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Health officials warn Zika ‘a bit scarier’ than initially thought

Washington – The Zika virus, thought to be the cause of birth defects known as microcephaly, is "a bit scarier" than scientists initially thought and the first vaccine candidate could be ready for human trials in September, top US health officials said Monday. "Most of what we're learning is not reassuring," said Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Everything we look at with this virus seems to be a bit scarier than we initially thought." Schuchat said that the Zika virus, that is mainly spread to people primarily through the bite of an infected Aedes species of mosquito, is linked to a broader set of complications in pregnancy, not just microcephaly but also premature birth, eye problems and some other conditions. Anthony Fauci, director of …

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China expresses anger at G7 statement on East, South China Seas

Beijing – China expressed anger on Tuesday after foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) advanced economies said they strongly opposed provocation in the East and South China Seas, where China is locked in territorial disputes. "We urge the G7 member states to honor their commitment of not taking sides on issues involving territorial disputes," China's foreign ministry said in a statement. The G7 should focus on global economic governance and cooperation against the backdrop of weak economic growth rather than hyping up disputes and provoking problems, it added. On Monday, G7 foreign ministers said after meeting in the Japanese city of Hiroshima that they opposed "any intimidating coercive or provocative unilateral actions that could alter the status quo and increase tensions" in the East and South China Seas. China claims almost the …

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Afghan Taliban announce spring offensive

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban announced the start of their warm-weather fighting season on Tuesday (April 12, 2016), vowing "large-scale attacks" in the 15th year of their war against the U.S.-backed Afghan government. In an email to media, the militants said the spring offensive had begun at 5 a.m. They dubbed the campaign "Operation Omari" in honor of Taliban founder Mullah Mohammad Omar, who died three years ago. The Taliban added that in areas under their control, "mechanisms for good governance will be established so that our people can live a life of security and normalcy." The insurgents control several rural districts and last year seized the northern city of Kunduz and held it for three days. The Taliban said they would try to avoid killing civilians or destroying civilian infrastructure, and would …

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US, India militaries to improve disaster coordination

NEW DELHI — The U.S. and India have reached a preliminary agreement that will make it easier for the two countries' militaries to work together in disasters or other emergencies, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Tuesday (April 12, 2016). During a joint news conference with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar, Carter said the two countries have "agreed in principle" on the logistical agreement, and it could be finalized in weeks. Parrikar estimated it will take about a month. Carter said the two countries expect to soon reach a second pact to improve the sharing of information on commercial shipping, in a move to beef up security on the seas. U.S. defense officials said the first agreement will help the two militaries coordinate better, including in exercises, and also allow the U.S. to more …

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Singapore bans smoking in reservoirs, parks

SINGAPORE -- Singapore will ban smoking in reservoirs and parks from June 1, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Amy Khor told Parliament on Tuesday(April 12, 2016). Singapore currently bans smoking in all indoor areas and most of the common areas of residential and public buildings, including public museums and amusement centers, common corridors, staircases, covered walkways and linkways, all pedestrian overhead bridges, within 5 meters of bus shelters and hospital outdoor compounds. Starting from June, new premises will include 17 reservoirs, parks in public housing estates and under the purview of Jurong Town Corporation, Singapore's principal developer and manager of industrial estates and their related facilities, as well as neighborhood parks under National Parks within private housing estates, local media quoted Khor as saying. However, the owners of …

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Two Russian military pilots killed in Syria helicopter crash

Two Russian military pilots were killed when their helicopter crashed near the central Syrian city of Homs, the defence ministry said on Tuesday, adding that the aircraft had not been under fire. "Two crew members died," the defence ministry said in a statement. The crash of the Mi-28 attack helicopter happened in the early hours of Tuesday, the ministry said, adding the bodies had been recovered and brought to Russia's Hmeimim air base. "According to a report from the crash site, the helicopter was not fired at," the defence ministry added, saying experts were looking into the reasons of the accident. The crash takes Russia's official combat death toll in Syria to seven. Moscow says that five Russian servicemen perished while on combat duty in Syria, including the pilot of a warplane shot down by …

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Britain urges refrain in South China Sea’s disputes

HANOI, Vietnam — British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has urged claimants of the South China Sea to refrain from the use of force and uphold international law in resolving their disputes. "It is our firm view that claimants (of the South China Sea ) should refrain from the threat or use of force and from unilateral actions such as deployment of military forces and equipment on disputed maritime features," Hammond told reporters Tuesday at a press briefing with his Vietnamese counterpart Pham Binh Minh in Hanoi. He said Britain has "strong national interests in the continued stability and security of this region." His comments come at a time when massive land reclamation by China and increased military action in the South China Sea have raised concerns among countries in the region and the …

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N. Koreans: Brutal work abroad better than life back home

SEOUL, South Korea — One North Korean who worked abroad says that as a waitress in China, she was forced to put up with male customers who groped her and tried to get her drunk. Two others recall the frozen bodies of their countrymen stored in Russian logging camps. Another says he toiled for up to 16 hours a day at a Kuwaiti construction site surrounded by wire fences. As difficult as those lives were, the four workers told The Associated Press, it beat staying in the North. The jobs actually conveyed status back home, and were so coveted that people used bribes and family connections to get them. "I beat the odds of 1 in 12 to become a waitress ... People's views of jobs in North Korea are totally different …

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Breadwinners: French beggar gets a life after saving one

by Angela SCHNAEBELE Dole, France -- French baker Michel Flamant, who owes his life to the homeless man who begged for handouts outside his bakery, knows more than anyone that man does not live by bread alone. To show his gratitude, Flamant is selling the business in the eastern town of Dole to Jerome Aucant for a symbolic one euro. The corpulent Flamant, who wears a tank top and shorts to help him cope with the heat of his bread ovens, says he has always had a big heart despite his "piggish character". In fact, long before the fateful day in December when he nearly died from carbon monoxide poisoning, he would greet Aucant every morning with a cup of coffee and a croissant. "If Jerome wasn't around that day I would have been a goner," the 62-year-old …

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Giant python found on Malaysian building site

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia -- A quarter-tonne snake that was found nestling on a building site could be the longest ever captured in Malaysia, officials said Tuesday. The reticulated python was a whopping 7.5 metres (25 feet) long and weighed a staggering 250 kilogrammes (550 pounds). The giant creature was discovered on Penang island by construction workers and kept in an office, where it was fed and watered while wildlife experts were contacted. However, the python died on Sunday after laying an egg, a spokesman for the civil defence department told AFP. "We are so sad this happened," he said. "We have rescued many other snakes and animals before. We're not sure why the snake died. "We fed it mice, other meats and gave (it) water, just like we gave other snakes in the past." Curious locals flocked to …

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