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The Star Online: Metro: South & East

Indonesia to decide on Australian trafficker parole in days

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 11:45 PM PST

JAKARTA, Feb 05, 2014 (AFP) - High-profile Australian drug trafficker Schapelle Corby will learn within days whether she will be granted parole from an Indonesian jail following a lengthy bid to win early release, a minister said Wednesday.

Indonesian Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin said the 36-year-old's application was among a large batch he would decide on by Friday although he stressed she would not get "special treatment".

Corby, whose case has attracted huge publicity in Australia, was sentenced to 20 years in jail in 2005 after being caught trying to smuggle 4.1 kilograms (nine pounds) of marijuana into the resort island of Bali.

She lodged her bid for early release from jail in Bali months ago but the process has moved along slowly due to bureaucratic wrangling and the complexities of the Indonesian legal system.

However a justice ministry parole board in Jakarta heard her application in private last week.

Indonesian Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin is interviewed by journalists in Jakarta on February 5, 2014. High-profile Australian drug trafficker Schapelle Corby will learn within days whether she will be granted parole from an Indonesian jail following a lengthy bid to win early release, a minister said on February 5. - AFP

Indonesian Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin is interviewed by journalists in Jakarta on February 5, 2014. High-profile Australian drug trafficker Schapelle Corby will learn within days whether she will be granted parole from an Indonesian jail following a lengthy bid to win early release, a minister said on February 5. - AFP

Syamsuddin said the board's assessment was among 1,700 parole applications he would examine this week.

"I promise, God willing, that I will process all 1,700 within the next three days," he told reporters in Jakarta.

He did not indicate what his decision might be on the Australia's case, although he said: "Corby will not get special treatment.

"As long as she fulfils all the requirements and has the recommendation from the parole board... she will get her rights."

He has previously said that he does not oppose granting Corby early release, however the key factor in her case is whether she receives a recommendation from the parole board.

Authorities on Bali have already recommended her early release but the process slowed down in recent months.

However hopes rose when a French drug smuggler was granted parole last month. Michael Blanc is one of the few foreigners to have been freed on parole in recent years.

Corby has always maintained her innocence. Her original 20-year sentence was reduced significantly after she received several remissions for good behaviour and a cut of five years from the president.

If granted parole, Corby would still be bound to live on Bali and obliged to report regularly to authorities.

She would live with her sister and would not be allowed to return to Australia until 2017.

Chinese scientists sound warning over new bird flu

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 07:03 PM PST

PARIS: Chinese scientists sounded the alarm Wednesday after a new bird flu virus, H10N8, killed an elderly woman in December and infected another individual last month.

The fifth novel influenza strain to emerge in 17 years, the virus has a worrying genetic profile and should be closely monitored, they reported in The Lancet medical journal.

It appears to be able to infect tissue deep in the lung and may have features allowing it to spread efficiently among humans, they said.

"The pandemic potential of this novel virus should not be underestimated," said the team headed by Yuelong Shu from the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Beijing.

The warning stems from analysis of a virus sample taken from a 73-year-old woman who died in Nanchang, in southeastern Jiangxi province, on December 6 after being diagnosed with severe pneumonia and respiratory failure.

The Chinese authorities announced her death from H10N8 on December 18.

The Lancet study disclosed that a second case of H10N8 was recorded in Nanchang, on January 26. It did not give further details.

They are the first known human cases of H10N8, a virus that has been found only twice before in China - once in a water sample from a lake in Hunan in 2007, and the second time in live poultry in Guangdong province in 2012.

But this particular strain is different from the ones found in those two samples, the study said.

Genetic profile of virus

The big contributors to its genome are reshuffled genes from the H9N2 virus, the authors said.

This is a bird virus that erupted in Hong Kong in 1999 and has also contributed to the dangerous H5N1 and H7N9 flu viruses, the probe said.

Avian flu viruses pass from infected birds to humans in close proximity but typically do not transmit easily between humans.

The worry for health watchdogs is their potential to acquire an ability to jump easily from person to person.

H7N9, which emerged last year, has led to 159 human infections in China, including 71 deaths, according to a combined toll of official figures and an AFP tally of reports by local authorities.

H5N1, which first occurred among humans in Hong Kong in 1997, has caused 648 infections with 384 deaths since 2003, according to figures cited in The Lancet study.

The genome of H10N8, it said, pointed to a mutation in its so-called PB2 protein that, previous research has found, suggests an ability to adapt to mammals.

The virus also has a mutation in its haemagglutinin protein - a spike on the virus surface that enables it to latch onto other cells - that suggests it can infect deep in the lung, like H5N1, rather than the upper respiratory tract, the trachea.

Lab tests on the sample showed it could be attacked by Tamiflu, the frontline anti-viral drug.

Many questions remain, including how the woman was infected.

She had bought a live chicken at a poultry market several days before falling sick.

But she may have become infected beforehand, the scientists said. She did not handle the bird and no virus traces were found in poultry at the market.

In addition, the woman may have been an easy target for the virus because of poor health - she had coronary heart disease, high blood pressure and a muscle-weakening disease called myasthenia gravis.

Tests on people who had been in close contact with her concluded that no one else had been infected.

The second case of H10N8 "is of great concern", said co-author Mingbin Liu of the Nanchang branch of China's CDC.

"It reveals that the H10N8 virus has continued to circulate and may cause more human infections in the future." -AFP

North, South Korea hold talks on family reunions

Posted: 04 Feb 2014 06:36 PM PST

SEOUL: North and South Korea held talks Wednesday on resuming reunions for families separated by the Korean War - an emotive issue that Pyongyang has been accused of exploiting as a bargaining chip.

The meeting at the border truce village of Panmunjom - where the armistice ending the 1950-53 conflict was signed - aimed to set a date for what would be the first such reunion event since 2010.

Agreement would be seen as a small sign of progress between the two rivals who, in recent years, have struggled to cooperate on even the most basic trust-building measures.

But both sides have been here before.

Similar talks between the North and South Korean Red Cross in August last year concluded with an agreement to hold a reunion the following month for several hundred divided family members.

With the selection process completed and the chosen relatives preparing to gather at the North's Mount Kumgang resort, Pyongyang cancelled the event just four days before its scheduled start, citing "hostility" from the South.

There are widespread concerns that the families could end up being disappointed again this time around.

South Korea is due to begin joint military exercises with the United States at the end of February, despite warnings from North Korea of dire consequences should they go ahead.

The annual drills are always a diplomatic flashpoint on the Korean peninsula, and last year resulted in an unusually extended period of heightened military tensions.

"We'll do our best to bring good news to separated families," the South's chief delegate at the talks, Lee Duck-Hang, told reporters before leaving Seoul for Panmunjom.

If Wednesday's talks do end with agreement, any reunion event is likely to be scheduled for after the drills, leaving it vulnerable to the intervening tensions the exercises are bound to create.

The Panmunjom meeting itself was only arranged after weeks of back-and-forth, following North Korea's surprise offer last month to resume the reunions.

"If it goes ahead... the North will take it as an opportunity," said Yoo Ho-Yeol, professor of North Korean Studies at Seoul's Korea University.

"Rather than cancelling the event again, it may try to extract concessions, like a scaling down of the joint military exercises, or an easing of South Korean sanctions," Yoo said.

Sixty years after the war ended, many of those who suffered the division of their families have died. Most of those still living are in advanced old age.

The reunion programme began in earnest in 2000 following an historic inter-Korean summit. Sporadic events since then have seen around 17,000 relatives briefly reunited.

The programme was suspended in 2010 following the North's shelling of a South Korean border island.

North Korea wants the South to resume regular tours to Mount Kumgang, which had provided a much-needed source of hard currency in the past.

South Korea suspended the tours after a woman tourist was shot dead by North Korean security guards in 2008, and it has repeatedly rejected the North's efforts to link their resumption to the family reunion issue.

Pyongyang is also pushing for a resumption of six-party talks on its nuclear programme - a long-stalled process involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Seoul and Washington insist substantive dialogue can only begin after Pyongyang demonstrates a tangible commitment to abandoning its nuclear weapons programme.

Since the beginning of the year, North Korea has been on something of a charm offensive, making a series of conciliatory gestures that critics have largely dismissed as a calculated bid to assume the moral high ground ahead of the South-US military exercises. -AFP

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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