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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

GAMA, GE to Bring Water to Northern Jordan Through Investment in US$1 Billion Pipeline

Jordan - (Business Wire)
A milestone in a strategically important new water supply that will help alleviate a severe water shortage in Jordan’s capital and surrounding area has been reached with funding of construction of a pipeline project by GAMA Energy A.S., a joint venture between GAMA Holding A.S. and GE (NYSE:GE) unit GE Energy Financial Services. The US$1 billion Disi Water Conveyance Project includes construction of a 325-kilometer pipeline that will pump water from the Disi aquifer in Mudawarra to Jordan’s most populous city, the capital of Amman. The investment will create jobs and promote private sector participation in Jordan’s development.

The Government of Jordan conceived the Disi Water Conveyance Project as part of its strategic plan to increase water supplies to the country’s growing population. Jordan is one of the world’s most water-scarce countries, and the Disi project is a key solution. It is expected to supply Amman and surrounding areas with more than 100 million cubic meters of water a year. The use of water from the reservoir in Disi-Mudawarra started in the early 1980s for municipal and industrial purposes in the city of Aqaba.

The Disi project is the largest privately financed water supply project in Jordan and the surrounding countries. GAMA Energy, based in Ankara, will invest approximately US$190 million, the Ministry of Water and Irrigation of Jordan will provide a US$300 million grant, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation of the United States, the European Investment Bank and Proparco of France will collectively provide US$455 million in debt financing. The Jordanian ministry signed loan agreements with the EIB and the French Development Agency (AFD) on May 17.

In 2007, the Government of Jordan awarded GAMA a concession to build and operate the water pipeline. GAMA Energy will own the project for a 25-year concession period, after which it transfers to the Government of Jordan. The first in a series of fundings was made today, with construction expected to begin this month. The project’s construction, by an affiliate of GAMA Holding, is expected to take four years and use an estimated 250,000 tons of steel and involve the digging of 55 wells. The project will extract water from the Disi well fields in the 320-kilometer-long Disi sandstone aquifer in Jordan and deliver it to the Abu Alanda Reservoir and the Dabuk Reservoir. Disi Amman Operation Maintenance LLC, fully owned by Suez Environment, will provide long-term operations and maintenance services.

Commenting on the Disi project, Prime Minister Dahabi of Jordan said: “This strategic project represents a milestone towards ensuring water security and addressing the country’s water shortage.”

GAMA Energy Managing Director and Board Member M. Arif Ozozan said: “GAMA Energy is honored to help Jordan solve its water problem, improve the quality of life and accelerate the Jordanian economy through job creation and infrastructure improvement. We also take pride in the vote of confidence we won from the financial community by closing a $1 billion project amidst the worldwide economic downturn.”

Andrew Marsden, Managing Director of Europe at GE Energy Financial Services, said: “In keeping with GE’s commitment to expand its activities in the Middle East, this important project will help alleviate the critical water needs of the Kingdom of Jordan.”

“This transaction will provide GAMA with a solid infrastructure development foothold in the region while enhancing the value of the GAMA Energy growth platform,” said Hakan Ozman of GAMA Holding A.S.

OPIC Acting President Dr. Lawrence Spinelli said, “Improving the provision of water, particularly in a water-scarce country such as Jordan, is the most important developmental challenge any nation faces. OPIC is extremely pleased to be part of the historic Disi aquifer project, which will help to alleviate a severe water shortage in Jordan, and to do so in partnership with GE Energy Financial Services and the other project sponsors.”

Jordan’s water resources per capita are among the world’s lowest. Water is delivered only once a week to Amman’s residents. Jordan's annual water consumption is 900 million cubic meters, and it will need 1.6 billion cubic meters per year to meet its requirements by 2015. The Disi Water Conveyance Project will account for approximately 6 percent of Jordan’s total consumption projected in 2015.

GE's investment in the Jordanian water project is the latest in a series of initiatives the company has undertaken in just the past month in the region. On June 23, GE announced the opening of a nearly $10 million GE Saudi Water & Process Technology Center in Damman, Saudi Arabia, the second GE Water facility in the Gulf. On June 11, GE Energy announced it had signed contracts totaling more than US$500 million to supply advanced power generation equipment and long-term services for the Al Dur Independent Water and Power Project, the largest power plant in the Kingdom of Bahrain. GE and Mubadala Development Company announced May 31 the signing of a US$8 billion commercial finance joint venture agreement and establishment of a regional training center for next-generation business leaders.

GE, GAMA get funding for water pipeline in Jordan

NEW YORK -- GAMA Energy AS, a joint venture between Turkey-based GAMA Holding AS and General Electric Co. unit GE Energy Financial Services, said Wednesday it reached a funding milestone for the construction of a water-pipeline project in Jordan.

The $1 billion Disi Water Conveyance project is expected to address water-scarcity issues by supplying Amman, the country's capital, and surrounding areas with more than 100 million cubic meters of water per year, the company said. Jordan's water resources per capita are among the world's lowest and water is delivered only once a week to Amman's residents, according to a statement by GAMA Energy. The 325-kilometer (200 miles) pipeline will pump water from the Disi aquifer in Mudawarra to Amman. About 2.5 million people live in Amman, according to the U.S. Department of State's Web site.

GAMA Energy said the project is the largest privately financed water-supply project in Jordan, with GAMA Energy investing $190 million; the Ministry of Water and Irrigation of Jordan giving a $300 million grant; and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation of the United States, the European Investment Bank and Proparco of France collectively providing $455 million in debt financing. The Jordanian ministry signed loan agreements with the EIB and the French Development Agency on May 17.

In 2007, the government of Jordan awarded GAMA a concession to build and operate the water pipeline, the statement said. GAMA Energy will own the project for a 25-year concession period, after which it will transfer to the Government of Jordan, it added. Today's funding news is the first in a series, the company said, adding that construction will likely begin this month. Construction of the pipeline, by an affiliate of GAMA Holding, is expected to take four years and use an estimated 250,000 tons of steel and involve the digging of 55 wells. Disi Amman Operation Maintenance LLC, fully owned by Suez Environment, will provide long-term operations and maintenance services.

Hamas tries to detain woman walking with man

JERUSALEM (AP) — An attempt by Hamas police to detain a young woman walking with a man along the Gaza beach has raised alarms that the Islamic militant group is seeking to match its political control of the coastal territory with a strict enforcement of Islamic law.

The man she walked with and two of his peers were detained, beaten and ordered to sign statements promising not to engage in immoral activities, said the woman and one of the men.

The incident was the first known case of Hamas openly trying to punish a woman for behaving in a way it views as un-Islamic since seizing power two years ago. But it follows months of quiet pressure on Gaza's overwhelmingly conservative 1.4 million residents to abide by its strict religious mores.

Hamas officials in Gaza have publicly urged shopkeepers to take down foreign advertisements showing the shape of women's bodies and to stash away lingerie often displayed in windows. Officials search electronic shops to check if they are selling pornography on tiny flash drives.

"There's an open, public program to preserve public morals in Gaza," said local rights activist Isam Younis. "In reality that means trying to restrict freedoms."

Hamas denies any crackdown is under way. Since taking power, it has said it would only try to lead by example and not impose its views on anyone.

However, the group has taken no public action against small, shadowy groups that have attacked perceived hotbeds of Western immorality, such as hairdressers and Internet cafes, fueling criticism that it has not been tough enough on hard-line Muslim groups.

Freelance journalist Asma al-Ghoul says a group of Hamas police sent a clear message that certain behavior would not be tolerated when she went to the beach one evening in late June.

Al-Ghoul, 26, said she was spending time with a group of friends — two women and three men — on the northern Gaza shore.

Al-Ghoul is fairly exceptional in Gaza because she does not wear a Muslim headscarf. On that evening she wore jeans and a T-shirt — dress that is considered fairly provocative in Gaza's conservative society and which could have easily attracted the attention of the plain-clothed Hamas vice police who patrol the beaches.

Al-Ghoul swam, fully dressed, with a girlfriend, and then asked a male friend to walk her over to a nearby beach house rented by another couple she knew to shower and change.

Three policemen showed up and waited for al-Ghoul in the beach house garden, said an eyewitness who asked to remain anonymous because of security concerns. They took her identity card and demanded she accompany them to a nearby station — an order she refused.

An argument ensued and she was able to avoid detention and get her identity card back only after the homeowner contacted a senior Hamas official who intervened and spoke to the officers by telephone. The official, Taher Nunu, was not immediately available for comment.

The eyewitness said the police did not say why they wanted to detain al-Ghoul, but were insinuating that her behavior was unbecoming. Under Hamas' strict interpretation of Islamic law, a woman should not go out in public with men who are not related to her.

However, al-Ghoul said her male friends were subsequently beaten by Hamas police, detained for several hours and asked to sign statements saying they would not "violate public moral standards again," she said.

Al-Ghoul said she mostly felt angry that the police made her feel like she had done something wrong.

"I'm not provocative and my dress isn't provocative, and I'm not scandalous either," she said.

Her story only became public after rights groups published excerpts on their Web sites. Her version of events was confirmed by two other witnesses, including Adham Khalil, one of the men who was detained. Khalil said he was beaten.

Hamas police spokesman Islam Shahwan denied the incident took place but said Gaza residents "must preserve our customs and Islamic traditions."

Israel to extend hours of key Jordan crossing

JERUSALEM (AFP) — Israel on Wednesday said it would increase the operating hours of the key Allenby border crossing with Jordan in a move aimed at boosting the Palestinian economy.

At a cabinet committee charged with improving the West Bank economy, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the extension of hours of operation of Allenby for the transport of goods, his office said in a statement.

"Until now the crossing was open until eight in the evening," a spokesman for the prime minister said. "It will now be open until midnight, with the option to extend operations to 24 hours according to need."

The border checkpoint near the West Bank town of Jericho is the only point of access to Jordan for Arab residents and businesses in the West Bank.

Netanyahu also vowed to push ahead with development of three internationally-backed West Bank projects that have been stalled for years, instructing relevant government bodies to remove the bureaucratic obstacles.

The projects include a French-backed light-industrial park in Bethlehem, a German-assisted industrial park near Jenin and a Japanese-funded scheme to export farming products from Jericho.

Since forming a government in February, the hawkish prime minister has come under heavy international pressure to remove economic restrictions on Palestinians and end Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.

Also on Wednesday, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon and other Israeli officials presented steps the government has implemented over the past three months in a bid to ease the daily life of West Bank Palestinians.

The measures included the removal of dozens of checkpoints in the occupied territory, although according to United Nations figures there are still more than 600 checkpoints.

"The number of checkpoints was decreased from 41 in July 2007 to 14 today... The vast majority of inspection points and crossings in the West Bank are open 24 hours a day," Ayalon said at a press conference.

Israel to allow 24-hour West Bank crossing

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel said on Wednesday it would allow a crossing between the occupied West Bank and Jordan to remain open 24 hours a day to help the Palestinian economy.

"The prime minister has ordered an immediate and significant extension of opening hours of the Allenby Bridge crossing for imports and exports in order to increase business activity and improve the lives of Palestinians," an official statement said.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told reporters the crossing, named after General Edmund Allenby, the British commander in colonial Palestine after World War One, would be open 24 hours a day.

The Palestinian Authority has demanded the Allenby terminal operate around the clock. Until now it has been open for passenger and commercial traffic for 12 hours a day during the working week and seven hours a day at weekends.

Nazmi Mhanna, director of border crossings in the Palestinian Authority, said a 24-hour commercial schedule would "increase the volume of exports and imports, which will boost the economy."

The Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge across the Jordan River is the West Bank's only land link to the Arab world.

Palestinians have complained that strict Israeli security checks hamper the transfer of goods to and from Jordan. They say long waiting hours in the sun damage agricultural produce, causing losses and discouraging trade.

About 16,422 shipments went through Allenby last year, a 45 percent increase from 2007, Israeli data showed. They consisted mainly of agricultural goods and building materials.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said shoring up the Palestinian economy in the West Bank would be a goal of his right-leaning government and help spur peace efforts.

The statement said Israel was ready to provide water, electricity and other infrastructure support to three internationally funded projects in the West Bank. So far the Palestinian Authority has not made such demands, it said.

The projects were a German-sponsored industrial park near Jenin, a Japanese-backed program to process and export agricultural products from Jericho, near the Dead Sea, to the Gulf, and a French-funded light industry zone at Bethlehem.

"Some of the projects have been stalled for many years and it was decided at a meeting this morning to focus on removing obstacles and promoting them," said the statement, issued by Netanyahu's office.

Leaders of developing nations shun plan to cut greenhouse gases in half

The Group of 8, meeting in Italy, backs a reduction in overall emissions by half by 2050 and 80% for industrialized nations. But leaders of developing nations balk at the plan.

Reporting from L'Aquila, Italy -- The world's biggest polluters failed to reach an agreement today on a plan to cut greenhouse-gas emissions in half by 2050, after developing nations decided not to sign on to the idea during an international summit here.

Leaders of the Group of 8 industrial nations said they would issue a statement committing to the standard later today, pledging to cut overall emissions by 50% by the middle of the century and reducing those of industrialized nations by 80%.

But leaders of developing nations balked at the plan, according to sources who were present for the talks but asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to speak for the group.

The major economies forum, which includes the world's leading greenhouse-gas emitters, will not issue such a joint declaration after its meeting Thursday, White House officials confirmed.

President Obama's lead climate negotiator said the global standard is still on the table as the nations work toward a summit in Copenhagen in December and characterized the forthcoming MEF statement as "significant progress."

"I'd have been delighted to get to 80/50," climate point man Todd Stern said this afternoon. "We didn't quite get there. . . . This is a negotiation, and I hope we can get there down the road."

President Barack Obama landed earlier today in this earthquake-ravaged region of Italy for a summit of the Group of 8 nations as his aides voiced confidence that leaders would maintain their support for economic stimulus strategies in the face of a global recession and said the best commitment that the United States could make on climate change lies with energy legislation moving through Congress.

Obama, arriving in L'Aquila on a sun-drenched afternoon, was greeted by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and the leaders of the other participating nations, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

L'Aquila was the site of a devastating earthquake in April that killed 300 people and crumbled historic buildings hundreds of years old. Obama was to tour the area with Berlusconi to survey the damage later in the day.

Earlier today, Obama stopped off in Rome to hold closed-door talks with Italian President Giorgio Napolitano. After their meeting, Obama praised ties between Washington and Rome, calling Italy "a great friend" of the U.S.

Obama said the two nations were working together to strengthen oversight of financial institutions and were "working hand in hand in places like Afghanistan to ensure that we're isolating extremists and strengthening the forces of moderation around the world."

At his side, Napolitano said that the actions and initiatives of the first six months of the Obama administration "enjoyed a broad consensus in Italian public opinion." He also expressed hope that Europe would speak with one voice, to remain an influential force in world affairs.

Security has been heavily beefed up for the summit. Police officers were posted on nearly every bridge overlooking highways leading to L'Aquila, about 60 miles outside of Rome.

The Italian news agency ANSA reported that the nation's military had deployed 2,500 troops, Predator drone aircraft, a NATO spy plane and a Hawk missile battery to protect the leaders who will be both staying and working in L'Aquila through Friday.

Michael Froman, Obama's point man on the G-8 summit, said this morning that there is a "consensus view" among the nations' leaders that "we are still in the midst of an economic downturn," and that world leaders were not planning any mass exodus from their shared plan to stimulate recovery.

Leaders have said "it's time to prepare exit strategies," Froman said, "but not necessarily to put them into place yet."

World leaders gathered in L'Aquila for a noontime luncheon and then a series of meetings on issues ranging from the global economy to nuclear nonproliferation and food security.

Obama presided over a side meeting of the major economies with a focus on climate issues. That summit has suffered a setback with Chinese President Hu Jintao's return home to deal with deadly rioting in Xinjiang.

But White House officials said that meetings today and Thursday still can be productive, and Froman rebuffed suggestions that the Italian hosts had not put together an organized session. He denied reports that the U.S. had called an emergency meeting of the summit's "sherpas" to take charge of the session.

"The Italian presidency has done a terrific job preparing for the summit," Froman said. "The Italians defined an agenda early on and worked methodically" on it.

"The way the G-8 works," he said, is "we all do our part."

On the Chinese leader's departure, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said, "It's our understanding that he's gone back to China, so it appears as if he won't be there to meet with the president, but we will have a delegation meet with their delegation."

Asked about what the U.S. is willing to support as part of any G-8 commitment to combating global warming, Gibbs said: "The biggest thing . . . are the big steps that the House took only a week or so ago to put our country strongly on record as taking bold action against forces that are changing the temperature and the environment of our planet."

The House has narrowly passed a bill demanding caps on greenhouse gas that industry emits, enabling polluters to purchase the rights for emissions from others to encourage the development of alternative sources of energy, such as wind and solar power. The measure faces a battle in the Senate, however, with Republicans criticizing a plan that will add to the cost of household energy bills over time as a "national energy tax."

"There's important progress that we can make as a part of this in creating a market for clean energy jobs," Gibbs said. "So I think we've taken a strong step forward. ... Our biggest contribution to this is the steps that were taken by the House to put us strongly on record on this."

Asked how the administration will define success on climate change at the G-8 summit, Gibbs said, "In many ways, success for us is going to be getting something through Congress and to his desk that puts in place a system, a market-based system that lessens the amount of greenhouses gases in the air."

Memorial over, investigation continues

Posted by Sarah Harlan

(NBC) - As the spotlight begins to fade after his memorial, the glare on what Michael Jackson left behind seems to be intensifying.

The investigation into why he died continues.

A toxicology report is expected within weeks.

Police have already questioned Jackson's personal physician, Doctor Conrad Murray, who was with Jackson at the time of his death, and there are reports investigators still want to interview at least five more doctors who wrote prescriptions for the pop star.

There is also the issue of what happens with Jackson's children.

"Ever since I was born, my daddy has been the best father I could imagine," Jackson's 11-year-old daughter Paris said.

Paris Jackson's heart-wrenching goodbye to her dad provides a dramatic backdrop for the potential legal battle over who will raise Jackson's three children.

Jackson's will calls for his mother Katherine to care for the kids, but his ex-wife Debbie Rowe, the biological mother of Paris and her 12-year-old brother Prince Michael, has indicated she may seek custody.

A hearing is set for Monday, and there is also the lingering legal fight over control of Jackson's multi-million dollar estate, an estate that with soaring record sales is growing.

Jackson's albums have a lock on all 10 of the top positions on the billboard catalog chart, which is albums out for more than 18 months.

"He's still dominating the downloads chart, he's dominating the albums chart, he's continuing to be a real force in an unprecedented way on the billboard chart," Bill Werde with Billboard Magazine said. "So I would expect that to continue for at least another week."

The controversy and questions that have followed Jackson's death will last a lot longer.

Chrome May Not Shine for Google

As the careers of numerous writers, singers and businesspeople demonstrate, the true test of creativity isn't the first hit product. It's coming up with a second success.

Google, despite its huge success, is still a one-hit wonder. After spending $6 billion on research and development in the past three years, its efforts to expand beyond its paid-search goldmine have not yet led to another money spinner.

Google has already abandoned attempts at selling radio and newspaper ads. Its Chrome browser, introduced last September, garnered 1.8% of the browser market as of May, according to Net Applications, well behind rivals like Mozilla's Firefox and Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

That history should make investors skeptical about the impact of Google's plans, disclosed late Tuesday, to launch an operating system using the Chrome name. Google's stated goal of making computers easier to use and faster will be endorsed by consumers. And it will add to the competitive pressure that is gradually eroding Microsoft's stranglehold on the operating system world.

But Google has already launched an operating system called Android. It is designed for various devices including cell phones and, like the new Chrome, increasingly popular and cheap "netbook" laptops. Launching another, separate system will be confusing and there is no guarantee how widely embraced, especially by computer-makers, the new product will be.

Anyway, despite complaints about Microsoft software, dislodging Windows from its dominant market position would likely take years. In the government and commercial market, which accounts for a majority of PC sales, 70% of applications require Microsoft Windows, Gartner analyst Michael Silver estimates. He doesn't expect that percentage will drop to 50% for another two or three years, given how long companies keep using applications. That severely limits how quickly users can switch operating systems.

At the least, Google's efforts should maintain pricing pressure on Microsoft. Facing competition from Linux, Microsoft is already selling a cheaper version of Windows in the netbook market.

Just doing its part to crimp Microsoft's profits, at a time when the software giant is spending heavily to boost its share of the search market, may be enough to make Chrome worth its while for Google.

Write to Martin Peers at

Jackson's changed color baffled public

In life of mysteries, Jackson's changed color baffled public

(CNN) -- In the wake of Michael Jackson's memorial service, the key question of how the pop superstar died remains unanswered, awaiting an official report from the Los Angeles County coroner.

But other mysteries abound, particularly related to Jackson's appearance, which changed dramatically from his early adulthood.

His features changed, and the color of his skin lightened significantly over the last two decades of his life.

When the face of the most recognizable entertainer in the world faded to near alabaster, the transformation struck a sensitive cultural spot. It intrigued and even offended people, spawning numerous articles and blog posts speculating about his metamorphosis.

This week, a source involved with the investigation into Jackson's death said the singer's body was "lily white from head to toe." And another source said Jackson had "paper-white skin. As white as a white T-shirt."

The singer denied changing his skin color for vanity reasons and repeatedly asserted that he had a disease called vitiligo, in which the immune system attacks cells that produce melanin, the pigment that determines skin color. The condition results in milky white spots.

For some patients, the discolored spots can spread entirely across the body, leaving only freckles of the original skin color, although this is not very common, experts said.

Jackson told Oprah Winfrey in a 1993 interview, "I'm a black American. I am proud to be a black American. I am proud of my race, and I am proud of who I am. I have a lot of pride and dignity of who I am.

"I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of the skin. It's something I cannot help. When people make up stories that I don't like who I am, it hurts me," Jackson told Winfrey.

Jackson's claims that he had vitiligo elicited both empathy and skepticism.

Those familiar with the skin condition said vitiligo is commonly misunderstood because of its rarity. It affects approximately 1 percent of the world's population, according to the American Vitiligo Research Foundation.

"I have to wear sleeves and carry an umbrella," said Lee Thomas, who wrote a memoir called "Turning White," which discusses his physical and mental struggles as an African-American man whose skin changes because of vitiligo. "It totally makes sense to me."

And he even shared a common habit as the King of Pop.

"I got [white spots] on one of my hands, so I used to wear a glove to hold a microphone," said Lee Thomas, an Emmy-winning TV news broadcaster in Detroit, Michigan. He first noticed white spots on his scalp when he was 25. Then the spots appeared on his hands.

He first noticed white spots on his scalp when he was 25. Then the spots appeared on his hands.

"Before I got this, I thought, 'What's up with Michael Jackson?' " Thomas said. "Then I get the disease, and it's like, 'Holy crap, there really is a disease called vitiligo, and it does what?' "

Making assumptions about why or how a person's skin color changed is "not malicious ignorance, but it is definitely ignorance," Thomas said.

Vitiligo affects people of all races, but it is more visible in people with darker skin. The cause of the disorder is unknown, although family history plays a role.

Topical ointments such as corticosteroids and oral medicine combined with ultraviolet light therapies are used to restore pigment to the skin. These treatments often have side effects including abnormal hair growth, thinning and over-darkening of the skin.

They can be about 60 to 70 percent successful, said Dr. James Norlund, a dermatologist who specializes in skin color disorders at Group Health Associates in Cincinnati, Ohio.

"The problem with vitiligo is, you end up with two colors," said Norlund, a board member with the National Vitiligo Foundation. "Everyone stares, wonders what's going on, and people ask if you had a burn. Kids ask what's wrong with you. It takes a tough soul to deal with that and not be affected."

He recalled one patient, an African-American woman with vitiligo who had patches across her hands and face. When she shopped in the grocery store, she would be followed, and every bit of produce and item she touched would be thrown away, he said.

If treatment to restore the patient's natural color fails and the majority of a person's body is discolored, the next option is to lighten his or her skin to match the spots.

"People want to be their own color," Norlund said. "Most of the time, most want to be their own color, but if they can't, the second best is, 'Look, I'll be one color, and I'll be white.' "

Norlund never treated Jackson but said the singer's use of the gloves and lipstick was consistent with the patterns of vitiligo, since the spots frequently first appear on the hands and face, including the lips. He said Jackson's representatives once reached out to several dermatologists, including him, to hold a symposium on vitiligo at the Neverland Ranch, but those plans never materialized.

Despite such statements, the constant changes in his face-- as it became narrower and paler -- baffled and caused some unease.

Bleaching or lightening one's skin for cosmetic reasons is much rarer in the United States than in Asian, African and Caribbean nations, dermatologists said. In some countries, people use over-the-counter and bootleg products -- some of which contain potentially toxic chemicals -- to lighten their skin. The controversial practice has been viewed as the psychological legacy of racism, where light skin was valued over darker skin.

In the United States, lightening ointments are prescribed for spot treatments for scars, acne pits or discolored marks, said Dr. Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist at the Cleveland Clinic.

There is no surgery to lighten the skin. In the United States, a powerful medication called Benoquin, also known as monobenzene, can be used to treat extreme cases of vitiligo.

"It's important to understand that this product actually removes pigment (not just lightens), which is more like being an albino," wrote Dr. Min-Wei Christine Lee, a cosmetic dermatologic surgeon and director of The East Bay Laser & Skin Care Center in Walnut Creek, California. "Caucasian skin still has pigment even though it's 'white' -- skin treated with Benoquin has no pigment."

The process, though painless, is so tedious and lengthy that most people use Benoquin only on the visible areas of their body, such as their face, neck and arms, Nordlund said. Side effects include irritated, dry or itchy skin, and the results are permanent.

The person applies the medication once a day, and it could take six months to two years to take away the coloring. Nordlund said he has heard of only one or two people who administered the ointment over their entire bodies; those processes took five to eight years.

It leaves the person extremely sensitive to the sun.

It's a decision that Lee Thomas may have to make one day. None of the treatments to bring back his natural pigment has worked. His face has become about 35 to 40 percent white, and he uses heavy makeup to even out the spots when he appears on television.

"I would have to consider it as an option," Thomas said of whether he would consider depigmentation if the discolored spots spread. "When it gets to that point, I'll make that decision. Right now, I'm not there yet."

"I'm a dark-skinned African-American and am proud of that. It would be really weird not to have any pigment at all."

Roman Polanski files appeal in effort to have sex case dropped

Roman Polanski’s attorneys have asked a state appeals court to overturn the May ruling of an L.A. judge refusing to throw out Polanski’s 32-year-old child sex case while the director remains a fugitive.

In May, L.A. Superior Court Judge Peter Espinoza rejected a request by Polanski’s attorneys for a dismissal of the director’s criminal case based on allegations of unethical and improper acts by a judge and prosecutor at the time of Polanski’s original case in 1977.

Espinoza said in an earlier hearing that even though he thought “substantial” misconduct had taken place, he had no choice but to deny the request unless Polanski appears in person before the court. In a writ filed Tuesday with the 2nd District Court of Appeals, attorneys for Polanski, now 75, wrote that Espinoza was legally wrong in rejecting the director’s bid for dismissal of his case based on the “fugitive disentitlement doctrine.”

Because the actions of the same court and prosecutor’s office forced Polanski to flee to escape illegal imprisonment, the court is relying on a “Catch-22” to stop an inquiry into its own misconduct, attorneys contended.

The L.A. courts and district attorney’s office “have been clear that they have no interest in addressing and remedying the misconduct that took place, perhaps seeking to avoid the anticipated political fallout,” attorneys Chad Hummel, Douglas Dalton and Bart Dalton wrote. Polanski has indicated through his lawyers that he has no intention of returning to the U.S. The writ argues that a hearing into the misconduct in the case could take place in Polanski’s absence because the director has no personal knowledge of the alleged illegal acts by the judge and prosecutor.

Attorneys also asked the appeals court to disqualify the Los Angeles district attorney’s office from taking part in future proceedings. Polanski pleaded guilty in 1977 to unlawful sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl, in a deal with prosecutors in which they agreed not to pursue rape, sodomy and other charges. The case was revived late last year when Polanski’s attorneys filed motions to get the case dismissed based on interviews in an HBO documentary. In the film, the original prosecutor and defense attorney said the trial judge, Laurence Rittenband, reneged on a sentencing agreement with Polanski after the director spent 42 days behind bars for a “diagnostic study.”

Another prosecutor, who wasn’t working on the case, said he gave advice to Rittenband, who is now deceased, about the director’s sentencing.

Forensic tests: Steve McNair likely killed by girlfriend Sahel Kazemi

Gunshot residue was found on the left hand of 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi, girlfriend of slain ex-NFL quarterback Steve McNair.

Forensic test results released Wednesday show that NFL quarterback Steve McNair was most likely gunned down by his suicidal girlfriend, officials said.

Gunshot residue was found on the left hand of 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi and none was found on McNair's hands, leading investigators to conclude he was the victim of a murder-suicide, said Feng Li, assistant medical examiner for Metropolitan Nashville.

"This is consistent with the theory that she shot herself," Li told the Daily News.

McNair and Kazemi were found shot to death Sunday in her Nashville condo.

He had been shot four times, including twice in the head. She was shot once in the head.

Police rule McNair shootings a murder-suicide

Police have ruled the shooting deaths of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair and 20-year-old Sahel Kazemi a murder-suicide.

Speaking at a press conference in Nashville, a police spokesman said the evidence concluded that Kazemi shot McNair four times and then turned the gun on herself.

Police said there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that a third party was involved.

McNair's death had earlier been labeled a homicide, but police awaited further tests and investigation before saying for sure what happened.

They believe he was asleep on a sofa when Kazemi shot him in the head. She then apparently shot him twice in the chest before shooting him again in the head and then shooting herself.

Under Kazemi's body was a gun she had purchased less than two days before the killings.

Three of the shots that killed McNair were taken from a distance, but one of the shots to the temple came from just inches away.

The gun that killed Kazemi was in contact with her head when it discharged, medical examiner Bruce Levy said Tuesday.

The four-time Pro Bowl quarterback was being remembered Wednesday at the stadium where he played much of his career. The Tennessee Titans opened LP Field for fans to watch video highlights of McNair's 13-year NFL career, look at photos of the quarterback and had a book for them to write messages that will be given to the family

Jackson doctor: I did not give him dangerous drugs

A doctor who previously treated Michael Jackson says he never gave the singer sedatives beyond what was needed for painful medical procedures.

Dr. Arnold Klein talked to ABC's Good Morning America Wednesday, just one day after a much-watched public memorial for Jackson, who died June 25.

"I was not one of the doctors who participated in giving him overdoses of drugs or too much of anything," Klein said. "In fact, I was the one who limited everything, who stopped everything." It is still not known what caused Jackson's cardiac arrest. The official determination will likely wait until toxicology results are completed, which could be weeks away.

Klein also said he saw Jackson three days before his death and the singer seemed to be in fine health, even dancing for other patients in the office.

Jackson's public memorial service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Tuesday drew several stars and thousands of fans, some of whom had traveled from around the world to attend.

His 11-year-old daughter, Paris, capped the tribute with a tearful, impromptu tribute to her father. "I just want to say ever since I was born, Daddy has been the best father you can ever imagine. And I just wanted to say I love him so much," she said before dissolving into tears in the arms of her aunt Janet Jackson.

Usher, John Mayer, Jennifer Hudson, Lionel Richie and Mariah Carey performed at the memorial, while Queen Latifah, Smokey Robinson and Brooke Shields spoke about their friend. Usher sobbed at the end of his rendition of Gone Too Soon, while Carey arpologized on her Twitter page Wednesday morning for her shaky performance of I'll Be There.

"Trying to sing today was basically impossible for me. I could barely keep myself from crying. I'm sorry that I wasn't able to pull it together and really do it right, but I was literally choked up when I saw him there in front of me," she wrote. "One thing I know is, we will never really have to say goodbye to MJ. His legacy lives on through his music and the millions of people he inspired with his timeless music. He will be forever in our hearts."

The Jacksons held a private funeral for the singer at Forest Lawn in the Hollywood Hills on Tuesday morning, followed by a family motorcade to the Staples Center for the public memorial.

After the memorial, the family went to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel for a private reception. It was unclear whether Jackson's casket would be returned to Forest Lawn for burial or taken to another final resting place.

Troops pour into city in China's restive west

URUMQI, China – Hundreds of helmeted troops in riot gear swarmed the central square of the capital of western Xinjiang on Wednesday after ethnic riots left at least 156 dead. The city's Communist Party boss promised that those behind the killings would be executed.

Ethnic clashes have paralyzed Urumqi in the past several days — with minority Uighur and Han Chinese mobs roaming the streets and attacking each other. The violence forced President Hu Jintao to cut short a trip to Italy where he was to take part in a Group of Eight summit — an unprecedented move by a Chinese leader.

The government responded to the violence by pouring columns of troops into the far-flung, oil-rich province, hundreds of which were stationed in People's Square in the middle of the city. Earlier in the week, the official Xinhua News Agency reported that more than 20,000 armed police, special police, firefighters and troops had been dispatched to quell the unrest.

Communist Party chief Li Zhi told a televised news conference that many people had been arrested, including students.

"To those who committed crimes with cruel means, we will execute them," he said, adding government forces would crack down on any security risk. He did not elaborate.

More than 1,100 people were wounded in the violence, and hundreds of vehicles were damaged or set on fire in rioting Sunday. It was not known how many Uiqhurs (pronounced WEE-gers) and Han Chinese died or who was behind their deaths.

Li would not say how many of the 156 dead were Han — the majority ethnicity in China — and how many were Uiqhurs — a largely Muslim minority — even though more than 100 of them have been identified and handed over to their families.

He said both groups were responsible for the violence. "The small groups of the violent people have already been caught by police. The situation is now under control."

China's top police officer also vowed there would no leniency for those who took part in the violence in Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee).

Public Security Minister Meng Jiangzhu was quoted as saying by Xinhua that "key rioters should be punished with the utmost severity."

Meng repeated the government's accusations that the unrest was masterminded by overseas separatist groups. China has specifically accused U.S.-exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer and her overseas followers of being behind the violence. She has denied the allegations and accused China of inciting the violence among Urumqi's 2.3 million residents.

Hu arrived home Wednesday "due to the situation" in Xinjiang, Xinhua said. It did not say what action he would take.

Andrew Nathan, a China expert who heads the political science department at New York's Columbia University, said Hu's departure was "unprecedented."

"It bespeaks of the new populism of the leadership. The top leader is concerned when things are happening to the people. He goes home because it's not good to be away," Nathan said. "I think that's the signal they want to send. It's not about that things are out of control."

At the Urumqi People's Hospital, a newlywed who was attacked said she does not know what happened to her husband.

"He must be unconscious. ... They have been searching the urgent care wards but have not found him yet," said Dong Yuanyuan.

Dong was leaving for her honeymoon with her husband on Sunday when they were dragged off a bus and beaten unconscious.

An air of chaos still permeated the city Wednesday, with swarms of police and paramilitary troops patrolling the streets where armed Han Chinese also wandered in groups. About 50 Han Chinese, many carrying metal rods, shouted and harassed a foreign reporter who walked by and would not let another journalist with a video camera shoot the scene.

In a Uighur neighborhood, people carried rocks and makeshift weapons — a knife attached to the end of a wooden stick in one instance — and stood guard in groups.

Uighurs say the riots that started Sunday — put down by volleys of tear gas and a massive show of force — were triggered by the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers during a brawl in the southern Chinese city of Shaoguan. State-run media have said two workers died, but many Uighurs believe more were killed and said the incident was an example of how little the government cared about them.

Chinese authorities have been trying to control the unrest by blocking the Internet, including social networking sites, and limiting access to texting services on cell phones. At the same time, police have generally been allowing foreign media to cover the tensions.

On Wednesday, workers in Internet cafes in two other Xinjiang cities, Turpan and Kashgar, said Internet connections had been cut.

"The police came to us and told us to shut down our Internet cafe for the next three days, but who knows how long this will last," said the manger of the Huo Zhou Internet cafe in Turpan. He would give only his surname, Pei.

An operator with China Mobile's service center in Xinjiang, who refused to give her name, said all the services for cell phones, except making and receiving calls, had been suspended, including sending and receiving text messages — one of the major ways Twitter messages are distributed.

Concerns about what was happening in Xinjiang have even extended to Beijing. A clerk at the Furong Hotel, a two-star hotel, said they received a notice from local police branch Tuesday asking them to report to the police if they received any Uighurs or Tibetans. She said there were no orders not to receive them as guests.

G8 sees economy still in peril, falters on climate

L'AQUILA, Italy (Reuters) – G8 leaders believe the world economy still faces "significant risks" and may need further help, according to summit draft documents that also suggest failure to agree climate change goals for 2050.

Progress on the environment was impeded by Chinese President Hu Jintao returning home due to unrest in northwestern China in which 156 people have died. Before he left, summit host Silvio Berlusconi spoke of Chinese "resistance" on climate goals.

Documents seen by Reuters before the G8 summit began on Wednesday cautioned that "significant risks remain to economic and financial stability" while "exit strategies" from pro-growth packages should be unwound only "once recovery is assured."

"Before there is talk of additional stimulus, I would urge all leaders to focus first on making sure the stimulus that has been announced actually gets delivered," Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

That chimed with comments from the International Monetary Fund, which said it believed the global economy was starting to pull out of recession but recovery would be sluggish and policies needed to remain supportive.

Leaders met in L'Aquila, a mountain town wrecked by April's earthquake and a fitting backdrop to talks on a global economy struggling to overcome the worst recession in living memory.

The Group of Eight -- United States, Germany, Japan, France, Britain, Italy, Canada and Russia -- kicked off with debate on the economic crisis, after what one analyst called a "reality check" in recent weeks on the prospects for rapid recovery.

G8 leaders badly underestimated the economic problems facing them when they met in Japan last year and were expected to focus on what must be done to prevent another meltdown.

"Although there have been signs of stability in the economy and the sentiment has improved, the real economy has not recovered yet with job and wage conditions still stagnant," said Takao Hattori, senior strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Securities.

But few big initiatives were expected as the G20, a broader forum that also includes the main emerging economies, is tasked with formulating a regulatory response to the crisis and meets in September in Pittsburgh after an April summit in London.


Not mentioning China's push for a sensitive debate about a long-term alternative to the dollar as global reserve currency, the draft talked only of global "imbalances." G8 diplomats had said this might be the only oblique reference to currency.

"Stable and sustainable long-term growth will require a smooth unwinding of the existing imbalances in current accounts," read the draft prepared for the G8 talks.

China complains that dollar domination has exacerbated the global crisis and worries that the bill for U.S. recovery poses an inflation risk for China's dollar assets, an estimated 70 percent of its official currency reserves.

Analysts said the decision not to refer to this directly could remove a destabilizing factor on currency markets.

U.S. President Barack Obama was expected to make his mark on his first G8 summit by chairing Thursday's meeting in L'Aquila of the 17-nation Major Economies Forum, whose members account for about 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

MEF ministers holding last-minute preparatory talks failed to close the gap between U.S. and Europe on the one hand and emerging powers like China and India on the other hand on the goal of halving global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

A draft MEF document dropped any reference to this and aimed instead for agreement on the need to limit the average increase in global temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) since pre-industrial times.

Cindy Baxter of Greenpeace said G8 leaders were "watering down climate ambitions," a bad omen for December's U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen seeking a successor to the Kyoto pact, since emission cuts are a prerequisite for limiting temperature rises.

Developing nations, present in large numbers at the expanded G8 summit with more than 30 world leaders invited, argue that they have to consume more energy to end poverty and that rich nations must make deep emission cuts of their own by 2020.

The packed first day was due to wrap up with talks on an array of international issues, including Iran's post-election violence and nuclear program. However, these are unlikely to lead to any immediate action, such as a tightening of sanctions.

One area where a breakthrough is possible is trade. A draft communique suggested the G8 and "G5" developing nations would agree to conclude the stalled Doha round of trade talks in 2010.

Launched in 2001 to help poor nations prosper through trade, the talks have stumbled on proposed tariff and subsidy cuts.

Leaders will also discuss a U.S. proposal that rich nations commit $15 billion over several years for agricultural development in poor countries to ensure food supplies.

Madison firm CDI generates stem cells from blood samples

Cellular Dynamics International Inc., a firm founded by stem cell pioneer James Thomson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said Wednesday that its researchers have generated pluripotent stem cells from small volumes of human blood samples.

The stem cells, which have the ability to generate all tissue types in the body, pose the potential of establishing new cellular therapies for disease. Generating pluripotent stem cells from human blood samples, either freshly collected or stored in repositories, provides a convenient source of patient-specific stem cells that can be used for personalized treatments.

"The ability to use common tissue repositories to create iPS (induced pluripotent stem) cells from donors with known medical history enables us to provide the pharmaceutical industry with a cell portfolio representing individual biology, disease models, retrospective analysis and ethnic diversity," Emile Nuwaysir, chief operations officer of CDI. "This is the first step in paving the way for large-scale processing and industrialization of iPS cells."

The findings will be presented during a poster session beginning July 10 at the International Society for Stem Cell Research annual meeting in Barcelona, Spain.

Cellular Dynamics International in Madison is a developer of next-generation stem cell technologies for drug development and personalized medicine applications.

Iran's nuclear ambitions not democratic credentials occupy western minds

With Mahmoud Ahmadinejad starting a second presidential term, and opposition protests crushed, how to tackle Tehran is focusing debate in the US, Europe and especially in Israel

Iran's domestic crisis in the aftermath of June's disputed presidential election has dominated world headlines in recent weeks. But as the dust settles it is the international dimension of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's second term – and especially the future of the Islamic republic's nuclear programme – that is concentrating minds in the US, Europe and Israel.

The US vice-president, Joe Biden, made the point bluntly last weekend when he repeated Barack Obama's offer to negotiate with Tehran on the nuclear issue, despite Washington's condemnation of the post-election crackdown. But when asked about Israel's position, Biden's (presumably careful) answer was that the US "cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do".

Conventional wisdom has it that George Bush made clear in the final months of his presidency that he would not give Israel a "green light" to carry out a repeat of its 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor.

Biden's message was no green light either – as his boss clarified very firmly to CNN on Tuesday. But it was surely intended as a reminder that an Israeli raid on Iran remains possible (even if Biden declined to say whether the US would allow Israel to overfly Iraq, or supply it with radar identification codes, refuelling and electronic warfare assistance). The US military has certainly made no secret of its view that any Israeli action would be hugely "destabilising" in the light of American commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Intriguingly, the latest comments from the White House followed confirmation that an Israeli submarine, armed with cruise missiles, passed through the Suez Canal recently to take part in exercises in the Red Sea.

"Egyptian permission for Israeli submarines and other vessels to go through the canal shortens the timetables required for Israel to effectively deploy its long-distance strategic arm … to carry out deterrence missions in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean," observed the veteran Israeli military analyst Ron Ben-Yishai. The unspoken assumption is that such missiles could deliver warheads from Israel's undeclared but formidable nuclear arsenal.

The spin from Israel is that both sides wanted to demonstrate co-ordination in the face of the Iranian threat. Cairo refused to confirm the report. But President Hosni Mubarak's hostility to Tehran is no secret. And Biden's interview coincided with a report that Israel had secretly secured agreement from Saudi Arabia to turn a blind eye to any attack on Iranian nuclear sites. (Israeli planes are said to fly regularly through Saudi airspace, leaving behind the fuel drop-tanks with Hebrew markings just to make sure they are noticed.)

Immediate denials from Israel and Riyadh will have done little to dispel the probably deliberate impression that an attack is still on the cards, especially now that Ahmadinejad is going to be president for four more years. In the words of Aluf Benn, the Ha'aretz analyst: "Israeli officials argue that Iran's apparently fraudulent election and its brutal suppression of the subsequent demonstrations reveal the pointlessness of talking with Tehran and the need for stiffer sanctions. The statements of the last few days are meant to bolster this message with hints of possible military action."

Israel has also let it be known that it is lobbying hard to prevent Iran acquiring advanced "game-changing" Russian-made S-300 air defence missiles that could impede any air assault.

Obama reportedly told Binyamin Netanyahu in May that if there was no progress on the Iranian nuclear file by the end of 2010 his administration would turn to other steps, including tougher sanctions – being discussed by G8 leaders at this week's summit in Italy. On Saturday the president made the issue sound even more immediate, speaking of making assessments in the "coming weeks and months". Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, described a "very narrow window" before Iran went nuclear.

This emphasis is striking because while there is general agreement in the west that Iran is close to enriching enough uranium for a weapon, the timing is unclear. In Israel, which western governments suspect of exaggerating the danger from Tehran, the Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, last month put back his estimate of when Iran could acquire a bomb to 2014. Revealingly, he also told MPs that Israel would have an easier time explaining the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons to the world when the country is led by Ahmadinejad than by the defeated moderate Mir Hossein Mousavi (a view warmly embraced in Washington by the hawkish John Bolton, a former senior official in the Bush administration).

And Dagan, Israeli analysts note, has just had his tenure extended for a near-record eighth year, fuelling speculation that the man who (probably) organised attacks on Syria's alleged nuclear reactor, a Hamas arms convoy in distant Sudan, as well as the Damascus assassination of Hizbullah's Imad Mughniyeh, might have some other tricks up his sleeve.

(Hard evidence of Iranian capabilities, if any exists, remains secret. But the cautious Mohammed ElBaradei, the outgoing head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, spoke last month of his "gut feeling" that Iran was indeed seeking the ability to produce nuclear arms, if it desired, as an "insurance policy" against perceived threats.)

Predictions remain divided: one is that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the hardliners will need to demonstrate their toughness in the face of western pressure and Israeli threats. "Everyone is waiting to see what will come out of this, but while we're waiting, while we're watching, the [nuclear] clock is ticking," Israel's ambassador in Washington, Michael Oren, told the US. Another scenario, discussed in Gulf countries, is that Tehran may be forced into concessions internationally to assuage opposition anger at home, especially over the economy.

It is too soon to say which view is correct. But it is already clear that the nuclear file, rather than electoral fraud or democracy, is once again the key problem in Iran's troubled ties with the wider world.

G8 working on goal of limiting temperature rise

L'AQUILA, Italy (AP) — The Group of Eight industrialized economies and other nations were working Wednesday to commit to a goal of keeping the world's average temperature from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in a bid to contain global warming.

The White House declined to comment on whether it would sign off on a statement referring to the temperature threshold. If the deal went through, it would mark a significant step forward since the G-8 has previously refused to adopt that temperature limit as a political goal.

Climate change experts say the 2 degree threshold, which has been embraced by the European Union and some developing countries, wouldn't eliminate the risk of runaway climate change but would minimize it. Even a slight increase in average temperatures will wreak havoc on farmers around the globe, as seasons shift, crops fail and storms and droughts ravage fields.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he wanted the G-8 as a whole "first of all to agree on the reference value of 2 degrees Celsius."

The G-8 summit opened Wednesday, with the leaders of the United States, Britain France, Italy, Germany and Japan discussing a host of issues, from climate change to North Korean nuclear nonproliferation.

They will be joined Thursday for a deeper discussion on climate change with the 17-member Major Economies Forum, which includes China, which has overtaken the U.S. as the world's biggest polluter, and India, which is close behind. Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia, Australia, South Korea and the European Union also are in that club of the world's major polluters.

The climate discussions at L'Aquila come ahead of a crucial December summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, where the United Nations aims to conclude a new, worldwide climate pact.

German Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel told ARD radio that the forum countries, which met Tuesday night, had said "'we accept the two-degree limit.'"

An official from the office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said G-8 leaders had also confirmed a previous commitment to reduce long-term carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050, although they have found no agreement on nearer-term goals.

A panel of U.N. scientists has said industrial countries must together cut carbon emissions by 25 to 40 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 to keep average global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees above preindustrial levels 150 years ago. Any rise beyond that would increase the risks of catastrophic climactic changes affecting millions of predominantly poor people.

At their last summit in Japan a year ago, the G-8 committed to reducing carbon emissions 50 percent by 2050. But the vague statement did not specify which year it would take as a base line. U.N. scientists have used 1990 as the starting point, but the United States and Japan are using 2005 levels.

The difference is significant: Since 1990, U.S. emissions have risen 23 percent. Disagreement over which start date persists, G-8 delegation members said Wednesday.

The climate summit in Copenhagen aims to negotiate a new climate treaty to replace the 1987 Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012. The aim is to set new limits on greenhouse gas emissions by industrial countries, determine how emerging economies can limit the growth of their own emissions, and to set up a system to give poorer countries the financing and technology they need to develop in a way that is less damaging to the environment.

Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill imposing the first U.S. limits on greenhouse gases, eventually leading to an 80 percent reduction by mid-century by putting a price on each ton of climate-altering pollution. The Senate is to discuss similar action, but compromises in the bill are expected.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs declined to comment when asked whether President Barack Obama would support a statement limiting temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius. Instead, he stressed the administration's commitment to fighting climate change by pointing to the bill's passage by the House.

"Success for us is going to be getting something through Congress and to his desk that puts in place a system, market-based system, that lessens the amount of greenhouse gases in the air. That's going to be the true of measure of things," Gibbs said.

2 suspected US missile attacks kill 45 in Pakistan

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AP) — Suspected U.S. drones launched two missile attacks on Taliban targets in the South Waziristan tribal region on Wednesday, killing at least 45 militants in the latest in a barrage of strikes close to the Afghan border, intelligence officials said.

The army said the top Taliban commander in another area of the northwest, the scenic Swat Valley, was wounded in a Pakistani airstrike. It gave no more details.

South Waziristan lies close to the Afghan border and is the stronghold of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Pakistan's military is also bombing and firing mortars at insurgent targets in the region, saying it is chipping away at Mehsud's resistance before launching a ground offensive there to eliminate him. Mehsud is blamed for many of the bloodiest terrorist attacks in nuclear-armed Pakistan in recent years.

The first strike took place before dawn. A suspected U.S. drone fired six missiles at a mountaintop training camp in the Karwan Manza area of South Waziristan, killing 10 militants, the intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media. The nationalities and the identities of the slain men were not immediately known.

Hours later, 12 miles (20 kilometers) to the east, missiles believed fired from a U.S. drone hit four vehicles carrying Taliban militants, killing at least 35, including a key Taliban commander, one intelligence official said. He did not disclose the commander's identity.

Other intelligence officials put the death toll as high as 50.

Independent verification of the casualties and the target was not possible because the region is remote, dangerous and largely inaccessible to journalists. U.S. officials do not publicly comment on the strikes.

The latest strike brings to six the number of suspected American missile attacks in South Waziristan in just over two weeks, an uptick that suggests Washington is also trying to kill or weaken Mehsud and his followers in the run-up to the Pakistani campaign.

Despite the apparent convergence of interests, Pakistan's army insists it is not coordinating with the U.S. It says the American missile attacks are hurting its attempts to kill or capture Mehsud because they alienate local tribesman they are trying to enlist in their campaign against him.

The United States is believed to have launched more than 40 missile strikes against targets in the border area since last August that have killed several hundred people, according to a count by The Associated Press based on figures given by intelligence officials.

The Pakistani government routinely protests the strikes as violation of the country's sovereignty and has publicly asked the United States to give them the technology to launch their own attacks. But many analysts suspect the government — which has received billions of dollars a year from the United States in aid since 2001 — secretly cooperates with them.

Pakistan launched the Swat Valley offensive more than two months ago after militants led by Maulana Fazlullah violated the terms of a peace deal. It claims to have nearly cleared the valley of militants, killing more than 1,500.

Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said Wednesday that according to "credible information" Fazlullah was wounded in a recent airstrike. Fazlullah's capture or killing would be a major symbolic victory for the army and give a psychological boost to local residents fearful that the Taliban could re-emerge in Swat.

Abbas gave no more information about the circumstances involving Fazlullah's wounding. A militant spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Associated Press writers Munir Ahmad and Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Hussain Afzal in Parachinar and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.

US missiles 'kill 33' in Pakistan Taliban stronghold

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan (AFP) — Two separate US missile strikes slammed into the tribal stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud on Wednesday, killing 33 suspected fighters, security officials said.

The attacks, the suspected work of US drones, came as Pakistan reported that Maulana Fazlullah, the most-wanted Taliban commander in the Swat valley, also in the northwest, was injured during a recent army offensive.

In the first missile strike, in the early hours of the morning, six projectiles fired from an unmanned drone aircraft flattened an alleged training centre for Islamist extremists in South Waziristan, killing eight militants.

Hours later, another suspected drone targeted a convoy of vehicles carrying Taliban militants in the same province, officials said.

"At least 25 militants have been killed in the US missile strike," a senior security official in the area told AFP, referring to the second attack.

Two other security officials confirmed the strikes and casualties, with one telling AFP that the death toll could still rise further.

Pakistani fighter jets have also pounded Mehsud hideouts in recent weeks, with the military vowing to hunt down the warlord's militant network in the remote northwest region known as a base for Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels.

The first strike hit about 35 kilometres (20 miles) northeast of the main town Wana, with two officials confirming the death toll of eight.

It was not immediately clear whether any high-value targets were killed in either strike in the mountainous region bordering Afghanistan.

On Tuesday, a US missile strike killed 16 foreign and local militants in a nearby mountain stronghold of Mehsud, who has been described by the US State Department as a key Al-Qaeda facilitator in Pakistan's tribal belt.

Washington alleges Islamist fighters hide out in the mountains near the Afghan border, plotting attacks on Western targets and crossing the porous frontier to attack foreign troops based in Afghanistan.

Mehsud has a five-million-dollar reward on his head offered by the United States, and a bounty of 615,000 dollars in Pakistan for allegedly masterminding multiple deadly bombings in the last two years.

About 2,000 people have died in Islamist bombings across the country since July 2007, when government forces besieged a radical mosque in Islamabad.

In the latest such attack, a bomb blast on Wednesday killed one man and wounded five others including three police officers in the city of Peshawar, which has been hit by a wave of Taliban-linked violence.

Pakistani troops have been pressing a two-month battle to dislodge Taliban insurgents in three northwest districts and have carried out air raids in South Waziristan ahead of a widely expected ground assault against Mehsud.

Islamabad, however, publicly opposes the US strikes, saying they violate its territorial sovereignty and deepen resentment among the populace. Since August 2008, at least 48 such strikes have killed around 500 people.

The United States military does not, as a rule, confirm drone attacks, but its armed forces and the CIA operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy unmanned aircraft in the region.

Washington has put Pakistan at the heart of the fight against Al-Qaeda and has deployed 4,000 Marines against Taliban strongholds in southern Afghanistan under a major assault launched as part of a sweeping new war plan.

Also Wednesday, the Pakistani army said it had "credible" information that Fazlullah, the commander of the Taliban in the Swat valley, had been injured in Pakistani air strikes two days ago.

The radical cleric is the architect of a nearly two-year Taliban uprising to enforce sharia law in the Swat valley, where the army says it is wrapping up a two-month offensive to drive out the insurgents.

Biden said "reform is coming."

Biden Announces Deal With Hospitals to Help Fund Health Care Reform

WASHINGTON -- Vice President Biden has announced a White House deal with the hospitals to help pay for President Obama's overhaul of health care.

Biden made the announcement Wednesday morning at the White House with hospital administrators and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
Biden said "reform is coming."

Biden said the hospitals are ready to give up about $155 billion over 10 years in government payments. The money could then be used to help pay for covering millions of uninsured.

Despite the deal, some Democrats are rebelling over taxing generous health insurance benefits to pay for any overhaul, jeopardizing bipartisan legislation in the Senate and Obama's ambitious timetable.