Israeli Researchers Offer HIV Carriers Hope

Compliments of Y Net 

Will a new medication be found soon for HIV-positive individuals? Two Israeli scientists believe they have reached a breakthrough in destroying the virus and have announced their plan to start clinical trials on human beings within three months.

When a person is infected with HIV, the virus enters his blood cells and remains latent. Doctors don’t know when the virus’ awakening process will begin or when it will duplicate itself to other cells.

In the past decades, HIV carriers have been handling the virus through a drug cocktail which delays virus’ processes in a bid to prevent it from spreading. As a result, AIDS has transformed from a fatal epidemic into a chronic disease.


Prof. Abraham Loyter and Prof. Assaf Friedler of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem began studying the issue, and following some successful research the Zyon Pharmaceutical company signed an exclusive agreement with the university to develop the medication.


Prof. Loyter (L) and research manager Dr. Rafi Meir (Photo: Shaul Golan)
Prof. Loyter (L) and research manager Dr. Rafi Meir (Photo: Shaul Golan)


The two scientists believe that the cells infected with the virus can be killed without harming the entire body, thereby curing the HIV carrier. How does it work? Instead of one copy of the virus’ DNA which enters the carrier’s cell, many copies will be inserted, leading to an activation of the cell’s self-destruction mechanisms. The researchers have developed peptides (short chains of amino acid monomers) which cause this process.


These peptides, combined with the existing medications, were tested on cultures of human cells infected with the HIV virus. The results were promising: Within two weeks of treatment, there was no sign of the virus DNA or infected cells, and the virus was undetectable even two weeks after the end of the treatment. The researchers’ conclusion was that not only can the virus infection be stopped, but that the infected cells can be destroyed too.

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Largest Manmade 4.6 Magnitude Earthquake by Fracking; New World Record in Northern B.C.

Compliments of Sidney Morning Herald 

A new world record has been set for the largest earthquake ever triggered by fracking, after a magnitude 4.6 earthquake struck near Progress Energy work site in northern British Columbia in August 2015. The news was recently confirmed after a 3-month investigation on the matter.

The company put a hold on their hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations in after the ‘manmade’ disaster. A thorough investigation that was lately conducted by the province’s energy commission confirmed the suspicion.

After the earthquake, seismologists with Natural Resources Canada and GeoscienceBC partnered with the Oil and Gas Commission analyzed all potentially relevant data together, noting that the earthquake’s epicenter was just three kilometers from Progress Energy’s fracking site.

Hydraulic fracturing is the process used to extract natural gas from the Montney [unconventional rock, which has pathways that are much narrower than pathways in conventional rock containing natural gas] formation in northeast B.C.

According to the company’s website, micro-seismic activity that may occur happens deep underground and is rarely felt on the surface, which does not pose a risk to public safety or the environment.

But according to the CBC news, local residents felt the quake, which was described by Canada seismologist Alison Bird as “significant.”

Local sources said the shake, which was felt from Pink Mountain to Fort St. John.

Berniece Lilly, who felt it from her home on the Halfway River First Nation and is concerned the quake is connected with fracking operations, said “My house got shook. My couch I was on was actually shaking with me. It dawned on me it could be earthquake, but it could be fracking in the area. I don’t think they should continue fracking.”

Also, a man living in a worker camp at Mile 131 of the Alaska Highway said he felt the quake and several aftershocks around 1 p.m.

Officials first thought the quake measured magnitude 4.4, but Bird said the latest data analysis proves it was a 4.6 magnitude earthquake — a very large quake for this region.

This phenomenon is called “induced seismicity.” According to studies, fracking is linked with earthquakes in the U.K., Oklahoma, and in B.C.

B.C. Oil and Gas Commission spokesman Alan Clay said the quake was “likely induced by hydraulic fracturing,” but he later emailed CBC News saying the commission has yet to determine a cause and is still collecting detailed seismological data.

Honn Kao, a research scientist with Geological Survey of Canada, who is involved in a major research project testing seismicity in northeastern B.C., said that if this is proven to be linked to hydraulic fracturing, this would be a world record in terms of size.

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North Korea Holding U.S. Citizen for Allegedly Spying

Compliments of CNN 

A Canadian pastor serving a life sentence in North Korea for subversion said he spends eight hours a day digging holes at a labor camp, while a naturalized American citizen said he is being held by the state for spying, CNN reported from Pyongyang.

If confirmed, Kim Dong Chul, who CNN said was 60 and formerly of Fairfax, Virginia, would be the second Western citizen known to be held currently in North Korea. He was being held for spying for South Korea and asked the South or the U.S. government to rescue him, CNN said.

Hyeon Soo Lim, a South Korean-born Canadian who was the head pastor at one of Canada’s largest churches, has been held by the North since last February. Lim, who was 60 at the time of his arrest, was sentenced to hard labor for life in December for attempting to overthrow the North’s regime.

“I wasn’t originally a laborer, so the labor was hard at first,” Lim told CNN in Korean through an interpreter. “But now I’ve gotten used to it.”

The charges against Lim lacked specifics, but he said it may be related to his open criticism of the North’s three generations of leaders.

“I admit I’ve violated this government’s authority, system and order,” Lim said in the interview aired on Monday. Asked if his biggest crime was speaking badly of the North’s leaders, he said: “Yes, I think so.”

Lim was brought into a Pyongyang hotel for the interview, his hair cropped short and wearing a gray padded prison uniform bearing the number “036” on his chest. He said works eight hours a day, six days a week digging holes in an orchard at a labor camp where he has seen no other prisoners, CNN said.

Lim, who had lived in Canada since 1986, gets three meals a day and regular medical attention, CNN said. His church has said Lim had a “very serious health problem, very high blood pressure.”

Lim had visited the North more than 100 times since 1997 and helped set up an orphanage and nursing home, according to the church.

In a separate interview, Kim told CNN he spied on behalf of “South Korean conservative elements” and was arrested in October.

“I was tasked with taking photos of military secrets and scandalous scenes,” Kim said.

The U.S. embassy in Seoul said it was aware of the report but did not have further comment.

A U.S. State Department official declined to comment on the reports, saying that speaking publicly about specific cases of detained Americans can complicate efforts to get them released.

If confirmed, Kim would be the first American to be detained since the North released three U.S. citizens in 2014.

He said he had moved to the Chinese city of Yanji near the border with North Korea and worked in the North Korean city of Rason in a trading business, when a number of South Koreans approached him

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European Migrant Crisis Causing Dangerous Gender Imbalance in Region

Compliments of ABC

According to the UNHCR, 58 per cent of the more than 1 million migrants and refugees who arrived in Europe last year were adult men, 17 per cent were women, and the remainder were children.

Professor Valerie Hudson, a Texas A&M University professor, said gender imbalances could cause serious problems in the community.

She said societies where men outnumbered women were more susceptible to higher levels of violence, insurgence and mistreatment of women.

Sweden is of particular interest to Professor Hudson, because it has the second-highest number of asylum applications in Europe, relative to its population.

“I looked specifically at the figures that Sweden had provided on its migrants — 71 per cent of whom are male,” she said.

“And then in the age group 16 to 17 years old, which is what I focused on, over 90 per cent are male.”

Professor Hudson estimated there were about 123 boys for every 100 girls in Sweden.

In China, which only recently abolished its one-child policy, the ratio is about 117 boys for every 100 girls.

Professor Hudson said regardless of where the gender balance was the consequences were broadly the same.

“What we have found uniformly is a rise in crime, particularly violent crime, property crime, crime against women,” she said.

“We also see much more ease of recruitment into criminal gangs, or quasi-rebel/social movement-type gangs.

“We also see across the board a more constrained lifestyle for women and there’s also a significant rise in demand for trafficked women, either as ‘brides’ or prostitutes.”

Gender imbalance ‘may have been’ contributing factor in Cologne

While Sweden is particularly transparent with its migration data, the top destination for asylum seekers fleeing Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria is Germany.

Professor Hudson said her colleague Andrea den Boer, from the University of Kent, was doing her own research on Germany’s gender ratio.

“[Dr den Boer] found that the sex ratio alteration in the young adult population, according to her … preliminary calculations [is] looking also to be abnormal at about 114 boys of that age for every 100 girls,” she said.

Dr Hudson said problems stemming from gender imbalances could be developing in Germany, afterwomen in Cologne were subjected to a series of sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve.

“We don’t know whether the attackers were migrants or not, there’s conflicting reports, some say yes … others say it’s too soon to tell,” she said.

“Nevertheless, from the reports that we have it does look like the overwhelmingly male nature of the migration wave, coupled with marginalisation among those migrants, may have been a contributing factor.”

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Swedish Police Accused of Covering Up Sex Crimes at Festival

Compliments of NY Times 

Swedish police faced allegations of a cover-up Monday for failing to inform the public of widespread sexual assaults against teenage girls at a music festival last summer.

Police hadn’t mentioned the August incidents at the “We are Sthlm” festival until newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported on them this weekend following a string of sexual assaults and robberies on New Year’s Eve in Cologne, Germany.

Stockholm police spokesman Varg Gyllander confirmed to The Associated Press on Monday there was “a large number” of sexual assaults during the five-day festival and that scores of suspects were detained.

He said police should have reported on the incidents at the time “given the nature of the crime.” He denied suggestions in the newspaper report that police kept quiet because the suspects were foreigners.

“We probably should have communicated this,” Gyllander told the AP. “But we wouldn’t have discussed ethnicity at all.”

Police in Germany have been criticized for not immediately reporting the incidents in Cologne, where authorities and witnesses later described the attackers as predominantly Arab and North African men.

Gyllander couldn’t confirm the ethnicity of the alleged attackers in Stockholm but said “this involves young men who are not from Sweden.”

Roger Ticoalu, who heads the city government’s events department, told the AP that a “large part” of those detained were from Afghanistan, many carrying temporary ID-cards issued to asylum-seekers.

He said about 20 teenage girls filed complaints of sexual assault and that about 200 suspects were detained and ejected from the festival for sexual assault and other offenses. It wasn’t immediately clear whether any of them were arrested and charged.

Ticoalu said organizers received reports already in 2014 of groups of young men and boys groping girls in a systematic manner. Efforts were put in place, including more security guards, to prevent a repeat in 2015 but instead the problem got worse, he said.

“We’ve always had individual cases” of sexual assault, he said. “But here we have a larger group doing it almost in an organized way. It’s a completely new level of obscenity.”

“You have a large group of boys surrounding the girls,” he said. “They pretend to dance. They come closer and closer. Then they start touching their breasts and genitals. In some cases in combination with theft.”

Ticoalu said organizers had discussed the problem on Swedish Radio before last year’s festival but didn’t alert the public to the incidents taking place once the festival got underway.

“Of course you can say we should have,” he said. “But during this period we had 170,000 visitors in five days. So the situation wasn’t judged as something where the public needed to be informed.”

Dagens Nyheter cited police officials saying Swedish police are reluctant to speak publicly about crimes linked to migrants for fear of playing into the hands of the far-right Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigration party whose support has surged to about 20 percent in opinion polls.

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Islamic Clerics Declare Fatwa on Poachers

Compliments of USA Today 

Muslim clerics in Indonesia and Malaysia have become unlikely warriors in the battle to save endangered animals, declaring wildlife poaching a sin in the two Muslim-majority nations.

Clerics in Malaysia’s northeastern state of Terengganu recently joined Indonesia in issuing a fatwa — a religious edict — against illegal hunting. When Indonesia’s top Muslim council issued a fatwa in 2014, it was hailed by conservationists as the first of its kind.

The neighboring Southeast Asian countries are among the most biodiverse nations on Earth, home to a vast array of animals — from tigers and rhinos, to elephants, sharks and manta rays.

But the region has become a global hotspot for wildlife poaching due to growing demand for animal parts used in traditional Asian medicines, exotic pets, food and trophies, combined with weak law enforcement.

“Religion is a powerful medium,” Gopalasamy Reuben Clements, a scientist atUniversiti Malaysia Terengganu who was involved in pushing for Terengganu’s fatwa, told GlobalPost.

“The whole idea is not to create a new law but to support the current civil law against poaching. We are not trying to change the culture overnight but we are hoping that the fatwa will help build peer pressure.”

The fatwas come as the threat of fines and jail terms seem to be having little effect in combating the lucrative illegal wildlife trade.

The edicts are not legally binding, but are aimed at influencing the behavior of the faithful. For example, the Terengganu fatwa against poaching says Muslims who violate it will be considered “sinful.”

Clements said Islamic clerics can play a “major role” in raising public awareness on conservation issues in a Muslim heartland such as Terengganu, where over 95% of the 1 million population follow Islam.

It is hoped the fatwa, which was announced in late November, can later be extended across the whole of Malaysia, he added.

Quranic teachings

The top Islamic clerical body in Indonesia — home to the world’s biggest Muslim population — said it decided to issue a nationwide fatwa against illegal hunting and the trade in endangered species as protecting animals was in line with Quranic teachings.

“Animals have a right to live and we humans should protect them and ensure that they flourish,” Asrorun Niam Sholeh, a secretary at the Indonesian Ulema Counciloverseeing matters related to fatwas, told GlobalPost.

“As Muslims, we have a duty to maintain the ecological balance.”

Despite the renewed push to stop poaching, authorities and conservation groups face an uphill battle.

Frequent reports in both Malaysia and Indonesia about endangered species being killed for their valuable body parts — such as elephants’ ivory tusks — and about alleged wildlife traffickers being arrested show the magnitude of the problem.

Just last month, wildlife protection officials seized 60 protected turtles and frogs in Terengganu that were allegedly to be sold to local restaurants, as well as rare birds in a separate raid.

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Turkish Workshop Employs Syrian Minors to Produce Fake Life Jackets

Compliments of Todays Zaman 

İzmir police on Tuesday raided an underground manufacturer in the Konak district and seized a total of 1,263 fake life jackets that were produced with low-quality materials. Of the four workers at the workshop, two were discovered to be underage Syrians.

Employing Syrians has become commonplace in Turkey in the recent past as the growing population of refugees in the country provide a low-cost labor force for businesses. Even though the government previously declared an intention to issue work permits for Syrians, they are now mostly employed illegally and paid less than Turkish citizens for identical positions.

The life jackets seized in the raid included counterfeits of renowned brands padded with insulating materials, suitcase fabric and low-quality sponges used to make the life jackets look thick and safe.

The raid came on the same day that Turkish authorities found the bodies of 34 migrants, at least three of whom were children, washed up on the coast of İzmir and Balıkesir provinces after they had apparently drowned while trying to cross to the Greek island of Lesbos.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) puts the number of migrants who have died while trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe in 2015 at 3,771. Experts argue that fake life jackets selling at low prices are the primary reason for the high number of deaths at sea.

Life jackets conforming to standards should carry a descriptive label on them showing size, model, buoyancy level, a security certificate number and a list of proper usage areas written in four languages. They are produced with special water repellent materials that enable people to float for at least 12 hours even if the wearer is unconscious. Fake life jackets such as those confiscated in the İzmir seizure often absorb water and drag the user down.

Turkish media has previously reported that even street vendors in the provinces of İzmir and İstanbul have been selling cheap and poor-quality life jackets targeted at Syrians who have fled their civil war-torn country and who plan to make the perilous sea crossing to Europe in the hope of attaining better living standards.

While high-quality life jackets cost at least TL 75, depending on the size and model, shoe stores and grocers in İstanbul’s Aksaray district ask around TL 35 for a sub-standard jacket.

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Legislation Signed By Polish President Lets Government Control Public TV, Radio

Compliments of IB Times 

Poland’s President Andrzej Duda signed media legislation into law Thursday giving the government control over public television and radio, the Associated Press reported. The government argued that the bitterly contested move was necessary to ensure that the nation’s media remain “impartial, objective and reliable.”

The European Union and media watchdog groups have expressed concerns over the new law, which allows for the current heads of state radio and television networks, TVP1 and Polskie Radio, to be terminated and replaced by appointees of the treasury minister. TVP1 directors have already resigned, the Economist reported. The media law comes after another controversial law that targeted Poland’s constitutional court by increasing the number of judges required to agree on rulings.

The EU’s human rights commissioner urged Poland not to enact the media law, while the press freedom group Reporters Without Borders said Warsaw was embarking on an “anti-democratic road” similar to that of Hungary.

“This new law, giving the government full powers to appoint and dismiss the heads of the public broadcast media, constitutes a flagrant violation of media freedom and pluralism,” said Alexandra Geneste, the head of Reporters Without Border’s EU-Balkans desk.

While Duda signed the media law Thursday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the commission would not provoke a showdown with Warsaw over it.

“Let’s not overdramatize. It’s an important issue. But we have to have friendly and good relations with Poland. Our approach is very constructive; we’re not bashing Poland,” Juncker said, the EU Observerreported.

The European Commission is scheduled to hold a debate next week on recent constitutional developments in Poland since the right-wing Law and Justice Party came to power in October. While Juncker has tried to reassure Warsaw, in the debate could conceivably lead to Poland losing voting rights within the 28-member EU, the Associated Press reported.


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Oil Price Falls Below $35 a Barrel to Fresh 11-Year Low

Compliments of BBC 

Brent crude sank by 4.2% to $34.88 a barrel, surpassing its late December fall, and taking the price to its lowest level since 1 July 2004.

The price of US crude dropped 3.3% to $34.77 a barrel.

The sharp falls followed a short-lived rally on Monday after Saudi Arabia broke diplomatic ties with Iran.

Analysts said fears over the worsening relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had initially raised concerns about possible supply disruptions and boosted the oil price, had now been overtaken by pessimism over oil cartel Opec ever agreeing on a production ceiling.

How low?

Historically, Opec has cut production to support prices. But led by Saudi Arabia, by far the group’s most powerful member, the group has resolutely refused to trim supply this time.

Rising tensions over Saudi Arabia’s execution of Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr mean that any agreement is now deemed less likely than ever.

“With relations between Opec kingpins Saudi Arabia and Iran at a historic low point, it solidifies an already unlikely scenario that Opec might cut output,” said Barclays analyst Alia Moubayed.

Since mid-2014, oil prices have slumped 70% mainly because of oversupply. This in turn is largely due to US shale oil flooding the market.

At the same time, demand has fallen because of a slowdown in economic growth in China and Europe.

Iranian oil exports are also expected to rise later this year once Western sanctions against Tehran for its nuclear programme are lifted, increasing the oversupply of oil.

Opec is hoping that refusing to cut production will help to drive US shale producers out of business, believing that they will fall victim to lower prices long before its own members, and has forecast that prices will recover to $70 a barrel by 2020.

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Protesters Demand Canada Cancel $15B Saudi Contract

Compliments of Ottawa Citizen 

The protesters, drawn mainly from Shia Muslim groups in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa, staged peaceful demonstrations at the base of the Peace Tower, and outside the embassies of the United States and Saudi Arabia.

They called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to take meaningful action to condemn the Saudis for their flagrant human rights abuses — even if it means damaging Canadian commercial and political interests.

“We’re here today to ask the government to rethink its policy when it comes to Saudi Arabia,” said Toronto Imam Asad Jafri, one of the protesters. “The hypocrisy has to stop.”

The Saudi government executed 47 people convicted of terrorism-related charges on Saturday, sparking outrage across many parts of the Middle East, including Iran where Shias form a majority.

Earlier this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Stéphane Dion announced that the Liberals would not rescind the contract negotiated by the former Conservative government to supply light armoured vehicles to the Saudis.

“Almost all of our allies are selling weapons to Saudi Arabia,” he argued on Tuesday. “It’s part of the world in which we live.”

Although Dion denounced Riyadh for the mass execution, he said Canada would damage its own reputation by scrapping the contract.

Protesters demanded Wednesday that the Liberal government pay more than lip service to the protection of human rights.

“I was disappointed by the government,” said protester Adil Rizvi, or Toronto. “Their words do no match their actions. We realize it’s a big contract, but we really feel we shouldn’t be compromising when those jobs are created by the blood of other people.”

“Saudi Arabia is one of the worst violators of human rights in the world,” he said. “And the light armoured vehicles being manufactured here in Ontario are being shipped to Saudi Arabia to quell a just uprising.”

Asad Jafri called the $15 billion deal with Saudis “hurtful”.

“Forget anger; it’s hurt,” he said. “They killed our leader, our scholar al-Nimr, for no reason, and our government is quiet? The deal speaks more loudly than their words. It’s a shame, it’s upsetting, especially when Trudeau’s platform was all about change.”

Jafri call Sheikh al-Nimr a man of peace and freedom. “In Saudi Arabia, his only crime was that he wanted basic human rights,” he said.

Jaffar Hasmhi, a protest organizer from Ottawa’s Muslim Society, said Canada should also push to have the Saudis stripped of their position on the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Saudis were voted onto the council in what some British politicians allege was a secret vote-trading deal in 2013.

“In their own country, they’re abusing their own people so how can they judge other nations?” asked Hashmi. “It makes no sense that a country that starts this new year by executing 47 people is on the UN Human Rights Council.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario Public Service Employees Union has repeated criticism of Algonquin College for operating a technical college inside Saudi Arabia.

Algonquin professor Jack Wilson, an OPSEU vice president, said it’s “improper for (Algonquin) to be dealing with a regime that so flagrantly violates basic human rights.”

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