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Monday, July 22, 2013

Twin Earthquakes Hit Gansu Province in China, Dozens Dead

Two twin earthquakes struck Gansu province in northwest China, sparking a series of landslides that destroyed thousands of homes in this mostly farming area. Officials put the death toll at 89 people and  said more than 500 had been injured. The shallow earthquakes were measured at magnitudes 5.9 and 5.6 by the US Geological Survey and buried the poorly-constructed local houses. “More than 21,000 buildings were severely damaged and more than 1,200 have collapsed”, said an official at the provincial earthquake bureau. “The damage to houses made from earth bricks has been severe and many are now unusable”, he added, with many homes further damaged by the 371 aftershocks. More than 2,000 soldiers, 50 medical staff and two helicopters were sent to the area by the Chinese government, according to the state news agency Xinhua.

Morsi Family Threatens Legal Action Over ‘Abduction’

Osama Morsi, the son of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, said his father’s removal by the country’s army and subsequent jailing is “a violation of rights by all measures”. He said his family plans to take legal action in Egypt and on an international level against Adbel Fattah al-Sisi, the army commander who played a central role in the coup and was Morsi’s defense minister. “There is no legal or constitutional basis for detaining someone not accused of a crime for his own safety”, said Morsi’s son. Meanwhile, violent clashes erupted between pro and anti-Morsi protesters near Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Monday, with army tanks called in to stop the violence. Earlier in the day, army troops had prevented pro-Morsi protesters from reaching the building housing the defense ministry.

British PM Plans UK Ban on Online Pornography

British Prime Minister David Cameron unveiled a plan to have UK internet providers block all pornography unless account holders opt in, part of a series of measures designed to stop extreme sexual images from “corroding childhood”. He also proposed to criminalise the possession of violent pornography containing simulated rape scenes. “There are certain types of pornography that can only be described as extreme and violent, and that depicts simulated rape. These images normalise sexual violence against women – and they are quite simply poisonous to the young people who see them”, said Cameron. He also said search engines would have a duty to block the search for such images. “I have a very clear message for Google, Bing, Yahoo and the rest. You have a duty to act on this – and it is a moral duty. If there are technical obstacles to acting on [search engines], don’t just stand by and say nothing can be done; use your great brains to help overcome them”, said the prime minister.

EU Blacklists Hezbollah Military Wing

The European Union (EU) has agreed to place the military wing of the Islamist Hezbollah movement on its terror list in a major policy shift. “It is good that the EU has decided to call Hezbollah what it is: a terrorist organisation. For years the Netherlands has pushed for listing Hezbollah and that’s why I’m satisfied that we took this important step today”, said Dutch Foreign Minister Frans Timmermans. The Prime Minister of Lebanon, Najib Mikati, said his government regretted the decision, but would maintain normal diplomatic relations with all EU member countries. “We will follow up on the issue through diplomatic channels, while we wish the EU countries had carried out a careful reading of the facts and sought out more information. Lebanese society, in all its components, is keen to abide by international law and to maintain excellent relations with EU member states”, said Mikati. The blacklisting means members of the group face an EU visa ban and the organisation’s assets will be frozen within the bloc.

Blindness Could Be Cured by Stem Cells, Show Researchers

Scientists in the UK have shown that the part of the eye that detects light can be repaired using stem cells, potentially reversing blindness. Experts at the Moorfields Eye Hospital and at the University College London built retinas in a laboratory and collected thousands of stem cells from them, which were then primed to become photoreceptors. These cells were injected into blind mice and began to function, although the effectiveness was low. Only 1,000 of the transplanted 200,000 cells connected with the rest of eye. “This is a real proof of concept that photoreceptors can be transplanted from an embryonic stem cells source and it give us a route map to now do this in humans. That’s why we’re so excited, five years is a now a realistic aim for starting a clinical trial”, said Prof Robin Ali, lead researcher of the study.

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