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Nato launches major Afghan assault

US-led 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 the campaign.
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 fighters.

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 importance”.
“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 Jazeera.
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 people dead.
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 resume.
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 armed fighters
“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,” she said.
“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

The 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 concrete wall.
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 Irakly Japaridze.
“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 sticking up.”
Bryce added: “He was very scared going down the fast corners.
“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 it.
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 earthquake

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 January 12.
Earlier, Catholic and Voodoo leaders joined other religious figures for a service near the ruined National Palace in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
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 on.”
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 victims.
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 fronts.
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 news)

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 faculty member.
“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 peace process.
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 Palestinians.
“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 the barrier.
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 township

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 proper housing.
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 their government.
“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 them.
“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 another protester.
President Jacob Zuma visited Siyathemba in August 2009 to hear the residents’ complaints after the last “service delivery” protests.
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 Mashiniba.
He believes the growing tensions may spark another spate of xenophobic violence.
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 attention.
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 shop-owner.
Residents say violence is the only solution to their problems.
“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 conditions.
“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 siblings.
Her home is old and small, water and power supply are inconsistent.
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 Israel.
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 landscape.
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 - Western capitals.
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 2003.
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 reformist movement.
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 presidential elections.
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 against Iran.
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 opposition.
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 movement.

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 Pakistani cricketers.
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 places.
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 the vehicle.
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 depression’

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 biology.”
Experts say alcoholics tend to have a sweet tooth. - (BBC News)
‘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 people unduly.
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 and clothing.
- (BBC News)

Vegetative state patients can respond to questions

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)