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Scandal at the Vatican continues

Sex abuse flak ‘like anti-Semitism’

(Al-jazeera) Attacks on the Catholic Church and Pope Benedict over a sex abuse scandal are comparable to “collective violence” against Jews, the pontiff’s personal preacher has said.
Father Raniero Cantalamessa drew the parallel at a Good Friday service, the day Christians commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion.
The sermon, which was attended by the Pope, drew sharp criticism from both Jews and victims of sexual abuse by priests.

It further raised tensions over the abuse scandal, forcing even the Vatican spokesman to distance himself from Cantalamessa, the only person authorised to preach to the pope.
Noting that this year the Jewish Passover and Christian Easter fell during the same week, he said Jews throughout history had been the victims of “collective violence” and drew comparisons between Jewish suffering and attacks on the Church.

As the pope listened, Cantalamessa read the congregation a part of a letter he received from an unnamed Jewish friend, who said he was “following with disgust the violent and concentric attacks against the Church, the Pope.”
“The use of stereotypes, the shifting of personal responsibility and guilt to a collective guilt remind me of the most shameful aspects of anti-Semitism,” he quoted from the letter.
Elan Steinberg, the vice-president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors and their Descendants, said: “Shame on Father Cantalamessa.

“The Vatican is entitled to defend itself but the comparison with anti-Semitic persecution is offensive and unsustainable. We are sorely disappointed,” he added.
Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, said: “This should not be interpreted as an official position of the Vatican.” 
But some Jewish groups demanded a personal apology from the pope for the words read by his preacher.
“These hurtful remarks were made in the presence of the pope and the pope himself should take responsiblity and apologise for them,” Rabbi Marvin, the heir of Simon Wiesenthal Centre, the international Jewish human rights group, said.

The Pope, both at the service where Cantalamessa preached as well as at a “Way of the Cross” service for thousands of people later at the Colosseum, made no reference to the abuse scandal.
This week’s celebrations leading up to Easter Sunday have been clouded by accusations that the Church in several countries mishandled and covered up episodes of sexual abuse of children by priests, some dating back decades.

Old ghosts come back to haunt Russia

By Thanapathi
The dark years where Russian troops were facing near defeat in Chechnya and Moscow was dealing with waves of suicide bombings were assumed to have been over with the current Prime Minister while he was serving as the Commander-in-Chief ordered a brutal crack-down on Islamist insurgents in the Caucasus region. Yet the twin suicide bombings in Moscow last Monday which Islamic militants from the North Caucasus claim to have carried out have once again refocussed attention on the violence which had not reached the capital for many years. The rush-hour attacks Monday on the Moscow subway killed over 40 people and left nearly 90 hospitalised. One of the metro stations, Lubyanka is a symbol of government power. It’s beneath the headquarters of Russia’s Federal Security Service, the modern-day KGB and the branch of government that produced Russia’s all-powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. As the President, Putin spearheaded the move to crush the bloody rebellions in the Islamic regions of Russia. The symbolism of bombing Lubyanka which amounts to a direct attack on Putin’s prestige was not lost to many.

Monday’s bomb attacks on the Moscow subway bear the hallmarks of an operation carried out by female Chechen suicide bombers called “Black Widows,” who in the 90’s were responsible for similar devastating attacks on a Moscow cinema which killed hundreds. Photographs of a young woman, obtained by Reuters from a law-enforcement official showed her dressed in a black hijab and holding a grenade. Another photograph showed the woman holding a pistol. Officials named her as Dagestani-born Dzhennet Abdurakhmanova, the widow of 30-year-old Umalat Magomedov, a prominent insurgent killed by Russian forces on December 31.

On Wednesday, Doku Umarov, the Chechen militant leader, claimed responsibility for the subway attacks, defying Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s promises of the past several years that he would shut down the Chechen rebellion. Umarov’s claim appeared in a web-video claiming Monday’s twin suicide attacks were in revenge for the earlier killing of Chechen civilians by Russian security forces. Umarov’s Internet statement came after Putin threatened to “drag out of the sewer” the terrorists who plotted the subway bombings. Umarov fought in both of Chechnya’s separatist wars and has become the effective leader of the rebel movement, taking over after the Russians killed his predecessor, Abdul-Khalim Sadulayev. Umarov became even more important after the Russians killed Shamil Basayev, who was apparently responsible for the hostage-taking at the school in Beslan, another troubled Islamic province in the Caucasus, six years ago that killed more than 200 children. 

On Wednesday same day two suicide bombings in Dagestan killed 12 people, including nine policemen, a frequent target of attacks in part because they represent Russian authority. Another explosion Thursday killed two suspected militants and wounded a third in Dagestan near the border with Chechnya. Police said the men may have been transporting a makeshift bomb. The suicide bombings in Moscow and Dagestan follow a surge of violence over the past year in the patchwork of North Caucasus republics, where Russia has fought two wars against Chechen separatists since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.
The new series of suicide bombings in Moscow is the first in the capital in six years and will inevitably be perceived as a shocking wake-up call for Russians who had been able to convince themselves they were walled off from the ongoing violence in the Caucasus, after the reign of terror attacks in the capital of nearly a decade earlier.

Chechens, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims, regard the region as their ancient homeland, while Moscow fears the creation of an independent Muslim-majority state in its midst and has refused to grant any real autonomy. In the 1990s, the Chechen rebels had managed to force the withdrawal of tens of thousands of Russian troops who had earlier been sent to the region to prevent Chechnya declaring its independence. Then in 1999, the Russians came back with more than 90,000 troops and carried out a scorched-earth campaign that killed an estimated 30,000 to 40,000 civilians. Ordinary guerrilla tactics and hostage-taking, key to ousting the Russians the first time, now took the rebels nowhere and so the insurgents sought out new tactics, such as a suicide bomb campaign, with those women in black as a crucial part of the effort.
Both president Dimithri Medvedev and premier Putin have insisted that taking a hard line against insurgents is essential. Medvedev has described extremism in the North Caucasus as a cancerous tumor that simply must not spread. However Medvedev has been an advocate of addressing what he has termed “the root causes” of terrorism in the Caucasus, including poverty and corruption, in contrast to the tougher tone of his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Critics, though, say Russia’s hard-line policy has failed. They point to two Russian wars in Chechnya which were not able to prevent consistent attacks by insurgent groups. Critics say the Russian government has only stoked more anger and that, in turn, has helped insurgent groups to recruit. Many minority groups in Russia, especially Muslim communities now fear retribution for the attacks.

Russians have been fighting Islamist terrorist and insurgents long before such groups became a problem to the West. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan since 1979 till the end of the next decade the United States armed and trained the numerous Mujahideen fighters that fought against the occupying forces. It is these same Mujahideen who would later fan out and flare up insurgent movements in the predominantly Islamic Russian provinces. After nearly two decades of fighting several groups the Russians do not seem any closer to defeating the insurgents and terrorists. The reality has been that these troubled regions have been laid to waste by the Russians without any development while the rest of the country has seen considerable progress since the break up of the Soviet Union. President Medvedev, despite his harsh rhetoric seems to have grasped that there will be no end to terrorism of the nature seen in Moscow this week unless the route causes of the problem are addressed. For decades Russians have refused to grant any degree of autonomy for the troubled region while they have also not bothered on any form of economic development. The former KGB agent turned politician, Prime Minister Putin takes a harder line in the approach towards the troubled North Caucasus region. He advocates an uncompromising crushing of the rebellions. This hardline stance though will provide some tangible results in the short run it would no doubt sow the seeds of hatred and mistrust for terrorism to continue for years to come.


‘Signs of life’ in China mine

(Al-jazeera) Rescuers at a coal mine in China’s northern Shanxi province have heard signs of life from the flooded mineshaft where 153 workers are trapped.
State television showed rescuers cheering as they heard a faint response to knocking on pipes running into the mine on Friday afternoon, six days after it flooded.

After hearing the sounds, rescuers lowered pens and paper into the shaft, along with glucose and milk.
About 3,000 rescuers are working round the clock to pump water out of the Wangjialing mine, but experts warn it could still take days to reach the miners.
Government officials have said the flood was triggered when workers digging tunnels broke through into an old shaft filled with water.

More than 100 workers were able to escape as the floodwaters rushed in but the rest were trapped underground.
Miners who had escaped told the Reuters news agency that the number of trapped miners given by authorities was too low.
“We sent 10 tramcars down to the pit before the flooding and each car usually carries 44 miners and a driver,” a tramcar driver who was working on the day of the accident said.
“Only one car came back up the shaft, plus a few dozen miners who escaped on foot,” he said. If true, nearly 450 people could have been underground at the time of the flood. Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from the mine site, said the mining company had been criticised for not taking necessary security measures.


Teenage widow behind Moscow blast

The 17-year-old widow of a North Caucasus fighter has been confirmed by Russian security officials as one of the suicide bombers who attacked the Moscow metro system on Monday.
The blasts at quick succession at two stations during morning rush hour killed 39 people and injured more than 70. 
“One of the female suicide bombers, who blew herself up at the Park Kultury metro station, was Dzhanet Abdullayeva,” said a statement from the National anti-terror committee, carried by Russian news agencies.
The committe comprises chiefs of top ministries and state bodies.

“She was born in 1992 and lived in the Khasavyurtsky region of Dagestan,” the official said.
“The material has been sent to the investigative committee of Russian prosecutors,” the official added.
Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Moscow Neave Barker said: “Police said that they had identified an apartment building that had been rented out by two suspected accomplices of the female suicide bombers. “They say these two men may have accompanied the women to a metro station in the southwest of the city where they handed them the bomb belts,” he added.

“The men are then believed to have gone back to the apartment building, as the female suicide bombers went on to their final destination.It was the men in the apartment building, at a distance, that then detonated the explosives by remote [control],” they added.
“The investigators say they found traces of explosives, some traces of preparation, within the apartment building. These men are known to them and they have been put on a wanted list,” he said.

Abdullayeva had been married to Umalat Magomedov, a high-ranking Dagestani anti-government fighter, who was killed by Russian security forces last year.
Russian media has described Abdullayeva as a “Black Widow”, the name given to suicide bombers whose partners have been killed by Russian forces in areas such as Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia. 


Obama confident of securing broad
support for more sanctions against Iran

(Washington Post) President Obama said Friday that ‘all evidence indicates’ Iran is pursuing the capacity to develop nuclear weapons, but he expressed confidence that the United States could muster broad international support for a new round of U.N. sanctions designed to curtail Tehran’s atomic ambitions.
The remarks followed an hour-long phone discussion Obama held late Thursday with Chinese President Hu Jintao, who will travel to Washington to participate in anuclear security summit April 12 and 13. In their conversation, the two discussed the ‘importance of working together’ on Iran, the White House said.
China has long resisted American calls for U.N. sanctions against Iran, but this week, for the first time, it agreed to begin discussions on a possible resolution, according to U.S. and European diplomats.

A senior U.S. official said Washington hopes to get a vote on a sanctions resolution in April. But U.N. diplomats cautioned that they expect protracted negotiations with China over the substance.
“I think the idea here is to keep on turning up the pressure. The regime has become more isolated since I came into office,” Obama said in an interview Friday with CBS’s “Early Show.” “We’re going to continue to ratchet up the pressure and examine how they respond. But we’re going to do so with a unified international community that puts us in a much stronger position.”

Repeating assertions the administration has made previously, Obama said Iran’s emergence as a nuclear weapons power would create ‘huge destabilising effects in the region and will trigger an arms race in the Middle East.’ He said it would also harm Iran’s political standing in the world.
“Part of the reason that we reached out to them was to say, ‘You’ve got a path. You can take a path that allows you to rejoin the international community, or you can take a path of developing nuclear-weapons capacity that further isolates you.’ And now we’re seeing them further isolated. Over time, that is going to have an effect on their economy,” Obama said.

Beijing’s decision to engage in negotiations on Iran signaled a willingness to move beyond disputes with Washington over a range of issues, including U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, Obama’s recent meeting with the Dalai Lama and differences over currency rates. The issue is delicate for China in part because it maintains deep commercial ties with Tehran.


Protesters rally to oust Thailand’s government

(AFP) Thousands of anti-government protesters launched their fourth weekend march in the streets of the Thai capital Saturday, groping for tactics that have yet to force the prime minister to dissolve parliament and call new elections.

The mainly poor, rural Thais that make up the so-called Red Shirts were concentrating their Saturday protests in the heart of commercial Bangkok, studded with glitzy shopping malls and upscale hotels. They previously have failed to oust the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva through both mass peaceful marches and talks with government leaders.
Jatuporn Prompan, a protest leader, said the demonstration would continue through Monday and that Saturday’s rally would be brief.

“Today’s another day when commoners will declare war to bring democracy to the country. There is no end until we win this battle,” he said as marchers made their way toward the shopping zone, beating drums and chanting ‘Dissolve parliament.”
The Red Shirt movement — known formally as the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship — consists largely of supporters of ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and pro-democracy activists who opposed a 2006 military coup which ousted Thaksin.

Protest leaders have portrayed the demonstrations as a struggle between Thailand’s impoverished, mainly rural masses — who benefited from Thaksin policies of cheap health care and low-interest village loans — and a Bangkok-based elite impervious to their plight.
Thaksin’s allies won elections in December 2007, but two resulting governments were forced out by court rulings. A parliamentary vote brought Abhisit’s party to power in December 2008. The Red Shirts say his rule is undemocratic and that only new elections can restore integrity to Thai democracy


Israeli air raids wound children

(Al-Jazeera) Three Palestinian children have been wounded after Israeli planes and helicopters launched a string of air attacks on the Gaza Strip overnight.
The Israelis claimed that the air raids were in response to rocket fire from Gaza, but Hamas which runs the Palestinian enclave blamed the Israelis for the escalating tensions.
According to Palestinian medical sources, at least seven missiles targeted various Gaza sites.
Four air attacks early on Friday destroyed two caravans near the town of Khan Younis. A fifth missile hit a cheese factory in Gaza City, setting it on fire, witnesses and Hamas officials said.

Moawiya Hassanein, head of the Palestinian emergency services in Gaza, said three Palestinian children - aged two, four and 11 - were hit by flying glass in the raid.
Helicopters struck twice in the central refugee camp of Nusseirat, destroying a metal foundry, but no one was injured.
An Israeli military spokesman confirmed the attacks, saying they had targeted two weapons-manufacturing plants and two arms caches. There was no independent confirmation of the Israeli claim.
Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader in Gaza, blamed Israel for the increase in tensions.
“We in the Palestinian government condemn this escalation and call on our Arab brothers in particular and the international community in general to intervene in order to stop targeting our people and the escalation against them everywhere, particularly in the Gaza Strip,” he said.

A Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum, told Al Jazeera that Hamas held the Israeli government led by Binyamin Netanyahu responsible for the “escalation” and said the air raids had been expected because of threats by Ehud Barak, the defence minister, and other ministers.

Health watch

Scientists in sleeping sickness ‘breakthrough’
Scientists say they have identified a potential treatment for sleeping sickness, a killer disease that infects about 60,000 people in Africa a year.
British and Canadian experts say drugs could attack an enzyme the parasite causing the illness needs to survive.
They say the orally-administered drug could be ready for human clinical trials in about 18 months.
The disease, spread by the bite of a tsetse fly, is caused by a parasite attacking the central nervous system.
It has similar symptoms to malaria, making it difficult to diagnose. Left untreated, it moves to the spinal column and brain, resulting in mental confusion and eventual death.

The ‘breakthrough’ came at the University of Dundee in Scotland where scientists were funded to research diseases neglected by major drugs companies.
Professor Paul Wyatt, director of the programme, said, “This is one of the most significant findings made in recent years in terms of drug discovery and development for neglected diseases.”
He said the research, published in the journal Nature, represented ‘significant strides’ in the development of a full blown drug against the disease.
The World Health Organisation estimates there are between 50,000 and 70,000 cases of the disease a year, with a further 60 million people at risk of infection. The research in Dundee was backed by partners at the University of York in England and the Structural Genomics Consortium in Toronto, Canada.
China faces

‘diabetes epidemic’
China faces a diabetes epidemic, with almost one in 10 adults having the disease while most cases remain undiagnosed, researchers said.
Tests showed diabetes was more endemic than previously thought, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
The figures suggest China has some 90 million diabetics, far more than India.
Rapid economic growth has affected public health, through urbanisation, changed diets and more sedentary lifestyles, researchers said. Rigorous new tests suggested that more than 92 million Chinese adults had diabetes and that nearly 150 million more were showing early symptoms, researchers said.
This represents a major public health problem for the authorities in Beijing as diabetes is a major factor in illnesses such as heart disease, stroke and kidney disease, correspondents say.
“In the last 10 years, with the country’s economy expanding quickly and people’s standard of living improving, people’s lifestyles have changed,” said Yang Wenying, one of the report’s 20 authors, who is head of endocrinology at Beijing’s China-Japan Friendship Hospital.
“China’s economic development has gone from a situation of not being able to eat enough, of poverty, to having enough food and warm clothes, and doing much less exercise,” she told the AFP news agency.

X-rays ‘can miss many fractures’
X-rays fail to spot up to nearly a third of fractures in the bones of the hip and pelvis, research suggests.
US doctors from Duke University warn that relying on standard X-rays alone to give a clean bill of health could lead to wrong diagnoses and law suits.
When they re-checked the X-ray results of 92 patients using a more detailed scanner, called MRI, they found 35 fractures that had been missed. The findings are published in the American Journal of Roentgenology.
Dr. Charles Spritzer, who led the research, said, “The diagnosis of traumatic fracture most often begins and ends with X-rays of the hip, pelvis, or both.
“In some cases though, the exclusion of a traumatic fracture is difficult.”
In the study of patients complaining of pain after an injury to the hip or pelvis, 13 with normal X-ray findings were found to have a collective total of 23 fractures seen on MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).
Another 15 patients with abnormal X-rays had 12 additional pelvic fractures seen on MRI that otherwise would not have been identified. And in 11 patients, MRI showed no fracture after X-rays had suggested there might be one.

The researchers say it is worth using MRI as well as an X-ray if doctors are in any doubt, particularly since hip patients tend to be frail and elderly with a higher than average risk of complications and death.
HIV patients ‘need drug lifeline’
The opportunity to save tens of thousands of HIV patients with a simple, cheap, drug treatment is being missed, say researchers.
Giving some newly-diagnosed patients an antibiotic would significantly reduce the death toll in the early stages of the disease, they say. A major study in The Lancet medical journal found it halved mortality. The World Health Organisation already endorses the treatment, but specialists say many people are not given the drug.
Much of the focus of the pharmaceutical battle against HIV has been on antiretroviral drugs, which can greatly extend life.

However, many patients are at greatest risk in the first weeks after diagnosis, with a variety of infections ready to take advantage of their weakened immune systems.
Studies have estimated that as many as a quarter of people who enter antiretroviral drug treatment programmes in sub-Saharan Africa will die in the first year.
But the addition of co-trimoxazole, an inexpensive antibiotic, to the long-term treatment plan of those with the worst affected immune systems appears to prevent many of these deaths. The Lancet study, carried out among 3,179 Ugandan patients, suggested a fall of 59% over the first 12 weeks, and 44% between 12 and 72 weeks.
Its authors, from the Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit and Imperial College in London, and centres in Uganda and Zimbabwe, say the antibiotic is not available in many places.
They say their findings reinforce the need for swifter action by those responsible for drug treatment programmes. (bbc News)