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Thursday, January 10, 2013

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News,Science and Technology

Bombings kill 115 people in Pakistan, including 81 in sectarian attack on billiard hall

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A series of bombings in different parts of Pakistan killed 115 people on Thursday, including 81 who died in a sectarian attack on a bustling billiard hall in the southwest city of Quetta, officials said.

The blasts punctuated one of the deadliest days in recent years in Pakistan, where the government faces a bloody insurgency by Taliban militants in the northwest and Baluch militants in the southwest.

The country is also home to many enemies of the U.S. that Washington has frequently targeted with drone attacks. A U.S. missile strike Thursday killed five suspected militants in the seventh such attack in two weeks, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The billiard hall in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, was hit by twin blasts about 5 minutes apart on Thursday night, killing 81 people and wounding more than 120 others, said senior police officer Zubair Mehmood.

The billiard hall was located in an area dominated by Shiite Muslims, and most of the dead and wounded were from the minority sect, said another police officer, Mohammed Murtaza. Many of the people who rushed to the scene after the first blast and were hit by the second bomb, which caused the roof of the building to collapse, he said.

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Lew's selection as treasury chief puts emphasis on fiscal challenges, opens a new chapter

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama nominated White House chief of staff Jack Lew to be treasury secretary Thursday, declaring his complete trust in an aide with three decades of Washington experience in economic policy and a penchant for shunning the limelight.

"He is a low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras," Obama said.

Obama announced his nomination in the ornate White House East Room, flanked by Lew and outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The two men and their backgrounds illustrate the nation's changing economic landscape. Geithner is a longtime banking specialist with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve who took office in 2009 at the height of the nation's financial crisis. Lew has been a budget expert as the government struggled with its debt and deficit challenges.

Obama heaped praise on Geithner for addressing the Wall Street meltdown and shepherding an overhaul of financial regulations through Congress.

"When the history books are written, Tim Geithner is going to go down as one of our finest secretaries of the treasury."

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Q&A: Obama, GOP will compete for leverage in upcoming battle over federal borrowing, spending

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama had a clear political edge in his fight with Republicans over the fiscal cliff, and used it to his advantage. In the upcoming battle over federal borrowing and spending, the leverage will be more evenly divided and the outcome less predictable.

In the fiscal cliff fight, Obama wanted to block automatic New Year's Day tax increases on everyone but the country's highest earners. Republicans were trying to protect upper-income people from those tax hikes, but eventually gave in because they didn't want to be blamed for the higher middle-class taxes that a stalemate would have triggered.

Next come three deadlines that will almost certainly become entwined.

The government will run out of cash in about two months. The Obama administration will need congressional approval to borrow more money or face a first-ever federal default, threatening global, economy-rattling consequences.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have said they won't agree to a debt-limit extension without an accord to cut spending. Just as adamantly, Obama says the government's debt ceiling must be raised and he won't negotiate over it, though he says he would bargain over spending cuts and tax increases to reduce federal deficits.

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Biden: Consensus emerging on gun safety, plans to deliver recommendations to Obama by Tuesday

WASHINGTON (AP) — Pledging swift action to curb gun violence, Vice President Joe Biden says he will deliver new proposals to President Barack Obama by next Tuesday.

Biden said Thursday that while he had not finalized his recommendations, a consensus was emerging over banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines as well as tightening background checks.

Some of those measures are likely to face opposition from some pro-gun groups, most notably the National Rifle Association. A representative from the NRA met with Biden Thursday afternoon and, in a statement, suggested the group was unlikely to be a willing partner.

"We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen," the group said in a statement at the end of a 95-minute meeting.

Obama, after the horrific shooting of school children in Newtown, Conn., appointed Biden to lead a task force on preventing gun violence. He set a late January deadline for reommendations, which he pledged to act on swiftly.

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US flu season strikes early and, in many places, hard; hospitals are swamped with the feverish

NEW YORK (AP) — From the Rocky Mountains to New England, hospitals are swamped with people with flu symptoms. Some medical centers are turning away visitors or making them wear face masks, and one Pennsylvania hospital set up a tent outside its ER to deal with the feverish patients.

Flu season in the U.S. has struck early and, in many places, hard.

While flu normally doesn't blanket the country until late January or February, it is already widespread in more than 40 states, with about 30 of them reporting some major hotspots. On Thursday, health officials blamed the flu for the deaths of 20 children so far.

Whether this will be considered a bad season by the time it has run its course in the spring remains to be seen.

"Those of us with gray hair have seen worse," said Dr. William Schaffner, a flu expert at Vanderbilt University in Nashville.

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How to tell a cold from the flu: Fever, chills and aches are more likely with the flu

The common cold and flu are caused by different viruses but can have some similar symptoms, making them tough to tell apart. In general, the flu is worse and symptoms are more intense.

COLDS: Usual symptoms include stuffy or runny nose, sore throat and sneezing. Coughs are hacking and productive. It's unusual to have fever, chills, headaches and body aches, and if they do occur, they are mild.

FLU: Fever is usually present, along with chills, headache and moderate-to-severe body aches and tiredness. Symptoms can come on rapidly, within three to six hours. Coughs are dry and unproductive, and sore throats are less common.

PREVENTION: To avoid colds and flu, wash your hands with warm water and soap after you've been out in public or around sick people. Don't share cups or utensils. And get a flu vaccination — officials say it's not too late, even in places where flu is raging.

TREATMENT: People with colds or mild cases of the flu should get plenty of rest and fluids. Those with severe symptoms, such as a high fever or difficulty breathing, should see a doctor and may be prescribed antiviral drugs or other medications. Children should not be given aspirin without a doctor's approval.

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3 Kurdish activists killed in Paris; Turks, Kurds accuse each other of being behind shootings

PARIS (AP) — Three Kurdish activists were shot dead in what authorities called an "execution" in central Paris, prompting speculation that the long-running conflict between insurgents from the minority group and Turkey was playing out on French shores.

The slayings came as Turkey was holding peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party, which seeks self-rule for Kurds in the country's southeast, to try to persuade it to disarm. The conflict between the group, known as the PKK, and the Turkish government has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a news conference in Senegal on Thursday that his country was determined to press ahead with the talks despite the events in Paris, which he suggested could be the result of internal strife or an act to sabotage the talks. The PKK does have a history of internal killings. But many Kurdish activists and militants were also victims of extra-judicial killings blamed on Turkish government forces in the 1990s.

Initial reports were contradictory but pointed to a grisly crime scene. One Kurdish organization said the door of the building where the women were found just after midnight was smeared with blood, that two of the women were shot in the neck and one in the stomach and that the killer used a silencer. French radio reported that all three were shot in the head.

The killings set off a round of accusations, with each side accusing the other of being behind the deaths. Police tried to contain hundreds of Kurds who flocked to the building in eastern Paris where the bodies were found Thursday, many blaming Turkey and calling the deaths a "political assassination."

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Drug companies forge partnerships with top universities; some academic purists have doubts

ST. LOUIS (AP) — In their quest for the next big drug discovery, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly teaming up with some of the nation's top universities, recruiting campus scientists as partners and offering schools multimillion-dollar deals to work on experimental drugs in development.

Big Pharma has long sought to profit from academia's innovations in more limited arrangements. Now the two sides are often joining forces as equals. But the drug makers' aggressive pursuit of university research has drawn the ire of academic purists who question whether the partnerships put profits ahead of, or on equal footing with, science for science's sake.

"What it does is to blur the boundaries between academic medical centers and investor-owned companies," said Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and a prominent critic of the pharmaceutical industry's new coziness with major campuses.

Pfizer Inc., Astra Zeneca PLC and Eli Lilly and Co. are among the major international drug companies signing agreements with schools such as New York University, Harvard and the University of California at San Francisco.

Driving the change is the expiration of patents for such lucrative name-brand drugs as Seroquel, Lipitor and Protonix, which industry observers say accounted for nearly $36 billion in U.S. sales in 2011 and 2012. More than ever, drug makers need new revenue to replace diminished profits from drugs that now have generic rivals.

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Researchers say NFL star Junior Seau had degenerative brain disease when he committed suicide

When he ended his life last year by shooting himself in the chest, Junior Seau had a degenerative brain disease often linked with repeated blows to the head.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health said Thursday the former NFL star's abnormalities are consistent with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

The hard-hitting linebacker played for 20 NFL seasons with San Diego, Miami and New England before retiring in 2009. He died at age 43 of a self-inflicted gunshot in May, and his family requested the analysis of his brain.

"We saw changes in his behavior and things that didn't add up with him," his ex-wife, Gina, told The Associated Press. "But (CTE) was not something we considered or even were aware of. But pretty immediately (after the suicide) doctors were trying to get their hands on Junior's brain to examine it."

The NIH, based in Bethesda, Md., studied three unidentified brains, one of which was Seau's, and said the findings on Seau were similar to autopsies of people "with exposure to repetitive head injuries."

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Spielberg's in at Oscars, Bigelow, Affleck, Hooper are out after directing snubs

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) — Steven Spielberg had a great day at the Academy Awards nominations, where his Civil War saga "Lincoln" led with 12 nominations.

It was not so great for Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Ben Affleck, whose films did well but surprised — dare we say shocked? — Hollywood by failing to score directing nominations for the three filmmakers.

"I just think they made a mistake," said Alan Arkin, a supporting-actor nominee for Affleck's Iran hostage-crisis tale "Argo."

"Lincoln," ''Argo," Bigelow's Osama bin Laden manhunt thriller and Hooper's Victor Hugo musical "Les Miserables" landed among the nine best-picture contenders Thursday.

Also nominated for the top honor were the old-age love story "Amour"; the independent hit "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; the slave-revenge narrative "Django Unchained"; the shipwreck story "Life of Pi"; and the lost-souls romance "Silver Linings Playbook."

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