US has Worst Flu Season in 10 Years

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 10:10 am (UTC-5)
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The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says this is the worst flu season in the United States in 10 years, and the epidemic has not hit its peak.

Widespread flu is reported in 44 states, and the Centers for Disease Control says the percentage of people going to the hospital for treatment of flu symptoms has doubled in the past month. In some regions hospitals are having to turn flu patients away.

The mayor of Boston declared a public health emergency Wednesday, with 10 times more cases reported than last year in the northeastern U.S. city.

U.S. health authorities say the flu arrived a month earlier than usual this year, in November, and the most prevalent flu strain – H3N2 – has a reputation for causing fairly severe illness, especially in the elderly.

The U.S. Centers for Disease control recommends that everyone over the age of six months get a flu shot. In recent years, the vaccine has been about 60 to 70 percent effective at preventing the flu.

Lincoln Leads Oscar Nominations

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 10:00 am (UTC-5)
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The Civil War film “Lincoln” leads Academy Awards with 12 nominations, including best picture, while adapted screenplay sensation “Life of Pi” follows close behind with 11.

Oscars show host Seth MacFarlane and actress Emma Stone announced the nominees Thursday in Beverly Hills, California on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

The film “Silver Linings Playbook,” a movie about a man rebuilding his life after a stint in a mental institution, swept all four major acting categories and received nominations for best director, best movie and a best adapted screenplay.

The other movies to round out the nine nominees for best picture are the independent film “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” which follows the Osama bin Laden search, French love saga “Amour,” Iran hostage thriller “Argo,” musical “Les Miserables” and American Western film “Django Unchained.”

In the acting categories, “Lincoln” star Daniel Day-Lewis and “Les Miserables” sensation Hugh Jackman were nominated for best actor, along with Denzel Washington for his performance in “Flight,” Bradley Cooper for his role in “Silver Linings Playbook” and Joaquin Phoenix for his work in “The Master.”

In the best actress category, Jessica Chastain was nominated for her role in “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jennifer Lawrence for her role in “Silver Linings Playbook” and Naomi Watts for her role in tsunami film “The Impossible.” They are joined by nine-year-old Quvenzhane Wallis, the youngest person to ever receive an Oscar nomination, and 85-year-old Emmanuelle Riva, the oldest person to ever receive an Oscar nod.

The nominees for best foreign language film include “Amour,” Chile's “No,” Denmark's “A Royal Affair,” Norway's “Kon-Tiki” and Canada's “War Witch.”

The 85th annual Academy Awards will be held on February 24 in Hollywood.

Three Kurdish Activists Shot Dead in Paris

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 9:20 am (UTC-5)
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French police say three Kurdish activists, including a founding member of the PKK militant group, have been shot to death in Paris, in what the French interior minister has termed an “assassination.”

Police said Thursday that the bodies of three women were found with bullet wounds in the early morning hours in a Kurdish information center. One of the victims was identified as Sakine Cansiz, one of the founding members of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, a group fighting for greater Kurdish autonomy in Turkey.

The second slain woman was 32-year-old Frida Dogan, an employee at the information center and the Paris representative of the Brussels-based Kurdistan National Congress. The third victim was Leyla Soylemez who has been described as a “young activist.” Police say they have opened a murder investigation.

The director of the information center told reporters the last time the women were seen alive was midday on Wednesday. Friends of the victims went to the center looking for the women after their calls went unreturned.

French Interior Minister Manuel Valls visited the scene of the crime Thursday and said the deaths are “unacceptable.”

“I came here, to this neighborhood where three women were slain, killed, doubtless executed. This is a very grave matter and this explains my presence. This is unacceptable. The investigation is only starting under the authority of the prosecutor's office and the anti-terrorist forces are involved to shed all possible light on this unacceptable act.”

Kurdish activists and exiles gathered at the information center Thursday, expressing solidarity with the chant “We are all PKK!” They also chanted slogans accusing the Turkish government of killing the women and accusing French President Francois Hollande of complying.

Experts on the Kurdish movement say possible motives for the killings range from internal fighting within the PKK to being the work of Turkish agents or extremists.

The killings come on the heels of Turkish press reports claiming jailed Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan has reached an agreement with the Turkish government to end a 28-year Kurdish insurgency that has taken tens of thousands of lives in the nation's southeast.

Pakistan: Indian Troops Kill Pakistani Soldier in Kashmir

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 8:55 am (UTC-5)
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Pakistan's army says Indian troops have shot and killed a Pakistani soldier, the third cross-border incident reported in the disputed Kashmir region in recent days.

The army says the soldier was killed Thursday as a result of “unprovoked” firing by Indian troops on a Pakistani military outpost.

The shooting came amid a rise in tensions along the disputed Kashmiri border known as the “Line of Control.”

On Tuesday, India accused Pakistani troops of killing two Indian soldiers in a cross-border attack. Indian officials said the bodies of the two soldiers were subject to “barbaric and inhuman mutilation,” and that one of them was beheaded. On Sunday, Pakistan claimed Indian troops crossed the border and raided a Pakistani military outpost, killing a Pakistani soldier.

The two countries have blamed each other for the alleged cross-border attacks while denying involvement in them.

India and Pakistan have accused each other of violating a 2003 ceasefire in Kashmir, a region they both claim.

The nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors have fought two wars over Kashmir since gaining independence from Britain in 1947.

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Amid Disputes with China, Philippines, Japan Pledge Tighter Cooperation

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 7:30 am (UTC-5)
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The Philippines' top diplomat has pledged cooperation with Japan on tighter security, warning that China's efforts to defend its maritime claims are threatening stability in Asia.

Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario made the comments after meeting in Manila with his counterpart from Tokyo, which is involved in its own tense territorial dispute with China.

“We talked about the challenges that we appear to be facing in view of the assertions made by China. And we did express, as I said in the bilateral meetings, what our strategies are, and how consistent we were.”

Del Rosario said he was concerned about what he called China's “very threatening” moves in the South China Sea, including establishing a local authority to govern the disputed area and giving police permission to board and seize unauthorized foreign ships.

He said he expects the Philippines to soon acquire 10 new patrol vessels and a communications system from Japan to help boost its maritime patrolling capabilities.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said deeper ties with Manila were necessary to help shape a “peaceful and prosperous Asia-Pacific region.”

Both countries are involved in territorial disputes with China that have worsened in recent months. Japan and China both claim an uninhabited archipelago in the East China Sea, while the Philippines and China have overlapping claims to a shoal in the nearby South China Sea.

Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, and Taiwan also have disputes with China over maritime territory.

Bomb Blast Kills 11 in Pakistan

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 7:10 am (UTC-5)
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Pakistani officials say a bomb attack in the city of Quetta has killed 11 people and wounded dozens more.

Quetta senior police officer Zubair Mehmood told reporters the explosion in a crowded area of the city also injured 27 people. It was not immediately clear what kind of a device it was. Reports said the explosion may have targeted paramilitary soldiers.

Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan province, which has grappled with a decades-long separatist insurgency. It is also home to Islamic militants.

Earlier, Pakistan officials said U.S. drone-fired missiles hit a house in the northwest tribal region, killing at least five militants.

The Pakistani government has long publicly condemned the drone strikes as a violation of its sovereignty, but the attacks are believed to be carried out with help from Pakistan's intelligence agency.

Bombings Kill 6 in Iraq

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 6:40 am (UTC-5)
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Bombings in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and north of the city have killed at least six people and wounded 14 others.

Four of the victims Thursday died in a blast near a bus stop in Baghdad's mainly Shi'ite Hurriyah neighborhood. The explosion destroyed several vehicles and damaged nearby buildings.

Amateur video captured shortly after the blast showed multiple cars engulfed in flames.

A second attack hit a convoy carrying the head of Diyala University, killing two bodyguards.

There were no immediate claims of responsibility for the bombings.

The violence comes amid anti-government protests led by Sunnis complaining about treatment under Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Car Bomb Kills 4 in Iraqi Capital

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 4:45 am (UTC-5)
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A car bomb has exploded in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, killing at least four people and wounding 14 others.

The blast Thursday near a bus stop in the mainly Shi'ite Hurriyah neighborhood destroyed several vehicles and damaged nearby buildings.

Amateur video captured shortly after the blast showed multiple cars engulfed in flames.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

The violence comes amid anti-government protests led by Sunnis complaining about treatment under Shi'ite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

India Rape Lawyer Alleges Evidence Tampering, Coercion

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 4:30 am (UTC-5)
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The lawyer for three suspects arrested for a brutal gang rape trial in India says his clients will plead not guilty and he alleges that police used force to gain confessions from them.

M.L. Sharma spoke to reporters Thursday on the way to a closed-door hearing in New Delhi. He says police manipulated the evidence to make his clients appear guilty.

“If evidence is the truth then there is no problem, but I believe, by way of the manipulated evidence, by way of the torture, you cannot, we will not allow any person to fix any innocent person for any kind of the punishment. You did the torture, you have already punished these people worse than whatever punishment deserved by the accused person.”

The court proceedings of five of the six suspects are set to go to trial in a fast-track court, in response to public outrage over the brutality of the attack.

The sixth suspect is under 18 and will be tried separately in a juvenile court.

The suspects are accused of attacking a 23-year-old woman and her male friend after luring them onto a bus in New Delhi on December 16th. They were both beaten with a rod. The woman was gang-raped and both victims were thrown from the bus.

The unidentified woman died of her injuries on December 29 in a Singapore hospital, where she had been taken for treatment.

Indian authorities have charged the men with murder, rape, kidnapping and other charges. Officials say they will push for the death penalty, if the men are convicted.

Two of the accused, in an effort to receive lighter sentences, have told the court that they want to become witnesses for the prosecution.

The woman's rape and death have sparked outrage across the country. Protesters have called for tougher rape laws, major police reforms and a transformation in the ways India treats women.

Issues such as rape, dowry-related deaths and female infanticide rarely enter mainstream political discourse in India.

Following Strike over Censorship, China Newspaper Publishes Weekly Edition

Posted January 10th, 2013 at 4:10 am (UTC-5)
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A Chinese newspaper where journalists had gone on strike to protest government censorship has published its weekly issue as scheduled, but is urging Beijing to reform its media control policies.

The Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly was available in several parts of the country Thursday, following reports that editors at the progressive paper had reached a tentative deal with Communist Party officials.

The latest issue made no direct mention of the dispute. But in a subtle sign of continued resistance, it published an editorial that said Beijing's methods of controlling the media must “keep with the times,” and called for “reasonable and constructive media” to be protected.

Meanwhile, protesters gathered for a fourth straight day outside the newspaper's heavily guarded headquarters, apparently testing the patience of authorities. At least two demonstrators were hauled away by plainclothes police. Journalists were also ushered away from the building Thursday.

Protests also continued on social media, where many Chinese celebrities and public figures have expressed support for the paper, despite censors' efforts to limit discussion on the matter.

The dispute began after editors at the Southern Weekly complained that a New Year's editorial calling for greater rights had been replaced by one that praised the Communist Party.

An unknown number of journalists at the paper, which has a long-standing reputation for pushing Beijing's limits on freedom of speech, walked off the job in protest.

But reports surfaced Wednesday that the journalists had agreed to return to work after they received a verbal commitment that authorities would no longer censor their work before publication.

Although exact details of the agreement remain unclear, many reports say it included assurances that the striking journalists would not be punished. When contacted by VOA, staff at the paper said they were not in a position to discuss the matter.

Some observers say the reported deal amounted to a small victory for the journalists, while others say it merely represents a return to the status quo.

Although the dispute at the Southern Weekly appears to have been resolved, the controversy looks to have widened to include its sister paper, the Beijing News.

Several unconfirmed reports suggest Dai Zegeng, the editor of the Beijing News, resigned after propaganda officials forced the paper to publish a state media editorial blaming the Southern Weekly controversy on “external activists.”

Beijing appears to have no intention of handing the rebel journalists any broad concessions. A leaked Central Propaganda Department directive circulating online suggests that “hostile foreign forces” were responsible for the dispute and insisted that government control of the media is an “unwavering basic principle.”

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