Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Vitamin E may slow functional decline in Alzheimer's patients: study

Vitamin E may slow functional decline in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and decrease caregiver burden, a U.S. study said Tuesday.
Previous research has found that alpha tocopherol, a fat- soluble vitamin E and antioxidant, slowed disease progression in patients with moderately severe Alzheimer's disease. Researchers from Minneapolis VA Health Care System and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai examined the effectiveness and safety of vitamin E, the drug called memantine, and the combination for treatment of functional decline in patients with mild to moderate AD. These patients were also taking anti-dementia drugs known as acetylcholinesterase inhibitors.
The trial included 613 patients at 14 Veterans Affairs medical centers. Participants received either a daily 2,000 IUs of vitamin E (2g), a daily 20 mg of memantine, the combination, or placebo.
The researchers found that vitamin E delays progression of functional decline by 19 percent per year, which translates into 6. 2-month benefit over placebo. Neither memantine nor the combination of vitamin E and memantine showed clinical benefit in this trial.
In addition, caregiver time was reduced by about 2 hours per day in the vitamin E group.
The researchers found no significant increase in mortality with vitamin E. The annual mortality rate was 7.3 percent in the alpha tocopherol group compared with 9.4 percent for the placebo group. The findings are valuable because vitamin E is easy to purchase at local drugstores and it is also inexpensive, said the researchers, while recommending it as a treatment strategy, based on the randomized controlled trial. "This study is the first to show an added benefit for vitamin E in mild-to-moderate disease," Professor Kenneth Davis, chief executive officer and President of the Mount Sinai Health System, said in a statement. "Now that we have a strong clinical trial showing that vitamin E slows functional decline and reduces the burdens on caregivers, vitamin E should be offered to patients with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease."
The findings were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Putin Discusses Public Security in Blast-Hit Volgograd

Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed public security and anti-terrorism measures early on Wednesday in the southern Russian city of Volgograd, which is reeling from two suicide bombings within 24 hours.
Two separate suicide bombings ripped through the city’s railway terminal on Sunday and a trolleybus on Monday, killing a total of 34 people. Another attack by a female suicide bomber on a commuter bus in Volgograd in October killed six people and injured 37. Putin arrived in the city on Wednesday morning, hours after delivering a New Year’s speech in which he called the attacks “inhumane” and vowed that his country would continue to battle terrorists until all are eliminated.
Shortly after arriving to Volgograd, the president met with senior regional and federal officials to discuss “what is being done here and all across the country to maintain public security.”
The meeting was attended by FSB chief Alexander Bortnikov, Interior Minister Vladimir Kolokoltsev, Health Minister c, Volgograd Region Governor Sergei Bozhenov and other officials.
After the meeting, Putin laid flowers to the site of the Monday attack and visited victims who are being treated in one of the city’s hospitals.

Pakistan: Two killed, several injured as blast hits pilgrims' bus in Quetta
At least two people were killed and several others injured when a bus carrying pilgrims was hit by a roadside blast in Akhtarabad town in Quetta, Dunya News reported.
The bus, carrying at least 50 Shia pilgrims, was travelling from Iran to the city of Quetta in Balochistan when the attack happened near Qambrani Road.
Rescue officials arrived at the scene and shifted the injured including several policemen to Bolan Medical Complex. No group has admitted carrying out the attack but police say they believe the motive was sectarian. Buses leave Quetta every day to carry pilgrims to the Shia holy sites in western Iran and parts of southern Iraq.

Pakistan against total US pullout from Afghanistan

Pakistan has voiced its aversion to the withdrawal of all American troops from Afghanistan, saying the so-called zero option is not a desirable move. Pakistan's new ambassador to the United States said: "Even talk of (a total) pullout has started having its impact. Pakistan has started to receive more Afghan refugees than before." On his first day in office, Jalil Abbas Jilani told a Pakistani newspaper that the Afghans leaving their country reflected their fears of uncertainty post 2014. If the bulk of foreign troops pulled out of Afghanistan, a huge responsibility would fall on Pakistan's shoulders, he said, adding it would be a big challenge. About a recent US intelligence assessment, Jilani called the Taliban an important factor in Afghanistan and. "From our assessment, they will continue to play a very important role and that’s why Pakistan feels that this process of reconciliation is key to stability in Afghanistan."

US tries to block Afghanistan from releasing 'dangerous' prisoners

The United States wants Afghanistan to halt the release of 88 prisoners from an Afghan jail because they pose a serious threat to security, U.S. officials said on Wednesday, adding to strains between the two sides. The United States only recently transferred the prison at Bagram to Afghan control after it had become a serious source of tension with the government in Afghanistan which is fighting a Taliban-led insurgency. Relations with Afghanistan have grown particularly strained over President Hamid Karzai's refusal to sign a bilateral security deal that would keep around 8,000 U.S. troops in the country after 2014, when most foreign forces are due to leave.
A U.S. army official said the release of the 88 contravened a presidential decree to complete investigations at the prison and prosecute individuals when required.
"The Afghan Review Board has exceeded its mandate and ordered the release of a number of dangerous individuals who are legitimate threats and for whom there is strong evidence supporting prosecution or further investigation," said Colonel Dave Lapan, a spokesman for U.S. forces in Afghanistan.
The United States long resisted handing over the facility - because it feared individuals it considered dangerous would be released - but ultimately reached a deal with the Afghan government in early 2013. About 40 percent of the prisoners were directly responsible for wounding or killing 57 Afghan civilians and security forces, and 30 percent had participated in direct attacks that killed or wounded 60 U.S. and coalition troops, a U.S. official said. The head of the Afghan commission charged with reviewing the cases denied that the 88 posed a threat. "In many cases, detainees were wrongly linked to certain incidents they were not involved in," said Abdul Shakor Dadras. The planned release will however alarm many senior Afghan security sources, who often see released prisoners return to the battlefield.
The bilateral security deal has to be signed for the United States and its allies to provide billions more dollars in aid. Without a deal, the United States could pull all of its troops out, the so-called zero option, leaving Afghan forces to battle the Taliban on their own. Karzai however has said the deal can wait until after presidential elections, scheduled for April, and that the "zero option" is an empty threat.

Pakistan's Shia Under attack: ''Inertia abounds''

Two policemen have been killed while guarding an Imambargah in Rawalpindi on Monday. Four terrorists riding motorcycles shot the officers on duty with ease since the officers neither had any weapons to defend themselves nor were they alert to face an ambush. So much for the security of a place of worship that had already been attacked in November last year, killing 15 people. It seems that the sensitivity of Imambargahs has failed to sink in to the administration. Rawalpindi has witnessed some of the worst episodes of sectarian crimes since the start of Muharram yet complacency refuses to leave the policy makers, so far living in a world of their own. It is indeed unfortunate that terrorism has badly hit the law enforcement agencies of the country. We are losing our officers and men from the army, paramilitaries and police like sacrificial lambs. The police is perhaps the worst hit because of multiple issues, the major one being the incapability of the government to build the force into a potent institution, laced with new and appropriate training and equipment. The officers on duty at the Imambargah belonged to the Punjab Constabulary and had been called in to aid the Rawalpindi police during Muharram. They were not trained to counter terrorism. The shooters managed to escape as easily as they had entered the security zone of the Imambargah. Interestingly, the Closed Circuit Television was of no use since it was not working due to loadshedding. Where all this would land us is a question nagging every thinking mind in Pakistan today.
Realistically speaking, it is the domain of the police to combat urban terror-related incidents. It is the police with their entrenched linkages in cities that help them get into the terrorists’ sleeper, intelligence and active cells. Unfortunately the police in Pakistan has been developed and sustained for political purposes. The fault is deeper than what appears on the surface. The recruitment policies whereby illiterate and unsuitable persons are hired at the SHO and ASI level have made matters worse. The result is that the police remains a force to be feared and not to be depended upon.
Almost every fortnight a statement from the prime minister comes out showing his resolve to counter terrorism and instructing his team to develop a new road map to that effect. On the ground nothing tangible worth the name is visible. It is time to practically redefine Pakistan’s security polices through a change in the policing format and security paradigm.

Pakistan: Redefining civil liberties? : ‘New Year eve ruined amid bans, gridlocks’

The looming threat of terrorism dampened the spirits of citizens on New Year eve as pillion riding was banned and routes leading to Sea View - traditional celebration haunt - were sealed.
Major traffic jams were witnessed across the metropolis despite a shutdown of fuel stations. A large number of youth were playing with fireworks on the streets and roads, cheering slogans 'Pakistan Zinabad and Happy New Year', while dancing and making merry. People across the city held various ceremonies to mark the arrival of New Year with a hope that it will bring more cheers compared to the previous year, 2013. In the evening, Sindh government wished New Year to citizens by imposing a one-day ban on pillion ridding on motorcycles and scooters.
According to an official government handout, the ban will continue until Thursday, January 3, 2014. Ban on pillion ridding has been observed for the second consecutive New Year eve in Karachi due to the security concerns as per relevant authorities.
However, citizens seem unhappy due to the decision.
Talking to Daily Times, Usama Mubarak said, "Present provincial government throughout its last tenure and ongoing term has not succeeded in controlling terrorism or deteriorating law and order situation. And by resorting to tactics such as banning pillion riding, shutting down cell phone services and strikes on important occasions has merely teased the general populace."
Mubarak said that by banning pillion ridding, government spoilt New Year eve for thousands of people, who were now forced to spend 2014 at home.
Day before New Year night, law enforcement agencies also took part in spoiling new year plans by announcing traffic arrangements for the eve, that resulted in getting people stuck in massive traffic jams on different arteries. Citizens were also not allowed to visit Sea View because law enforcement agencies sealed all routes leading to the said place. Sea View is one of the most visited places in the metropolis on all occasions, as it is the cheapest and convenient for people belonging to all classes and backgrounds.
In this regard, Danish Ali stated that he used to visit Sea View with family on every occasion but this time he along with his family would stay at home.
"Concerned authorities must answer why they closed traffic routes leading to Sea View?" he asked angrily. If security is the reason, authorities should have sealed all routes leading to any place where public had the chances of enjoyment, Ali said. Imran Shiekh said that so-called traffic arrangement of authorities put public in massive traffic jams. Departments and law enforcement agencies were providing security to only some people, who were sitting in government, he said. Sheikh further asserted, "Government does not have any concern with the nation, as high-ups put people in problems for their own security rather than providing security and ease to people."
Day before, Sindh Government announced to hold strict security measures on said eve and said that stern action will be taken against people using arms on eve. However, some people were also found resorting to aerial firing, reckless motorcycle riding and other unlawful acts, while no police personnel were present to stop or nab them. Nonetheless, people remain hopefully and welcomed 2014 with great enthusiasm, wishing this New Year would bring happiness and betterment on the whole.

Pakistan: Civil-military equation

IT could be the last throw of the dice by a desperate man. Indeed, there is little reason to believe him. But former president-cum-army chief Pervez Musharraf’s claim that he has the support of the army as he tries to fight off an imminent trial for treason has raised a number of awkward questions for that most awkward of equations: the civil-military imbalance. Thus far, the army has not taken Mr Musharraf’s bait, refusing to either distance itself from or comment on the former dictator’s claims about the institution he led for nearly a decade. Silence, as is the wont here, can be interpreted either way: it could be yet another manifestation of the post-Musharraf army leadership’s decision to steer clear of overt politics or it could be that Mr Musharraf has once again spoken brashly and revealed behind-the-scenes pressure and bargaining. Whatever the truth — and the truth is rarely, if ever, known to the public when it comes to the doings of the army leadership — this is a certainly a delicate moment for the new military leadership.
As ever, the problem is that the perpetrator is also a victim of sorts and the victims, perpetrators of sorts. Mr Musharraf is clearly and unquestionably guilty of overthrowing the Constitution and illegally installing himself in power in 1999. That coup was facilitated by many, endorsed later by some and finally indemnified by parliament. It was never a single individual’s decision or doing. But the former dictator is not even facing trial for 1999; he has only been charged with the imposition of emergency in 2007. And while everyone — including then-prime minister Shaukat Aziz — has tried to distance themselves from the November 2007 emergency, there is little doubt that there were many supporters of that move too. So if Mr Musharraf is puzzled or bewildered, as his flurry of recent interviews seems to indicate, why he alone faces trial, he does have a point. But the civilian leadership is quiet on that matter, preferring to cast Mr Musharraf as the only villain in the piece.
Elsewhere too the civilian leadership is silent: there is no movement at all on the Supreme Court judgement in the Asghar Khan case which set the stage for the trial of another former army chief and a director of the ISI. Presumably, that is because of the awkward issue of the principal beneficiaries of the rigged 1990 elections being back in power today. Nevertheless, while the civilians continue to fail on some fronts, the onus really ought to be on the army. No more protected class; Mr Musharraf’s fate should be decided by the civilians and the courts.

Lawyers claim fraud as Pakistan's Musharraf goes on trial for treason

Lawyers argued Wednesday that former Pakistani military ruler Pervez Musharraf could not receive a fair trial on treason charges, a case that could test the relationship between an increasingly assertive civilian government and the army.
Musharraf, 70, faces the death penalty over his suspension of the constitution and imposition of emergency rule in 2007, when he was trying to extend his rule as president in the face of growing opposition.
Musharraf, who did not appear in court, says the trial is a politically motivated vendetta.
His lawyers say Musharraf cannot get a fair trial in Pakistan because of his history of disputes with the judiciary and the involvement of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif whom he once overthrew in a coup.
"I would go beyond (the accusation of) bias. This is a fraud on the law," said defense lawyer Anwar Mansoor Khan.
Musharraf ousted Sharif in a coup in 1999. Sharif was jailed for a period and then forced into exile. He returned eight years later and won a landslide victory in a general election in May. Musharraf himself stepped down in 2008 to avoid impeachment charges after judges and lawyers led street protests over his attempt to fire the then-chief justice. The trial opened on December 24 but was immediately suspended after Musharraf did not appear because a bag of explosives was found on his route to the court. Another bag of explosives was found near his house on Wednesday. Police told the judge they had deployed more than 1,000 officers to secure his route, but "yet again there was a bomb scare", judge Faisal Arab said. Khan said the defense had "zero confidence" in the police and said a mysterious unmarked car had tried to force him off the road.
Musharraf returned to Pakistan last year, hoping to contest elections that marked the first democratic transfer of power from one civilian government to another in coup-prone Pakistan's history.
Instead, he was barred from standing and enmeshed in a web of legal cases, repeatedly charged and bailed. In recent days, Musharraf has said in media interviews that the whole army supported him and was upset about his treatment. He also acknowledged that before his return to Pakistan, the army sent a top envoy to try to dissuade him from coming back. The military is Pakistan's most powerful institution and it has ruled the country for more than half its history since independence in 1947. But in recent years the civilian government and judiciary have both become more assertive. Top military officers have been questioned although not convicted in human rights and corruption cases. The military leadership has given no indication it intends to intervene in the trial of Musharraf who was likely to be overstating the army's support for him to help with his legal troubles, said retired general Talat Masood.
"He's trying to twist facts in order to suit his case, to get sympathy and support," he said. "These are tactics to protect and shield himself from the legal process."
Masood said if the case was handled fairly, it could even strengthen relations between the government and military.
"This is a test of civil-military relations," he said. "It is just one instance of the civil government trying to assert itself."

Revelers usher in 2014 with fireworks and fruit mist

From Sydney to London to San Francisco, revelers welcomed 2014 with extravagant fireworks displays, giant street parties and, in a new departure, fruit-flavored mist.
In New York, hordes of people, many decked out in cartoonish hats, waving balloons or ringing bells, shrugged off freezing temperatures and heightened security in Times Square for the annual New Year's Eve street party.
Crowds heard musical performances by Miley Cyrus and Melissa Etheridge, who sang John Lennon's "Imagine," and then saw the ritual dropping of the New Year's Eve ball. U.S. Supreme Court Justice and New York native Sonia Sotomayor helped to usher in 2014 by pushing a button to signal the lowering of the 11,875-pound, crystal-encrusted ball and leading a 60-second countdown.
The stroke of midnight triggered a deluge of confetti and music in Midtown Manhattan.
"We've been living on granola bars and little bottles of water because if you move, you lose your spot," said Sheila Harshbarger, who traveled to New York from Indiana with her daughter and staked out ground next to a row of police barricades in the freezing cold more than 14 hours before midnight.
Crew members on board the International Space Station orbiting the globe sent greetings to the Times Square crowd. The celebrations were not without violence, however. Several hours before the ball dropped in Times Square, two men were slashed at a nearby bus station in what a Port Authority spokesman said was a dispute over tickets. Brasstown, in the mountains of North Carolina, held its 20th New Year's Eve "possum drop" - in which a Plexiglas container containing a caged opossum is "dropped" at midnight.
"If New York can drop a ball ... then we can lower the opossum," organizers explained on their website.
The event got a last-minute go-ahead after a judge refused a plea by animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to stop the event. Across the northern United States, partygoers had to deal with snow and freezing temperatures, said Roger Edwards, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "The biggest story is the extreme cold," Edwards said, predicting lows of 40 degrees below zero Fahrenheit (-40 degrees Celsius) on Tuesday night in North Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Chicago was offering free rides on trains and buses from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. to ensure revelers make it home safely. Residents in Vincennes, Indiana, didn't let the cold stop their fifth annual Watermelon Drop and Fireworks - a nod to the area's agricultural roots. In Nashville, Tenn., revelers saw the "Music Note Drop" backed up by musical performances, including by Hank Williams Jr., and fireworks. But not everyone partied in the streets. President Barack Obama celebrated the end of 2013 with a low-key foray to buy a cherry and lemon-lime "shave ice" in his native Hawaii before retreating to a vacation rental. In San Francisco, one of the last major cities in the world to see the clock strike midnight, thousands saw waterfront fireworks illuminate the Golden Gate Bridge. To the north, in a foggy Seattle, huge crowds gathered for a fireworks display launched from the Space Needle tower. In Los Angeles, long notorious for lacking a centralized New Year's Eve celebration befitting its association with glitz and glamour, organizers pulled together a free outdoor arts and music festival in and around downtown's Grand Park.
Nineteen hours earlier, a massive fireworks display lit up the sky around the Harbor Bridge and Opera House in Sydney, Australia. In the Middle East, Dubai broke the Guinness World Record for the largest fireworks display, the website Emirates247 reported. In London, edible banana confetti and strawberry mist rained from the sky as fireworks along the River Thames lit up Big Ben and other landmarks. Across the United States, 2014 ushered in political changes and the official start of a slate of new laws.
New York City's new mayor, Bill de Blasio, was sworn in at midnight in a private ceremony at his home in Brooklyn, succeeding Michael Bloomberg, who left office after 12 years. He was due to be formally inaugurated later at City Hall.
Americans who have signed up for new healthcare coverage under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act were due to begin receiving benefits on January 1. Before ushering in 2014, Sotomayor, the U.S. Supreme Court Justice, granted Roman Catholic-affiliated groups a temporary exemption from a part of the Obamacare healthcare law that requires employers to provide insurance policies covering contraception. Also starting New Year's Day, Colorado residents were legally permitted to buy an ounce of marijuana at a time from specially regulated retailers. Possession, cultivation and private personal consumption of marijuana by adults has already been legal in Colorado for more than a year.
"It will be like people waiting in line for tickets to a Pink Floyd concert," said Justin Jones, 39, owner of Dank Colorado in Denver, who has run a medical marijuana shop for four years and now has a recreational pot license.