Sunday, August 31, 2014

Islamist Militia Now Guards US Embassy In Libya

In this photo taken during a tour offered to onlookers and journalists by the Dawn of Libya militia on Sunday, Aug. 31, 2014, damage is seen in the front yard of a building at the U.S. Embassy compound in Tripoli, 

TRIPOLI, Libya (AP) — An Islamist-allied militia group in control of Libya's capital now guards the U.S. Embassy and its residential compound, a commander said Sunday, as onlookers toured the abandoned homes of diplomats who fled the country more than a month ago.
An Associated Press journalist saw holes left by small-arms and rocket fire dotting the residential compound, reminders of weeks of violence between rival militias over control of Tripoli that sparked the evacuation.
The breach of a deserted U.S. diplomatic post — including images of men earlier swimming in the compound's algae-filled pools — likely will reinvigorate debate in the U.S. over its role in Libya, more than three years after supporting rebels who toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi. It also comes just before the two-year anniversary of the slaying of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans in Libya.
A commander for the Dawn of Libya group, Moussa Abu-Zaqia, told the AP that his forces had been guarding the residential compound since last week, a day after it has seized control of the capital and its international airport after weeks of fighting with a rival militia. Abu-Zaqia said the rival militia from Zintan was in the compound before his troops took it over.
Some windows at the compound had been broken, but it appeared most of the equipment there remained untouched. The AP journalist saw treadmills, weight benches and protein bars in the compound's abandoned gym. Forks, knives and napkins set for a banquet sat on one table, while a cantina still had cornflakes, vinegar, salt and pepper sitting out.
Some papers lay strewn on the floor, but it didn't appear that the villas in the compound had been ransacked. Abu-Zaqia said his militia had asked cleaners to come to spruce up the grounds. Another Dawn of Libya commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to speak by his leaders, told the AP that the U.S. Embassy, about a kilometer (half a mile) away, also was under guard by his militiamen.
"We've secured the location and the assets of the embassy," he said. "We've informed our command ... immediately after entering the place following the exit of the rival militia. The place is secure and under protection."
The commander did not elaborate and the AP journalist could not reach the embassy. The Dawn of Libya militia is not associated with the extremist militia Ansar al-Shariah, which Washington blames for the deadly assault on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11, 2012, that killed Stevens and the three other Americans.
A video posted online Sunday showed unarmed men playing in a pool at the compound and jumping into it from a second-story balcony. In a message on Twitter, U.S. Ambassador to Libya Deborah Jones said the video appeared to have been shot in at the embassy's residential annex, though she said she couldn't "say definitively" since she wasn't there.
"To my knowledge & per recent photos the US Embassy Tripoli chancery & compound is now being safeguarded and has not been ransacked," she wrote on Twitter. She did not immediately respond to a request to elaborate. State Department officials in Washington also declined to immediately comment.
Typically, local forces provide security for diplomatic posts, but Libya's government has largely relied on militias for law enforcement since Gadhafi's ouster, as its military and police forces remain weak. In the past several weeks, the security vacuum in Tripoli deepened as militia violence worsened and the diplomatic security provided by Libya's Interior Ministry in the area apparently fled as well.
It remains unclear who the U.S. left in control of guarding its facilities after its personnel evacuated under military escort on July 26. The State Department has said embassy operations would be suspended until the security situation in Libya improved.
Libya's militias, many of which originate from rebel forces that fought Gadhafi, have become powerful players in post-war Libya. Successive governments have put militias on their payroll in return for maintaining order, but rivalries over control and resources have led to fierce fighting among them and posed a constant challenge to the central government and a hoped-for transition to democracy.
The militia violence began after Islamist candidates lost parliament in June elections and a renegade general began a military campaign against Islamist-allied militias in Benghazi, Libya's second-largest city. Now, Libya has two competing governments and two parliaments, deepening divisions and escalating the political struggle that's torn the country apart.
Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb and Jon Gambrell in Cairo contributed to this report.

OPC At 20Seeks Stake In S-West Security Vote Allocation

Lagos State was agog as the Oodua People’s Congress (OPC) marked its 20th anniversary with a massive convoy of vehicles and members winding through the highways of Lagos.
The group called for a referendum on the resolutions of the just concluded National Conference, even as it demanded a stake in security votes enjoyed by South West governors.
Led by its founder and president, Dr. Frederick Fasehun, the motorcade of thousands of the organisation’s members moved from the Toll Gate area at the Lagos end of the Ibadan-Lagos expressway, through Ojota, Maryland, Onipanu, Ojuelegba and Lawanson and finally terminated at the premises of Century Hotel, Okota, owned by Fasehun, with feasting and music from a live band.
Lagos police had denied the group a permit to hold the event at the National Stadium, despite payment made to authorities running the complex, a situation that forced OPC to make do with Century Hotel.
OPC National Secretary, Comrade Dare Adesope, lamented that politicians and people benefitting from the group failed to extend recognition and compensation to a group he said was in the vanguard of the struggle for democracy in Nigeria.
According to Adesope, 20 years after its creation, the socio-cultural organisation is yet to have a befitting National Secretariat or operational vehicles.
While expressing appreciation to President Jonathan for fulfilling the wishes of Nigerians, including the OPC, for a National Conference, Fasehun, warned that gains from the dialogue would be lost except its conclusions were subjected to a referendum, rather than modification or ratification by the National Assembly.
Warning that OPC’s role in the provision of security should not be taken for granted, Fasehun said state governors in the South West must find a way of disbursing security votes to informal security apparatuses, like his own.
“While people are sleeping and snoring, OPC watchmen are out in the dark and in the cold, keeping the night watch to guarantee that citizens sleep in peace. These keepers of peace are beaten by the rain and hunted by marauders, sustaining injuries in the front and never at the back. Many have lost life and limb – without condolences even from the people we protect,” he said.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Silva Surges Ahead In Brazil's Presidential Vote

Marina Silva, presidential candidate for the Brazilian Socialist Party, campaigns in the Rocinha slum of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014. Silva is leading polls in her race against current President Dilma Rousseff and tapping into the widespread frustrations of many Brazilians with a sputtering economy and poor public services, angst that fueled last year's massive anti-government protests. Brazil will hold its presidential election on Oct. 5.

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil's once humdrum presidential race now resembles one of the country's famed soap operas, with a newcomer thrust into the spotlight by a plane crash and the longtime favorite reeling from a one-two punch of bad news.
With just over a month to go before the Oct. 5 vote, President Dilma Rousseff awoke to newspaper headlines Saturday announcing that Brazil's long-sputtering economy had officially entered recession for the first time in more than five years.
Worse for her, perhaps, were the other banner headlines splashed on front pages: A poll showing Rousseff trailing her new rival Marina Silva by 10 percentage points if the election goes, as expected, to a second round.
"Yesterday must have been President Dilma's most difficult day in a long time — she only had awful news," wrote Merval Pereira, a political columnist for the O Globo newspaper. Silva was a peripheral figure in the election until Aug. 13, when a campaign plane crash killed Socialist Party candidate Eduardo Campos, who was running third, far behind Rousseff.
Silva, who had been his vice presidential candidate, waited a week before officially filling Campos' spot on the ticket, and her star has rocketed upward since, fed by widespread voter discontent over what many consider an inefficient and corrupt political system.
Her life story is cinematic itself. Maria Osmarina Marina Silva Vaz de Lima, 56, grew up as one of eight children of an impoverished rubber tapper on a plantation deep in Brazil's Amazon region. Her mother died when Silva was just 15.
After a childhood during which she was infected with malaria five times, at age 16 Silva was hit with hepatitis and her father sent her to the Acre state capital of Rio Branco for better health care. She decided to enter a convent to fulfill her dream of becoming a nun — and to finally learn to read and write.
There, Silva had a political awakening when she came into contact with priests adhering to liberation theology, a Latin American-inspired movement that promoted rights for the poor. She helped found the local branch of a union representing impoverished Amazon agricultural workers and advocated side-by-side with famed rain forest defender Chico Mendes.
Silva, who became a devout evangelical Christian, joined the now-ruling Workers Party in the mid-1980s and was elected as a Rio Branco city councilwoman in 1989. Two years later, she moved into the state legislature before becoming a federal senator in 1995. Newly elected President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva — no relation — made her his environment minister when he took power on Jan. 1, 2003.
Silva left the post five years later after disagreements with other ministers on how to develop the Amazon region. She was particularly at loggerheads with Rousseff, who was then the nation's energy minister and who pushed an aggressive agenda of building hydroelectric dams and other projects in the Amazon to spur economic development.
After joining the Green Party, Silva ran in the 2010 presidential election and won a surprising 20 percent of the vote despite having little campaign ad airtime. The Datafolha poll released late Friday showed Rousseff and Silva now even heading into the first round, each capturing 34 percent of voter intentions.
But when asked about a second-round runoff, Silva was favored by 50 percent to the incumbent's 40 percent. The poll was based on 2,874 interviews carried out across Brazil on Thursday and Friday. The margin of error was 2 percentage points.
The survey showed that Rousseff remains most popular among Brazil's poorest, who have benefited from Workers Party policies that have lifted millions out of poverty in the past decade. But many Brazilians are frustrated by the state's heavy hand in the slumping economy, and for the first time in years, consumer confidence has been steadily dropping.
The country technically entering recession only compounds the anxiety. "This puts Dilma on the defensive and gives Marina ammunition, it gives Marina more of a chance to explain to voters how she'll turn the economy around," said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia.
But he said it's not necessarily a fatal blow to Rousseff's campaign. "Voters really only understand it if unemployment rises and inflation eats into their buying power." Unemployment remains low in Brazil and inflation, while rising, is within the range of government targets.
Follow Brad Brooks on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bradleybrooks

Somali Troops Oust Militants From Southern Town

In this photo provided by the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), African Union (AU) soldiers from Uganda fire at al-Shabab positions in their strongholds of Bulomarer in the Lower Shabelle region of Somalia.

MOGADISHU, SOMALIA (AP) — Somali government troops fighting alongside African Union troops ousted Islamic militants from a southern town they have been controlling, an official said Saturday.
Abdiqadir Mohamed Nor, the governor of Somalia's Lower Shabelle region where the fighting is taking place, said the al-Shabab stronghold of Bulomarer was seized from militants after hours of battle. "We have finally liberated the town. The enemy elements fled," he said. "The residents have welcomed our troops because we freed them after years of oppression by the terrorists."
He gave no details about causalities. Bulomarer is about 110 kilometers (70 miles) south of the Somali capital, Mogadishu. Bulomarer resident Abdullahi Ali said militants fled under heavy gunfire and that the town is now quiet as government troops set up bases on its outskirts.
Military officials say the al-Qaeda-linked militants used Bulomarer to stage deadly attacks across Somalia, including in Mogadishu, and hope the military offensive dubbed "Indian Ocean" can oust al-Shabab from its last major hideouts in the southern parts of the Horn of Africa nation.
The loss of Bulomarer would leave al-Shabab's current key base of the coastal town of Barawe vulnerable to attacks.

EU Sets Russia Ultimatum, Threatens Sanctions

A captured Ukrainian border guard sits in a garage at the Novoazovsk border crossing point, in eastern Ukraine, Friday, Aug. 29, 2014. In Novoazovsk, pro Russian rebel fighters looked to be in firm control, well-equipped and relaxed. At least half a dozen tanks were seen on roads around the town, although the total number at the rebels’ disposal is believed to be much greater. Novoazovsk fell swiftly to the rebels Wednesday after being pounded by shelling.

BRUSSELS (AP) — Despite tough rhetoric decrying Russia's increasing military involvement in Ukraine, European Union leaders on Sunday stopped short of imposing new sanctions against Moscow right away.
Instead, the 28-nation bloc's heads of state and government tasked their executive body to "urgently undertake preparatory work" for tougher economic sanctions, according to summit chairman Herman Van Rompuy.
The sanctions will depend on the evolution of the situation on the ground but "everybody is fully aware that we have to act quickly," he added. The preparatory work will start Monday, he added. The fighting between the military and Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine has so far claimed 2,600 lives, according to U.N. figures. NATO said this week that at least 1,000 Russian soldiers are in Ukraine, which Russia denies. Another 20,000 Russian troops are amassed just across Ukraine's eastern border, NATO says.
The U.S. and the EU have so far imposed sanctions against dozens of Russian officials, several companies as well as the country's financial and arms industry. Moscow has retaliated by banning food imports.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the new sanctions would target the same sectors as previous punitive measures, which also included an export ban for some high technology and oil exploration equipment.
Several European leaders had called for additional sanctions at the outset of the meeting in Brussels, but the fear of an economic backlash apparently prevailed and led the bloc to grant Russia another chance at avoiding tougher action. New sanctions would have required unanimity among the leaders.
Russia is the EU's No. 3 trading partner and one of its biggest oil and gas suppliers. The EU, in turn, is Russia's biggest commercial partner, making any sanctions more biting than similar measures adopted by the U.S.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who briefed the leaders at the beginning of their talks, said a strong response was needed to the "military aggression and terror" facing his country. "Thousands of the foreign troops and hundreds of the foreign tanks are now on the territory of Ukraine," Poroshenko told reporters in English. "There is a very high risk not only for peace and stability for Ukraine, but for the whole ... of Europe."
Conceding ground in the face of a reinvigorated rebel offensive, Ukraine said Saturday that it was abandoning a city where its forces have been surrounded by rebels for days. Government forces were also pulling back from another it had claimed to have taken control of two weeks earlier.
The statements by Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the national security council, indicate that Ukrainian forces face increasingly strong resistance from Russian-backed separatist rebels just weeks after racking up significant gains and forcing rebels out of much of the territory they had held.
The office of the Donetsk mayor reported in a statement that at least two people died in an artillery attack on one of Donetsk's neighborhoods. Shelling was reported elsewhere in the city, but there was no immediate word on casualties.
Poroshenko told reporters he believed efforts to halt the violence in eastern Ukraine were "very close to a point of no return," warning that failure could lead to a "full-scale war." European leaders also issued dire warnings, reflecting their concern over the most recent military escalation with the opening of a new front by the Russian-backed rebels in southeastern Ukraine.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite said Russia's meddling in Ukraine, which seeks closer ties with the EU, amounts to a direct confrontation that requires stronger sanctions. "Russia is practically in the war against Europe," she said in English.
Grybauskaite said the EU should impose a full arms embargo, including the canceling of already agreed contracts, but France has so far staunchly opposed that proposal because it has a $1.6 billion contract to build Mistral helicopter carriers for Russia.
British Prime Minister David Cameron also warned that Europe shouldn't be complacent about Russian troops on Ukrainian soil. "Countries in Europe shouldn't have to think long before realizing just how unacceptable that is," he said. "We know that from our history. So consequences must follow."
European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said "sanctions are not an end in themselves," but a means to dissuade Russia from further destabilizing Ukraine. Moscow, meanwhile, is preparing to send a second convoy of humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that Moscow has already received Kiev's preliminary approval and insisted that it would send aid in coordination with the Red Cross. Lavrov wouldn't say when the aid is likely to be sent, but said it could happen next week.
Russian state Rossiya 24 on Saturday showed trucks from the previous convoy at the border being loaded with humanitarian aid that was brought to the area by train. It was unclear when the new convoy could start moving.
Barroso said that the EU — a bloc encompassing 500 million people and stretching from Lisbon to the border with Ukraine — stands ready to grant Kiev further humanitarian aid and financial assistance if needed. The bloc will also organize a donors' conference to help rebuild the country's east at the end of the year, he added.
Ukrainian forces had been surrounded by rebels in the town of Ilovaysk, about 20 kilometers (15 miles) east of the largest rebel-held city of Donetsk for days. "We are surrendering this city," Ukraine's Lysenko told reporters. "Our task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in order to regroup."
Lysenko said that regular units of the military had been ordered to retreat from Novosvitlivka and Khryashchuvate, two towns on the main road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. Ukraine had claimed control of Novosvitlivka earlier in August.
Separately, Ukrainian forces said one of their Su-25 fighter jets was shot down Friday over eastern Ukraine by a missile from a Russian missile launcher. The pilot ejected and was uninjured, the military said in a brief statement.
Jim Heintz reported from Kiev. Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed reporting.
Follow Juergen Baetz on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/jbaetz

Liberian Ebola Survivor Praises Experimental Drug

People celebrate on the streets outside of West Point, which has been closed in by Liberian security forces to stop all movement the past week in a attempt to control the Ebola outbreak in Monrovia, Liberia, Saturday, August 30, 2014.

MONROVIA, LIBERIA (AP) — A Liberian health worker who recovered from Ebola after receiving an experimental drug urged the manufacturer to speed up its production and send it to Africa, while crowds celebrated in the streets Saturday after authorities reopened a slum that had been barricaded for more than a week to try to contain the disease.
Physician's assistant Kyndy Kobbah was expected to be released from hospital Saturday after she survived Ebola, which has been fatal in more than half the cases sweeping West Africa. Kobbah contracted the disease while working at a government-run hospital north of the capital.
In an interview with The Associated Press before her release, she said when she informed her family that she had been cured, the home exploded with joy "and the house is on fire right now" with celebration.
"I am very fine and all right, glory be to God," she said. "I trusted God that I was going to be healed." Kobbah urged the manufacturer of the experimental drug known as ZMapp to step up production. The company has said that all its supplies are exhausted and it will take months to make more.
"They need to make more Zmapp and send to us," she said. Doctors have said there is no way to know whether ZMapp made a difference or if survivors like Kobbah recovered on their own, as about 45 percent of people infected in this outbreak have. The drug had never been tested in humans before it was given to two Americans who were infected with Ebola in Liberia. They survived Ebola and were released from an Atlanta hospital.
However, a study released online Friday by the journal Nature found that ZMapp healed all 18 monkeys infected with the deadly virus. Meanwhile, tensions diminished Saturday in the West Point neighborhood of Liberia's capital after authorities lifted a blockade that had sparked unrest. Residents living in the area had feared running out of food and safe water on the peninsula.
Liberia's president had ordered the barricade on Aug. 19 after West Point residents stormed an Ebola health center several days earlier. Residents said they did not want sick people being brought into the community, although those staying at the center were only under observation during a 21-day incubation period.
Amid the melee, some protesters made off with blood-stained mattresses and other materials that could potentially spread the Ebola virus. Lifting the quarantine Saturday morning doesn't mean there is no Ebola in the West Point slum, said Information Minister Lewis Brown. Authorities, though, are more confident now that they can work with residents to screen for the sick, he said.
"They're comfortable with the way the leadership and the community is working with the health team to make sure that the community remains safe," he said. Liberia has been the hardest hit of the five countries with Ebola cases in West Africa, reporting at least 694 deaths among 1,378 cases. More than 3,000 cases have been reported across Liberia, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Nigeria, and on Friday Senegal announced its first case.
A student from Guinea who had been missing for several weeks showed up at a hospital in Dakar on Tuesday, seeking treatment but concealing that he had been in contact with other Ebola victims, Health Minister Awa Marie Coll Seck confirmed.
The next day, an epidemiological surveillance team in neighboring Guinea alerted Senegalese authorities that they had lost track of a person they were monitoring three weeks earlier, and that the person may have crossed into Senegal.
The student was tracked down in the Dakar hospital where he was confirmed with Ebola and immediately put into isolation where he is reported to be in satisfactory condition, Seck said. Authorities also sent out a team to disinfect the home where he was staying in Senegal.
Associated Press writer Babacar Dione in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.

Rebuilding Gaza Will Take 20 Years, Group Says

Palestinian firefighters extinguish a fire in the rubble of the destroyed 15-story Basha Tower, following early morning Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City. Shelter Cluster, chaired by the Norwegian Refugee Council with the participation of the U.N. refugee agency and the Red Cross, an international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction, said in a report issued late Friday, Aug 29, 2014, it will take 20 years under current levels of restrictions to rebuild the Gaza Strip's battered and neglected housing stock following the war between Hamas and Israel.

JERUSALEM (AP) — An international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction says it will take 20 years under current levels of restrictions to rebuild the Gaza Strip's battered and neglected housing stock following the war between Hamas and Israel.
Most of the new building would be to make up for the current housing deficit, rather than to address damage from fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants. Meanwhile, appearing in a round of post-war interviews on Israeli TV channels, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was not ready to return to the negotiating table with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas unless he distances himself from Hamas militants. Hamas and Abbas' Palestinian Authority have a unity government in Gaza.
Netanyahu has regularly condemned the formal Abbas-Hamas relationship. The housing assessment by Shelter Cluster, chaired by the Norwegian Refugee Council with the participation of the U.N. refugee agency and the Red Cross, underscores the complexities involved in an overall reconstruction program for the Gaza Strip, which some Palestinian officials have estimated could cost in excess of $6 billion.
It is based on the current level of goods permitted to be moved from Israel to Gaza — a level that could easily be expanded, which would shorten the time needed to address the territory's housing needs.
Any effort to rebuild Gaza will be hindered by a blockade imposed by Egypt and Israel since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized power in 2007. Israel has severely restricted the import of concrete and other building materials into Gaza, fearing that militants will use them to build rockets and reinforce cross-border attack tunnels.
Egypt and Norway have raised the possibility of convening a Gaza donors' conference at some point next month, but no firm arrangements have been made. With a population of 1.8 million, Gaza is a densely populated coastal strip of urban warrens and agricultural land that still bears the scars of previous rounds of fighting.
In its report issued late Friday, Shelter Cluster said 17,000 Gaza housing units were destroyed or severely damaged during this summer's war and 5,000 units still need work after damage sustained in the previous military campaigns. In addition, it says, Gaza has a housing deficit of 75,000 units.
Shelter Cluster said its 20-year assessment is based on the capacity of the main Israel-Gaza cargo crossing to handle 100 trucks of construction materials daily. There was no immediate comment from the Israeli government agency responsible for operating the crossing on whether it had future plans to ease restrictions on goods going into Gaza.
Israel and Hamas agreed on Tuesday to an open-ended truce. The cease-fire brought an immediate end to the fighting but left key issues unresolved. Hamas immediately declared victory, even though it has very little to show for the war.
While Israel agreed to loosen its long-standing blockade to allow humanitarian aid and reconstruction materials into Gaza, many of the border restrictions will remain in place. Hamas, meanwhile, rejected Israel's demands that it disarm.
These deeper matters are only to be addressed in indirect talks in Egypt next month. Mindful of Israel's concerns about Hamas, Britain, France and Germany have proposed the creation of an international mechanism to monitor goods going into Gaza. The goal of the mechanism would be insure that Hamas and other militant groups would not divert construction materials like iron and cement into weapons or weapons manufacturing facilities.
Netanyahu's comment on Abbas came amid continuing displeasure among leading Israeli Cabinet ministers on the conduct of the recently concluded war, with many saying he did not go far enough to neutralize Hamas's fighting ability.
Netanyahu rejected that criticism, but in an apparent nod to the pressure from his detractors said that Abbas will have to prove himself if he wants to be a partner in a diplomatic process. "He has to choose," Netanyahu told Channel Two. "It's either yes to Hamas or no to Hamas."
The latest war began after three Israeli teens were killed in the West Bank by Hamas operatives in June, prompting Israel to arrest hundreds of Hamas members there. Rocket fire from Gaza on Israeli cities then escalated, and Israel launched a massive air and later ground campaign. The fighting lasted almost two months.
Egyptian mediators tried early on to get the sides to agree to a cease-fire. Several temporary truces were broken by Gaza militants. Over 2,100 Palestinians, most civilians, died in the war. Israel lost 71 people, all but six of them soldiers.

EU To Slap New Sanctions On Russia Over Ukraine

Comrades and Crimea's self-defense fighters carry the coffin of former paratrooper Alexander Gusev, 46, covered by Russian paratroopers flag, who was killed during clashes with Ukrainian troops in eastern Ukraine, 

BRUSSELS (AP) — A top European Union official said Saturday that the 28-nation bloc is set to decide new sanctions against Russia as Ukraine's president warned the conflict with Moscow threatens peace and stability for Europe as a whole.
Ukraine's Petro Poroshenko said a strong EU response is needed because his country is subject to "military aggression and terror" with thousands of Russian troops and hundreds of tanks in eastern Ukraine.
EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said before an EU leaders' summit in Brussels that "sanctions are not and end in themselves" but a means to dissuade Russia from further destabilizing Ukraine.
Russia denies any military involvement in the fighting that has so far claimed 2,600 lives, according to U.N. figures. The United States and the EU have already imposed sanctions against Russian officials, several companies and the country's financial industry.
Ukraine has lost ground in recent fighting, and said Saturday that it was abandoning a city where its forces have been surrounded by rebels for days. It was also pulling back from another it had claimed to have taken control of two weeks earlier.
The statements by Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the national security council, indicate that Ukrainian forces are facing increasingly strong resistance from separatist rebels just weeks after racking up significant gains and forcing rebels out of much of the territory they'd held.
The moves come amid allegations from Kiev and the West that Russia is increasing support for the rebels, including sending in tanks and armored vehicles. Ukrainian forces had been surrounded by rebels in the town of Ilovaysk, avout 20 kilometers (15 miles) east of the largest rebel-held city of Donetsk for days.
"We are surrendering this city," Lysenko told reporters. "Our task now is to evacuate our military with the least possible losses in order to regroup." Lysenko said that regular units of the military had been ordered to retreat from Novosvitlisvsk and Khryashchuvate, two towns on the main road between the Russian border and Luhansk, the second-largest rebel-held city. Ukraine had claimed control of Novosvitlivsk ealier in August.

Experimental Ebola Drug Heals All Monkeys In Study

 In this undated file photo provided by Kentucky Bio Processing, tobacco plants are grown in a controlled environment at the Kentucky Bio Processing facility in Owensboro, Ky. The company is using tobacco plants grown at this facility to help manufacture an experimental drug to treat patients infected with Ebola.

An experimental Ebola drug healed all 18 monkeys infected with the deadly virus in a study, boosting hopes that the treatment might help fight the outbreak raging through West Africa — once more of it can be made.

The monkeys were given the drug, ZMapp, three to five days after they were infected with the virus and when most were showing symptoms. That is several days later than any other experimental Ebola treatment tested so far.
The drug also completely protected six other monkeys given a slightly different version of it three days after infection in a pilot test. These two studies are the first monkey tests ever done on ZMapp.
"The level of improvement was utterly beyond my honest expectation," said one study leader, Gary Kobinger of the Public Health Agency of Canada in Winnipeg. "For animal data, it's extremely impressive," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which had a role in the work.
It's not known how well the drug would work in people, who can take up to 21 days to show symptoms and are not infected the way these monkeys were in a lab. Several experts said it's not possible to estimate a window of opportunity for treating people, but that it was encouraging that the animals recovered when treated even after advanced disease developed.
The study was published online Friday by the journal Nature. ZMapp had never been tested in humans before two Americans aid workers who got Ebola while working in Africa were allowed to try it. The rest of the limited supply was given to five others.
There is no more ZMapp now, and once a new batch is ready, it still needs some basic tests before it can be tried again during the African outbreak, Fauci said. "We do need to know what the proper dose is" in people and that it's safe, he said.
Ebola has killed more than 1,500 people this year and the World Health Organization says there could be as many as 20,000 cases before the outbreak is brought under control. On Friday, it spread to a fifth African country — Senegal, where a university student who traveled there from Guinea was being treated.
There is no approved vaccine or specific treatment, just supportive care to keep them hydrated and nourished. Efforts have focused on finding cases and tracking their contacts to limit the disease, which spreads through contact with blood and other fluids.
ZMapp is three antibodies that attach to cells infected with Ebola, helping the immune system kill them. Of the seven people known to have been treated with ZMapp, two have died — a Liberian doctor and a Spanish priest. The priest received only one of three planned doses. The two Americans recovered, as have two Africans who received ZMapp in Liberia — a Congolese doctor and a Liberian physician's assistant who were expected to be released from a treatment center on Saturday. A British nurse also got the drug, reportedly the two unused doses left over from treating the Spanish priest.
Doctors have said there is no way to know whether ZMapp made a difference or the survivors recovered on their own, as about 45 percent of people infected in this outbreak have. ZMapp's maker, Mapp Biopharmaceutical Inc., of San Diego, has said the small supply of the drug is now exhausted and that it will take several months to make more. The drug is grown in tobacco plants and was developed with U.S. government support.
Kobinger said it takes about a month to make 20 to 40 doses at a Kentucky plant where the drug is being produced. Officials have said they are looking at other facilities and other ways to ramp up production, and Kobinger said there were plans for a clinical trial to test ZMapp in people early next year.
The monkey study involved scientists from the Canada health agency, Mapp Biopharmaceutical, the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease.
Eighteen monkeys were given lethal amounts of Ebola in a shot, then received three intravenous doses of ZMapp, given three days apart starting three to five days after they were infected. Some were showing severe symptoms such as excessive bleeding, rashes and effects on their liver.
All treated with ZMapp survived; three other infected monkeys who did not get the drug died within eight days. Primates have been good stand-ins for people for many viral diseases, but how well they predict human responses to Ebola, "we just don't know," said Dr. Cameron Wolfe, a Duke University infectious disease specialist. The study also "tells us nothing about side effects" people might have, he added.
Still, it was encouraging that even monkeys with severe symptoms got better, said Wolfe and Erica Ollmann Saphire, a Scripps Research Institute professor who has worked with some of the study leaders on antibodies to Ebola.
"The treatment window in humans needs to be established in a well-controlled trial" that also would explore the correct dose of ZMapp in people, Saphire wrote in an email. "Given its tremendous efficacy in the nonhuman primates, I don't see how it couldn't be helpful in people."
Online:
Study: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13777
Ebola info: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs103/en/
Vaccine study info: http://www.niaid.nih.gov/news/QA/Pages/EbolaVaxQA.aspx
Marilynn Marchione can be followed at http://twitter.com/MMarchioneAP

Friday, August 29, 2014

USDA Seizes More Than 1200 Illegal Giant Snails

A collection of giant African land snails in Miami. The Giant African Snail eats buildings, destroys crops and can cause meningitis in humans. But some people still want to collect, and even eat, the slimy invaders. The Department of Agriculture is trying to stop them. Since June, USDA has seized more than 1,200 of the large snails, also known as Giant African Land Snails, all of them traced back to one person in Georgia who was illegally selling them.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The giant African snail damages buildings, destroys crops and can cause meningitis in humans. But some people still want to collect, and even eat, the slimy invaders.
The Agriculture Department is trying to stop them. Since June, department authorities have seized more than 1,200 live specimens of the large snails, also known as giant African land snails, all of them traced back to one person in Georgia, who was selling them illegally.
The USDA discovered the snails through a tip from social media at the end of June. From that tip, the department seized more than 200 snails from a person on Long Island, New York, who identified the seller in Georgia. The department then interviewed the seller and seized almost 1,000 more snails in Georgia, plus one each in Indiana, Pennsylvania and New York.
Agriculture officials said the investigation was ongoing and they would not identify any of the individuals. It's important to capture the snails without delay, authorities say, because they multiply quickly, producing 1,200 or more offspring a year. And the snails, which can grow larger than the size of a fist, have no natural predators in the United States. People are their only threat.
Florida authorities know this all too well. Agriculture officials there are in their third year of trying to eradicate the snails. They were discovered in Miami in September 2011, and they've been found on houses, where they eat plaster and stucco to gain calcium for their shells, and in residential gardens, where they tear through plants.
Mark Fagan, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Agriculture, said the agency so far has found 141,000 snails in 26 areas of Miami-Dade County. Luckily, he said, they have not yet progressed into any of the state's rich agricultural areas. The snails eat 500 types of plants, including most row crops and citrus, so keeping them away is an important investment for the state's $100 billion-a-year farm industry.
Florida first saw the giant snails in the 1960s, when a boy from Miami was believed to have smuggled some of them in from Hawaii. His grandmother eventually released his snails into her garden — starting an infestation that took 10 years to eradicate.
Fagan said state officials don't know how the latest infestation started. But people have different reasons for importing the snails. Sometimes they arrive accidentally in luggage or cargo. The USDA believes most of the snails it has seized this year were being collected by hobbyists who wanted them as pets. They are also used in some African religious practices and even in some cosmetic procedures. And some people consider the snails a food delicacy.
Consumption was the apparent reason for one person's attempt to bring 67 live snails into California in July. U.S. Customs and Border Protection at Los Angeles International Airport intercepted the snails, which were declared by a person from Nigeria, as for human consumption and destined for a location in Corona, California. Customs officers said the person appeared not to know that importation of the live snails into the United States was illegal.
Eating or handling them could be dangerous, government officials said. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the snails can carry a parasitic worm that can lead to meningitis.
The Agriculture Department said it wants to warn people about the threat. People may not know the live snails are prohibited in the United States, and if those people report that they have them, they won't face any penalties. Those who knowingly import them illegally could face fines.
"The more people who know about giant African snails and know that they are illegal in the United States, the better we are in keeping them out," said Wendolyn Beltz, a director in the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. "If they didn't know and they are reaching out to us to do the right thing, there will be absolutely no penalties for that."
It is legal to import frozen giant African snails for consumption in the U.S., and live snails are legal and available in some parts of Europe, as well as other foreign countries, so people may not be aware of the U.S. ban. The snails seized by the USDA this summer came from Britain, the department said.
Dr. Jim Young, an entomologist at USDA who identifies snails and other species intercepted in international commerce, said the best bet is just to be careful when you are abroad. "Don't play with snails when you are on vacation," he said.
Online:
USDA on giant African snails: http://www.hungrypests.com/the-threat/giant-african-snail.php

Buffett Heir Buys Rosa Parks Archive

Rosa Parks' Presidential Medal of Freedom, left, and her Congressional Gold Medal are displayed at Guernsey's auction house, in New York. Hundreds of items that belonged to civil rights icon Rosa Parks that have been sitting unseen for years in a New York warehouse have been sold to a foundation run by the son of billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett, the younger Buffett said Thursday, Aug. 28. Howard G. Buffett told The Associated Press that his foundation plans to give the items, which include Parks’ Presidential Medal of Freedom, to an institute he hasn’t yet selected.

DETROIT (AP) — Hundreds of items that belonged to civil rights icon Rosa Parks and have been sitting unseen for years in a New York warehouse were sold to a foundation run by the son of billionaire investment guru Warren Buffett, the younger Buffett said Thursday.
Howard G. Buffett told The Associated Press that his foundation plans to give the items, which include Parks' Presidential Medal of Freedom, to an institute or museum he hasn't yet selected. Buffett said the items belong to the American people.
"I'm only trying to do one thing: preserve what's there for the public's benefit," he said. "I thought about doing what Rosa Parks would want. I doubt that she would want to have her stuff sitting in a box with people fighting over them."
A yearslong legal fight between Parks' heirs and her friends led to the memorabilia being removed from her Detroit home and offered up to the highest bidder. Parks, who died in 2005 at age 92, was one of the most beloved women in U.S. history. She became an enduring symbol of the civil rights movement when she refused to cede her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus to a white man. That triggered a yearlong bus boycott that helped to dismantle officially sanctioned segregation and helped lift the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to national prominence.
Because of the fight over Parks' will, historians, students of the movement and the general public have had no access to items such as her photographs with presidents, her Congressional Gold Medal, a pillbox hat that she may have worn on the Montgomery bus, a signed postcard from King, decades of documents from civil rights meetings and her ruminations about life in the South as a black woman.
The impetus for the sale came earlier this year when Buffett saw a televised news report about how Guernsey's Auctioneers has kept Parks' valuables in a New York warehouse since 2006. "I could not imagine having her artifacts sitting in a box in a warehouse somewhere," Buffett said. "It's just not right."
So he directed the Howard G. Buffett Foundation to make an offer, which was accepted. A purchase agreement was signed over the summer, and the transaction was officially closed last week. Buffett would not disclose the amount he paid for the items, but Steven Cohen, a lawyer for the seller, the Detroit-based Rosa & Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development, said it was "consistent with the intrinsic value of the artifacts and their historical significance."
In addition to medals and letters, the lot includes lamps and articles of clothing. Guernsey's years ago put together a complete inventory, which is 70 pages long and includes more than 1,000 items. Many are in New York, but some remain in Parks' home city of Detroit.
Guernsey's President Arlan Ettinger, who had valued the collection at $10 million, would not say what it was sold for, but said the judge overseeing the Parks estate was satisfied with the deal. "This material, which needed to be out there to be both educational and inspirational to people today and their children's children, was sitting in our warehouse. That was wrong," Ettinger said.
Buffett, a philanthropist who focuses much of his giving on helping fellow farmers in developing countries, acknowledged he probably was not the most likely candidate to buy Parks' memorabilia. "My wife said, 'You don't do that sort of stuff.' I said, 'I know, but it's important,'" Buffett said.
Holland reported from Washington, D.C.
Associated Press writers Ed White and David N. Goodman contributed to this story.

Bahrain: No Invitation To Expelled US Diplomat

Bahrainis, some of them waving flags, chant anti-government slogans and hold up signs urging freedom for jailed doctors, political leaders and others during a march in Jidhafs, Bahrain, Saturday, Aug. 23, 2014. The sign at back second right reads, "free blind prisoner Jaffar Matooq for treatment." A small group of youths began blocking streets to challenge riot police after the march by opposition groups accusing the government of naturalizing tens of thousands of people, largely to work in the police and military, in an effort to change the tiny Gulf island monarchy's demographics.

MANAMA, BAHRAIN (AP) — Bahrain has denied that it offered an invitation to a top U.S. diplomat who was earlier expelled after he met with a leading Shiite opposition group, extending a rift between Washington and the tiny, strategic Gulf nation.
The island kingdom's undersecretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abdulla Abdullatif Abdulla, said in comments posted by the official Bahrain News Agency on Thursday evening that no invitation has been made to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Tom Malinowski.
Abdulla was responding to comments by U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki earlier this week, who said Malinowski had received an invitation and that a trip was being planned. Bahrain is an important ally for Washington because it is the longtime home of the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. The country has seen more than three years of unrest as its majority Shiites push for greater political rights from the Sunni monarchy.
Abdulla said that Psaki's comments contained inaccuracies about the kingdom and that it does not need "outside observers." He added that Bahrain is committed to making political reforms and that it does not prohibit freedom of expression.
Psaki told reporters Monday that Bahrain has "much to do" to meet its own commitment to reforms, and that it is "unfortunate that they have not taken advantage of opportunities to hear from outside observers."
Washington, Psaki said, has concerns about a lack of accountability of abuse by security forces, reports of mistreatment and torture in detention facilities and "ongoing harassment and imprisonment of persons exercising their rights of freedom of expression."
Bahrain ordered Malinowski to leave in early July, after he met with the main Shiite opposition group, Al Wefaq. Manama said he had intervened in the country's domestic affairs by holding meetings with some groups at the expense of others.