Breaking News -- Middle East
|New, Aggressive HIV Strain Found in West Africa
by Andrew Katz
Strain progresses to AIDS about two years faster
Swedish researchers have identified a new strain of HIV recently discovered in West Africa, which progresses to AIDS more quickly, reports AFP.
The A3/02 strain combines the two most common HIV strains in Guinea-Bissau and develops into AIDS within five years, up to two-and-a-half years faster than either of its parent strains, said Angelica Palm, one of the scientists behind the study published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. This type of strain, a recombinant, appears when a person becomes infected by two different strains, allowing DNA to fuse and create a new one.
Researchers from Lund University warn in the study that recombinant strains may spread more rapidly, in part from immigration to the United State or Europe, and that there are likely many more that still haven’t been identified. But with this particular strain that was discovered in Guinea-Bissau in 2011, Palm says, “The good news is that as far as we know, the medicines that are available today are equally functional on all different subtypes of variants.”
The study comes on the heels of a new report by the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control that found about 131,000 people in Europe had contracted HIV in 2012, an 8% increase from the year before. As reported AIDS cases in western Europe dropped 48% between 2006 and 2012, the number of new diagnoses in the eastern region rose by 113%.
Egyptian activist arrested amid government crackdown on dissent
Patrick Kingsley in Cairo
Detention of Alaa Abd El Fattah and wife follows new protest law, jailing of women and girls, and shooting of student
A week in Egypt that campaigners said confirmed a return to Mubarak-era repression ended with the arrest of high-profile activist Alaa Abd El Fattah in a violent raid in which his wife said she was also assaulted.
Abd El Fattah has been targeted by every government since Hosni Mubarak's, and his incarceration has come to be seen as an indicator of the state of human rights in Egypt. His arrest followed the sentencing of 14 women and girls to 11 years in jail for taking part in an early morning pro-Mohamed Morsi protest in October, and a draconian protest law that rights groups say severely curtails the right to protest and which the UN says is "seriously flawed".
It also followed Thursday's shooting by police of a student protesting against the government at Cairo University, and the 15-day detention of a schoolboy for carrying a ruler bearing a pro-Morsi symbol, according to state media.
The arrest of Abd El Fattah, a secular activist also targeted by the administrations of ex-presidents Morsi and Mubarak, confirmed fears that the new government has widened its crackdown on pro-Morsi dissent to the non-Islamist activists who joined calls for his overthrow this year.
Until the past fortnight, when non-Islamist activists finally returned to Cairo's streets in significant numbers, the crackdown had largely centred on Morsi supporters and striking workers outside the capital. Abd El Fattah was arrested on suspicion of encouraging a demonstration on Tuesday outside the Egyptian parliament against the army being allowed to try civilians in military courts under Egypt's new constitution.
Under the new protest law, the protesters should have sought permission from the police – who arrested 79 in minutes. Twenty-four remain in custody, while 22 female protesters said they were beaten and harassed before being abandoned in the desert several miles south of Cairo.
After a warrant for his arrest was issued, Abd El Fattah announced that he intended to turn himself in on Saturday. In a statement translated by his aunt, the novelist Ahdaf Soueif, Abd El Fattah also argued that his arrest was political, and said "the legitimacy of the current regime collapsed" just five days after Morsi's overthrow, when soldiers and police killed 51 pro-Morsi supporters at a protest.
Abd El Fattah said he had been at a police station for eight hours on Tuesday night to lobby for other arrested activists, and concluded that the police had not detained him because they wanted to make a spectacle of his arrest. That came to pass on Thursday night – when, his wife Manal said, several armed policemen stormed their home shortly after 10am, beating both and taking their phones and laptops.
An arrest warrant was also issued for Ahmed Maher, the founder of the 6 April youth movement that spearheaded Mubarak's ousting. On Friday, he could not be reached by phone and his whereabouts were unknown. Earlier in the week, Maher had told the Guardian he was considering going into hiding, and compared Egypt's current climate of repression to the height of a campaign against him in 2008 "when I was hiding and trying to escape the police, and trying to make my wife and family safe".
While Egypt's police were a major target of the 2011 uprising, and their brutality continued unabated under Morsi, they returned to public favour after supporting Morsi's overthrow in July. It was a development that may explain why the security establishment felt free to harden their stance against all forms of dissent this week.
"The security sector feels it has the backing of large swaths of the public, who are exhausted by three years of upheaval, and who are now prepared to trade freedoms for stability," said HA Hellyer, an Egypt analyst for the Royal United Services Institute, a foreign affairs thinktank. "But I'm not so sure this kind of policy will be sustainable in the long term. The wider public expects the state to deliver on the economy and living standards, which the state is unlikely to be able to do – and if it feels the security sector is given a free hand without any observable benefits, the wider public could just as easily turn against that same apparatus."
IAEA says may need more money to help implement Iran nuclear deal
by Fredrik Dahl
(Reuters) - The U.N. atomic watchdog will probably need more money to verify the implementation of a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, its chief said on Thursday, and it would take some time to prepare for the task.
Yukiya Amano also said Iran has invited the agency to visit the Arak heavy-water production plant on December 8, the first concrete step under a new cooperation pact aimed at clarifying concerns about the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.
Both agreements indicate how Iran is acting quickly to address fears about its nuclear program after the election in June of a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, as new president on a platform to smooth its troubled relations with the world.
The International Atomic Energy Agency can mobilize expertise and staff from within the organization for an increased workload in checking whether Iran is complying with the interim accord with the major powers to curb its nuclear program, IAEA Director General Amano told a news conference.
But its budget is very tight, he added: "Naturally this requires a significant amount of money and manpower ... I don't think we can cover everything by our own budget."
The Arak facility produces heavy water intended for use in a nearby research reactor that is under construction. The West is concerned that the reactor, which Iran has said could start up next year, could yield plutonium as fuel for atomic bombs once operational. Iran says it will make medical isotopes only.
As part of its agreement with the powers, Iran is to halt installation work at the reactor and stop making fuel for it.
The IAEA will need to expand monitoring of Iran's uranium enrichment plants and other sites under the November 24 breakthrough deal reached after marathon talks between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain.
The IAEA was studying how to put into practice the agreement with respect to its inspectors' role in checking compliance and this would take "some time," Amano said, adding it was a complicated task that needed proper preparations.
"This (analysis) will include the implications for funding and staffing," he separately told the IAEA's 35-nation board.
About 10 percent of its annual 121-million-euro ($164 million) budget for inspections is already devoted to Iran. The agency has two to four staff in Iran virtually every day of the year, with some 20 dedicated to inspector activity there.
Under the Geneva interim accord, there will be "significant extra work and they will require extra resources to do it," a Western envoy said, with "the extremely complex and difficult implementation" expected to start in January.
The agreement between Iran and the powers is designed to halt any further advances in Iran's nuclear campaign and buy time for talks on a final settlement of the decade-old dispute.
After years of confrontation, it underlined a thaw in relations between Iran and the West after the election of Rouhani on a pledge to end Tehran's isolation and win relief from sanctions that have battered the oil producer's economy.
"DEVIL IN THE DETAIL"
But Western officials and experts caution that finding a permanent solution to the Iranian nuclear issue will probably be an uphill struggle, with the two sides still far apart on the final scope and capacity of the Iranian nuclear program.
The Islamic Republic says it is a peaceful energy project but the United States and its allies suspect it has been aimed at developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
Iran agreed on Sunday to stop its most sensitive nuclear work - uranium enrichment to a higher fissile concentration of 20 percent - and cap other parts of its activities in exchange for limited sanctions relief.
Refined uranium can fuel nuclear power plants but also the fissile core of a bomb if processed to a high degree.
"The IAEA inspectors are able to give an early warning if Iran does not comply at these locations with its undertakings," former IAEA chief inspector Olli Heinonen said. "In verification work, the devil is in the detail."
The IAEA's visit in 10 days' time to the heavy water production plant near the town of Arak is part of a separate agreement signed this month between the U.N. agency and Iran.
Inspectors have not been there since August 2011, despite repeated requests. But Iran agreed on November 11 to grant access to this site and to a uranium mine within three months.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)
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