Latin American countries, and unemployed youths are an easy target for drug gang scouts, seeking new recruits to replace the hundreds killed each month in cartel turf wars.

Mexico's economy is due to shrink more than 6 percent this year and oil output, long a pillar of public finances, is falling fast, exposing the country's paltry tax take.

Calderon, whose plans to widen Mexico's tax base are now in the PRI's hands, called on Congress to put rivalry behind it and focus on ways to spur economic growth and competitiveness.

"The countries Mexico competes with are working on a daily basis to make their labor markets more dynamic, improve their regulatory framework, increase fiscal efficiency and strengthen competitiveness. Mexico cannot be left behind," he said.

The PRI's more than 8 percentage point win could mean it takes some 240 of the 500 seats in the lower house, close to an absolute majority, versus the PAN's 138, according to Roy Campos of the Consulta Mitofsky polling firm.

The PRI could even garner an absolute majority in the lower house if it teams up with the Greens.

However the balance of power looks, a fiscal overhaul that Mexico's central bank has called "really urgent" will be difficult to pass in the next three years, analysts say.

"Clearly, the big risk coming from these results is that Calderon becomes a lame duck," wrote Win Thin, senior currency strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, in a research note.

Rating agencies that have threatened to downgrade Mexico's sovereign debt, raising borrowing costs, unless it hikes its tax take, said the election has not changed their views.

"At this point we don't foresee going back to stable anytime soon," Fitch senior country analyst Shelly Shetty told Reuters. Standard and Poor's said it wants to see the PAN's proposals and the PRI's counter measures before making further judgments.

By the time Mexican voters return to the polls in 2012, the economy should have rebounded and the focus will be squarely back on Calderon's army-led drug war. Washington has praised the crackdown but Mexicans say drug gang slayings are worse than ever and street crime and kidnappings are rampant.

"We weren't as bad with the PRI as we are now. Poverty and crime have increased," said student Pamela Gonzalez, 25.

Khamenei warns West, Paris says French woman arrested

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned Western leaders against meddling on Monday as Paris said a French woman academic has been detained in the Islamic republic on spying charges.

Britain, meanwhile, said that all but one embassy employee detained for allegedly stoking unrest have now been freed.

Khameini admitted to "differences" among Iranians following the bitterly disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last month but warned the West not to exploit the worst crisis in Iran since its 1979 revolution.

"The Iranian nation warns the leaders of those countries trying to take advantage of the situation, beware! The Iranian nation will react," Khamenei said in a televised speech.

Facing global concern about the June 12 election and an ensuing crackdown on the opposition, Iranian leaders fired back, accusing Britain and the United States in particular of seeking to exploit the public protests to destabilise the Islamic regime.

It expelled two British diplomats last month, prompting a tit-for-tat response from London, and detained nine locally recruited British embassy staff, accusing them of instigating riots during the massive public demonstrations in Tehran.

At least 20 people were killed and more than 1,000 arrested in the unrest, according to police, while human rights groups have said as many as 2,000 were detained.

Despite the crackdown, the Iranian opposition remains defiant, with Ahmadinejad's main defeated rival Mir Hossein Mousavi renewing his accusations that the voting process was full of "irregularities."

After a Franco-British summit, the foreign ministry in Paris said: "France firmly condemns the July 1 arrest and detention by Iran of a French academic.

"The spying charges put forward by the Iranian authorities do not pass the test," it added, without revealing the name of the woman, who had been in Iran for five months when she was arrested at the airport as she was about to leave.

Britain said the eighth of the nine embassy staff detained had been released on Sunday, leaving one in custody.

"The Iranian regime must be clear that if this action continues and we are forced to act, we will act together with our European partners," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said.

Britain and France took a firm stance on Iran at their summit in the French Alpine town of Evians.

"The Iranian regime must be clear that if this action continues and we are forced to act, we will act together with our European partners," Brown told a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Sarkozy expressed France's "total solidarity" with Britain.

A top Iranian cleric said on Friday that some of the British embassy staff would be put on trial, but did not say how many, while European Union governments had called in Iranian ambassadors across the 27-nation bloc in protest at the detentions.

Russia however has warned against a harsh response, saying it could jeopardise talks over Iran's nuclear programme, which the West suspects is a cover for a weapons drive despite Tehran's denials.

Tehran and Washington engaged in a new war of words over the nuclear programme on Monday after Vice President Joe Biden said the United States would not stand in Israel's way in its dealings with Iran's nuclear ambitions.

The chairman of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, warned Iran would respond to any attack by its arch-foe Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear armed state.

"If (an Israeli attack) occurred, then the Islamic Republic of Iran will respond in a very full-scale and very decisive way."

Biden told US television network ABC that "we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination, that they're existentially threatened."

Death and debris on Urumqi's streets, but in Beijing the blame game begins

Muslim exiles accused of incitement as UN backs minorities' right to protest.

The Chinese government and Uighur exile groups blamed each other after the deadliest ethnic violence in decades left at least 156 people dead and 800 injured in Urumqi, western China, on Sunday.

As armed police cleared bodies, debris and torched buses from the streets, the government launched a media offensive against Rebiya Kadeer, the leader of the exiled World Uighur Congress.

The Chinese authorities claim she and her supporters masterminded the riot that tore through the capital of the Xinjiang region on Sunday evening, the latest escalation of unrest between indigenous Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese settlers.

"Rebiya had phone conversations with people in China on 5 July in order to incite, and websites ... were used to orchestrate the incitement and spread propaganda," Xinjiang's governor, Nur Bekri, said in a televised address.

"The unrest is a pre-empted, organised violent crime. It is instigated and directed from abroad, and carried out by outlaws," a central government statement noted.

China Central Television broadcast images of attacks on Han and Hui Chinese by angry Uighurs, bodies in the streets and bloodied victims being rushed to hospital. State media said the rioters burned 203 shops, 14 homes, 190 buses, two police cars and more than 60 other vehicles.

Overseas Uighur organisations deny incitement and accuse the security forces of stirring up violence by killing peaceful protesters rallying to honour two Uighurs beaten to death in a racial attack by Han Chinese last month.

The World Uighur Congress said scores of demonstrators were shotdead by riot police and crushed by armed personnel carriers in a heavy-handed attempt to disperse the crowd of 1,000 to 3,000, some of whom were waving Chinese flags.

Kadeer drew parallels between the treatment of Tibet and East Turkestan, as many Uighurs call their homeland.

"It is a common practice of the Chinese government to accuse me for any unrest in East Turkestan and His Holiness the Dalai Lama for any unrest in Tibet," she said. "The authorities should also acknowledge that their failure to take any meaningful action to punish the Chinese mob for the brutal murder of Uighurs is the real cause of this protest."

Others asked for international support for the Uighurs to peacefully protest against Chinese rule, racial discrimination and restrictions on freedom of religion.

Independent verification of the opposing claims was difficult. Many areas of the city were blocked and mobile and internet communications disrupted. China Mobile's phone service was suspended in the region "to help keep the peace and prevent the incident from spreading further," a customer service representative in Urumqi told Associated Press.

Little evidence was presented of incitement and the authorities have not released a casualty list.

Armed police have flooded the city, setting up road blocks and rounding up hundreds of suspects.

The police chief, Liu Yaohua, told the state-run Xinhua news agency that checkpoints had been set up to prevent 90 "key suspects" fleeing. He predicted the death toll would rise further.

The Urumqi municipal government issued emergency controls banning traffic in certain areas from 1am to 8am to "maintain social order in the city and guarantee the execution of duty by state organs".

In Geneva, the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, urged governments to respect citizens' right to protest.

Roseann Rife, Amnesty International's deputy director for Asia and the Pacific, said: "The Chinese authorities must fully account for all those who died and have been detained. There has been a tragic loss of life and it is essential that an urgent independent investigation takes place to bring all those responsible for the deaths to justice."

Russian civil society leaders to appeal to Obama

By Amie Ferris-Rotman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian civil society leaders will appeal to President Barack Obama on Tuesday to focus a spotlight on the country's democratic deficit and lack of transparency.

Obama plans to dedicate several hours to dozens of organizations, entrepreneurs and NGOs who operate in Russia as part of his two-day visit -- a session his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev turned down, sources said.

After signing a series of bilateral agreements on Monday, including on nuclear arms reduction and Afghanistan, Obama said he would turn his attention to more human issues.

"I look forward to broadening this effort, to include business, civil society, dialogue among Americans and Russians," he said.

U.S. leaders' comments on Russian democracy and civil society have received a cold reception in the past.

But Medvedev, since becoming president just over a year ago, has made repeated pledges to improve civil society and encourage openness and pluralism in both the business and social spheres.

One of his proposals, the easing of restrictions placed on NGOs operating in Russia, was passed last week ahead of Obama's visit.

Though Medvedev has cultivated an image as a liberal, analysts say he has made very few substantive changes.

"Anti-Westernism" and "authoritarianism" remain dangerous for both democracy and business in Russia, said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, the head of the influential Moscow Helsinki Group, Russia's oldest non-governmental organization.

William Beebe-Center, president of the non-profit Eurasia Foundation organizing Obama's civic meeting, said civil society was an essential part of bilateral relations.

"The engagement between Russia and America will be incomplete if the social dimension is not renewed and deepened."

Several of those who will attend Tuesday's meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Medvedev had turned down an invitation to join Obama for the session.

"The president (Medvedev) does not need to be in the presence of other presidents in order to discuss civil society in his country," Itar-Tass news agency quoted a Kremlin source as saying on Monday. The Kremlin declined to comment.

7 American troops killed in Afghan incidents

The largest one-day toll in months is a sign of intensifying conflict in the south, where a major U.S. offensive is under way, as well as increased insurgent activity in the other parts of the nation.

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan -- In the largest one-day death toll in months for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, seven American service members were killed today.

The deaths -- two in the south, four in the north, and one in the east -- were a sign of intensifying conflict in a large swath of the south, where a major U.S. offensive is under way. But they also signaled insurgents' determination to push into areas that have been relatively quiet, such as Afghanistan's northern tier, and to keep up pressure on American forces in the east, which borders Pakistan's volatile tribal areas.

At least six of the deaths were caused by improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs -- the insurgents' weapon of choice, according to a statement from NATO's International Security Assistance Force.

Afghan civilians, too, again proved vulnerable to the rising violence. Two were killed when a suicide bomber attacked the outer gate of the sprawling NATO base at Kandahar, the alliance's main hub in the south. The area where the attacker struck was a gate widely used by Afghan workers entering the base, far from the main part of the military installation. Western troops are usually traveling in armored convoys when they pass through the base's outer ring of defenses.

The deaths of the American troops in the north, in Kunduz province, when their vehicles hit a roadside bomb, were unusual not only because the area suffers relatively few such attacks, but also because there are not many U.S. troops there. Most of the American soldiers are deployed in the south and the east, both of which are hubs of insurgent activity.

The four Americans killed in today's strike had been involved in training Afghan security forces, U.S. military officials said.

Eastern Afghanistan had been the scene two days earlier of a tightly coordinated insurgent attack on a remote base that killed two Americans. A Taliban website today claimed responsibility for the capture of a U.S. soldier who had been reported missing June 30 in the east.

No details were released about the two Americans killed in southern Afghanistan, but it appeared they were not part of a 4,000-strong U.S. Marine force seeking to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley. The offensive, which began earlier this week, is described as the largest American-staged assault since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that drove the Taliban from power.

U.S. military officials have acknowledged it will take some time to determine whether mistrustful tribal leaders and local people in Helmand province will accept the presence of the Marines, let alone welcome the American forces. Afghan officials in the province who allied themselves with the government and Western forces in the past often found themselves at the mercy of the Taliban whenever the attention of thinly spread coalition troops -- mostly British, until the arrival this spring and summer of about 8,000 U.S. Marines -- was diverted elsewhere.

As a centerpiece of the current offensive, called Strike of the Sword, the Marines, accompanied by about 600 Afghan troops, intend to set up small bases and hold the territory, all the while forging relationships with the local leadership, U.S. commanders have said.

In recent days, Marines have pushed as far south as the district of Khan Neshin, a longtime Taliban stronghold, the Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan said in a statement. It said government control had been restored in the district for the first time in several years.

Scalpers selling Jackson memorial tickets online

(CNN) -- Despite efforts to keep people from profiting from Tuesday's public memorial service for Michael Jackson, scalpers online Monday were asking as much as $9,000 per ticket to the free event.

Dozens of listings selling vouchers for Jackson tickets appeared Monday on auction site eBay and Craigslist, the classified ads site, prompting complaints from Jackson fans and others who felt the sales were inappropriate.

"You people trying to sell these tickets should be absolutely ashamed of yourselves," said a Craigslist user in a post Monday morning. "Please flag all of these money-grabbing opportunists...if you're a true MJ fan you won't give money to these parasites."

Organizers of the public memorial service, scheduled for Tuesday morning at the Staples Center arena in downtown Los Angeles, made 8,750 pairs of tickets available through an online lottery. But demand far outstripped supply, as about 1.6 million fans registered for a chance at the tickets.

Winners received an e-mail Sunday directing them to print vouchers and bring them Monday to Dodgers Stadium, where they were to receive tickets and have a nonremovable wristband placed on their arms. Those entering the Staples Center on Tuesday must have wristbands to match their tickets.

But that didn't stop some people from trying to sell their vouchers to anyone who could make it to Dodgers Stadium by 6 p.m. Monday.

One pair of tickets attracted a bid of $275,000 on eBay before the listing was removed. It was difficult to tell whether the offer was serious.

Both eBay and Craigslist took steps Monday to thwart the ticket sellers.

"eBay will not allow Michael Jackson memorial service tickets to be listed on the site," the company said in a statement. "If found, eBay will remove them from the site immediately."

By Monday afternoon the number of listings for "Michael Jackson memorial tickets" on eBay had dropped to a handful, and the site was removing them shortly after they appeared.

Craigslist allows its users to flag ads they find inappropriate, and ads receiving enough negative flags are automatically removed from the site. Many ads proffering Jackson memorial tickets were removed shortly after they were posted Monday.

Among those was a listing posted by a man who identified himself only as Peetey, 29, of Venice Beach, California. He was asking $8,000 for a single ticket; the winning bidder would accompany his girlfriend to the service, he said.

The ad was removed within 15 minutes, he said, but that was enough time for five people to call with interest.

When contacted by CNN, Peetey said he sees nothing wrong with selling a free ticket to a memorial service.

"We live in a capitalist society where money is what really speaks," he said. "I'm not trying to make a huge profit. I'm not trying to take advantage of anybody."

Peetey, who did not want his last name used for fear of backlash from Jackson fans, said he would go to the memorial service if he can't get at least $5,000 for the ticket. His girlfriend won the lottery-issued tickets, he said, and will attend the event.

"I want to go, and I have a large desire to go, but if I can get a lot of money, especially in this economic climate, it doesn't seem wise for me to sit there for two hours if I can get $10,000 for the ticket," he said.

Daniel Moreno, 33, of Murrieta, California, said people trying to sell the tickets are disgracing Jackson by trying to capitalizing on his death.

"That kind of sucks, you know. The guy's dead," said Moreno, who posted a statement on Craigslist vowing to flag any listings selling Jackson memorial tickets.

Moreno said those with tickets should give them away if they don't want to attend the service.

"I don't have $1,000 to spend on this ticket and wouldn't want to spend $1,000 on this ticket," he told CNN. "And I wouldn't want to be in the presence of someone who's trying to sell the ticket because I'd be arrested for battery."

By 10 a.m. more than 2,200 Jackson fans had visited Dodger Stadium to pick up their tickets. Los Angeles police Capt. Bill Murphy said the distribution process was going smoothly. One person tried to pass off a photocopied voucher and was ejected, Murphy said.

Russia, U.S. Cooperation on Afghanistan Shows 180 Degree Turn

A deal between the United States and Russia to increase assistance and training in Afghanistan is being hailed as a full turn-around for two nations that had once been on opposite sides during a different Afghan war.

MOSCOW -- A deal between the United States and Russia to increase assistance and training in Afghanistan is being hailed by Obama administration officials as "historic" and demonstrative of two nations no longer fighting a Cold War.

A joint statement issued Monday before a press conference in Moscow with President Obama and Russian President Dmitri Medvedev pledges a commitment to the nation of Afghanistan as it struggles to overcome various political and social challenges.

"We reaffirm our commitment to the goals of the common fight against the threats of terrorism, armed extremism, and illegal drug trafficking in Afghanistan," the statement reads. "We shall continue and develop our cooperation in the interest of enhancing the capabilities of the government of Afghanistan to accomplish key socioeconomic objectives, to raise living standards, and to ensure the security of its people."

The statement was a bit lost in the news in a series of agreements, including on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, and senior administration officials chided reporters for focusing on a Cold War type of relationship between the two nations.

"This is not the Cold War. This is not just a relationship about competition, confrontation and the things we disagree about," said Michael McFaul, a senior adviser on Russia. "This discussion makes me feel a little bit like some of us want to fight what is not a real war. It is not real. The threat that we pose to Russia from our missile defense systems is not real. The president couldn't have been more clear about that."

McFaul highlighted the Russians allowing 4,500 flights of American soldiers and equipment going through Russia, a country he admitted, used to be an adversary. "We're talking about 4,500 flights of American soldiers and equipment going through what used to be our enemy. And they're paying for it. This is something that's very concrete. This is a real war we're fighting."

The United States' rough calculation is that the flights will save around $133 millions in navigation fees, a cost the Russians will now pick up.

One irony that went unmentioned in the announcement was the U.S. role in helping defeat Russia in Afghanistan in the 1980s in what was seen as one of the last Cold War stands before communism fell in the Soviet Union.

The White House wanted to highlight progress on various efforts the two presidents reached Monday, saying there was more than one or two signing statements about missile defense and START.

"The eight or nine things that we did agree upon and the multi-dimensional relationship that we're trying to put together in a very short period of time is what we really talked about, not this part where we have so much contention," McFaul said.

Girls athlete of the year: Jordan Hasay to run at Oregon

Jordan Hasay has never had a major haircut. "Just trims," said the 17-year-old distance runner from Mission College Prep in San Luis Obispo, Calif. "It's kind of my trademark."

So is winning. Last week Hasay won her third straight national juniors title in the 1,500 with a time of 4:18.99. The 5-foot-4 prodigy is's girls athlete of the year.

When Hasay first enrolled at the small seaside school four years ago, she would jackrabbit out in front of the pack and "attempt to annihilate the competition." At the Stanford Invitational during her first cross country season, she sprinted to a 5:01 opening mile, but collapsed from exhaustion afterward. "I would heave a sigh and shake my head when she would go out so fast," said Dr. Armando Siqueiros, who has coached and mentored Hasay throughout her track career. "Onlookers would encourage it, but she had so much to learn."

Patience was a difficult lesson to teach her. When Hasay was in the fifth grade, her father, Joe, an aerospace engineer, took her to a nearby beach to go for a run. After a short distance, Joe tried to temper her speed by slowing to a speed walk. Unwilling to wait any longer, she asked permission to run ahead. "She's never really had a training partner," Joe Hasay said.

It did not take long to prove she was peerless on the national scene. As she rode in a van up to the University of Oregon's Hayward Field for the Junior Olympics in 2004, Hasay, who had only run on 200-meter dirt tracks at home, craned her neck up at the stands and told her parents, "There's no way I can race in front of all these people." But once on the track, she needed just 4:34.02 to claim her first of three junior national titles in the 1,500.

Though she failed to finish her first cross-country race as a freshman, she became only the second freshman to claim the Foot Locker national title with a time of 17:05. This year she became the first Californian to win four straight 3,200 titles. This fall, she will head off to Oregon as the highest-profile female track recruit in the country. In the classroom, Hasay has been just as effective. She was class valedictorian and her graduation can be seen on YouTube.

When Hasay was in the eighth grade, she told Mission College coach Leslie Monaco that she wanted to run in the Olympics, a goal that became more realistic when she advanced to the finals of the women's 1,500 at last year's U.S. Olympic Trials. The London Games in 2012 are a real possibility. Said Siqueiros: "She can be as good as any American we've seen."

Last July, Siquerios advised Hasay to paint her long blond hair red, white and blue before running the 1,500 at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Hasay refused. During the semifinals, sitting in eighth place with 300 meters to go, she passed one runner, then another. By the end of race, she finished fifth in her heat and set the national prep record of 4:14:50. "She's going to have to cut the hair in the long run," Siqueiros said. "It'll make things easier in the heat."