Saturday, October 25, 2014

Tunisians Skeptical On Eve Of Historic Election

Tunisian soldiers celebrate at the end of a successful raid against gunmen in the Oued Ellil suburb of Tunis, Tunisia, Friday, Oct. 24, 2014

TUNIS, TUNISIA (AP) — In a raucous cafe in a Tunis slum, men talked in loud voices and paid little attention to the politicians debating on the television mounted on the wall. Qais Jebali swiftly made espressos behind the bar and explained why no one in the gritty neighborhood of Tadamon cared about the upcoming elections.
"We've had five governments since 2011 and nothing has changed on the ground," he said, arranging the cups of strong black coffee on a tray with a bowl of sugar. "The poor people don't trust the government because they are marginalized, harassed by police and don't have money to pay bribes."
Outside, members of the National Guard in bullet-proof vests and carrying assault rifles waved cars through a dilapidated traffic circle. Security was heightened because a standoff with suspected militants was taking place just a few kilometers away.
On Sunday, Tunisians will vote for their first five-year parliament since they overthrew dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, marking the end of the democratic transition that they alone among the pro-democracy Arab Spring uprisings have managed to achieve. Now, many Tunisians are expressing disillusionment over democracy.
They say it has not brought prosperity and seems largely to involve squabbling politicians and attacks by Islamic militants, raising fears that many may not turn out to vote in a country that has been described as the best chance for democracy in the Arab world.
"There is a depression after these three years of seeing rulers lying, not keeping their word, not doing or not even trying to do what they promised to do, and especially, in the midst of a dire economic situation," said Chawki Gaddes, a political analyst at Tunis University.
In 2011, the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party dominated elections and formed a coalition government with two secular parties. Over the next two years, the country was buffeted by punishing inflation, attacks by radical Islamists, assassinations and the daily spectacle of squabbling politicians in a country accustomed to a half century of one-party rule.
As the government and opposition deadlocked amid the rising political acrimony — and against the backdrop of a military coup against the Islamist government in nearby Egypt — the Islamist-led government stepped down at the end of 2013 in favor of new cabinet of technocrats.
Polling from the Pew Research center in Tunisia has seen support for democracy as the best form of government drop from 63 percent in 2012 to 48 percent, while the demand for a strong leader rose from 37 percent to 59 percent.
The disaffection is particularly strong among young people, the group that so spectacularly took to the streets to fight Ben Ali's riot police and force him out of power three years ago. In the neighborhoods like Tadamon, it's difficult to find any young people registered to vote. According to Mouheb Garoui of the election monitoring group I Watch, some 60 percent are undecided just days before the election.
"There were so many promises in 2011 and now the same promises are being made in 2014," he said. "There is discontent and apathy among youth." The Islamist-led government managed to lay down many of building blocks of a new political system and, together with the opposition, write a constitution described as one of the most progressive in the region. Yet the turmoil and deadlock kept away foreign aid, tourism and investment.
"The question of the economy was neglected in the three years of the revolution — it was years of political wrangling and political transition," Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, the interim prime minister that succeeded the Islamist government, told The Associated Press. He says his administration, which succeeded the Islamist government, has begun the necessary economic reforms to stabilize the country. Under his watch, foreign aid has flowed back to the country.
In the past year, security forces have also carried out a string of attacks to dismantle suspected militant cells, most recently on Friday when a counterterrorism operation in the suburbs resulted in the deaths of six alleged militants — five of them gun-toting women, according to police.
The party most hoping to capitalize on voters' disaffection is Nida Tunis (Tunisia's Call) run by charismatic — albeit 87-year-old — politician Beji Caid Essebsi, who is clearly trying to evoke the good old days of an educated, modern Tunisia without the dictatorship.
Formed after the revolution, the party brings together trade unionists, businessmen and more than a few politicians from Ben Ali's time that are united by little more than opposition to the Islamists. The main message of their campaign has been that their party represents progress in the face of what they call the reactionary policies of Ennahda.
"We needed a party to bring back the middle class that was pushed to the side by the aggression of the Islamists and their beliefs," said Mustapha Ben Ahmed, a member of the party's executive bureau. "This historical bloc can restore the prestige of the state."
The party is probably the only one that can compete with Ennahda's impressive organization around the country and is running equal in polls. Wwith the anti-Islamist vote divided among many parties all promising jobs and stability, Ennahda likely will have to be part of any future coalition — a possibility Ben Ahmed fervently condemned as an "unnatural alliance."
The leader of Ennahda, however, has said his party is ready to make a coalition with whomever else the voters choose, though Nida Tunis would not be his first choice. Rachid Ghannouchi told AP that the lesson he has learned from the party's first experience in power was the need for an even broader-based coalition to carry out the difficult reforms need to get the country on track.
"Before when we came to power we were just activists and not statesmen but today we have both activists and statesmen," he said. "We have gained experience and become more realistic with a better understanding of the problems of the people."
At a massive Ennahda rally in the heart of downtown on the iconic Bourguiba Avenue on the eve of the election, thousands cheered and waved flags, showing none of the flagging enthusiasm for politics found elsewhere.
For supporters of the party, any past missteps are made up for by the belief that the Islamists have their best interests at heart. "They were learning," said Kamal Ali as he drove his car through downtown. "Do children on the first day of school already know how to read and write?"
He gestured at the still damaged husk of the old ruling party headquarters nearby. "The others they knew how to do politics, but they also knew how to steal — morals is the most important thing."
Associated Press writers Bouazza ben Bouazza and Sam Kimball contributed to this report.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Newly Released Dallas Nurse To Meet With Obama

Patient Nina Pham is hugged by Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases outside of National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Md., Friday, Oct. 24, 2014.

BETHESDA, Md. (AP) — A nurse who caught Ebola while caring for the patient diagnosed in Dallas was released from a hospital Friday, free of the virus, and was to meet later in the day with President Barack Obama at the White House.
Nurse Nina Pham said she felt "fortunate and blessed to be standing here today," as she left the National Institutes of Health's hospital outside Washington. She thanked her health care team in Dallas and at the NIH and singled out fellow Ebola survivor Dr. Kent Brantly, who recovered after becoming infected in Liberia, for donating plasma containing Ebola-fighting antibodies as part of her care.
"Although I no longer have Ebola, I know it may be a while before I have my strength back," Pham, 26, said at a news conference. Doctors have cleared her to return home to Texas. After that, the White House announced Obama would meet with Pham in the Oval Office.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease chief at the NIH, gave Pham a hug and told reporters that five consecutive tests showed no virus left in her blood. Five tests is way beyond the norm, he stressed, but his team did extra testing because the NIH is a research hospital.
"She is cured of Ebola, let's get that clear," Fauci said. Pham arrived last week at the NIH Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. She had been flown there from Texas Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas.
Pham is one of two nurses in Dallas who became infected with Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, who died of the virus Oct. 8. The second nurse, Amber Vinson, is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, which on Friday issued a statement saying she "is making good progress" and that tests no longer detect virus in her blood. But Emory said it had no discharge date for Vinson yet, as she continues to receive supportive care.

After 1st Ebola Case In NY, 3 Others Quarantined

Media gather outside the home of Craig Spencer, a Doctors Without Borders physician who recently returned to the city after treating Ebola patients in West Africa, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, in New York.

NEW YORK (AP) — A doctor who became New York City's first Ebola patient was praised for getting treatment immediately upon showing symptoms, and health officials stressed that the nation's most populous city need not fear his wide-ranging travel in the days before his illness began.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged residents not to be alarmed by the doctor's diagnosis Thursday, even as they described him riding the subway, taking a cab and bowling since returning to New York from Guinea a week ago. De Blasio said all city officials followed "clear and strong" protocols in their handling and treatment of him.
"We want to state at the outset that New Yorkers have no reason to be alarmed," de Blasio said. "New Yorkers who have not been exposed are not at all at risk." The doctor, Craig Spencer, a member of Doctors Without Borders, reported Thursday morning coming down with a 103-degree fever and diarrhea. He was being treated in an isolation ward at Manhattan's Bellevue Hospital, a designated Ebola center.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will do a further test to confirm the initial results, has dispatched an Ebola response team to New York. President Barack Obama spoke to Cuomo and de Blasio Thursday night and offered the federal government's support. He asked them to stay in close touch with Ron Klain, his "Ebola czar," and public health officials in Washington.
Health officials have been tracing Spencer's contacts to identify anyone who may be at risk. The city's health commissioner, Mary Bassett, said Spencer's fiancee and two friends had been quarantined but showed no symptoms.
Health officials say the chances of the average New Yorker contracting Ebola, which is spread through direct contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person, are slim. Someone can't be infected just by being near someone who is sick with Ebola. Someone isn't contagious unless he is sick.
Bassett said the probability was "close to nil" that Spencer's subway rides would pose a risk. Still, the bowling alley was closed as a precaution, and Spencer's Harlem apartment was cordoned off. The Department of Health was on site across the street from the apartment building Thursday night, giving out information to area residents.
Still, the news rankled some New Yorkers. "Oh my gosh!" said Charles Kerr, 60, as his friends gathered on a Harlem sidewalk murmured. "This changes the situation. The guy must be coughing, sitting against people. Now you've got to think."
Kerr said he wasn't afraid, but he wants a stricter approach to anyone coming from the Ebola-affected countries. "Stay in their apartment," he said. "Especially now, when it's so rampant. Especially if they know they've been in contact."
The epidemic in West Africa has killed about 4,800 people. In the United States, the first person diagnosed with the disease was a Liberian man, who fell ill days after arriving in Dallas and later died, becoming the only fatality. None of his relatives who had contact with him got sick. Two nurses who treated him were infected and are hospitalized. The family of one nurse said doctors no longer could detect Ebola in her as of Tuesday evening.
According to a rough timeline provided by city officials, in the days before Spencer fell ill, he went on a 3-mile jog, went to the High Line park, rode the subway and, on Wednesday night, got a taxi to a Brooklyn bowling alley. He felt tired starting Tuesday, and felt worse on Thursday when he and his fiancee made a joint call to authorities to detail his symptoms and his travels. EMTs in full Ebola gear arrived and took him to Bellevue in an ambulance surrounded by police squad cars.
Doctors Without Borders, an international humanitarian organization, said per the guidelines it provides its staff members on their return from Ebola assignments, "the individual engaged in regular health monitoring and reported this development immediately." Travelers from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone must report in with health officials daily and take their temperature twice a day, as Spencer did. He also limited his direct contact with people, health officials said.
Spencer, 33, works at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. He had not seen any patients or been to the hospital since his return, the hospital said in a statement, calling him a "dedicated humanitarian" who "went to an area of medical crisis to help a desperately underserved population."
Four American aid workers, including three doctors, were infected with Ebola while working in Africa and were transferred to the U.S. for treatment in recent months. All recovered. Health care workers are vulnerable because of close contact with patients when they are their sickest and most contagious.
In West Africa this year, more than 440 health workers have contracted Ebola and about half have died. But the Ebola virus is not very hardy. The CDC says bleach and other hospital disinfectants kill it. Dried virus on surfaces survives only for several hours.
Spencer is from Michigan and attended Wayne State University School of Medicine and Columbia's University Mailman School of Public Health. According to his Facebook page, he left for West Africa via Brussels last month. A photo shows him in full protective gear. He returned to Brussels Oct. 16.
"Off to Guinea with Doctors Without Borders," he wrote. "Please support organizations that are sending support or personnel to West Africa, and help combat one of the worst public health and humanitarian disasters in recent history."
Associated Press writers Frank Eltman, Cara Anna, Cameron Young, Jake Pearson, Deepti Hajela and Tom Hays and researcher Susan James contributed to this report.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Canada Gunman Wanted A Passport To Go To Mideast

In this frame grab taken from video, Canada Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks during a televised address to the nation in Ottawa, Ontario, Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014.

OTTAWA, ONTARIO (AP) — He was a recent convert to Islam and a petty criminal with a long rap sheet, including a string of drug offenses. In recent weeks, he had been staying in a homeless shelter, where he talked about wanting to go to Libya to get away from drugs but griped that he couldn't get a passport.
A picture began to emerge Thursday of Michael Zehaf-Bibeau a day after the 32-year-old Canadian launched a deadly attack on Canada's seat of government that forced the country — again — to confront the danger of radicalized citizens in its midst.
In what the prime minister called a terrorist attack, Bibeau shot a soldier to death at Canada's tomb of the unknown Wednesday, then stormed the Parliament building, where he was gunned down by the sergeant-at-arms.
Abubakir Abdelkareem, 29, who often visited the Ottawa Mission, a homeless shelter downtown, said he met Zehaf-Bibeau there. He said Zehaf-Bibeau told him he had a drug problem in Vancouver but had been clean for three months.
Abdelkareem told The Associated Press that Zehaf-Bibeau wanted his passport to fly to Libya because he thought he could avoid drugs there. "As soon as I get it, I'm going to fly. ... Then there's no temptation," Abdelkareem quoted him as saying.
But in the past three days, "his personality changed completely," Abdelkareem said. "He was not talkative; he was not social" anymore and slept during the day, said Abdelkareem, who concluded the man was back on drugs.
Lloyd Maxwell, another shelter resident, said that Zehaf-Bibeau had lived for some time in Vancouver, then Calgary, then came to Ottawa specifically to try to get a passport, believing that would be more easily accomplished in the nation's capital.
"He didn't get it, and that made him very agitated," Maxwell said. Maxwell said that he suggested to the man that he might be on a no-fly list, and "he kind of looked at me funny, and he walked away."
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police confirmed on Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau had applied recently for a passport, but said it believes he intended to go to Syria. Earlier this week, the Mounties said that there are about 90 people in the country who are suspected of intending to join the extremist fighting abroad or who have returned from such activity overseas. But RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson said Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau was not among them.
In an email to the AP expressing horror and sadness at what happened, Zehaf-Bibeau's mother, Susan Bideau, said that her son seemed lost and "did not fit in," and that she hadn't seen him for more than five years until having lunch with him last week.
"So I have very little insight to offer," she said. In a brief and tear-filled telephone interview with the AP, Bibeau said that she is crying for the victims of the shooting rampage, not her son. "Can you ever explain something like this?" said Bibeau, who has homes in Montreal and Ottawa. "We are sorry."
After initially reporting that two or three assailants may have taken part in the shooting rampage, Canadian police conceded Thursday that Zehaf-Bibeau was the lone gunman. The bloodshed raised fears that Canada is suffering reprisals — perhaps so-called lone-wolf attacks — for joining the U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State extremists in Iraq and Syria.
On Monday, a man described as an "ISIL-inspired terrorist" ran over two soldiers in a parking lot in Quebec, killing one and injuring the other before being shot to death by police. Before the attack, Canadian authorities feared he had had jihadist ambitions and seized his passport when he tried to travel to Turkey.
Preime Minister Stephen Harper noted that both attacks were carried out by citizens born in Canada. "The fact of the matter is there are serious security threats in this country and in many cases those serious security threats continue to be at large and not subject to detention or arrest," he said.
Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party, said in Parliament that this week's attacks were probably "the acts of isolated, disturbed and deeply troubled men who were drawn to something crazy." "I do not believe that it was a vast network, or that the country is more at risk today than it was last week," May said.
Court records that appear to be Zehaf-Bibeau's show that he had a long criminal record, with convictions for assault, robbery, drug and weapons offenses, and other crimes. Meanwhile, Kevin Vickers, the 58-year-old Parliament sergeant-at-arms credited with shooting and killing Zehaf-Bibeau, got a rousing standing ovation in the House of Commons for saving lawmakers' lives. Vickers, dressed in his ceremonial robe and carrying his heavy mace, acknowledged the applause by nodding solemnly.
The former Mountie said in a statement that he was "very touched" by the attention but that he has the close support of a remarkable security team.
Satter reported from London. Gillies contributed from Toronto.

Girls' Journey Renews Fears Of Terror Recruiting

The apartment complex in Aurora, Colo., which police say is the home of one of the three teenage girls who, according to U.S. authorities, were en route to join the Islamic State group in Syria...

Mia Bloom, a professor of security studies at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, said the girls' story so far suggests how Islamic extremists have mastered social media to prey on younger and younger women with "Disney-like versions" of what it is like to live under Muslim leadership, complete with promises of husbands and homes.
At least one of the girls was communicating with someone online who encouraged the three to travel to Syria, said Tustin Amole, a spokeswoman for the Cherry Creek School District where the girls attend high school.
Fellow students told school officials that the girls had been discussing travel plans over Twitter, Amole said. The girls were detained at an airport in Frankfurt, Germany, and sent home over the weekend. They were interviewed by the FBI and returned to their parents in the Denver suburb of Aurora. Those in the tight-knit east African community where they live said the sisters are of Somali descent and their friend is of Sudanese descent.
"There's no indication they had been radicalized in a way that they wanted to fight for ISIS," Amole said. A U.S. official said evidence gathered so far made it clear that the girls were headed to Syria, though the official said investigators were still trying to determine what sort of contacts they had in that country. Another U.S. official said investigators were reviewing evidence, including the girls' computers. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation by name.
"Social media has played a very significant role in the recruitment of young people," said FBI spokesman Kyle Loven in Minneapolis, home to the largest Somali community in the U.S. Authorities there have been concerned about terror recruiting of the young for years.
"What we've experienced here in Minneapolis is that young, disaffected youth who exist primarily on the fringes of society — they seem to be more susceptible to this type of propaganda, unfortunately," Loven said.
Terror recruiting has been a problem for years in Minneapolis. Since 2007, roughly 22 young Somali-Americans have traveled to Somalia to take up arms with al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group. Those were all men.
Within the last year, a handful of people from the community left Minnesota to join militant groups in Syria, and this time, there are fears that women might have been targeted. Loven said the FBI is working with the Somali community to establish trust and help identify young people at risk for radicalization.
In Colorado, Amole said the three teens had no prior problems at school, aside from unexcused absences on Friday. What is still unknown is how they managed to get to Germany. The U.S. government doesn't have restrictions on children flying alone, domestically or internationally. Airline policies vary. Most U.S. airlines allow children 12 and older to fly alone but often with restrictions on international flights, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.
The girls' parents reported them missing Friday after they skipped school. They had taken passports and $2,000 in cash from the home of the sisters' parents. At some point, the U.S. informed German authorities at the airport about the girls arriving alone on their way to Turkey, German Interior Ministry spokeswoman Pamela Mueller-Niese told reporters Wednesday. She said the three were detained by German police, with approval from a judge, and returned voluntarily to the U.S. on Sunday.
Once home, the girls told a deputy they went to Germany for "family" but wouldn't elaborate. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Denver would not say whether prosecutors plan to charge the girls with a crime. State prosecutors said they have no imminent plans to charge the girls. Amole said they will not face school discipline.
"Our biggest concern is for the safety and well-being of these girls," Amole said.
Associated Press writers Amy Forliti in Minneapolis, David Rising and Geir Moulson in Berlin, Elliot Spagat in San Diego and Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.

US To Track Everyone Coming From Ebola Nations

Passengers stand, most waiting for incoming flights, in the arrivals area at John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in New York. Starting Monday, Oct. 27, travelers and from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will have  to report in with health officials daily and take their temperature twice a day.

ATLANTA (AP) — All travelers who come into the U.S. from three Ebola-stricken West African nations will now be monitored for three weeks, the latest step by federal officials to keep the disease from spreading into the country.
Starting Monday, anyone traveling from Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will have to report in with health officials daily and take their temperature twice a day. The measure applies not only to visitors from those countries but also returning American aid workers, federal health employees and journalists. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the new step Wednesday.
CDC Director Tom Frieden said monitoring will provide an extra level of safety. Passengers already get screened and temperature checks before they leave West Africa and again when they arrive in the United States.
"We have to keep our guard up," Frieden told reporters on a conference call. The Obama administration has resisted increasing pressure to turn away any visitors from the three countries at the center of the Ebola outbreak, especially after a Liberian visitor to Dallas came down with the infectious disease days after he arrived and later died. Instead, passenger screening was put in place at 5 key U.S. airports. That was tightened Tuesday to funnel everyone coming from those countries through those airports so all are checked.
The monitoring program will start in six states — New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Georgia — the destination for the bulk of the travelers from the outbreak region. It will later extend to other states.
Each passenger will be required to provide contact information for themselves as well as a friend or relative. They will be instructed to check for a fever twice a day and report their temperature and any symptoms to health officials daily for 21 days.
How the checks are done — in person, by phone or Skype — will be decided by the states, Frieden said. If a traveler does not report in, public health officials can track them down. How far they can go to get them to cooperate is up to those officials, CDC officials said.
They will also receive "CARE" kits — the name stands for Check and Report Ebola. The kits include a thermometer and instructions on what to do if symptoms occur. Also included is a card to present to health care providers if they seek care.
CDC already was telling its own employees and other health professionals returning from the outbreak zone to monitor their temperature. It can take up to 21 days to develop symptoms, which include fever, headache, muscle aches, vomiting and diarrhea.
Earlier this year, roughly 150 travelers to the U.S. each day were from the three countries. But it appears there are far fewer now — there are no direct flights and flights to the area have been curtailed. New York's Kennedy airport — which handles the most traffic — has averaged 34 a day since screening began Oct. 11.
The other airports are Washington's Dulles, Newark's Liberty, Chicago's O'Hare and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson. While a few of the people screened thus far have been taken to the hospital, none had the infectious disease.
According to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Wednesday, Americans are worried about Ebola spreading here, and many say the government hasn't done enough to prevent that from happening. The poll found a surprising 9 out of 10 people think it's very necessary to tighten screening procedures.
Some would go even further: Three-quarters think it's definitely or probably necessary to prevent everyone traveling from places affected by Ebola from entering the U.S. On Wednesday, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the president has been following advice from scientists that a travel ban could do more harm than good. Health officials fear travelers will just find alternate routes and spark harder-to-trace outbreaks.
Many health experts agree that a travel ban is a bad idea. But one faulted the CDC for being slow to institute the daily monitoring. Monitoring can't stop Ebola from coming in, "but we'll have a better chance" to quickly identify and isolate cases, said Dr. Richard Wenzel, a Virginia Commonwealth University scientist who formerly led the International Society for Infectious Diseases
Such tracking measures might have made a difference in the case of Thomas Eric Duncan, the Liberian man who became the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the United States, Wenzel said. Duncan wasn't sick and passed the screening when he left Liberia. He didn't develop symptoms until after his arrival. He died Oct. 8.
Two nurses who took care of him at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital were infected; both remain hospitalized. The family of one nurse, Amber Vinson, said Wednesday that tests show the Ebola virus can no longer be detected; the Atlanta hospital where she is being treated wouldn't release any information.
Maryland's health secretary said it will depend on individual circumstances how closely the state monitors people. Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said the approach will recognize "that some people who come from West Africa are at a higher risk than others." The CDC isn't mandating that everyone be watched the same way, he said.
Also on Wednesday, an American video journalist who has recovered from Ebola was being released from a Nebraska hospital. He caught it while working in Liberia. "Today is a joyful day," Ashoka Mukpo said in a statement issued by the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. He arrived Oct. 6.
Meanwhile, President Barack Obama brought together top aides and his new Ebola coordinator Ron Klain. After their meeting, Obama gave assurances that hospitals across the country were becoming better prepared in the event they have to deal with cases of Ebola.
The virus has killed more than 4,800 people in West Africa, nearly all in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Associated Press writers Michael Felberbaum in Richmond and Connie Cass, Alicia Caldwell, Ben Nuckols and Jim Kuhnhenn in Washington contributed to this report.

Police Brutality Claims Shadow Tunisia Elections

Tunisian women demonstrate outside a courthouse where three police officers face charges of rape of a 27-year-old woman, in Tunis, Tunisia. 

TUNIS, TUNISIA (AP) — When Mohammed Ali Snoussi was arrested last month in Tunis, witnesses say, police beat him with truncheons, stripped him naked and threatened to rape him in broad daylight.
The Interior Ministry said Snoussi was wanted for drug possession, trafficking and assaulting police. He lasted six days in police detention cells, before he was transferred to a hospital where he died in a coma, his body covered in bruises.
Nearly four years after an uprising fueled largely by anger over police brutality overthrew one of the most repressive states in the region, ordinary Tunisians say daily abuses by security forces remain a major problem in the country. On Sunday, Tunisians are set to vote in parliamentary elections that will nearly complete the democratic transition begun by the revolution, but many fear the brutal ways of the former regime are creeping back — and in fact may never have gone away.
According to Human Rights Watch, police regularly abuse detainees in prison and pre-trial detention facilities, denying them access to legal counsel and holding them in filthy, overcrowded cells. In a survey of 100 detainees awaiting charges, the organization found that 30 percent said they had been subject to physical abuse including electric shocks, in order to extract confessions or evidence.
"I think we can say with confidence that practices of police abuse never stopped," said Amna Guellali, Human Rights Watch's Tunisian representative. Those bearing the brunt of the police violence are ordinary, lower income Tunisians living in poor neighborhoods regularly targeted under harsh drug possession laws, which mandate at least a year in prison for carrying drugs, said the rights group.
Much like pre-revolution times, they face nighttime house raids and constant neighborhood sweeps, followed by abuse in the police stations, with little recourse to justice, activists say. Tunisia's police have long treated the poor harshly, and the Arab Spring upheavals were in fact set off when an itinerant fruit vendor set himself on fire in protest against police abuse.
Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou admitted there are abuses in prison, but strongly denied systematic torture of detainees. In a radio interview this month, he said Snoussi died of drug use which caused a lung infection that spread to his heart. He said a prosecutor and an investigator found no traces of police beating him.
"The autopsy is clear. It is not logical that after the revolution we would hide the truth," he said. "You can't assign security forces responsibility for a natural death, as was the case." In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, most security forces withdrew from the streets of Tunisia in the face of the widespread outrage against President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's police state. But the rise of extremist groups during the ensuing social instability has led to their rehabilitation.
In the past few years, Islamic radicals went from publicly demonstrating for greater piety to attacking people. Two left-wing politicians were gunned down in 2013 and dozens of soldiers were killed in attacks in remote border regions, causing people to clamor for greater security.
According to critics, however, terrorism is being used as an excuse to let the police literally get away with murder — with ordinary people rather than extremists or government opponents the most common targets.
In August, security services in the southern city of Kasserine opened fire on a car travelling home from a wedding, killing two young women. Violent protests broke out in the city, demanding prosecution of the officers involved.
But Kasserine is near Mount Chaambi on the Algerian border, which is believed to be the hideout for a group of al-Qaida-linked militants. The Interior Ministry maintained the officers were only defending themselves, and no one was prosecuted.
During the time of Ben Ali, the Interior Ministry was notorious for using the threat of sexual violence to intimidate female activists and for launching smear campaigns against government opponents. Sabra Badbabis, a 25 year-old human rights activist and blogger in Tunis, said the behavior continues. She described how she recently left work at a call center around midnight to find herself accosted by two men who turned out to be plainclothes policemen.
"They grabbed me and pulled my arms back and pushed my head down," she said. "Don't say you're a respectable woman," she recalled them telling her. "You went out at this time of night. Whatever happens to you is your fault."
She said she was taken the police station, where she was insulted and propositioned. She said she was only released after she threatened to make the incident public on her blog. The Association Against Torture in Tunisia wants to persuade the new crop of lawmakers who emerge from the election to take measures against police violations. The group's general secretary, Mondher Cherni, said the goal is to pressure the newly elected politicians to carry out real reform of security services and detention centers.
Cherni says police brutality is alienating whole sections of Tunisian society from the nation's democratic transition. "The people feel that the state doesn't look after them," he said, "because it's not stopping this."

Probe: UNC Academic Fraud Was 'Shadow Curriculum

University of North Carolina Chancellor Carol Folt, center, addresses the media following a special joint meeting of the University of North Carolina Board of Governors and the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees  

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — A scandal involving bogus classes and inflated grades at the University of North Carolina was bigger than previously reported, encompassing about 1,500 athletes who got easy A's and B's over a span of nearly two decades, according to an investigation released Wednesday.
At least nine university employees were fired or under disciplinary review, and the question now becomes what, if anything, the NCAA will do next. Penalties could range from fewer scholarships to vacated wins.
Most of the athletes were football players or members of the school's cherished basketball program, which won three of its five national titles during the scandal (1993, 2005, 2009). Athletic director Bubba Cunningham wouldn't speculate on any possible sanctions.
"We'll work with the NCAA and work through the report with them as part of our ongoing investigation," Cunningham said. "That's going to take some time." In all, about 3,100 students enrolled in classes they didn't have to show up for in what was deemed a "shadow curriculum" within the former African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department from 1993 to 2011, the report by former U.S. Justice Department official Kenneth Wainstein found.
Many at the university hoped Wainstein's eight-month investigation would bring some closure. Instead, it found more academic fraud than previous investigations by the NCAA and the school. The UNC case stands out among academic scandals at Harvard, Duke and the Naval Academy, said Howard Gardner, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education who studies cheating.
"I think the existence of fake classes and automatic grades — you might say an athlete track, where essentially you might as well not have the university at all — I think that's pretty extreme. I hope it's pretty extreme," he said.
The scandal reached back to the final years of legendary men's basketball coach Dean Smith's tenure, as well as Mack Brown's time as football coach before leaving for Texas and John Swofford's stint as athletic director before becoming Atlantic Coast Conference commissioner.
The NCAA reopened its probe over the summer. Cunningham said the school had no immediate plans to impose its own penalties as it did during an NCAA investigation into the football program that began in 2010.
The school and the NCAA said in a joint statement they would review Wainstein's report "under the same standards that are applied in all NCAA infractions cases." They declined to comment on possible rules violations.
The focus was courses that required only a research paper that was often scanned quickly by a secretary, who gave out high grades regardless of the quality of work. The report also outlined how counselors for athletes steered struggling students to the classes, with two counselors even suggesting grades. Several knew the courses were easy and didn't have an instructor.
Chancellor Carol Folt wouldn't identify the terminated employees or those facing disciplinary review. "I think it's very clear that this is an academic, an athletic and a university problem," Folt said.
Wainstein's report said it found no evidence of similar problems in other departments. In addition, Hall of Fame men's basketball coach Roy Williams and other current coaches said they were aware there were independent study courses offering easy grades, but they didn't know the classes were fake.
Wainstein said he found no reason not to believe them. Faculty and administration officials missed or looked past red flags, such as unusually high numbers of independent study course enrollments in the department, the report said.
"By the mid-2000s, these classes had become a primary — if not the primary — way that struggling athletes kept themselves from having eligibility problems," the report said. Unlike previous inquiries by former Gov. Jim Martin and the school, Wainstein had the cooperation of former department chairman Julius Nyang'oro and retired office administrator Deborah Crowder — the two people at the center of the scandal.
Nyang'oro was indicted in December on a felony fraud charge, though it was dropped after he agreed to cooperate with Wainstein's probe. Crowder was never charged. It was Crowder who started the paper classes to help struggling students with "watered-down requirements" not long after Nyang'oro became chairman in 1992, according to the report. Though not a faculty member, she registered students for the courses, assigned topics and handed out high grades regardless of the work and also signed Nyang'oro's name to grade rolls.
By 1999, in an apparent effort to work around the number of independent studies students could take, Crowder began offering lecture classes that didn't meet. After her retirement in 2009, Nyang'oro met requests from football counselors to continue the sham classes and graded papers "with an eye to boosting" a student's grade-point average, according to the report. He stepped down in 2011 as questions were raised.
Beth Bridger, one of the former football counselors named in Wainstein's report, was fired Wednesday as an academic adviser for athletes at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. A school spokeswoman Janine Iamunno said it would not comment further. Bridger was hired there in January.
Associated Press writer Emery Dalesio contributed to this report.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ebola: Providing Time To Fight The Virus

Dr. Tom Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a news conference in Atlanta. 

WASHINGTON (AP) — People who shared an apartment with the country's first Ebola patient are emerging from quarantine healthy. And while Thomas Eric Duncan died and two U.S. nurses were infected caring for him, there are successes, too: A nurse infected in Spain has recovered, as have four American aid workers infected in West Africa. Even there, not everyone dies.
So why do some people escape Ebola, and not others? The end of quarantine for 43 people in Dallas who had contact with Duncan "simply supports what most of us who know something about the disease have been saying all along: It's not that easily spread," said Dr. Joseph McCormick of the University of Texas School of Public Health. Formerly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, McCormick worked on the first known Ebola outbreak in 1976 and numerous other outbreaks of Ebola and related hemorrhagic viruses.
Ebola spreads by contact with bodily fluids, such as through a break in the skin or someone with contaminated hands touching the eyes or nose. Once inside the body, Ebola establishes a foothold by targeting the immune system's first line of defense, essentially disabling its alarms. The virus rapidly reproduces, infecting multiple kinds of cells before the immune system recognizes the threat and starts to fight back.
Only after enough virus is produced do symptoms appear, starting with fever, muscle pain, headache and sore throat. And only then is someone contagious. It's not clear why Ebola runs a different course in different people. But how rapidly symptoms appear depends partly on how much virus a patient was initially exposed to, McCormick said.
The World Health Organization has made clear that there's far more virus in blood, vomit and feces than in other bodily fluids. There is no specific treatment for Ebola but specialists say basic supportive care — providing intravenous fluids and nutrients, and maintaining blood pressure — is crucial to give the body time to fight off the virus.
Profuse vomiting and diarrhea can cause dehydration. Worse, in the most severe cases, patients' blood vessels start to leak, causing blood pressure to drop to dangerous levels and fluid to build up in the lungs.
"The key issue is balance between keeping their blood pressure up by giving them fluids, and not pushing them into pulmonary edema where they're literally going to drown," McCormick said. Death usually is due to shock and organ failure.
"We depend on the body's defenses to control the virus," said Dr. Bruce Ribner, who runs the infectious disease unit at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, which successfully treated three aid workers with Ebola and now is treating one of the Dallas nurses.
"We just have to keep the patient alive long enough in order for the body to control this infection," he said. What about experimental treatments? Doctors at Emory and Nebraska Medical Center, which successfully treated another aid worker and now is treating a video journalist infected in West Africa, say there's no way to know if those treatment really helped. Options include a plasma transfusion, donated by Ebola survivors who have antibodies in their blood able to fight Ebola, or a handful of experimental drugs that are in short supply.
But survival also can depend on how rapidly someone gets care. It also may be affected by factors beyond anyone's control: McCormick's research suggests it partly depends on how the immune system reacts early on — whether too many white blood cells die before they can fight the virus. Other research has linked genetic immune factors to increased survival.

Designer Oscar de la Renta Dead

Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta presenting his Fall 1968 Collection June 3, 1968. Image: Sal Traina/Conde Nast Archives.

Oscar de la Renta who dressed first ladies, socialites and Hollywood stars for more than four decades, died Monday evening at his Connecticut home. He was 82.

Born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, De la Renta was trained by Cristóbal Balenciaga and Antonio del Castillo. An award-winning designer, he worked for Lanvin and Balmain; his eponymous fashion house continues to dress leading figures, from film stars to royalty, into the 2010s. De la Renta is particularly known for his red carpet gowns and evening wear. 

From 1993 to 2002, Oscar de la Renta designed the haute couture collection for the house of Balmain, becoming the first Dominican to design for a French couture house. In 2006, the Oscar de la Renta label diversified into bridal wear.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ebola Fear, Monitoring Eases For Some In Dallas

Christine Wade, a registered nurse at the University of Texas Medical Branch, greets Carnival Magic passengers disembarking in Galveston, Texas on Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014.

DALLAS (AP) — Ebola fears began to ease for some Monday as a monitoring period passed for those who had close contact with a victim of the disease and after a cruise ship scare ended with the boat returning to port and a lab worker on board testing negative for the virus.
Federal officials meanwhile ramped up readiness to deal with future cases. A top government official said revised guidance instructs health workers treating Ebola patients to wear protective gear "with no skin showing." The Pentagon said it is forming a team to support civilian medical staff in the U.S.
In Dallas, Louise Troh and several friends and family members will finally be free Monday to leave a stranger's home where they have been confined under armed guard for 21 days — the maximum incubation period for Ebola. They had close contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, a Liberian man who died of the disease at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital on Oct. 8.
"I want to breathe, I want to really grieve, I want privacy with my family," Troh told The Associated Press. The incubation period also has passed for about a dozen health workers who encountered Duncan when he went to the Dallas hospital for the first time, on Sept. 25.
Duncan was sent home but returned by ambulance on Sept. 28 and was admitted. Two nurses who treated him during that second visit — Nina Pham and Amber Vinson — are now hospitalized with Ebola. Vinson's family issued a statement Sunday saying they have hired a lawyer and are troubled by comments and media coverage that "mischaracterize" Vinson, who is being treated at Emory University in Atlanta. Vinson "has not and would not knowingly expose herself or anyone else," the statement says.
Dallas County and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials cleared her to fly last week to Dallas from Ohio, and "suggestions that she ignored any of the physician and government-provided protocols recommended to her are patently untrue and hurtful," the family says.
On Sunday, a Carnival Cruise Lines ship returned to Galveston, Texas, from a seven-day trip marred by worries over a health worker on board who was being monitored for Ebola. The lab supervisor had handled a specimen from Duncan and isolated herself on the ship as a precaution.
About 4,000 passengers on the cruise had to miss a stop in Cozumel, Mexico, where the boat was not allowed to dock because of the scare. Carnival said it was informed by U.S. health authorities Sunday morning that the worker tested negative for Ebola.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said those caring for Duncan were vulnerable because some of their skin was exposed. The CDC is working on revisions to safety protocols. Earlier ones, Fauci said, were based on a World Health Organization model for care in remote places, often outdoors, and without intensive training for health workers.
"So there were parts about that protocol that left vulnerability, parts of the skin that were open," Fauci said. Health officials had previously allowed hospitals some flexibility to use available covering when dealing with suspected Ebola patients. The new guidelines are expected to set firmer standards: calling for full-body suits and hoods that protect worker's necks; setting rigorous rules for removal of equipment and disinfection of hands; and requiring a "site manager" to supervise the putting on and taking off of equipment.
The guidelines also are expected to require a "buddy system" in which workers check each other as they come in and go out, according to an official who was familiar with the guidelines but not authorized to discuss them before their release.
Hospital workers also will be expected to exhaustively practice getting in and out of the equipment, the official said. Nurses have been clamoring for more guidance and better garb, saying they have never cared for Ebola patients before and feel unprepared and underequipped.
"If hospital administrators had to take care of Ebola patients, they would have the gold standard and hazmat suits," said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, a union with 185,000 members.
In some places where they have the suits, nurses have not practiced taking them on and off. "The hospital is sending them essentially a link to the CDC website. That's not preparation. That's like a do-it-yourself manual," DeMoro said.
On Sunday the Pentagon announced that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had ordered the formation of a 30-person military support team to assist civilian medical professionals in the U.S. to treat Ebola. The team will be formed by Northern Command's Commander, Gen. Chuck Jacoby, and will comprise 20 critical care nurses, five doctors trained in infectious disease and five trainers in infectious disease protocols. Once formed, the team will undergo up to a week of specialized training in infection control and personal protective equipment at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, then remain in "prepare to deploy" status for 30 days.
The team won't be sent overseas, and will "be called upon domestically only if deemed prudent by our public health professionals," Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a statement.
Stobbe reported from Atlanta.
Associated Press writers Emily Schmall in Fort Worth, Texas; Jill Craig in Galveston, Texas; and Josh Hoffner in Dallas contributed to this report.