Briefly – World


Japan confirms case of human mad cow disease

Japan’s first human case of mad cow disease probably was contracted during a monthlong visit to Britain in 1989, authorities said Friday.

The confirmation — which was revealed after the man died of the fatal brain-wasting disease in December — is likely to further alarm a public skittish about food safety, and probably will complicate U.S. efforts to lift Tokyo’s yearlong ban on American beef imports.

It was “highly likely” that the man, who was not identified for privacy reasons, may have eaten contaminated meat during his stay in Britain, where most such human infections have occurred, said Masahito Yamada, an expert from a Health Ministry panel on the disease.

The human variant of Creutzfeldt-Jacob Disease has an incubation period of 10 years or more. A positive diagnosis often does not occur until the patient dies and can be autopsied.

The ministry said the man first began to show signs of the disease in late 2001, when he was in his 40s. He became bedridden, unable to move or talk, and died in December.


Duck, goose farming ban targets bird flu

Vietnamese officials have ordered a nationwide ban on duck and goose farming in a bid to head off a mounting bird flu outbreak that has claimed 13 lives since late December.

The waterfowl are a main reservoir of the virus, carrying it without becoming ill. Without outward symptoms it is very difficult to identify infected animals. Earlier this week, Ho Chi Minh City, the nation’s largest city, ordered all ducks destroyed or slaughtered for sale.

Vietnam requested help Thursday from the World Health Organization and the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization to combat the outbreak that has spread to half of the nation’s provinces. There also are outbreaks in Thailand and Cambodia.

Bird flu raged through the region last winter, causing about 100 million birds to be culled in 10 nations. Since that time the disease has killed 45 people.

Vietnamese and U.N. officials agreed that a team of international experts would be assembled within two weeks.


U.N. fears psychiatric woes at Guantanamo

U.N. human rights experts Friday expressed concern about possible “irreversible psychiatric symptoms” developing among suspected terrorists entering a fourth year of virtual solitary confinement at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

At the prison camp, the cases of two more terror suspects were examined Friday by a review board as part of an ongoing process to determine whether detainees were properly held as “enemy combatants.”

The experts on arbitrary detention noted allegations that detainees at Guantanamo may be subject to “inhuman and degrading treatment.”

Human rights officials have expressed concern about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo.

A secret report obtained by The Associated Press found that guards punched some detainees, tied one to a gurney for questioning and forced a dozen to strip from the waist down.

Vatican City

Pope’s health improves

Pope John Paul II was improving in the hospital Friday, eating regular food and eager to recite his usual Sunday prayers for the public, the Vatican said, but it did not describe how he would deliver the weekly remarks.

The Holy See’s latest medical bulletin gave few details on the flu and respiratory troubles that led to the 84-year-old pontiff’s urgent hospitalization four days ago, although papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls suggested the decision not to issue another bulletin until Monday was a positive sign.

Navarro-Valls has suggested John Paul may spend a week in the hospital.


U.N. to hire 30,000 for tsunami cleanup

Tens of thousands of Indonesian tsunami survivors will be given $4-a-day jobs cleaning up the disaster’s debris, the United Nations said Friday, offering a temporary income to people whose livelihoods were swept away along with their homes.

Governments and international and private aid groups were reassessing their operations to help more than 1 million people left in need by the Dec. 26 earthquake and tsunami as the U.S. military began scaling down its emergency relief effort, and other nations’ forces prepared to follow suit.

President Bush on Friday announced he is sending a second delegation to visit the Indian Ocean region, this one made up of two former presidents, his father and former President Clinton. The pair will visit tsunami-affected countries Feb. 19-21.

The confirmed death toll across 11 tsunami-struck countries edged higher — to between 159,976 and 178,115 — after Indonesia’s National Disaster Relief Coordinating Board said its workers had found and buried 1,108 more bodies in Aceh province on Sumatra island.


Shiite candidates hold wide lead in early tally

U.S.-backed Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was trailing a Shiite ticket with ties to Iran in Iraq’s historic election, according to partial returns released Friday.

The United Iraqi Alliance, endorsed by Iraq’s top Shiite clerics, captured more than two-thirds of the 3.3 million votes counted so far, the election commission said. The ticket headed by Allawi, a secular Shiite, had about 18 percent — or more than 579,700 votes.

Those latest partial figures from Sunday’s contest for 275 National Assembly seats came from 10 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, said Hamdiyah al-Husseini, an election commission official. All 10 provinces have heavy Shiite populations, and the Alliance had been expected to do well there.


Germany to join Iraqi rebuilding efforts

Germany, which helped lead European opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday that it’s ready to expand its role in rebuilding the country after last Sunday’s largely successful elections.

The pledge from German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder came on the first day of Rice’s whirlwind trip through Europe to patch up the worst transatlantic rift since World War II.

Rice was forced to repeatedly downplay suspicions here, raised by recent tough talk from President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, that Washington plans to overthrow the government in Iran as it did Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq.

A U.S. attack on Iran to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons “is simply not on the agenda at this point in time,” Rice said at a London news conference after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair.