Archive for March 2, 2008

Man Blames Wife Beating on Gas Prices

OCALA, Fla. — A 77-year-old man told a deputy he roughed up his 74-year-old wife because he was upset about the high cost of gas for driving her to and from dialysis treatments, according to police. Authorities said Richard Close was charged with aggravated battery and battery on a person over 65.Close said that his life turned upside down when doctors in Illinois placed his wife on kidney dialysis.

Over the Christmas holidays, the retired mechanic said his wife of 26 years went to visit her family. During the visit, doctors placed her on dialysis.

Deputies went to the couple’s home Thursday night because of an altercation. Close’s wife told them that her husband had beaten her up, police said.

Close told police the couple’s gas bill has climbed from $60 a month to $140 a month.

It was not immediately known if he had an attorney.

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Starved Quarter Horse Being Slowly Nursed Back to Health

Gege, the 12-year-old starved quarter horse with bones protruding from her skin, has the will to live, a rescue worker says.

Debra McBride who runs an independent rescue center in Loxahatchee, took Gege in Friday and said she will keep her if she is not adopted.

“I think any animal is worth saving if they have the will to live,” McBride said.On Feb. 23, Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control saved Gege from neglect at her home west of Lake Worth. Officers filed felony animal cruelty charges against the former owner, Ralph Mansfield, 46.

He told animal care officers he could not afford the upkeep. Gege’s shape was so poor she faced euthanasia, but officers say there’s hope because she remains social. “Horses are very forgiving animals,” McBride said. “It’s always unconditional.”

Rising prices of feed, gas, and hay and the weakening economy have made horse neglect a growing issue. Gege was the third neglected horse Palm Beach County Animal Care & Control rescued this year. Emma, 18, an emaciated Clydesdale mix, also was taken to McBride’s rescue.

Heather Moore, 26, of Royal Palm Beach, adopted Emma from McBride’s rescue in May 2006. In August, care and control officers noticed Emma’s weight had dropped dangerously low. She was seized last month, and felony animal cruelty charges were filed against Moore.

Gege is slowly being nursed back to health. She gets a handful of grain along with hay daily. “Their body is used to one way,” McBride said. “If you go bombarding them with a whole bunch of food, they could get sick.”

After a year or so, the horses may appear for adoption on Animal Care & Control or Pure Thoughts, Inc. foal rescue Web sites. Even if the horses are no longer ridable, they can be good “buddy” animals for other horses, McBride said.

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There’s a lot of that going around.  Grain prices are up, hay prices are up, land prices are up, and there is no horse market to speak of.  I’ve turned down two offers of free horses again this week; all I would have had to do is feed ‘em.  Unfortunately, I’ve got all I the livestock I can afford.

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Nicaragua’s Ortega Whines About FARC Commander Killing

MANAGUA, March 2 (Reuters) – Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega condemned Colombia’s killing of a top rebel commander and said it could hurt the chances of a peace accord.

Ortega, a former Marxist revolutionary and U.S. Cold War foe who was voted back to power in late 2006, called on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to seek a peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.

Colombia’s military said on Saturday its troops had killed Raul Reyes, one of seven members of the FARC secretariat, in a severe blow to Latin America’s oldest guerrilla insurgency.

“They are killing the possibility of a peace process in an act of total provocation, because the doors opened a few days ago,” Ortega said in a speech late Saturday, referring to the FARC’s liberation of four hostages earlier this week.

Reyes, considered by analysts to be the No. 2 FARC commander, was killed in Ecuador in an operation that included air strikes and fighting with rebels across the border, Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said. In total, 17 rebels were killed.

Reyes is the most senior member of the FARC to be killed in Uribe’s U.S.-backed campaign against the guerrillas fighting a more than four-decade-old conflict.

Violence from Colombia’s conflict has ebbed under Uribe, who has sent troops to drive back the rebels. But the FARC is still potent in remote areas, where it holds scores of hostages, including three Americans and French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt.

Ortega is a close ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, whose role in negotiating the release of FARC hostages has fueled tensions with Colombia. Chavez on Saturday accused Uribe of violating Ecuadorean territory with the attack and warned a similar operation in Venezuela would be a declaration of war.

In December, Colombia complained to Nicaragua after Ortega referred to FARC chief Manuel Marulanda as a “dear brother”.

Nicaragua and Colombia are also at odds over sovereignty of small islands in the Caribbean. (Reporting by Ivan Castro, editing by Jackie Frank)

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Well, if the FARC chief was a “dear brother” of Ortega’s, guess the dead guy was at least a cousin. I’d say ol’ Ortega needs a few more family funerals.

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Feds Cite Miami Link to FARC

BY GERARDO REYES
El Nuevo Herald

Colombia’s largest leftist guerrilla group purchased satellite phones and other communications equipment at shops in Miami and later used it to coordinate kidnappings, cocaine and armed deals, according to charges revealed last week in Washington.

Calls made with the equipment — used by the rebels over a five-year period — were intercepted by U.S. and Colombian law enforcement authorities, according to the indictment. The surveillance allowed authorities to strike the hardest blow so far against the rebels’ logistical network: 39 arrested last week in Colombia, nine of them requested in extradition to the U.S.

The Federal indictment charges 11 commanders and collaborators of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, with supporting a terrorist group. It does not identify the contact that cooperated from Miami with the purchase of satellite phones and SIM cards.

The businesses that sold these items have not been named in the injunction.

There was enough trust between the FARC and their Miami contact that some of the orders were placed directly by the logistics coordinator for the Frente Uno division of the FARC, Nancy Conde Rubio. Conde, who was arrested on Feb. 2 in Colombia, even made calls to the Miami contact requesting technical support for some of the equipment.

The FARC’s Frente Uno is in charge of a group of high-profile hostages, among them the three American contractors that were kidnapped in February 2003, Thomas Howes, Keith Stansell and Marc Gonsalves.

Satellite phones seem to be the Achilles heel of the FARC. In 2001, a DEA informant managed to sell four such devices to members of the FARC. The devices were previously rigged by the DEA, before being delivered in Panama, allowing federal agents to listen in on conversations and compile evidence to back up charges of drug trafficking brought against seven high-ranking FARC officials and 43 FARC commanders.

The first transaction between the FARC and Miami, according to the indictment, took place in March of 2005, when Conde Rubio bought two broadband radios.

A month later, Conde Rubio purchased a satellite phone and several SIM cards (a device used to store information in cellphones). In May the FARC received another satellite phone purchased in Miami. The FARC also bought GPS locators, compasses, transmitters and antennas.

Almost all the deals were made through a clandestine telephone hub in Colombia that was run by two women identified as Ana Isabel Peña Arévalo and Luz Mery Gutiérrez. Both have been charged in the indictment.

The busy clandestine communications hub was located in Villavicencio, Colombia’s gateway to the eastern Amazon jungles and the capital of the province of Meta, which borders Venezuela.

The indictment cites conversations obtained through wiretappings of satellite phones, leading to the assumption that the devices may have been manipulated by law enforcement authorities before being sold to the FARC.

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There’s always a Miami link to anything that happens in Latin America.

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Utah Home Search Planned in Ricin Case

LAS VEGAS — A motel patron hospitalized after the potent poison ricin was mysteriously found in his room “barely got by in life,” according to a woman who knew him when he lived at a Utah home that agents hoped to search Saturday.

A down-on-his-luck Roger Von Bergendorff lived at his cousin’s home for more than a year before moving to Las Vegas about a year ago, said Tammy Ewell, who lives across the street from Thomas Tholen in Riverton, Utah, and described him and his wife, Ellen, as close friends.

“He was very much a loner. I would say more or less socially regressive. He just barely got by in life. He’d just barely make it,” Ewell said. “Tom was the last resort.”

In a brief phone interview earlier Saturday, Thomas Tholen told The Associated Press that Von Bergerdorff was “holding his own” in the hospital.

Tholen, 53, wouldn’t say much more about Von Bergendorff or the discovery Thursday of several vials of ricin – which is deadly in minuscule amounts – at the man’s extended-stay motel room on the Las Vegas Strip.

Officials have secured Tholen’s home, where Von Bergendorff reportedly stayed, but they have not searched it because they are awaiting court approval for a warrant, FBI spokesman Juan Becerra said later Saturday.

Authorities have not said how much ricin was involved but expressed confidence they have it all.

Dr. Lawrence Sands, chief health officer of the Southern Nevada Health District in Las Vegas, said health officials are still trying to confirm whether Von Bergendorff’s respiratory ailment stemmed from ricin exposure.

Police and health officials have tried to assure Las Vegas residents there is no public health threat. There was no apparent link to terrorist activity and no indication of any spread of the deadly substance, they said.

In Salt Lake City, which is about 20 miles from Riverton, FBI agent Timothy J. Fuhrman said: “At this time, there is no indication of any threat to the public or individuals residing in the area.”

Adding to the mystery, police said late Friday that firearms, an “anarchist-type textbook” and castor beans, from which ricin is made, were found in the room where the poison was discovered.

The firearms and the book, which was tabbed at a spot containing information about ricin, were seized Tuesday after a manager at the Extended Stay America motel found the weapons and called police, police Capt. Joseph Lombardo said. He did not elaborate.

Ewell, Von Bergendorff’s former neighbor, said she often saw him walking his German shepherd on the street. It wasn’t clear what he did for a living or how he spent his time.

Toward the end of his stay, he started attending the local Mormon church and briefly moved out of the Tholen home into a neighbor’s camper, she said.

Tholen is a former high school art teacher who now sells insurance with his wife, she said.

“The Tholens were the last ones we’d expect anything to happen to,” Ewell said.

Tholen went to Von Bergendorff’s Las Vegas motel room and took the vials to the motel office in a plastic bag while retrieving his cousin’s belongings, authorities said.

Police previously said tests did not detect the material in the motel office, the room where Von Bergendorff, 57, stayed, or a room at the Excalibur hotel-casino where Tholen stayed Wednesday night.

As little as 500 micrograms of ricin, about the size of the head of a pin, can kill a human, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The only legal use for ricin is cancer research.

Las Vegas police, who have refused to identify Von Bergendorff or Tholen by name, said Friday that the hospitalized man was unconscious and that investigators had been unable to speak with him.

They have said Tholen arrived in Las Vegas after Von Bergendorff summoned an ambulance and was hospitalized Feb. 14 in critical condition.

Tholen contacted motel management Feb. 22 to inform them about pets in the room, and Las Vegas Humane Society officials took custody of a dog and two cats. The dog, which officials said was mortally ill after going at least a week without food or water, was euthanized.

After the vials were taken to the motel office, Tholen and six other people, including the motel manager, two motel employees and three police officers, were decontaminated at the scene and taken to hospitals for examination. None have shown any signs of being affected by ricin, officials said.

Associated Press writers Ken Ritter in Las Vegas, Martin Griffith in Reno and Paul Foy in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

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This gets stranger by the minute. People like that are giving people that are loners self-contained a bad name. Home-grown terrorism gone wrong? A man that decides to commit suicide and then decides against it?  What, exactly, was he planning on doing with that ricin? We’ll have to wait to see if he survives for the answers to these questions.

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GSK Bird Flu Vaccine Shows Broad Cross Protection

HONG KONG, March 2 (Reuters) – A vaccine designed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L: Quote, Profile, Research) to protect people against the H5N1 bird flu may be effective in warding off a few different sub-types of the virus, the company said on Sunday.

In an Asian clinical trial involving 1,206 adults in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand, the vaccine produced antibodies that not only neutralised the H5N1 virus found in Vietnam, but also the variant now dogging Indonesia.

“The vaccine was made using the Vietnam strain. In principle, there is a very broad antibody reactivity that’s being induced. These are neutralising antibodies and they do correlate with protection,” Albert Osterhaus, head of virology at the Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands, told Reuters when asked for comments about the study.

Osterhaus was not involved in the study, but is familiar with the results and methodology.

An earlier GSK study in Europe showed the vaccine to be effective in protecting against two other H5N1 subtypes, in China’s central eastern province of Anhui and Turkey.

For years now, experts have warned a flu pandemic was long overdue and many have held up the H5N1 virus as a prime candidate because people have no immunity against this bird virus, and because of the high mortality rate associated with it so far.

The virus has infected 368 people in 14 countries since 2003 and killed 234 of them, or 64 percent.

An eventual vaccine to protect people against a flu pandemic can only be made 4-6 months after the start of such a disaster, when the culprit virus strain has been identified.

But human populations still need some form of protection in those initial months of a pandemic and drug companies are in a race to design what are known as “prepandemic” vaccines.

GSK’s prepandemic vaccine uses a very low dose, 3.8 micrograms, of antigen. Antigens are substances like toxins, viruses and bacteria that stimulate the production of antibodies when introduced into the body.

But they can be difficult to culture and scientists have been trying to fix that by using boosters, or adjuvants.

Volunteers in the GSK trial received two shots of the adjuvanted vaccine 21 days apart, and blood tests done three weeks after the second shot showed the presence of antibodies which neutralised the Vietnam and Indonesian H5N1 strains.

Osterhaus, however, voiced a note of caution — that the pandemic may be triggered by a completely different virus.

“We are all scared of H5, but we should realise that other (viruses) are also a threat and the thing with flu is we have to expect the unexpected,” he said.

“Separate stockpiling of antigen and adjuvant, that is quite an interesting option,” he added.

With such a plan, adjuvants will then be mixed with the antigen of whatever virus emerges as the pandemic strain.

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This is very good news about both a possible vaccine for bird flu and a new process that may make vaccine development a bit quicker because millions could die in the 4 to 6 months it takes to develop the proper strain of vaccine.

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Father and Son with Suspected Bird Flu in Indonesia

Jakarta (ANTARA News) – A nine-year-old boy and his father have been admitted to a hospital in Indonesia, suspected of having bird flu, a medic said Sunday.

Both were admitted to the Dr. Muwardi general hospital in the Central Java city of Solo on Saturday showing all the symptoms of infection, Reviono, who heads the hospital’s bird flu unit, told AFP.

He said the pair had buried chickens that had died after being infected with H5N1, while several chickens in their neighbourhood had also tested positive for the disease.

Both have been put in the hospital’s isolation ward and blood and tissue samples will be sent to the health ministry laboratory in Jakarta on Monday, he added.

Two positive results are needed before Indonesian authorities confirm a human bird flu infection.

Indonesia has the highest number of human bird flu casualties in the world, with 105 killed by the disease.

The father and son were referred from a hospital in nearby Klaten district where they live, Reviono said.

Experts fear the virus, which is usually spread directly from birds to humans, could mutate into a form easily transmissible between people, sparking a deadly global pandemic.

Eleven people have died of bird flu in Indonesia this year, 10 of them from Jakarta and its surrounding areas. (*)

Source: Antara

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New Bird Flu Case in Egypt

CAIRO, March 1 (Xinhua) — Egypt on Saturday confirmed that a 25-year-old woman was infected with bird flu virus, which was the 45th human infection case in the populous Arab country, the official MENA news agency reported.

The woman had been transferred from a local hospital in Fayyum,85 km south to Cairo, to a hospital in the capital after having developed the symptom of high fever and been treated with the antiviral drug Tamiflu, Health Ministry spokesman Abdel Rahman Shaheen was quoted as saying.

This is the second human bird flu case detected in a week in Egypt after a four-year-old girl on Monday was confirmed being infected with bird flu virus in El Minya governorate, Upper Egypt, some 220 km south of Cairo.

The girl is now still under treatment at Manshiat al-Bakri hospital in Cairo with her condition in stable, according to MENA.

The Egyptian government has exerted more efforts to prevent further spread of bird flu since the fatal virus caused four human deaths in less than a week in late December, 2007.

Among a total of 45 human cases in Egypt, 19 deaths have been reported since the country detected the first H5N1 virus in dead poultry in February 2006 and the first human case in March of the same year.

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