Chatham announces beach closures in response to shark sightings

In response to updated information on recent shark sightings in Chatham's East Side Waters, town officials have closed all East Side Facing Beaches to swimming effective immediately. Swimming is prohibited at North Beach, Lighthouse Beach, South Beach, and Andrew Harding's Lane. For further information regarding these sightings please contact Kate Plourd at Executive Office of Environmental Affaires, 617-626-1809 or 617-851-5636. The above beaches are closed to swimming until further notice.

For more information on beaches contact:

Dan Tobin, Park and Recreation Director – 508-945-5158

For shark sightings call – Harbormaster's Office – 508-945-5185
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Afghan officials say NATO airstrike killed mostly civilians

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and Istanbul, Turkey -- In an incident that could seriously undermine the central U.S. aim in Afghanistan, dozens of civilians were killed or injured early Friday in a NATO airstrike, Afghan authorities said.

The predawn strike on a pair of hijacked fuel tankers in a remote part of northern Kunduz province killed more than 70 people, most of them civilians, according to Afghan police, provincial officials and doctors.

Dozens of villagers suffered serious burns in the massive fireball ignited when the tankers were hit, they said.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization is investigating the incident, which comes at a time of deepening political turmoil in Afghanistan. Tensions are running high as votes are tallied in the country's disputed presidential election.

Only days earlier, Western military officials touted figures showing a dramatic drop-off in civilian casualties inadvertently caused by Western troops, crediting strict new rules of engagement for the decline during July and August.

Upon assuming command of American and other Western forces in Afghanistan in mid-June, U.S. Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal declared the safeguarding of civilian lives his top priority, noting that such casualties, perhaps more than any other single factor, erode Afghan support for the presence of foreign forces.

In the initial hours after Friday's strike in Kunduz, Western military officials expressed confidence that nearly all those killed were insurgents.

But later reports trickling in from the scene painted a grim picture of impoverished villagers being engulfed by the explosion while trying to siphon fuel from the stranded tankers.

The incident could increase the strain on ties among NATO allies, further complicating the troubled war effort. The strike was called in by German troops, who make up the bulk of Western forces in Kunduz. Involvement in such a controversial act could depress already flagging domestic support in Germany for the Afghan mission.

Not long ago, Kunduz, near the border with Tajikistan, was considered a relatively quiet corner of the country, making it a logical base for German forces, who operate under strict "caveats" limiting their engagement in active combat. But insurgents in recent months have made increasingly bold forays into the area.

A Western military official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the airstrike, said the destruction of the hijacked tankers was considered a matter of urgency because it was feared that they could be used to launch suicide strikes on a German base close by.

The hijack drama began Thursday night when suspected Taliban militants commandeered the two tanker trucks on a main road. NATO recently started sending supplies into Afghanistan via Tajikistan, to the north, after Taliban militants in Pakistan's tribal areas repeatedly attacked what had been the most widely used supply route, which runs through the Khyber Pass.

After the hijacking, the trucks were tracked via aerial surveillance to a spot near the village of Omar Khel, where they became stuck when the hijackers tried to drive across a riverbed. Western military officials said they believed there were no civilians in the area, a crucial precondition for airstrikes under the new tactical directive issued by McChrystal soon after he took command.

But as is almost always the case, there was a time lag of more than half an hour between the decision to call in a strike and its execution, officials said. That may have given villagers time to get to the trucks after word spread that there was fuel for the taking.

Some Afghan officials said the Taliban encouraged people to take advantage of the bonanza on their doorstep, alerting villagers in the middle of the night to the stranded trucks' presence.

The initial casualty tally was provided by local officials, including pro-Western provincial Gov. Mohammed Omar, who said that many of the 70-plus dead were civilians. That number, which fluctuated through the day, could change. Because it was dark and the area remote, confusion was likely about how many people were present, how many were killed or hurt and where they were taken.

The handling of the incident will be a test for McChrystal's handpicked inner circle. In previous cases of large-scale civilian casualties, denials and slow investigations by U.S. and other Western forces inflamed anti-coalition sentiment.

It is not uncommon for such investigations to end with wide disagreement between Afghan and Western officials about the scope and nature of civilian casualties, engendering bitterness among the people.

In one of the most contentious cases, Afghan officials said about 140 civilians were killed in airstrikes in May outside the western village of Garani; the U.S. military acknowledged about half that number and said most were insurgents.

Canadian Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, the chief spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said that Friday's strike was "clearly directed at the insurgents" and said the alliance was "deeply concerned for the suffering that this action may have caused to our Afghan friends."

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the hijacking and blamed Western forces for the civilian deaths. News agencies quoted spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid as saying that the trucks were a fair target for the Taliban because they were supplying Western troops.

In Kabul, the Afghan capital, the U.N. mission issued a statement expressing concern about the reports of civilian casualties. The U.S. Embassy offered condolences to those killed and injured while emphasizing that it awaited the results of a joint investigation with Afghan officials.

President Hamid Karzai, who with challenger Abdullah Abdullah is awaiting election results, dispatched investigators and declared that targeting civilians "under no circumstances is acceptable." Karzai has for months been highly critical of Western battlefield practices that he says lead to far too many Afghan civilian deaths. That, together with problems like drug-fueled corruption in his government, have contributed to a cooling in his relations with the West.

Abdullah has accused Karzai of widespread and systematic vote-rigging. Many observers fear an explosion of violence if the vote tally, expected within days, puts the Afghan leader above the 50% mark, which he would need to win the Aug. 20 vote. With about 60% of the ballots counted, Karzai had about 47% of the vote.

The last two months have been the most lethal period of the 8-year conflict for Western troops. A French soldier was killed Friday and nine were injured in an explosion near Bagram air base, outside Kabul.

China removes city official in wake of violence

The head of a western city wracked by communal violence and a bizarre string of needle attacks has been sacked by Chinese authorities hoping to calm uneasy mobs and end protests that left the city on edge for three days.

Security was tight Sunday in Urumqi, but the city was calm with no sign of protests.

The removal of Urumqi's Communist Party Secretary Li Zhi on Saturday came amid reports of police again using tear gas to disperse crowds outside Urumqi's government offices, and more unconfirmed reports of hypodermic attacks, including one on an 11-year-old boy in a downtown square.

The city's chief prosecutor announced further details about four people arrested over the attacks, but offered little to back up the government's claims that they were an organized campaign to spread terror.

Protesters marched by the thousands Thursday and Friday demanding the resignation of Li and his boss, Xinjiang Party Secretary Wang Lequan, for failing to provide adequate public safety in the city. Also sacked was the police chief of Xinjiang, China's westernmost region that abuts Central Asia and whose capital is Urumqi.

An Urumqi government spokeswoman and the official Xinhua News Agency gave no reasons in announcing the changes. But riots in July were the worst communal violence in more than a decade in Xinjiang – where ethnic Uighur separatists have waged a sporadically violent campaign for a homeland. The renewed protests in the past week underscored the difficulties authorities were having in reasserting control.

The firing may also help quash calls to dismiss Wang – a member of China's ruling Politburo and an ally of President Hu Jintao.

“I would say that this is the sacrificial lamb,” said Russell Leigh Moses, an analyst of Chinese politics based in Beijing. “But it will be interesting to see what the reaction in the streets is and whether this satisfies people's anger or not.”

It wasn't clear whether protesters would be assuaged and two key demands – an end to the syringe attacks and the swift punishment of those responsible for the July rioting – have yet to be met.

Xinjiang police have detained 25 suspects in the syringe attacks, including four who were arrested and four others who were referred for criminal prosecution, Xinhua said.

Urumqi's prosecutor said two of the suspects jabbed a taxi driver with a heroin-filled syringe to steal 710 yuan ($105) to buy drugs.

Overall, a show of force by thousands of troops on patrols restored calm to much of the city. Paramilitary police manned checkpoints around government and party offices and put up barricades backed by tanks at entrances to a heavily Uighur neighborhood – a sign that officials were worried the mainly Han Chinese protesters might try to storm in.

More than 500 people have sought treatment for stabbings, though only about 100 showed signs of having been pricked, according to state media reports. Members of a visiting People's Liberation Army medical team said they conducted checks on 22 patients who showed clear signs of having been stabbed and found no indication that radioactive or biochemical substances had been used in any of the attacks.

Tests were still being conducted for HIV, hepatitis, and sexually transmitted diseases, said Qian Jun, one of the team's leaders. Samples have also been sent to Beijing for testing. In addition, the medical records of more than 200 victims have been checked.

Prosecutor Udgar Abdulrahman said four of the detained suspects were charged with endangering public security. Aside from the two who allegedly stabbed the taxi driver for drug money, Mr. Abdulrahman said the others acted separately. One allegedly jabbed a fruit seller and the other a police officer. No motive was given for the other attacks.

Mr. Abdulrahman did not cite an obvious political link to the stabbings, but said he believed there was a degree of co-ordination. “At this point, we think there is a plot and it is organized,” he said.

Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu said Friday the same Muslim separatists that Beijing blames for the July 5 ethnic rioting also orchestrated the syringe attacks.

Obama to give major health speech

Correspondents say Mr Obama will use the speech to regain the initiative on healthcare, after a summer dominated by opponents.

Passing a healthcare reform bill is Mr Obama's top policy priority for 2009.

The House of Representatives looks set to pass a bill, but US senators have yet to agree on the details of reform.

Town hall meetings

Although Mr Obama has given a number of speeches on healthcare reform at town hall meetings throughout the US, his address to Congress will be his most high-profile intervention in the healthcare debate since he entered the White House.

Mr Obama made a strategic decision to let lawmakers take the lead on drafting a healthcare bill, and urged each house of congress to pass a bill before the beginning of August. But negotiations in the Senate stalled, and although Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives struck a deal with moderate Democrats, paving the way for passage of a bill, neither chamber managed to come up with a bill before the beginning of the August recess.

During the recess, the airwaves were dominated by angry scenes at healthcare town hall meetings, as opponents of the bill expressed their discontent with some of the proposals for reform.

Lawmakers are set to return to work on 8 September.

Some 46 million people in America currently do not have health insurance, and rising healthcare costs are a major contributing factor to America's spiralling budget deficit.

But there is disagreement about how to go about reforming the system.

The deal the Democrats in the House of Representatives reportedly reached would mandate all Americans to take out health insurance, with subsidies for the less well-off paid for by a tax on families earning more than $350,000 a year.

The House bill would also offer Americans who do not get coverage through their employer the chance to join a publicly-run scheme.

But in the Senate negotiations have stalled, with moderate senators expressing opposition to both the tax and the public plan proposed by the House.

Both chambers need to agree on a bill before it can become law.

Jobless rate at highest level since ’83

WASHINGTON - At least it’s not all bad anymore.

The US unemployment rate climbed last month to 9.7 percent - the highest in nearly a generation - but the number of job losses was less than expected and the smallest monthly total in a year.

“It’s good to see the rate of job losses slow down,’’ said Nigel Gault, chief US economist at IHS Global Insight. But with unemployment rising, “there isn’t the underlying fuel there for strong consumer spending growth,’’ which is vital for a strong recovery.

Employers shed 216,000 jobs in August, the Labor Department said yesterday. That was 9,000 fewer than expected but a far cry from the job creation required to rejuvenate the economy: about 125,000 new jobs each month just to keep the unemployment rate from increasing.

The unemployment rate rose three-10ths of a percentage point since July, reaching its highest level since 1983, when it was 10.1 percent. Economists predict that the jobless rate will peak above 10 percent by the middle of next year.

At the same time, many analysts say the economy should grow by a healthy 3 to 4 percent in the third quarter, pulling the United States out of the longest recession since World War II.

Most of that improvement, though, stems from auto companies and other manufacturers refilling their depleted stockpiles. Those inventories had plummeted as factories and retailers sought to bring goods more in line with reduced sales during the recession. Without stepped-up demand from consumers, any current growth might not last.

The Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus package of tax cuts and increased spending contributed to the improvement, along with the popular cash for clunkers program. An $8,000 tax credit for first-time home buyers has also helped boost housing sales and stabilize prices.

Yet economists worry that none of that will be enough to sustain an economic recovery once the government’s efforts fade. As job losses persist and the unemployment rate climbs, even people with jobs will remain anxious about losing them and about spending too much.

For now, the August unemployment report sketched a bleak portrait of the job market. The number of jobless Americans jumped by nearly 500,000 to 14.9 million.

Jackson to be laid to rest with legends of Hollywood

Michael Jackson is due to be laid to rest tonight in a gold-plated coffin alongside the royalty of Hollywood.

More than two months after his sudden, drug-induced death sent millions of his fans into mourning, the King of Pop will be interred in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park's Great Mausoleum among such stars as as Clark Gable, Jean Harlow and WC Fields.

Among the guests bidding a final farewell will be his close friend Diana Ross, and former boss at Motown, Berry Gordy. Reports have suggested that either Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin - or both - will sing at the graveside.

But the funeral will not end the drama over Jackson's death at the age of 50 or the wider battle for the control of his legacy. Last week, Los Angeles County coroner’s officials said they believed Jackson’s death was homicide, and his death certificate has been amended to reflect that, citing “injection by another" as the fatal injury.

Investigators have said a mix of the powerful anesthetic propofol and another sedative killed the singer. The new record lists “acute propofol intoxication" as the main cause of death and “benzodiazepine effect" as another significant contributor.

The certificate does not mention Dr Conrad Murray, who was Jackson’s personal physician and appears to have become the main focus of the police inquiries. Dr Murray told detectives that he gave the singer a series of sedatives and propofol to try to help him sleep.

Today's service at the Forest Lawn cemetery in Glendale, will be in stark contrast to the lavis public memorial in July at LA's Staples Center, where Jackson had been rehearsing for his farewell concerts in London over the summer.

That ceremony was attended by 20,000 fans and beamed live around the world, although, as with the memorial, Jackson fans have been asked to stay away from the funeral and police have warned that surrounding areas and roads will be closed off.

Police helicopters and search dogs will patrol the 300-acre (120-hectare) cemetery, on the lookout for any fans trying to sneak into the service, due to start at 7:00 pm (0200 GMT Friday).

The Great Mausoleum is an elaborate neo-classical buidling inspired by Genoa’s Campo Santo and Jackson will be laid to rest in a crypt that is also homes to the remain of Gable and other screen legends.

Other entertainment giants buried at Forest Lawn include Humphrey Bogart, Nat King Cole, Walt Disney, Errol Flynn and Jimmy Stewart.

Although open to the public, the funeral home is renowned for its strict privacy, and unlike many other Hollywood cemeteries does not provide maps.

“The Great Mausoleum where he is going is like the Holy Grail of gravehunters,” Scott Michaels, who runs a sightseeing tour specialising in the macabre side of Hollywood, told The Los Angeles Times.

“There are cameras all throughout it, and if you are just wandering about, they will find you and kick you out."

Gordon Brown speaks at opening of G20 summit

Gordon Brown has pledged an end to bankers’ bonuses and payouts which reward failure and encourage risk, saying they were ‘an offence’ to the taxpayer.

The Prime Minister used the opening of today’s G20 summit of finance ministers to outline his stance on the tentative economic recovery and his plans for the future.

The talks are expected to be dominated by disputes over how to prevent a repeat of the risk taking in the finance sector blamed for the global recession.

While the UK are resisting proposals from France to cap payouts for bankers, claiming they are unenforceable, Brown promised there would be “no return to the past ways of governance”. He said: “Pay and bonuses cannot reward failure or encourage unacceptable risk-taking. It is offensive to the general public, whose taxpayers’ money in different ways has helped many banks from collapsing and is now underpinning their recovery.”

This weekend's summit comes as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecast positive growth and countries, including France, Germany and Japan, showed signs they were emerging from the recession.

Brown heralded the tentative recovery, but warned world leaders that withdrawing measures introduced to tackle the recession too early would be an ‘error of historic proportions’.

He claimed the fiscal stimulus programmes of increased public spending and tax cuts had prevented the world’s economies plunging into depression on the scale of the 1930s and must be sustained into 2010.

He said: “It is clear in my view that too early a withdrawal of vital support could undermine the tentative signs of recovery we are now seeing and lead to a further downward lurch in business and consumer confidence, reducing growth and employment and worsening governments’ debt problems over the longer term.

“The stakes are simply too high to get these judgments wrong, so to decide now that it is time to start withdrawing or reversing the exceptional measures we have taken would, in my judgment, be a serious mistake.

“On the contrary, with more than half of the 5 trillion fiscal expansion yet to start, I believe that the prudent course is for G20 countries to deliver those fiscal plans and the stimulus packages that have been put in place and make sure they are implemented in full both this year and next.”

Protesters wearing masks of the G20 leaders gathered for a small demonstration in the City of London yesterday ahead of the meeting.

Waving placards saying "Stop letting money rule the world," they called for ministers to do more to protect ordinary people from the impact of the global downturn.

Israel to OK new West Bank settlements

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will approve hundreds of new housing units in West Bank settlements before slowing settlement construction, two of his aides said Friday in Jerusalem.

The moves comes as an apparent snub of the U.S.'s public demand for a total settlement freeze. The White House expressed regret Friday at the Israeli plan, calling it counter-productive to launching peace negotiations.

The aides, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, also said Netanyahu would be willing to consider a temporary freeze in settlement construction, but their definition of a freeze would include building the new units and finishing some 2,500 others currently under construction.

The settlement suspension also would not include east Jerusalem, which the Palestinians hope to make their future capital.

The U.S. has a set a high public bar for a freeze, saying repeatedly that all settlement activity on lands the Palestinians claim for a future state must stop, without exception. However, Israel appeared to gain some wiggle room in recent weeks as the sides discussed the details of a would-be settlement freeze.

The information also appeared in major Israeli media Friday morning. It was unclear if Washington had prior knowledge of the Israeli announcement, which had the potential to undermine U.S. credibility in the Arab world.

LA wildfires 'were arson'

nvestigators found evidence of arson at the point of origin for the largest of eight fires burning in the county, which has blackened an area the size of Chicago.

"Arson investigators from the US Forest Service [and other agencies] ... have concluded that the Station Fire was the result of an arson," Forest Service Commander Rita Wears told reporters at a press conferencContainment of the main fire has increased to 38 percent, up from 28 percent on Wednesday, according to fire commander Mike Dietrich, who said his force of more than 4,700 firefighters was making "great progress".

But the amount of scorched landscape grew slightly, also, to nearly 145,000 acres, or about 226 square miles. The blaze, roaring out of control since August 26, prompted the evacuation of some 6,300 homes at the height of the threat.

As of Wednesday night, the all-clear had been given for the last of those foothill residents to return home.

Meanwhile, fire commanders expressed confidence that key facilities on Mount Wilson, home to a world-famous observatory and a telecommunications and broadcasting hub for the region, would be spared from damage.

Parents demand to vet Barack Obama school speech over ‘indoctrination’ fury

President Obama has been accused of trying to build a personality cult and indoctrinate America’s schoolchildren with a speech to be beamed into the nation’s classrooms next week.

Not a word of the speech has been published but it has been seized on by his opponents because of lesson plans for teachers issued by the White House to encourage discussion of the speech. Until they were hastily revised yesterday, the plans suggested that pupils write letters to themselves on what inspired them about Mr Obama and how they could help to achieve his goals.

Mr Obama will go ahead with the speech but it will be released a day early so that it can be vetted by wary parents, weary teachers and a gleeful Florida Republican who likes to call the President “Pied Piper Obama”.

Following in a tradition established by Presidents Reagan and Bush Sr, the speech will be broadcast live from a Virginia high school as public schools open and the country returns to work after Labor Day next Tuesday.The address and accompanying talking points were “tools to spread liberal propaganda”, according to Jim Greer, chairman of the Republican Party in Florida, where activists and some parents were advocating a “national skip school day” to avoid exposure to what the President has to say.

Several Texas school districts have made alternative plans for children whose parents do not want them to hear the speech, and school officials from California to South Carolina have reported fielding calls from parents concerned about Mr Obama’s message and his use of tax dollars to stream it into classrooms.

“This is not civics education,” Steve Russell, an Oklahoma state senator, said. “This is something you’d expect to see in North Korea or Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.”

The pre-emptive reaction has been shrill but not entirely undeserved. The White House admitted that its first set of talking points for teachers were “inartfully worded”. That wording had already triggered a furore that started on talk radio and the web but spread rapidly to the nation’s living rooms and school offices.

Some objections were logistical. “We have got too much to do that day,” the chairman of Loudon County School Board in Virginia told The Washington Post. “Loudon County Public Schools is not going to be interrupting the school day.”

Most were political. “I wouldn’t let my next-door neighbour talk to my kid alone; I’m sure as hell not letting Barack Obama talk to him alone,” Chris Stigall, a Kansas City talk show host, said.

White House aides insisted that the speech was never intended to be political and was entirely about working hard and staying in school — themes on which Mr Obama and the First Lady have spoken frequently to youth and minority audiences.

In the latest sign that the President no longer enjoys the benefit of the public’s doubts, his staff hastily revised plans for the address. It will now be made available to parents and teachers on Monday, while the suggestion that pupils write about how to help Mr Obama — possibly intended as an echo of President Kennedy’s plea to “ask not what your country can do for you” — has been scrapped in favour of a project on setting out short and long-term goals.

President Bush spoke live to the nation’s schools in 1991 to urge children to stay off drugs and make the case that it was “cool to be smart”. Democrats assailed him then for using $27,000 (£16,500) of public funds for what they called paid political advertising. In this way, as in many others, the Obama presidency already resembles its forebears.

The Afghan village devastated by Nato strike on Taliban

The two fuel tankers would have looked out of place, stuck by a river bank outside a small Afghan village. Local people came out to take a look and help carry makeshift containers with siphoned fuel inside from the stricken vehicles.

That is when the Nato missiles struck, wiping out much of the village of Omar Kheil, and doing critical damage to US and Nato hopes of making a fresh start in Afghanistan.

Taliban militants had hijacked the two tankers on the main road out of Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, and driven them to Omar Kheil, which is under their control, about 12 miles from the city. The hijacking, on Thursday night, was reported to the German Nato soldiers garrisoned nearby, who spotted the lorries this morning. At some point the German commander called in an air strike to deal with the problem. Estimates differ as to how many people were killed in the fireball, but they range from a few score to more than a hundred.

Moeen Marastial, a member of parliament from Kunduz, said: "Local people are telling me 130 people have been killed despite all the promises of Nato to do fewer bombardments and reduce civilian casualties. There will be a reaction to this. It is a very bad day for international forces in Afghanistan."

Muhammad Omar, the governor of Kunduz province, told the BBC 90 people were dead, but that number included senior Taliban militants.

Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, currently in the midst of an election controversy, said targeting civilians in any form was unacceptable and emphasised that innocent civilians must not be killed or wounded during military operations.

Nato's International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf) initially discounted reports that civilians were among the dead. "After assessing that only insurgents were in the area, the local Isaf commander ordered an air strike, which destroyed the fuel trucks, and a large number of insurgents were reportedly killed and injured," the first Isaf statement said.

That line was amended when the badly burned survivors started turning up at the local hospital.

Brigadier General Eric Tremblay told Reuters news agency: "It would appear that many civilian casualties are being evacuated and treated in the local hospitals. There is perhaps a direct link with the incident that has occurred around the two fuel trucks."

An investigation was launched into the incident which will focus on the decision by the German commander to call in the air strike. It happened in the same week the American commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal delivered a strategic assessment on the state of the war to Rasmussen and to Washington. It is known that one of its main thrusts was a change of emphasis from killing the Taliban to protecting civilians. Nato officers have been told that if they have Taliban fighters in their sights but there is a risk of civilian casualties they are to hold fire.

McChrystal believes Nato has alienated the Afghan people by excessive reliance on air strikes that have caused high civilian casualties. But Isaf functions as a patchwork of different national troop contingents, working in different circumstances and under different rules of engagement.

"It calls into question whether all the allies are taking on board the same strategy on civilian casualties," said Tomas Valasek, the director of foreign policy and defence at the Centre for European Reform.

German troops function under restrictions imposed by Berlin, which are aimed at limiting their own casualties and have resulted in them being more operationally cautious. The restrictions, known as caveats, have infuriated other Nato contingents operating alongside them. If the investigation suggests that an air strike was called in because the German force was reluctant to commit troops on the ground to recover the tankers, it will escalate a long-running row over caveats in Afghanistan that is endangering Nato unity.

The site of the incident is also likely to be a cause for concern. Until recently, Kunduz province was considered relatively tranquil. events have demonstrated there are Taliban-controlled zones on the outskirts of the main city.

Alongside a Taliban resurgence, there have also been reports of Uzbek groups operating in affiliation with al-Qaida. Security on the roads connecting Afghanistan to Tajikistan and Uzbekistan is crucial to the Nato war effort after the route through the Khyber pass was crippled last year.

General David Petraeus led US efforts to open a new "northern route" to central Asia by striking deals with Russia the former Soviet colonies to the north.

Marastial, the MP from Kunduz, said the hijacking of the trucks was part of a concerted Taliban effort to disrupt trucks taking fuel down from the US built bridge at the border crossing from Tajikistan.

White House will publicly release visitor logs

President Barack Obama said Friday that his administration will start releasing the names of people who visit the White House, reversing a long-standing policy transcending both Democratic and Republican presidents.

The move, which could shed light on who influences White House decision-making, comes following a White House review of its disclosure policy and legal pressure from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Until now, the Obama had sided with the Bush administration's stand of refusing to release records, in contrast with Mr. Obama's pledge of transparency.

But Mr. Obama said Friday: “We will achieve our goal of making this administration the most open and transparent administration in history, not only by opening the doors of the White House to more Americans, but by shining a light on the business conducted inside.”

“Americans have a right to know whose voices are being heard in the policymaking process,” the president said.

No records will be released right away.

Going forward, the policy covers visits starting Sept. 15, and each bunch of records will cover visits from the previous 90 to 120 days.

That means first wave of records should be posted to the White House Web site around Dec. 31.

The White House said that each monthly release will include “tens of thousands of electronic records.”

Mr. Obama said the policy will apply to virtually every visitor who comes to the White House for “an appointment, a tour, or to conduct business.”

Some names will be kept private, though. Those include people who are attending meetings of particularly sensitivity, such as possible Supreme Court nominees, and those who identity cannot be disclosed because of what the White House called national security imperatives.

The White House will not release records related to “purely personal guests” of the president's family and the vice president's family.

The records of visitors from the Jan. 20 start of Mr. Obama's presidency through Sept. 15 will not be covered by the policy. Instead, the White House's counsel office will respond to individual requests for records during that time, but only if those requests are deemed to be reasonable, narrow and specific.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which has long sought public access to White House visitor logs, has dropped all pending litigation.

“The Obama administration has proven its pledge to usher in a new era of government transparency was more than just a campaign promise,” said the group's executive director, Melanie Sloan. “The Bush administration fought tooth and nail to keep secret the identities of those who visited the White House. In contrast, the Obama administration – by putting visitor records on the White House web site – will have the most open White House in history.”

Donna Leinwand, president of the National Press Club, applauded the move, saying that “although the president has limited the disclosures, it is a step toward more transparency in government and a reversal of this administration's previous policy. We hope in time that the administration will allow more timely and broader access.”

“We hope the president will continue to choose greater transparency and access without news organizations and public interest groups having to go to court to force such access,” Ms. Leinwand said.

All About Steve' is all wrong for Sandra Bullock - and just about everyone else Read more:

n "All About Steve," Sandra Bullock waves her hands frantically at her side like a bird when she's excited, jabbers to a pet gerbil as if it's a person and is stared at like she's a freak-show attraction.

This is not how it should be.

For Bullock, "Steve" — a mean-spirited rom-com masquerading as a bless-the-outsiders underdog tale — is a lurch into the worst caricature of her screen persona. Since Bullock coproduced this masochistic venture, it seems she buys into the idea that fluffer-nut ditziness is what she does best.

Except it isn't. As this summer's hit "The Proposal" showed — proving what "Speed," "While You Were Sleeping," and "Two Weeks Notice" set in stone — Bullock's strength in comedies isn't that she can be a stumblebum (despite the pratfalls she executed in "Miss Congeniality"). It's that audiences can see themselves in her striving everywoman who trips on her tongue while hesitatingly, yet smartly and heroically, steps over boundaries. She's adorable without being a doormat.

"Steve" takes the doormat part, leaves adorable outside and makes Bullock's Mary Magdalene Horowitz a strange child-woman with a head full of "useless" knowledge and an inability to talk to people, much less connect. But that doesn't stop her from immediately jumping on Steve (Bradley Cooper), the TV cameraman she has a blind date with.

Mary creates crossword puzzles and lives with her parents, which is movie shorthand for "oddball." And since she seems borderline unhinged, Mary misunderstands Steve's brush-off and follows him around the country as he covers outrageous stories. Steve's nastiness never lets up, so the story has nowhere to go but into an abandoned mine, where Mary nearly dies for no other reason than narrative exhaustion.

Cooper's scruffy dismissiveness, so crucial to "The Hangover's" guy-centric humor, is totally wrong here, and director Phil Traill pairs him with a jackass TV reporter (Thomas Haden Church) who teases Mary. They're part of the movie's awfulness towards almost everyone, from supporting characters to Mary herself, who's such an object of ridicule she may as well have a dartboard around her neck.

When seen in context, all of the trailer's quirky moments become basically grade-school taunts, barely made tolerable by Bullock's star power.

And running through the witless script by Kim Barker ("License to Wed") is an unnecessary, shoehorned-in religiosity that would seem to run counter to the movie's cruel nature. It's just one more holy shame in this god-awful movie.

Read more:

CDC Study: Swine Flu Deaths Higher in Older Kids

The first detailed study of U.S. children killed by swine flu found the outbreak differs from ordinary flu in at least one puzzling respect: It appears to be taking a higher toll on school-age youngsters than on babies and toddlers.

At least 40 children have died, accounting for about one in 13 U.S. swine flu deaths, scientists with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Two-thirds of those already had high-risk health problems, confirming what officials have been saying about who is most vulnerable to swine flu.

It is not clear whether the new virus is more dangerous than ordinary seasonal flu for kids, though some health officials suspect it is. But the analysis shows some preliminary and important differences:— Normally, half or more of the children who die of the flu are 4 and under. But more than 80 percent of the kids who died with swine flu were 5 through 17. Dr. Beth Bell, a CDC epidemiologist, said that may be because older children spend time at school and summer camp, exposed to more people than younger children kept at home.

— Almost two-thirds of the children who died with swine flu had epilepsy, cerebral palsy or other neurodevelopmental conditions. In a previous flu season, only a third of the children who died had those conditions. — Other germs, working with swine flu in a one-two punch, were a big danger. A bacterial infection on top of the flu virus played a role in most of the deaths of otherwise healthy children.

Swine flu was first identified in April and is now responsible for almost all flu cases in the United States. It has caused more than 1 million illnesses so far, though most were mild and not reported, the CDC estimates. More than 550 lab-confirmed deaths and 8,800 hospitalizations have been reported.

Those statistics don't mean the new flu is worse than seasonal flu, which is particularly lethal to the elderly and plays a role in an estimated 36,000 deaths each year, the CDC says.

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German forces ordered Nato airstrike

Germany’s armed forces on Friday said they had called the Nato airstrike on two hijacked fuel tankers in northern Afghanistan that burned more than 50 people to death.

A German army spokesman told news agency dpa that a German reconstruction team based in Kunduz, northern Afghanistan had requested the attack, which caused jet fuel in the tankers to ignite.Mohammed Omar, the governor of Kunduz, told the Financial Times by telephone that the Taliban had stolen the vehicles, which exploded as villagers gathered near a river-bank in the middle of the night to collect fuel.

However, the German defence ministry said it did not believe that bystanders were among the dead. German aircraft were not involved in the attack.

“After observing that only insurgents were in the area, the local ISAF commander ordered air strikes which destroyed the fuel trucks and killed a large number of insurgents,” a spokesperson for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force told Reuters. “The strike was against insurgents. That is who we believe was killed.”

Civilian casualties from Nato strikes have caused outrage among Afghans. The new commander of Nato and US forces in the country, General Stanley McChrystal, has made curbing such casualties a main focus of his strategy

Nato Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen promised a full investigation into reports of civilian deaths.

If it does emerge that civilians were caught up in the blast the incident could rekindle local anger at the continuing presence of Nato troops in Afghanistan.

Violence against German troops based in the north of Afghanistan has steadily increased in recent months, prompting the Bundeswehr’s first major offensive against insurgents in the run-up to the recent Afghan election.

News that German commanders were involved may also come as a severe blow to Berlin’s efforts to convince a sceptical public that the mission in Afghanistan is worth completing.

The conflict has so far played a relatively minor role in the German election campaign, as the two major parties that make up the governing grand-coalition agree that the mission should continue.

The radical Left party is campaigning to bring German troops home from Afghanistan and captured a larger-than-expected share of the vote in last weekend’s three regional elections.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from and redistribute by email or post to the web.

Xinjiang protests: Five dead in Urumqi after syringe security clashes

Chinese police and protesters clashed for a second day in Urumqi after a spate of mysterious stabbings with syringes brought simmering ethnic tensions in the capital city close to boiling point.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred protesters from China's ethnic Han majority who had gathered outside the Communist Party headquarters of the far western province, demanding better security.

The protests, while smaller than those on Thursday, where more than 10,000 came out to demonstrate, reflect the continued fragility of communal relations in the city two months after an outbreak of ethnic violence left nearly 200 dead in July.

"On Thursday, fourteen people were injured and sent to hospital and five people were killed in the incidents including two innocent people," Zhang Hong, vice-mayor of Urumqi, told reporters.

He declined to say what he meant by "innocent" and gave no further breakdown of who the dead were.

The clashes come at a highly sensitive time for the Chinese authorities in Beijing, who are preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in China on Oct 1 and have called repeatedly for "stability" to be maintained in the run-up to the celebrations.

Thousands of paramilitary police flooded into Urumqi's central People's Square, setting up security cordons to keep the peace between Han Chinese and the city's Uighur Turkic Muslim minority, who were blamed by authorities for the majority of the July killings.

Crowds gathering outside the office of Xinjiang's party secretary, Wang Lequan, chanted for him to resign and threw plastic bottles at police after fresh reports of the syringe stabbings, which have created panic among sections of the Han community.

When police tried to subdue a protester who challenged them, the crowd pushed back, shouting "Release him! Release him!"

Hundreds of armed police reinforcements rushed to the scene and eventually dispersed the crowd about one hour after the incident began.

The protesters have said they are angry that the government has not delivered swift and harsh justice to Uighurs, who have been charged with of taking part in the bloodletting in July which left almost 150 Han dead, according to official figures.

Schools were closed across the city for three days, leaving groups of youths milling around on street corners as paramilitaries drove through streets ordering people to "go home" and "maintain order".

On Friday the local government also issued an order banning public protests and calling on police and authorities to "strike the criminals hard". Anyone defying the ban would face "severe punishment", authorities said.

However, the mood of dissent on the streets remained palpable.

"The government is really lame. Everybody can see that now. It's been two months and they still have not dealt with this properly. How can that be?" asked Wang Jinren, who watched Friday's protest from his jade store.

"They have come up with no plan for dealing with these problems. They need to explain to the people how they are going to address this. But these problems are so big, maybe no one can solve them."

Public concern over the spate of syringe attacks – blamed on Uighur "separatist" elements by the authorities – grew into something approaching panic this week after the government sent text messages warning people to be vigilant against possible attack.

Rumours of Aids patients attacking people with infected needles have rattled parts of China in the past, but have later been shown to be unfounded.

However, official figures released by Xinjiang's health department said that 476 people had reported to hospital claiming to be victims of a syringe attack, although regional television said that doctors had only found "clear syringe marks in 89 cases".

On Friday, victims of stabbings spoke of their fears as they left Xinjiang's People's Hospital having received treatment.

Jiang Ye, 36, showed a bruise and puncture-mark she says was sustained at Urumqi's crowded railway station where she had gone to pick up a friend.

"I felt this sharp stabbing pain in my arm," said Jiang, who is Han, "I didn't see who did it. It was raining really hard and the sky was dark, but I do recall that there were some Uighurs right near me at that point." Her husband, 41-year-old He Zeyong, said he joined Thursday's protests in Urumqi "out of anger" over what happened to his wife, but was calmer now.

"The government is actively taking measures now to ensure security so we are confident... We just want things to be peaceful and safe here," He, who runs a small grocery store with his wife, told the AFP news agency.

US unemployment rate 9.7 pct as 216,000 jobs lost

WASHINGTON — The US unemployment rate jumped to 9.7 percent in August as 216,000 jobs were lost, the government said Friday in a report showing improving labor market conditions.

The jobless rate rose three-tenths of a point to the highest since June 1983, but the data nonetheless showed an easing of the massive pace of job losses in an economy struggling to emerge from recession.

The Labor Department report, seen as one of the best indicators of economic momentum, showed job losses narrowed considerably. Revised rate showed 276,000 jobs lost in July and 463,000 in June, higher than prior estimates of 247,00 and 443,000, respectively.

The consensus expectation was for 230,000 job losses and an unemployment rate of 9.5 percent in August.

The civilian labor force rose by 73,000 in August, suggesting more people are returning to the workforce to seek employment in anticipation of better conditions.

The US economy shrank at a 1.0 percent annual pace in the second quarter, reflecting an easing of the deep recession that led to a 6.4 percent pace of decline in the first quarter.

Many economists expect the world's biggest economy to show growth in the current quarter although difficult labor market conditions could crimp consumer spending and dampen any recovery.

The Labor Department's August data showed a loss of 136,000 jobs in the goods-producing sectors including 63,000 in manufacturing and 65,000 in construction.

The services sector shed 80,000 jobs including 10,000 in retail.

The only segment showing growth was education and health care, with 52,000 jobs added.

The average workweek in the private sector, sometimes seen as a proxy for economic activity, was unchanged at 33.1 hours.

Ethnic tension flares over syringe attacks in Chinese city of Urumqi

Thousands of angry protesters marched in China’s only Muslim-majority region today to demand government action over a series of hit-and-run syringe attacks blamed on the ethnic Uighur group.

The unrest is certain to unsettle the authorities, coming just weeks after angry Uighurs rampaged through the streets of the city of Urumqi in riots that left 197 dead in the worst violence in China in 50 years.

The Government will be desperate to calm tempers and restore order as the leaders in Beijing are preparing for the Communist Party’s biggest party in a decade to celebrate 60 years of party rule.

One resident of Urumqi said he saw a group of ethnic Han Chinese beating up a man from the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighur minority, accusing him of being among those suspected of stabbing passers-by with syringes. A Han Chinese man told The Times: “Thousands of people, maybe tens of thousands gathered in People’s Square today to protest. We don’t believe the Government is doing enough to protect us from these syringe attacks.”

The crowd chanted: “Useless government, useless government” as they milled for hours in the city’s main square.

The boss of the Xinjiang region, Wang Lequan, the Communist Party secretary, made his way to the square and took up a megaphone to appeal to the crowds to disperse quietly. His appearance further inflamed the protesters.

“Wang Lequan resign, Wang Lequan resign,” they shouted. Then another roar erupted. “Wang Lequan is a bastard.” The party secretary swiftly withdrew from the square. The crowd did then begin to thin out.

The party secretary is a hardliner who has governed the region with a grip of iron for 14 years. Many Uighurs, now accounting for less than half the population in a region where they were once in an overwhelming majority, chafe under Chinese rule and a tiny minority even dream of independence from Beijing.

The depth of ethnic tension was underscored by the latest reports of bizarre syringe attacks reported on the streets of Urumqi. Officials say people of all ethnic groups have been hurt and 15 people have been detained for the stabbings. They have given no figure for the number of injured nor a breakdown of their ethnic background.

Several people have been treated in hospital but there have been no reports that anyone has been seriously hurt. The China Daily website said no one had been infected or poisoned by the syringe stabbings.

The Han Chinese resident told The Times: “People are pretty nervous to go out on the streets now. Parents make sure that they accompany their children to and from school to protect them from this kind of attack.”

He said the Government had been too slow to respond. That complaint echoed those that followed the riot that raged through Urumqi on July 5 when angry Uighurs beat, stoned, stabbed and set fire to Han Chinese, killing well over 150 people. Others who died are believed to have been Uighurs killed in revenge attacks or rioters shot by paramilitary armed police.

Hospitals declined to give any details of those injured in the bizarre syringe stabbings. An official at the regional People’s Hospital said: “This is a secret matter. Only the government is authorised to give information.”

However, witnesses said groups of relatives of some of the injured had gathered outside the hospital to wait for news of their loved ones. They were described as extremely agitated.

Zhao Jianzhuang, a Han resident, said he had joined a large crowd of protesters who were being blocked by riot police from marching on central People's Square, less than 1 mile (1.6 km) away.

He said anger was stoked by a perceived delay in trials for those arrested after the July riot, as well as by the recent spate of stabbings. “There are so many security forces deployed here, yet they're incapable of protecting us.”

North Korea inching closer to nuclear readiness

SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea announced Friday that its process of enriching uranium is nearly complete, giving it a new way to make nuclear bombs as the U.S. and regional powers discuss how to bring the communist country back to disarmament talks.

The move raises concerns that North Korea may soon produce uranium-based bombs in addition to those made from plutonium.

The U.S., China, Japan, Russia and South Korea had been trying for years to persuade North Korea to dismantle its plutonium-based nuclear program, which experts say has yielded enough weaponized plutonium for at least half a dozen bombs, in exchange for much-needed aid.

After hashing out a 2007 disarmament-for-aid deal, North Korea walked away from those talks earlier this year in anger over the rising international outcry over a rocket launch widely condemned as a disguised test of its long-range missile technology.

Uranium can be enriched in relatively inconspicuous, underground factories, and could provide North Korea with an easier way to build nuclear bombs, according to experts in the U.S. and at South Korea's Institute of Nuclear Nonproliferation and Control.

Uranium-based bombs may also work without requiring test explosions like the two carried out by North Korea this May and in 2006 for plutonium-based weapons.

Washington's special envoy on North Korea, Stephen Bosworth, said any nuclear development in North Korea was a matter of concern.

"We confirm the necessity to maintain a coordinated position and the need for a complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula," he said in Beijing during an Asian trip to discuss North Korea with counterparts in China, South Korea and Japan.

The U.S. had long suspected that the North also had a covert uranium enrichment program, which would give it a second source of nuclear material. North Korea for years denied the claim but revealed in June that it was prepared to start enriching uranium.

"Experimental uranium enrichment has successfully been conducted to enter into completion phase," North Korea said in a letter to the U.N. Security Council carried Friday by its official Korean Central News Agency.

Verifying North Korea's claim on uranium enrichment won't be easy, South Korean Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said, adding that it could be a negotiating tactic.

However, the announcement suggests the regime has made progress in research and development in its uranium program in a small pilot factory, said Lee Choon-geun of South Korea's state-funded Science and Technology Policy Institute. Still, he said it could take at least five years to build a uranium-based bomb.

North Korea also said Friday it is continuing to weaponize plutonium. The 2007 deal had called for disabling its reactor.

The tough talk indicated North Korea's impatience with the U.S. as Washington continues to pursue sanctions against the North despite a series of overtures from it in recent weeks.

"We are prepared for both dialogue and sanctions," the North said in the letter to the Security Council. If some permanent council members "wish to put sanctions first before dialogue, we would respond with bolstering our nuclear deterrence first before we meet them in a dialogue," it said.

A Security Council resolution sought to punish North Korea for carrying out an underground nuclear test in May by tightening an arms embargo and authorizing ship searches on the high seas to try to rein in the North's nuclear program. It also ordered an asset freeze and travel ban on companies and individuals involved in the its nuclear and weapons programs.

North Korea said it does not oppose the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but warned it would be left with no choice but to take "yet stronger self-defensive countermeasures" if the standoff continues. It did not elaborate on the possible countermeasures.

Bosworth, who is to meet with South Korean officials starting Saturday, reaffirmed Washington's position to engage North Korea -- but only within the framework of the six-nation disarmament talks.

The North has long sought one-on-one negotiations with Washington, claiming the nuclear dispute is an issue between Pyongyang and Washington.

It says it needs the nuclear program as a security guarantee against a threat from the U.S., which has 28,500 troops based in South Korea, which technically remains at war with the North because their three-year conflict ended in 1953 with a truce, not a peace treaty.

Friday's action is a message from North Korea to Washington seeking "direct dialogue while warning that its nuclear stockpile will increase unless Washington sits down with Pyongyang for negotiations," said Lee Sang-hyun, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute think tank near Seoul.

South Korea expressed regret over the North's announcement.

"The North's move to continue provocative steps ... can never be tolerated. We will deal with North Korea's threats and provocative acts in a stern and consistent manner," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Japan urged North Korea to refrain from actions and remarks that could heighten tensions.

"We will definitely not tolerate North Korea possessing nuclear weapons," Japanese Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said.

Death toll from Indonesian earthquake reaches 45

The death toll from the earthquake which struck Indonesia on Wednesday has risen to 45, while dozens more people remain missing among the heavily damaged areas of West Java.

Rescue efforts continued overnight after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake rocked southern Indonesia, unleashing mudslides that buried villagers in their homes.

"At least 45 people have been killed so far. We are still searching for the survivors who might still be buried under their houses or buildings," Maman Susanto, a disaster management agency worker, said.

At least 110 people were taken to hospital after the quake struck just off the coast of the densely populated island of Java, with at least ten in critical condition. The tremor struck on Wednesday afternoon and caused heavy damage across the West Java province, severely damaging 18,000 homes and hundreds of offices, mosques and other buildings. Most of the deaths and injuries were caused by falling debris or collapsed walls and roofs.

A village in the Cianjur district was hit by a landslide, burying dozens of locals under tons of rock and mud. At least 10 bodies were recovered and villagers were digging in search of about 40 people listed as missing.

In Cikangkareng, about 60 miles south of Jakarta in the South Cianjur district, a landslide sent rocks cascading onto much of the village and its residents.

"Many of our young were buried by the landslide. We need food, we don't have food," said Rohim, one of the villagers.

“The earthquake was shaking everything in my house very strongly for almost a minute,” Heni Maryani, a resident in the town of Sukabumi told a local radio station. “I grabbed my children and ran out. I saw people were in panic. Women were screaming, and children were crying.”

A tsunami warning was issued after the quake struck just before 3pm (0755 GMT), but was lifted an hour later. Several dozen aftershocks were measured by geological agencies.

The prolonged shaking from the quake, which the Indonesian Meteorological and Geophysics Agency put at 7.3, was felt hundreds of miles away on the resort island of Bali.

In the capital, Jakarta, 125 miles away, thousands of panicked office workers flooded out of swaying skyscrapers onto the streets. The disaster management agency said dozens of people remain missing, and there are fears that the death toll will rise.

Neighbouring countries have offered to help deal with the aftermath of the earthquake.

"We've said to the Indonesian authorities we will work with them in terms of any assistance that we can provide," Kevin Rudd, the Australian Prime Minister, said.

Yukio Hatoyama, Japan's next Prime Minister after his Democratic Party of Japan's landslide election victory, said his government would provide help "regardless of any request”.

"We need to make sure there are no delays in providing aid that we would normally be able to provide because of a policy vacuum," he said.

Indonesia, a vast archipelago, straddles continental plates and is prone to seismic activity along what is known as the Pacific Ring of Fire. A huge quake off western Indonesia caused a powerful tsunami in December 2004 that killed about 230,000 people in a dozen countries, half of them in the Aceh province.

Indian politician Y.S.R. Reddy, Andhra Pradesh minister, killed in jungle helicopter crash: reports

HYDERABAD, India — A powerful Indian politician and four other people were killed when their helicopter crashed in the dense jungles of southern India during a pounding rainstorm, Indian media reported Thursday.

The helicopter carrying Andhra Pradesh state Chief Minister Y.S.R. Reddy, 60, lost contact with air traffic controllers Wednesday morning as heavy rains pelted the region, setting off a frantic 24-hour search operation involving the army, air force and police in an area infested with Maoist rebels.

On Thursday morning, commandoes and police finally reached the site of the crash after hacking through the jungles and found the bodies of all five people who had been on the aircraft, including Reddy, Press Trust of India reported, quoting officials from the ruling Congress Party.

Television also reported that five bodies had been found at the site about 170 miles (275 kilometers) south of the state capital, Hyderabad. There was no immediate official confirmation of Reddy's death.

On Thursday, rescue teams crossing dense jungle and hilly terrain on foot reached the site, 8 kilometers (5 miles) from the nearest village, Rudrakodur.

There was no immediate indication that the helicopter was shot down.

The privately owned helicopter took off from Hyderabad and lost contact with air traffic controllers about 45 minutes into the flight.

Reddy, who was on an inspection tour of various rural social welfare programs, was accompanied by a bodyguard, two officials and a photographer.

Reddy, who belongs to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's ruling Congress Party, had won a second term in office in elections held this year.

The rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting for more than three decades in several Indian states, including Andhra Pradesh, demanding land and jobs for agricultural laborers and the poor.

While the militants have a great deal of power in parts of rural India, they have little day-to-day control outside of isolated forests and villages.

More than 6,500 people have been killed in the violence.

Kennedy memoir reveals remorse over Chappaquiddick

NEW YORK -- In a posthumous memoir, Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy writes of fear and remorse surrounding the fateful events on Chappaquiddick Island in 1969, when his car accident left a woman dead, and says he accepted the finding that a lone gunman assassinated his brother President John F. Kennedy.

The memoir, "True Compass," is to be published Sept. 14 by Twelve, a division of the Hachette book group. The 532-page book was obtained early by The New York Times.

In it, Kennedy says his actions on Chappaquiddick on July 18, 1969, were "inexcusable." He says he was afraid and "made terrible decisions" and had to live with the guilt for more than four decades.

Kennedy drove off a bridge into a pond. He swam to safety, leaving Mary Jo Kopechne in the car.

Kopechne, a worker with slain Sen. Robert F. Kennedy's campaign, was found dead in the submerged car's back seat 10 hours later. Kennedy, then 37, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and got a suspended sentence and probation.

Kennedy also writes in the memoir that he always accepted the official findings on his brother John's assassination.

He said he had a full briefing by Earl Warren, the chief justice on the commission that investigated the Nov. 22, 1963, Dallas shooting, which was attributed to Lee Harvey Oswald. He said he was convinced the Warren Commission got it right and he was "satisfied then, and satisfied now."

In the book, Kennedy writes candidly about his battle with brain cancer and his "self-destructive drinking," especially after the 1968 death of his brother Robert.

He also explains why he decided to run for the presidency in 1980, saying he was motivated in part by his differences with then-President Jimmy Carter. He criticized Carter's go-slow approach to providing universal health care.

The book was written with the help of a collaborator and was based on contemporaneous notes taken by Kennedy throughout his life and hours of recordings for an oral history project.

Kennedy died last week at age 77.

Obama's big gamble on healthcare debate

The president seeks to retake control of the healthcare debate with his speech to a joint session of Congress next week. But it carries great risk as well.Reporting from Washington - President Obama's announcement that he will take his case for revamping healthcare before a joint session of Congress next week reflects a decision to go "all in" politically, laying his prestige on the line for the defining domestic issue of his young presidency.

Obama is gambling that he can tilt the balance in his favor by spelling out in detail just what he wants from the House and Senate in the coming weeks.

Until now, Obama has avoided laying out a blueprint for healthcare, confining himself to statements of broad goals and leaving the particulars to Congress. White House officials said Wednesday that this strategy had helped keep the legislative wheels turning and avoid stalemate.

But it also has left many of Obama's supporters confused about where he stands and has given conservative critics a chance to seize control of the debate, as when some charged that Democrats would create "death panels" to deny medical treatment for the severely ill. Although no such language has ever appeared in legislation being considered in either house, the controversy focused attention on claims that care would be rationed among the elderly in a new healthcare system.

White House strategists say the joint session speech, scheduled next Wednesday, will end the uncertainty and confusion, enabling Obama to shift from defense to offense as Congress begins to make the hard decisions on healthcare.

"I think the path that he believes we should go [in] will be clear to everyone who hears this speech," senior White House advisor David Axelrod said Wednesday. "I don't think anyone will leave . . . without a clear sense of what he proposes, and what healthcare reform is not."

Ralph Neas, head of the National Coalition on Health Care, an amalgam of union, health and medical groups supporting the legislation, said, "President Obama must become the salesman-in-chief" to regain the political momentum. "The most ambitious and important legislation in 45 years compels such a massive presidential effort."

Republicans reacted skeptically. "I don't think the problem is the messaging, I think the problem is the substance," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). "The problem is what he's trying to sell. I think there's been serious blowback and negative reaction across the country to what they are proposing."

The exact time of the speech has not been set, but is likely to be in prime time.

As White House strategists prepare for the address, they are struggling with problems on two fronts.

Their own party is divided; liberals are demanding a more active role for government while moderates balk at radical change and the potential cost. Meantime, large segments of the public are uneasy about changing a system that, though troubled, continues to serve the needs of many.

To address those concerns, the administration may face compromises on several key issues:

On cost containment, with estimates that the overhaul could cost $1 trillion over 10 years, Republicans have hammered Obama on the ballooning deficit. Doing more to lower costs would require cutting back the scope of the program, which could stir anguish among the president's liberal supporters.

On Medicare, proposals to offset new expenditures by curbing outlays for the program serving the elderly have spread panic among senior citizens. Strategists say Obama must find a way to still their anxieties.

On the creation of a government insurance plan to pressure private insurers to offer better deals, the GOP has charged that a government takeover of healthcare is in the works. White House officials are considering a "trigger," authorizing a government plan only if private insurers fail to offer more affordable coverage.

This approach could attract support among some relatively conservative "Blue Dog" Democrats and potentially win at least one or two Republican votes, including that of Maine Sen. Olympia J. Snowe.

Axelrod, commenting on reports that the White House is negotiating with Snowe, said, "The important thing to take away from that is that Sen. Snowe acknowledges what we believe: that competition and choice can be very important in the insurance system, and particularly in this pool of people who are uninsured."

Whatever the final outcome, the White House can claim to have gotten farther down the legislative path than the last president to make a major push on healthcare, Bill Clinton.

Clinton also took healthcare reform to a joint session of Congress, and polls showed a surge in public support. But he made his pitch before his administration had worked out the specifics. And by the time the plan was unveiled, opponents had turned public opinion and the effort failed.

Obama's strategy carries major risks, however.

If he fails to move the opinion polls, his position could be seriously weakened.

One new poll shows a slim majority opposes Obama's plan to reform healthcare. The CNN/Opinion Research poll taken over the weekend showed 51% oppose it and 48% support it.

"This is his big moment in managing a majority coalition," said David Winston, a GOP strategist who compared Obama's challenge to those faced -- unsuccessfully -- by three other former leaders: Clinton on healthcare, President George W. Bush on Social Security, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich in the budget battle that shut down part of the government during Clinton's first term.

"Every one of them overreached," said Winston. "But the question is, do they understand they have overreached? And what do they do in response?"

Can Obama win back support for health care reform?

Most Americans are confused about the health care reform proposals before Congress. That’s good news.

I had feared that August — featuring some town hall protesters who seemed to believe President Obama was the spawn of the devil — revealed a nation returned to the Dark Ages, willing to believe in witches, evil spells and the perversity of black cats. Anybody who sincerely believed that the president wanted to kill off the frail elderly might believe anything. (After all, the president was devoted to his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who died, at the age of 86, just hours before his election as president.)

If Americans are merely confused about health care reform, as a new CBS poll shows, that’s a relief. Confusion can usually be cleared up with a simple yet persuasive public relations campaign. Indeed, last month, NBC’s Chuck Todd noted:”After being read a statement that includes actual details of the Obama health care plan, a majority — 53 percent — say they are in favor of it.”

But this isn’t the usual campaign for change. This is an all-out battle against entrenched monied interests, including many physicians, most health insurance companies and the pharmaceutical industry; health care spending accounts for about 17.6 percent of gross domestic product. Obama and his allies can also count among their opponents a Republican Party determined to stop health care reform at all costs, not because of any principled ideological concerns but because GOP leaders see it as a way to ruin his first term.

So it’s not at all clear whether President Obama has a decent shot at dissipating the distortions, exaggerations and outright lies that his critics have thrown into the debate, like stink bombs, in an effort to kill genuine reform. The president’s poll numbers are sinking like lead.

And he has now even lost the support of some members of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which had initially backed his plans for reform as a moral imperative. Ultra-conservative bishops have been misled by the mendacity about taxpayer-funded abortions, euthanasia and “rationing.” “No health care reform is better than the wrong sort of health care reform,” Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa, wrote in a recent pastoral letter, according to The New York Times.

Given a 50-year-history of failed efforts to fund universal access to health care, Obama should have been better prepared for the opposition. So why has he done such a poor job? How could he lose support for a proposition which was popular during the campaign and helped him get elected?

Emory University psychology professor Drew Westen, author of “The Political Brain,” blames Obama’s aversion to conflict and partisan combat.

“This president and his leadership team believe that leadership is channeling hope, and even touching (voters’) anger and anxiety is off limits. It’s the politics of (Michael) Dukakis,” Westen said, evoking the failed Democratic presidential candidate whose bloodless response to a hypothetical question about his wife as a rape victim came to symbolize a campaign that never connected with voters.

Republicans, Westen noted, have no compunctions about using emotion, which always sways voters more effectively than reason. Nor do they have any aversion to engaging in the most egregious demagoguery, if it helps them accomplish their goals.

Obama and his Democratic allies may finally have understood what they are up against. There cannot be any bipartisan approach to health care reform without an opposition party willing to negotiate with a shred of intellectual honesty. The GOP isn’t showing any signs of intellectual honesty, so there’s no reason to waste time reaching for a bipartisanship solution.

And there won’t be broad support for an overhaul of the health care system unless Obama can manage a simple message that cuts through the distortions of his opponents. That might require him to put aside his “no drama” persona and go for the jugular. But he can’t wait much longer.

For Common Male Problem, Hope Beyond a Pill

IF you watch enough television, you’d think that treating erectile dysfunction was as effortless as popping a pill and then whirling your partner around the living room in a romantic dance. Correcting erectile dysfunction, alas, is not so simple — and it can be rather costly. One Viagra pill, for example, the most common way to treat erection problems, costs about $15.Insurers can be chary of reimbursements. And despite the fact that E.D., as the dysfunction is known, becomes increasingly common after men reach 65, Medicare Part D does not cover drugs for it.

An estimated 30 million men in this country experience erectile dysfunction. Nearly a third of men in their 50s experience E.D., whereas more than half of those in their 60s have the problem.

If you’re hoping to have Viagra-aided sex twice a week, your bill for the entire year could run around $1,500. If you’re fortunate enough to have insurance that covers the medications, your co-pay will be on the high side, around $40 for a one-month supply of six to eight pills — bringing your annual bill to a more manageable $500 or so. There are no generic versions of E.D. meds yet.

Even among the name-brand drugs, which also include Cialis and Levitra, the medications do not work for about half of the men with E.D., says Dr. Ajay Nehra, professor of urology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He is also president of the Sexual Medicine Society, an association of health care professionals.

And yet, as it turns out there are other treatments for E.D. And some of them are more cost-effective than the brand-name pills advertised on television.

“There is not a man out there that cannot be helped in some way with his E.D. — even if money is an issue,” says Dr. Andrew McCullough, an associate professor of urology and director of Male Sexual Health and Fertility at the Langone Medical Center at New York University.

The first step is to see a doctor who specializes in E.D. (usually a urologist) and have your overall health checked out. If your primary care physician can’t make a recommendation, contact the Sexual Medicine Society and ask for a referral.

In many of cases, E.D. is the sign of an underlying disorder like diabetes or hypertension. In fact, in younger men, erection problems are often the first symptom of cardiovascular disease.

“Erectile problems may show up about three years before a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke,” says Dr. Ira Sharlip, clinical professor of urology at the University of California, San Francisco.

That’s because plaque will start to clog the small arteries in the penis before the wider coronary arteries. Your doctor will also try to determine whether your E.D. is the result of a psychological issue, in which case he will refer you to a therapist. Depending on your policy, your insurer may cover a set number of visits. (One way for you to check on your own whether your issue may be psychological or physical is try the postage stamp test, also known as nocturnal penile tumescence test.)

By adopting healthier habits, you may be able to improve your overall well-being and restore your erectile function.

“There is increasing evidence that we can reverse erectile dysfunction with lifestyle changes,” says Dr. Drogo K. Montague, director of the Center for Genitourinary Reconstruction in the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

In a recent study of men with E.D., or at risk for developing it, researchers in Italy found that the men could improve their erections by losing weight, improving their diet and exercising more frequently. After two years of significant lifestyle changes, 58 percent of the men had normal erectile function, according to the study, which was published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine in January.

But lifestyle changes, while basically free, can be difficult to make and may take months to take effect. In the meantime, your doctor will probably prescribe a phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor, also called a PDE-5 inhibitor, like Viagra, Cialis or Levitra. These drugs enhance the effects of nitric oxide, a chemical that helps to increase blood flow in the penis. The three drugs work in the same way, but differ in how quickly they take effect and how long they last. If the PDE-5 drugs don’t work for you, don’t give up quickly, says Dr. McCullough, who theorizes that “in over 40 percent of drug failures the problem is with the user, not the drug.” Dr. McCullough adds, “it’s important to take these medications as directed, like on a totally empty stomach, rather than a full one, and not less than 60 minutes before sex.”

If the pills don’t work for you, you might want to try self-administered injections of alprostadil, a drug that helps blood vessels expand and facilitates erections. Granted, this may sound onerous, but the shot, which is sold under the brand names Edex and Caverject, is done with a fine needle, feels no worse than a pinprick and produces an erection that can last up to four hours, according to doctors who recommend it.

The shots cost about $35 per injection and are covered by most insurers, but not by Medicare.

But ask your doctor about an injection that’s a cocktail of generic forms of alprostadil, papaverine and phentolamine.

Although this generic combination is not F.D.A.-approved as an E.D. treatment, doctors are legally free to administer it — and both Dr. Sharlip and Dr. McCullough recommend it.

“The generic injections clearly work the best,” Dr. Sharlip said, “and are usually less expensive.”

Another cost-effective option is a vacuum erection device or penis pump. It works like this: you place a tube on the penis and then pump the air out of the tube, which pulls blood into the penis. When the penis is erect, you then put a snug ring around the base to maintain the erection, which lasts long enough to have sex.

The cost for the device, which requires a prescription, can run from $300 to $600, but most insurers and Medicare will cover part of the cost and the device should last for years. Even if you spend $300 out of pocket and use the device once a week, you’ll be spending much less per year than on pills or injections. You can also buy a nonprescription pump online (even Amazon carries some) for as little as $30, Dr. McCullough said.

Finally, if all other treatments fail, you could consider getting penile implants, an effective and permanent solution for chronic E.D. The most common type of implant works through inflation: two cylinders are placed inside the penis and a fluid-filled reservoir is implanted under the abdominal wall or groin muscles; a pump and a deflation valve are placed inside the scrotum. To create an erection, you pump fluid from the reservoir into the cylinders. To deflate the penis, you press the release valve.

Most insurers and Medicare cover the surgery, so your out-of-pocket costs will be minimal. This might be the most cost-effective strategy of all since, according to Dr. Nehra, 80 percent of implants last 10 years.

Report: DJ AM Smoked Crack, Swallowed OxyContin

Authorities say they haven't ruled out suicide as a possiblity in the death of DJ AM. And there might several good reasons for that.

A law-enforcement source has told People that the 36-year-old deejay and club owner, whose real name was Adam Goldstein, had eight undigested OxyContin pills in his stomach when he died, plus one in his mouth when his body was discovered.

"He wanted to die," the insider said. "He was going unconscious when he took the last one. He didn't even swallow it."

It was previously reported that prescription pills and drug paraphernalia were found in Goldstein's Tribeca apartment

His previous battles with substance abuse were well-documented, most recently in the not-yet aired MTV show Gone Too Far, and he had been nursing a broken heart—but friends have been skeptical about the idea of suicide.

Goldstein's ex, for one, is especially offended by the theory that their breakup caused him to take his own life. Especially considering they were still a couple as far as she is concerned.

"Any indication that this horribly tragic accident happened because of a rumored breakup is not only untrue but disgusting," model Hayley Wood said in a statement to Us Weekly. "We were very much together at the time of his passing, and I love him very much."

The source also told People that a 2009 Valentine's Day card from Wood was sitting atop Goldstein's laptop, which was on the coffee table in his living room, along with a handful of photos of the two of them.

A mirror was reportedly propped up against the bedroom door from the inside and, when authorities entered the room to find Goldstein dead in his bed, the mirror fell over and shattered. A crack pipe was next to him and they found crack under his body.

Goldstein apparently "smoked a lot of crack, barricaded the doors and killed himself," the source told the magazine.

Meanwhile, People is also reporting that a celebratory memorial will be held for Goldstein Thursday night at the Hollywood Palladium, which last October was the site of DJ AM's first performance following the plane crash that he and Travis Barker survived.

"The format of the evening will be in the style of an open 12-step meeting," read the memorial invite. "Adam's friends both from his life in recovery, as well as those from other areas of his life are welcome. We ask only that everyone adhere to the tradition of anonymity and let what they hear there, and who they see there, stay there."

Disney to buy Marvel

WASHINGTON - THE WALT Disney Co. announced Monday it has agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment Inc, whose stable of characters includes Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men, in a stock and cash deal valued at four billion dollars.

'We believe that adding Marvel to Disney's unique portfolio of brands provides significant opportunities for long-term growth and value creation,' Disney president and chief executive Robert Iger said in a statement.

'We are pleased to bring this talent and these great assets to Disney.'

Marvel chief executive Ike Perlmutter said Disney is 'the perfect home for Marvel's fantastic library of characters given its proven ability to expand content creation and licensing businesses.

'This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney's tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world,' he added.

Besides Spider-Man, Iron Man and the X-Men, Marvel's cast of over 5,000 characters includes Captain America, the Fantastic Four and Thor.

Disney and Marvel said Marvel shareholders would receive a total of US$30 per share in cash plus approximately 0.745 Disney shares for each Marvel share they own.

It said that based on the closing price of Disney stock on Friday, the transaction value is 50 dollars per Marvel share or approximately four billion dollars.

Perlmutter will continue to oversee the Marvel properties, which include Marvel Studios, Marvel Animation and Marvel Comics, and will 'work directly with Disney's global lines of business to build and further integrate Marvel's properties,' the statement said.

It said the boards of directors of both companies have approved the transaction but it still needs the green light from anti-trust authorities and Marvel shareholders. -- AFP