Archive for July, 2010

Pakistan has made a ‘strategic shift’: US

Playing down revelations of Pakistani spy agency ISI’s links with Taliban militants, the United States has again suggested these are “historical links” and Pakistan has now made a “strategic shift” and attacking their safe havens inside its territory. “It is very, very important to understand that

there have been historical links going back a couple of decades,” State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley told reporters Friday reiterating WikiLeaks did not reveal any new information about “Pakistani interest in and association with elements that have played a role in Afghanistan.” 

But “we believe that Pakistan has made a strategic shift,” he said. “They are now aggressively attacking these elements inside their borders that have safe havens inside of Pakistan’s territory that not only threaten Afghanistan, the United States, but also Pakistan.” 

However, “the links between Pakistani agencies and these elements have been known and understood for quite some time,” Crowley said suggesting “The real question is: What is Pakistan doing now?” 

The US is “satisfied with the action, the aggressive action that Pakistan has taken. But we want to see Pakistan continue on the offensive. We’ve made that clear since these documents came out,” he said referring to the whistle blower organisation’s publication of over 90,000 secret US military documents. 

Asked why the US was continuing to give billions of dollars in aid to Pakistan when there was no accountability, Crowley said: “We are investing in Pakistan because it’s in the United States’ interest to do so. We have a presence in Afghanistan because it is our interest to do so.” 

“We are working cooperatively across the region, including with India, because ultimately, these are countries that have to live together and find stable relationships that serve their own interest and a collective interest,” he said. 

“That’s what we’re trying to do and we think we have the right strategy to do this. We’ve emphasised and taken a regional approach to this challenge, which is why we have a relationship with Afghanistan, we have a relationship with Pakistan, we have a relationship with India.” 

“All three countries and others can play a role in helping to stabilise the situation,” Crowley said

July 31, 2010 Posted Under: News update   Read More

Pakistan grapples with worst floods in living memory

More than 400 people have been killed and 400,000 displaced by monsoon flooding in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Most died in north-west Pakistan, while across the border in Afghanistan at least 60 were killed.

Several rivers burst their banks, washing away villages, roads and bridges. Some power supplies have been cut to prevent more electrocutions.

Officials say the floods are the worst the region has experienced in more than 80 years, and further rain is forecast.

‘No drinking water’

Rescue workers and troops were struggling on Saturday to reach the hundreds of thousands of people in north-west Pakistan who have been left homeless or stranded by the flooding.

Transport and communication links have been badly affected, even away from the worst-hit areas, says the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool, in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, and helicopters have had to be used to deliver essential supplies.

Peshawar, the main city in the north-west, and the districts of Swat and Shangla have been cut off from the rest of the country.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, told the Associated Press that 408 people had died there alone, describing it as the worst flooding since 1929.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s relief commissioner Shakil Qadir said the worst-hit area was Malakand, where more than 100 people had died. Many others are missing.

Pakistan’s meteorological department said 312mm (12in) of rain had fallen over the last 36 hours in the north-west – the largest amount for decades.

And 25 people are said to have been killed over the past three days in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir.

Muzaffarabad residents told the BBC there was no electricity or drinking water in parts of the city.

Livestock perish

The government has declared a state of emergency.

While the north-west of the country has borne the brunt of the flooding, the south-western province of Balochistan has also been hit hard, and some crops in Punjab province were reportedly ruined

July 31, 2010 Posted Under: News update   Read More

Addiction drugs may boost weight loss

combination pill of two drugs used to treat addiction may help people lose weight, say US researchers.

The Lancet reports that Naltrexone, commonly used to treat alcoholics and heroin addicts, and the anti-smoking drug bupropion led to greater weight loss than diet and exercise alone.

It is thought the treatment may help beat food cravings.

However, one UK expert said he would like to see much higher weight loss for the drug to be used in clinics.

Professor Nick Finer, an obesity expert from University College London (UCL), said the drug may prove more useful if researchers can better identify who would benefit.

In the study, 1,700 overweight and obese adults were all offered a weight-loss programme with diet and exercise advice.

Two-thirds were also given the combination treatment (in one of two doses) and a third were given a placebo, or dummy pill, to take twice a day.

Only half completed the trial, which lasted a year.

Overall those taking the treatment lost an average of 5% to 6% of their weight depending on the dose, compared with 1.3% in the placebo group.

The researchers said if only those who completed the trial were included, weight loss was 8% of body weight for those on the anti-addiction drugs.

The treatment was not without side effects which included nausea, headaches, constipation, dizziness, vomiting and a dry mouth.

‘Better control’

The drug is designed to target both the parts of the brain controlling appetite but also reward.

Regulators in the US are currently looking at whether the treatment, which will be marketed as Contrave, should be licensed.

Study leader Professor Frank Greenway, from Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana, said although 5% may not seem like a huge weight loss, it could make a real difference in terms of health risks.

“I think the weight loss we saw was significant even if it might not be as much as many people would like to see,” he said.

Related stories Say fat not obese, says minister Low-carb diet ‘heart benefits’ Top obesity drug being suspended He said a separate trial of the same drug but with a more intensive diet and exercise programme had shown a 10% average weight loss, compared with 5% in the placebo group.

“This is the first drug I’m aware of that targets both the appetite and reward centres in the brain,” he said.

“People who struggle with cravings seem to have better control with their eating.

“In practice it is likely to be used in people who feel cravings get in the way of their ability to lose weight.”

Professor Finer, from UCL, said combination treatments were likely to be the future for obesity drugs.

But he said he was not overly impressed with the weight loss seen in the trial, especially given the side-effects.

“The question will be can they define who the responders are and also can you get better results by combining the drug with a more effective weight loss programme,” he said.

“We desperately need effective drugs but we have to have very high standards of safety and acceptability to patients.”

July 31, 2010 Posted Under: News update   Read More

Julian Assange: is ‘Wikileaker’ on a crusade or an ego trip?

He has already said he would “deeply regret” any lives being lost as a result of the leak, but stood firm in his conviction that it was a risk worth taking because of its importance “to the history of the war”.

Whether the donors who have gifted £330,000 to Wikileaks since last December will take the same view is less certain

Admiral Mullen’s claims, coupled with the concerns of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, could dictate the future of Mr Assange and his website if they cause donations to dry up.

Mr Assange, 39, relies on donations and the hospitality of wellwishers as he travels the globe avoiding the attentions of the intelligence organisations he believes are out to get him.

The Berlin-based Wau Holland Foundation, which manages the finances of Wikileaks, said that just £25,000 of the £330,000 collected in the past six months had been spent, to fund Mr Assange’s travel expenses and other overheads, but there had been discussions about paying him a salary in future.

Wikileaks does not publish accounts but it claims to have raised about £655,000 since it was set up in 2007, with operating costs of £131,000 a year.

It estimates that it will need to raise £390,000 per year if its handful of regular volunteers are to be paid in future, though friends of Mr Assange insist he is “not motivated by money”.

His supporters regard the convicted computer hacker as a crusader who dedicates his life to exposing the unvarnished truth, no matter what the consequences.

Detractors regard him as a man driven more by his own ego and a desire to cock a snook at the Establishment he has spent much of his life fighting.

The Australian has admitted in the past that he came close to a breakdown after being tried on charges of illegal hacking in the mid 1990s, which also led to a bitter break-up with the mother of his baby son.

Mr Assange was spared a jail sentence in 1995 after admitting 25 charges of hacking into computer networks including the Canadian communications firm Nortel.

Ken Day, who headed the Operation Weather investigation into Mr Assange’s circle of hackers, told The Daily Telegraph: “Ego is a big part of who he is.

The challenge to win. I think that’s important to him as a person. He wouldn’t give up on a system he was trying to break into, he was very persistent.”

Police in Australia first came across Mr Assange following an “audacious” attack on Nasa’s computer in 1989 for which he was a suspect.

The gang was so cocky that it monitored the police investigating it, and even left messages for detectives on their police computers.

Fining him 2,100 Australian dollars in December 1995, Judge Leslie Ross, at Melbourne’s County Court, said he believed Mr Assange was driven by a desire to be “empowered” by his access to high security files.

July 31, 2010 Posted Under: News update   Read More