launches major Afghan assault
Nato troops have launched a long-expected attack on the
biggest Taliban-held town in the south of the country.
Helicopter-borne US marines and Afghan troops backed by
British forces swooped down on the Taliban-held town of
Marjah in the centre of Helmand province early on Saturday.
At least 4,500 US marines, 1,500 Afghan troops and 300 US
soldiers are taking part in the offensive, which seeks to
undermine support for the Taliban and re-establish
government control in the area.
The offensive, known as Operation Mushtarak, the Dari word
for “together”, is the biggest joint Afghan-international
offensive of the war.
It is the largest combat operation since Barack Obama,
the US president, ordered 30,000 US reinforcements to
Afghanistan last December.
Danish, Estonian and Canadian troops are also involved in
Marine commanders say they expect anywhere between 400 to
1,000 fighters to be holed up inside the southern Afghan
town of 80,000 people, including more than 100 foreign
But Qari Fazluddin, a local Taliban commander, put the
number of fighters at as much as 2,000.
Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr reporting from Kabul, the capital,
said: “We’ve been talking to the Taliban over recent days
and they are making clear that they will defend the
territory and fight till death.”
“Foreign troops want to also send a clear message that the
Afghan government will re-establish government presence in
Marjah and separate the town from the Taliban to improve
people’s lives, open roads and government institutions,
which is all part of the new Obama strategy being employed
in the region,” she said.
“It’s not all military tactics because Marjah is really
strategic, it’s at the doorstep of Lashkar-Gah, the
provincial capital of Helmand and if you open those roads
you can improve economic development for the people, but
they are worried, mostly about civilian casualties.”
Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf)
termed the offensive a “clearing” operation to be followed
by “smaller-scaled ‘shaping’ operations”.
Mohammad Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand province,
said earlier this week that local authorities were poised to
move in behind the military operation to set up civil
services, including police and security.
Richard Whites, the director of the Centre for Political
Military Analysis at the Washington DC-based Hudson
Institute, told Al Jazeera: “In terms of tactics, the
Taliban appears to have placed a large number of improvised
explosive devices on the roads, canals and other areas the
troops are going to go through so they will be very cautious
about how rapidly to proceed. “In addition, their main
concern would be limiting the number of civilian casualties.
“They understand that they could win the battle but lose
the war if they commit a large number of casualties as, for
example, what happened with the Falluja offensive in Iraq a
few years ago.”
Ahead of the assault, Nato advised civilians not to leave
their homes. Some have fled, but many have stayed. - (Al-Jazeera)
|Date set for India-Pakistan talks
India and Pakistan have set a date to restart diplomatic
talks for the first time since the 2008 attacks on the
Indian city of Mumbai.
High-level diplomats from the two countries are scheduled to
meet on February 25 in New Delhi, more than a year after the
attacks that India has blamed on Pakistan-based fighters.
Mani Shankar Aiyer, a former Indian envoy to Pakistan, said
the relaunch of talks is of “overriding national
“In my view, it is the highest priority in Indian foreign
policy that we arrive at some way of being able to run our
relationship with Pakistan on a smooth track,” he told Al
New Delhi suspended a four-year-old peace process with
Pakistan following the co-ordinated attacks at several
Mumbai locations in November 2008 that left more than 160
India says the attacks were carried out by the
Pakistan-based armed group Lashkar-e-Taiba and has demanded
Islamabad bring the culprits to justice before talks can
India and Pakistan launched talks in 2004 to resolve several
disputes between the two countries, including the dispute
over the region of Kashmir.
Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, who both
claim sovereignty over all the territory.
But increasing tensions in the Himalayan region threaten to
overshadow the relaunch of talks.
Clashes erupted in Srinagar, the capital of
Indian-administered Kashmir, on Thursday, between Indian
security forces and demonstrators protesting against the
death of a teen by police during an earlier protest in the
region on Sunday.
Armed Muslim groups have been fighting for independence from
India or a merging with its neighbour Pakistan since 1989,
with almost 70,000 people being killed during the conflict.
Some armed groups say the issue of Kashmir should be central
to any talks between India and Pakistan.
Syed Salahuddin, supreme commander of the separatist
Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, said there would be no result from the
talks unless the issue of the status of Kashmir is
“addressed and focused upon”.
“The talks must be Kashmir-centric, tripartite and there
should be a time frame. Then it is useful to go and get
engaged, otherwise not,” he says.
Al Jazeera’s Preena Suri, reporting from New Delhi, said
opposition leaders in India are also opposing the relaunch
of talks, arguing that Pakistan must first crack down on
“Domestic political parties are now upping the pressure on
the ruling government, saying that if Pakistan doesn’t clamp
down on these groups, these talks will prove to be futile,”
“Using this to their political advantage are parties like
the right-wing Hindu BJP, who say India is bowing to
American pressure to resume dialogue.” - (Al-Jazeera)
|Death of competitor casts shadow over Olympics
death of a luge competitor who left the track at high speed
has cast a shadow over the Winter Olympics in Canada ahead
of the opening ceremony.
Georgian Nodar Kumaritashvili’s sled flipped and he smashed
into a steel pole at the Whistler Sliding Centre, killing
the 21-year-old. It happened hours before the ceremony to
open the Vancouver Games. Georgia confirmed they will
compete in the Games as a tribute to him and will march as
scheduled at the ceremony. Kumaritashvili’s sled struck the
inside of the track’s last turn during his sixth and final
training run, sending his body into the air and over a
His sled remained on the track, and the visor from his
helmet appeared to continue down the ice.
Medical staff at the track and doctors at a local hospital
tried to resuscitate Kumaritashvili, part of a seven-strong
Georgian team, but the country’s Olympic delegation later
confirmed he had died as a result of his injuries.
“We are all in deep shock, we don’t know what to do. We
don’t know whether to take part in the opening ceremony or
even the Olympic Games themselves,” said delegation head
“This tragedy casts a shadow over these Games,” said a
visibly upset International Olympic Committee (IOC)
President Jacques Rogge, while International Luge Federation
chief Josef Fendt said the incident was “the gravest thing
that can happen in sport”.
The IOC confirmed an investigation had been launched and
technical officials were trying to establish the cause of
the crash. BBC Sport’s Colin Bryce, a former British
bobsleigh competitor, said Kumaritashvili was “clearly
nervous going down the final run - you could see his head
Bryce added: “He was very scared going down the fast
“It’s up to the organisers whether there is such a small
percentage chance of that happening again that we continue
with the race, or whether we stop.”
BBC Sport understands organisers currently expect the
Olympic luge competition, scheduled to begin on Saturday, to
continue after team leaders met and agreed not to abandon
But top IOC officials were heading to Whistler and may
reverse that decision.
The track at Whistler, which is shared by the sports of luge,
skeleton and bobsleigh, already has a reputation as one of
the fastest - and most dangerous - in the world.
In the build-up to the Games several teams had raised
concerns about the safety of athletes, who regularly exceed
90mph as they compete, though Kumaritashvili crashed at a
corner which had not been previously identified as a danger
area. - (BBC news)
|Haiti marks one month on from the
Haiti has held ceremonies for the
victims of the devastating earthquake which hit the country
a month ago, killing at least 217,000 people.
Thousands prayed at the exact time the quake struck, on
Earlier, Catholic and Voodoo leaders joined other religious
figures for a service near the ruined National Palace in the
More than a million Haitians remain homeless, just as the
rainy season is due to begin.
Haiti’s President Rene Preval has vowed that his country
will live on.
“Haiti will not die, Haiti must not die,” he told mourners
at the main service in Port-au-Prince. “Wipe away your tears
to rebuild Haiti.
“Today, allow me as citizen Rene Preval, the man, the father
of a family, to address you to say that I cannot find the
words to speak of this immense pain.
“It is in your courage that we will find the strength to go
Other prayer services were held across the country,
including one at the site of a mass grave north of the
capital which is believed to hold tens of thousands of
To the north of the capital, in Titanyen, mourners prayed on
top of a mass grave where tens of thousands of people were
hastily buried after the earthquake.
The BBC’s Mike Wooldridge says the act of national
reflection comes as one of the largest humanitarian
operations ever mounted grapples with challenges on many
He says a heavy downpour on the eve of the anniversary
provided a foretaste of the misery that lies ahead for the
many people who still have only the flimsiest shelter in
impromptu camps, if the pace of getting out more tents and
stronger shelter materials is not stepped up before the
start of the rainy season.
In the biggest of the camps that sprang up in the capital
after the earthquake, people are still living under sheeting
strung across wooden poles.
The government says the seasonal rains could be the biggest
threat now to the nation’s attempts at recovery.
The European Union has proposed a military mission to step
up the provision of shelter before the rains worsen.
The UN aid co-ordinator for Haiti, former-US President Bill
Clinton, said Haiti could get through the crisis with the
help of international donors.
“Though conditions are improving each day, countless people
remain in urgent need of shelter and building materials,
water and sanitation, food and clothing, and essential
medical supplies,” he said in a statement.
The White House warned that the situation in Haiti “remains
dire”, but added that the US “continues to stand with our
Haitian friends as they recover”.
This week’s Haitian government figures suggesting up to
230,000 dead means the quake toll is approaching that of the
2004 Asian tsunami, which killed 250,000 people. - (BBC
|US university shootings continue
At least three people have been killed and several more
injured in shootings at a science building at the University
of Alabama’s Huntsville campus, officials say.
A female suspected shooter was in custody, a university
spokesman and police said on Friday.
Ray Garner, a university spokesman, refused to identify the
suspect, but local television stations reported she is a
“At this point we have three dead, three confirmed people
who are dead,” Garner said. Garner said two of the three
people injured in the shooting remained in critical
condition while a third was in stable condition.
Ivory Coast Government dissolved
The President of Ivory Coast has dissolved the government
and the electoral commission, after a row over voter
registration that threatened to derail his nation’s fragile
Laurent Gbagbo called on Guillaume Soro, the former rebel
New Forces (FN) leader and current prime minister to form a
new government on January 15 and decide on a new “format”
for the Independent Electoral Commission.
“The peace process is once more broken down,” Gbagbo said on
state-run national television channel RTI, announcing the
dissolving of government “to allow Ivory Coast to go
forwards with trust to clean elections.”
“I ask the prime minister to propose to me within seven days
from today (Friday) the format of a new credible Independent
Electoral Commission which will organise fair and
transparent elections,” he said.
The move throws into doubt the political reconciliation
process in the divided country that had former rebels
serving in top ministerial posts.
The dissolution followed a decision by Soro this week to
suspend the process of registering voters indefinitely
because of rising tensions, casting doubt on when the long
delayed presidential election would take place.
Investigators said last week that they had found evidence of
fraud in a voters’ roll being compiled for long-delayed
polls because the election panel had used a compact disc
with unauthorised names.
The Independent Electoral Commission, or CEI in the
French-language acronym, refutes the allegations but has
acknowledged major problems in managing voter lists. - (Al-jazeera)
Israel acts on West Bank wall order
Israel has begun rerouting a section of its controversial
separation barrier near the West Bank village of Bilin
following a two-and-a-half-year-old court ruling.
But activists and Bilin residents continued to hold protests
against the barrier on Friday, despite the concession, which
returns only about a third of the area claimed by the
“It’s a small victory,” Mohammad Khatip, an anti-wall
activist, told Al Jazeera.
“We win a round of the game but we didn’t win the game yet
so we will continue in our struggle ... to dismantle this
wall and this settlement,” he said, referring to the Jewish
settlement of Modiin Ilit which lies on the other side of
He said that the partial re-routing had effectively frozen
the settlement’s expansion.
“This is the visible success, more than to change the route
of the wall - if the route stays as it is now, this means
another 1,500 apartments will be built ... but with the new
route this means that plan will be cancelled.”
Israel began rerouting the Bilin section of the barrier on
Thursday, two and a half years after Israel’s Supreme Court
ruled that the barrier must be moved. Workers laid down
tracks for the new route and, once the new section is built,
the part of the barrier currently standing around Bilin will
reportedly be removed.
That will return about 700,000 square metres to the
Palestinian side of the wall. (Al-jazeera)
|Anger, not hope in South African
Burning tyres litter the streets;
every road is blockaded with piles of large rocks, thick
black smoke fills the air, the sound of rubber bullets is
followed by loud screams - this South African township is
alive and its anger is spilling over.
Hundreds of people march up and down the streets of
Siyathemba township in the northern Mpumalanga province in
the week that the country marks 20 years since Nelson
Mandela was freed from prison.
Siyathemba, near Balfour, is one of more than 10 townships
which took part in a spate of protests last year over a lack
of basic services such as clean water, electricity and
The African National Congress (ANC) promised to deliver such
bare necessities when it came into power in 1994, ending
decades of white minority rule.
Many poor South Africans are starting to lose patience with
“A better life for all,” was the party’s slogan at the time
and yet today some feel this dream has remained just that.
The township’s name means “We (have) hope” in the local
Swati language and yet residents here say they have nothing
to be hopeful for.
“I live a life each day worrying about where the next meal
will come from because I don’t have a job. Most people are
poor here,” says Flata Motambo, 28, as she rejoins the group
of young protesters.
Some are carrying petrol bombs and large stones and vow to
harm anyone who dares to stop them.
“We are sick and tired of waiting,” yells one woman from a
crowd that has gathered around me, as I try to speak to
“Mandela has been out of jail for 20 years, 20 years and
nothing has changed here. Just look at the state of our
roads, there is just no development here and the police
shoot us when we protest, we have every reason to,” shouts
President Jacob Zuma visited Siyathemba in August 2009 to
hear the residents’ complaints after the last “service
Local officials admit that nothing tangible has been done
since then but stress that a “turn-around plan” will be used
in the coming months to improve conditions.
The protests include another dynamic, anger over the
employment of “foreigners” at a nearby gold mine, they say.
“The foreigners are buying our jobs. They bribe officials to
get jobs, we don’t have money to do that. Now they have more
skills than us, skills we should be getting,” says Vusi
He believes the growing tensions may spark another spate of
Foreign nationals become easy targets in these situations,
perhaps the victims of misplaced rage and circumstance.
Some employers hire them because they can pay them less than
the acceptable standard wage and because many of them are
illegal immigrants, they accept whatever offer is made,
desperate to earn a living.
This fuels the belief amongst some that foreigners are
“stealing jobs” that should be offered to locals.
During their four-day rampage, residents torched a library
and looted a number of stores owned by foreign nationals;
they say this is the only way of getting the government’s
The shop-owners, mostly from Somalia and Pakistan, have fled
the area and sought refuge at a house a few metres from the
local police station.
“I don’t have anything now - no money no food - they took
everything. I don’t feel safe because I don’t know the next
time they will attack,” says Frans Malkamo, a Somali
Residents say violence is the only solution to their
“They only notice us when we get violent, we are prepared to
do whatever it takes,” says one resident.
Every road in this small township is ravaged by potholes,
like many other townships in the country.
Piles of rubbish are left to collect on the street corners.
But the destruction by the community members raises fears
amongst a few that these actions will only worsen living
“I don’t understand why they have to destroy buildings here,
this place is already suffering,” says Mandisa, 18, one of
the few not part of the march.
“I don’t think marching will change anything. I also don’t
want to get injured,” she says standing, outside the gate of
the one-bedroom home where she lives with her aunt and two
Her home is old and small, water and power supply are
Great strides have been made in the past 15 years, but more
than one million households still live in shacks, often
sharing a single toilet among dozens of families.
The government says this too will change in time and has
urged people to be patient.
But for many South Africans, time is running out.
Nelson Mandela may have won his struggle for black South
Africans to be allowed to vote but in places like Siyathemba,
residents say the fight against apartheid was also to
improve their deplorable living conditions.
They say this battle is far from over. – (BBC News)
|Break the silence on Iran
Three decades ago, the Iranian revolution inspired
generations of Arabs and infused in them a spirit of
resistance to foreign intervention.
It came at a time when many Arabs had been disheartened by
the 1979 Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt, and
sparked hope in a regional power that could stand up to
Egypt’s exit from the equation of the Israeli-Arab conflict
was a blow to the Palestinian and Arab struggle to end
Israeli occupation and achieve self-determination for the
dispossessed Palestinian people.
But the “Islamic Revolution” transformed Iran from a
gendarme for US interests in the region into an ally of Arab
causes, thereby dramatically altering the Middle East
The historic reception Yasser Arafat, the late Palestine
Liberation Organisation (PLO) chairman, received in Tehran
in March 1979, signalled an end to the Iranian-Israeli pact
and the beginning of Iran’s role as a supporter of the
Palestinian national liberation movement.
Hundreds of thousands of Iranians turned out on the streets
of Tehran to give a hero’s welcome to Arafat who later
inaugurated a Palestinian embassy in the building that had
previously been the Israeli embassy.
Serious deterrent to Israeli power
Three decades later, Iran is still viewed as the only
serious deterrent to Israeli power, but its image as an
expression of people power has been marred by its backing of
sectarian Iraqi Shia political parties and ruthless
repression of Iranian opposition.
Its silence and inaction during the 2003 invasion of Iraq
was tantamount to complicity that facilitated the US-led
occupation of the country. It was a position dictated more
by its regional interests - asserting influence in Iraq -
and vengeance for an eight-year war that was started by
Baghdad in 1980.
But its backing of Hezbollah during its liberation of South
Lebanon from Israeli occupation and during the 2006 Israeli
war on Lebanon reinstated its status as a real and effective
supporter of Arab resistance.
A majority of Arabs also admire Iran’s refusal to compromise
or negotiate on its right to develop nuclear power - in
sharp contrast with weak and impotent Arab governments.
The current US and Israeli threats against Tehran only boost
its status among the majority of Arabs and thus explain to a
great extent the mooted Arab reaction to the regime’s harsh
treatment of intellectuals and dissidents.
Very few columnists have been critical of Iran’s human
rights records and many Arab writers appear, or choose, to
believe the Tehran’s allegations that the imprisoned or even
executed dissidents are cronies of - if not spies for -
Dilemma of many Arab intellectuals
The dilemma of many Arab intellectuals, and political
activists, is that while many, especially secular writers,
may be critical or even resent Iran’s increasing theocracy,
they are wary of being used - wittingly or unwittingly - to
justify Israeli and American agendas against Iran.
This dilemma is not new. Most writers refrained from taking
the government of Saddam Hussein, the late Iraqi president,
to task over repression of the Iraqi people in the years
leading up to the 1991 and 2003 wars.
Those who did, were frequently accused of pandering to
Western agendas which used human rights issues to justify
the bombardment, a cruel embargo and later the occupation of
a key Arab country.
But silence over human rights abuse in Iran is also
problematic - especially for those of us who claim
commitment to universal values and are relatively aware of
the Iranian political landscape and the nature of the
ongoing political struggle.
Yes, there may be supporters for the reformists in Iran who
may be associated with the West. It is also possible that
the West, especially Washington, may be interfering and
manipulating some of the protests.
But the fact remains that the opposition has legitimate
grievances and that some of the best sons and daughters of
the Iranian revolution - that inspired millions of Arabs -
are being persecuted.
The late Great Ayatollah Hussein Ali Montazeri was the most
important example of how the regime managed to punish and
isolate those who challenged the increasing consolidation of
power in the hands of the supreme leader.
Montazeri, who was then the most important living expert on
the concept of Velyat-el- Faqih, rule by jurisprudence, did
not provide absolute power to the Supreme Leader.
Reservations about presidential elections
“One who acts on God’s behalf is not a dictator,” Montazeri
reportedly argued during the constitutional debate in 1986.
Montazeri was arrested and humiliated but he refused to be
silenced and was placed under house arrest between 1997 and
While in Tehran in the 1990s, I met many of his students and
followers - or at least those influenced by him - some of
whom later became prominent leaders or voices of the
Shams O-Vaezen, who was a journalist back then, later became
a familiar face to Arab audiences, appearing frequently on
Al Jazeera especially since the recent wave of protests
triggered by opposition reservations about the Iranian
While obviously espousing a reformist agenda, Vaezen, who
speaks fluent Arabic, eloquently exposed the failure of the
regime without falling into the trap of pandering to the
US-Israeli led campaign against his country.
His imprisonment in Evin prison - and later release in 2003
- for demanding freedom of speech pained him but did not
stop him from believing in the main goals of the revolution
he joined when he was only 19.
Vaezen, like many Iranians I met and have been following
since, has himself been deeply affected by the Palestinian
struggle. Like many young leading participants of the
Iranian revolution, Vaezen was particularly inspired by the
PLO, which was then involved in training and supporting the
first cadres of the Shah’s opponents.
When the Iranian leadership shifted its support from
Fatah and the PLO to Hamas, it nevertheless continued its
backing for Palestinian national rights - something it
shared with reformists like Vaezen.
A few weeks ago, however, Shams was arrested - an event
reported by Al Jazeera - and became one of many detainees
collectively branded as “enemies of the revolution”.
He has neither been released nor indicted. But like many of
his Arab friends, I fear the day when he is formally accused
of charges that could slander his lifelong struggle, let
alone lead to his execution.
A Lebanese friend of Shams’s recently told me that families
of the detainees have complained to him of their dismay and
sadness over the silence of Arab writers.
With few exceptions, most Arab and leftist columnists in the
West have been exclusively focussed on debunking Western and
Israeli arguments for war against Iran - ignoring reports of
the arrests, torture and execution of dissidents or critics
in the Islamic Republic.
This has left the reporting and commentary wide open for
pro-Western government columnists and news outlets to
control the spin and expropriate the agenda of the
reformists in the service of the gathering campaign for war
On the anniversary of the Iranian revolution, it is time for
Arab and progressive writers as they rightly oppose the
calls for war on Iran to break the silence on the state’s
abuse of human rights and harassment and repression of the
Just as the Western governments cannot cynically exploit the
opposition to justify their aggressive measures against Iran
we cannot allow our commitment to Palestine, and what we
view as just causes to silence us against abuse of the
Iranian people. N- (Al-Jazeera – Opinion)
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern
and Palestinian affairs. She has been writing about the
Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) for the past 20
years and has interviewed all of the key leaders of the
|Mumbai defies threat over film
Major cinemas in Mumbai have defied a Hindu nationalist
group that demanded a boycott on a new film by Shahrukh
Khan, the Bollywood superstar, after he spoke in support of
Shiv Sena, a Mumbai-centered political party, vowed to
disrupt showing “My Name is Khan”, which hit cinemas in
India’s financial capital on Friday.
More than 21,000 police guarded over 60 theatres, as Shiv
Sena activists attempted to disrupt the screening at some
Police detained at least 40 protesters, television news
channel CNN-IBN, reported.
The boycott demand did not dissuade film goers however, with
tickets at the multiplexes that screened the first showings
of the film reportedly selling out within hours.
“I came to see the movie because it’s been so controversial,
and because I am a huge fan of Shahrukh Khan,” Subhash
Kandrep, who was queueing outside one of the cinemas, was
reported by the Reuters news agency as saying. “I don’t see
why a movie should not be shown just because some people are
protesting over what Khan said.”
Shiv Sena mounted its protests after recent comments by Khan
that Pakistani players should have been chosen to
participate in the Indian Premier League Twenty20 cricket
tournament to be held next month. - (Al-jazeera)
|Toyota recalls 8,000 US vehicles
Toyota is to recall 8,000 Tacoma pick-up trucks in the US,
over fears about defective front drive shafts.
The recall involves four-wheel drive Tacomas built from
mid-December 2009 to early February 2010.
The move is the latest in a string of recalls in the past
few months, totalling more than 8.5 million Toyota vehicles
around the world.
Previous recalls - including the flagship hybrid Prius -
were due to accelerator and brake problems.
Toyota said it was voluntarily recalling “a small production
run of certain 2010 model-year Tacoma 4WD trucks”.
“The front shaft in these vehicles may include a component
that contains cracks that developed during the manufacturing
process,” the company said in a statement.
The cracks could lead to the front driveshaft separating and
falling from the truck, causing drivers to lose control of
Toyota said it would start notifying owners by mail in
mid-March. The shafts were built by engineering firm Dana.
The latest recall will come as a blow to Toyota as it seeks
to revive trust in its vehicles.
- (BBC news)
|Sweet-toothed children ‘may have
While most children like sweets,
those with an extra-sweet tooth may be depressed or at
higher risk of future alcohol problems, researchers say.
The US team report in the journal Addiction that certain
children are especially drawn to very sweet tastes.
These were children who had a close relative with an alcohol
problem or who themselves had symptoms of depression. But it
is unclear if the preference for the very sweet is down to
genuine chemical differences or upbringing. The researchers
say sweet taste and alcohol trigger many of the same reward
circuits in the brain.
Lead author Julie Mennella said: “We know that sweet taste
is rewarding to all kids and makes them feel good. “In
addition, certain groups of children may be especially
attracted to the intense sweetness due to their underlying
Experts say alcoholics tend to have a sweet tooth. - (BBC
‘Third-hand smoke’ could damage health
Lingering residue from tobacco smoke which clings to
upholstery, clothing and the skin releases cancer-causing
agents, work in PNAS journal shows.
Berkeley scientists in the US ran lab tests and found
“substantial levels” of toxins on smoke-exposed material.
They say while banishing smokers to outdoors cuts
second-hand smoke, residues will follow them back inside and
this “third-hand smoke” may harm.
Opponents called it a laughable term designed to frighten
The scientists say nicotine stains on clothing, furniture
and wallpaper can react with a common indoor pollutant to
generate dangerous chemicals called tobacco-specific
nitrosamines or TSNAs.
In the tests, contaminated surface exposed to “high but
reasonable” amounts of the pollutant nitrous acid - emitted
by unvented gas appliances and in car exhaust - boosted
levels of newly formed TSNAs 10-fold.
Substantial traces of TSNAs were also found on the inside
surfaces of a truck belonging to a heavy smoker.
The researchers say third-hand smoke is an unappreciated
health hazard and suggest a complete ban on smoking in homes
and in vehicles to eliminate any risk.
Toxic particles from cigarette smoke can linger on
surfaces long after the cigarette has been put out, and
small children are particularly susceptible because they are
likely to breathe in close proximity, or even lick and suck
them, they say.
Researcher Lara Gundel, of the Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, said: “Smoking outside is better than smoking
indoors but nicotine residues will stick to a smoker’s skin
- (BBC News)
Vegetative state patients can respond
Scientists have been able to reach into the mind of a
brain-damaged man and communicate with his thoughts.
The research, carried out in the UK and Belgium, involved a
new brain scanning method.
Awareness was detected in three other patients previously
diagnosed as being in a vegetative state.
The study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that
scans can detect signs of awareness in patients thought to
be closed off from the world.
Patients in a vegetative state are awake, not in a coma, but
have no awareness because of severe brain damage.
The scientists used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI)
which shows brain activity in real time. They asked patients
and healthy volunteers to imagine playing tennis while they
were being scanned. In each of the volunteers this
stimulated activity in the pre-motor cortex, part of the
brain which deals with movement.
This also happened in four out of 23 of the patients
presumed to be in a vegetative state.
I volunteered to test out the scanning technique. I gave the
scientists two women’s names, one of which was my mother’s.
– (BBC News)