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Monday, February 4, 2013

Afghan, Pakistani Leaders Seek Peace Deal in Six Months

Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari said during talks hosted by U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron on Monday that they would attempt to reach a peace deal within six months and would also urge the Taliban to join the reconciliation process in Afghanistan. The talks are an attempt to avoid a civil war once international troops leave in 2014. The discussions were the third such meetings in a year after rounds in Kabul in July and New York in September, but the first one in which Pakistani and Afghan army and intelligence chiefs took part. Cameron, whose troops are the second biggest foreign presence in Afghanistan after those of the U.S., said that “now is the time for everyone to participate in a peaceful, political process in Afghanistan”. A Pakistani analyst interviewed by the AFP news agency estimated that a peace deal in six months “would be a major upset of the calculation”.

U.S. Struggles With Suicide Epidemic Among Soldiers

Last year, more U.S. soldiers killed themselves than died in combat for the first time in at least a generation. The number of active-duty soldiers who committed suicide, 177, was greater than the number who were killed in war zones, 176. A similar trend was observed across the different branches of the U.S. armed forced and its reserves, with 349 service members taking their lives and 295 dying in combat. William Nash, a retired U.S. Navy psychiatrist who directed the Marine Corps’ stress control programme, told the Guardian that some deaths are spurred by a feeling of shame and guilt related to moral injuries suffered, particularly when one of their own colleagues is killed in combat. “I have heard it over and over again from marines – the most common source of anguish for them was failing to protect their ‘brothers’. The significance of that is unfathomable, it’s comparable to the feelings I’ve heard from parents who have lost a child”, explained Nash.

Key Tuberculosis Vaccine Trial Fails

A study of the first proposed tuberculosis (TB) vaccine in 90 years showed that it provided no benefit over the current-standing vaccine when protecting babies from infection. After a follow-up period of two years, 32 babies in the control group got TB versus 35 who took placebos. “Obviously, we all would have liked to see greater protection,” said Dr Ann Ginsberg of Aeras, a non-profit biotechnology firm funded in large part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The MVA85A vaccine is the most advanced of a dozen TB vaccines in current trials and now scientists are trying to understand why it failed. The current vaccine, BCG, was developed in 1921 and is given to babies in countries with high rates of the disease, but its protection wears off too quickly. It would be a “huge mistake for the world to get discouraged by this and give up”, said Dr Ginsberg.

Investigators Uncover Massive Football Match Fixing Scheme

Europol investigators revealed during a press conference in The Hague, Netherlands, that they believe 680 football matches in 30 countries had their results fixed in the past three to four years. The investigation by the European Union’s law enforcement agency began 18 months ago, initially involving matches held in Austria, Finland, Germany, Hungary and Slovenia. The probe then expanded to a further 25 countries, involving 425 match officials, club officials, players and criminals suspected of being involved in systematic fixing co-ordinated by a crime syndicate based in Singapore. Of these suspects, 50 have already been arrested and 80 search warrants have been issued. Among the matches known to have been fixed are World Cup games, European Championships games and several matches in the domestic European leagues. In Germany-based matches the criminals wagered approximately £14m on rigged matches with £7m in profits. “It is clear to us this is the biggest-ever investigation into suspected match-fixing in Europe. It has yielded major results which we think have uncovered a big problem for the integrity of football in Europe”, said Rob Wainwright, director of Europol.

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