U.S. health officials update Zika transmission and testing guidance

2016-07-26 06:43:40

U.S. health officials issued updated recommendations for preventing and testing for Zika infection on Monday, warning that the virus can be transmitted through unprotected sex with an infected female partner.Previously, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other experts, believed that the virus could only be sexually transmitted by males because it can reside in semen potentially for several months.For that reason, the CDC had recommended that men who had been infected abstain from unprotected sexual contact for at least six months with a partner who is pregnant or hoping to become pregnant.But a recently reported case of female-to-male sexual transmission in New York City, and limited human and non-human primate data indicating that Zika virus RNA can be detected in vaginal secretions, led to the new warning, the agency said.CDC's expanded warnings on sexual exposure to Zika now caution against sex without a condom or other barrier method of protection with any person, male or female, who has traveled to or lives in an area with Zika, including female to female transmission with a pregnant partner. CDC also provided updated interim guidance for healthcare providers caring for pregnant women with possible exposure to the virus, expanding the window for Zika-specific blood testing from a week after the onset of symptoms, or believed exposure, to 14 days."New information has indicated that some infected pregnant women can have evidence of Zika virus in their blood for longer than the previously recommended seven-day window for testing after symptoms begin, and that even pregnant women without symptoms can have evidence of the virus in their blood and urine," the agency said. CDC also advises that pregnant women, with possible Zika exposure but no symptoms, receive testing as well."Expanding the use of the Zika-specific test could provide more women with Zika virus infection a definite diagnosis and help direct medical evaluation and care," CDC said. Zika has been proven to cause microcephaly, a birth defect marked by small head size that can lead to serious developmental problems, and has been linked to other severe fetal brain abnormalities. The connection between Zika and microcephaly came to light last fall in Brazil, which has now confirmed more than 1,600 cases of microcephaly that it considers related to Zika infections in the mothers.CDC has currently listed 400 pregnant women in the United States with evidence of Zika exposure on its registry. (Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Editing by Tom Brown)

Turkey widens post-coup purge, demands Washington hand over cleric

2016-07-18 20:08:41

ISTANBUL/ANKARA Turkey purged its police on Monday after rounding up thousands of soldiers in the wake of a failed military coup, and said it could reconsider its friendship with the United States unless Washington hands over a cleric Ankara blames for the putsch.The sacking of thousands of police officers followed orders for the detention of thousands of judges and prosecutors in the aftermath of Friday night's coup, in which more than 200 people were killed when a faction of the armed forces tried to seize power.The swift response, including calls to reinstate the death penalty for plotters, drew concern from Western allies who said Ankara must uphold the rule of law in the country, a NATO member that is Washington's most powerful Muslim ally.Thousands of members of the armed forces, from foot soldiers to commanders, were rounded up on Sunday, some shown in photographs stripped to their underpants and handcuffed on the floors of police buses and a sports hall. Several thousand prosecutors and judges have also been removed. A senior security official told Reuters that 8,000 police officers, including in the capital Ankara and the biggest city Istanbul, had been removed from their posts on suspicion of links to Friday's coup bid.Thirty regional governors and more than 50 high-ranking civil servants have also been dismissed, CNN Turk said. Annual leave was suspended for more than 3 million civil servants, and those already on leave were ordered back to their posts.In the latest violence, an unidentified assailant burst into the office of the deputy mayor of a district in Istanbul and shot him in the head.Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said 7,543 people had so far been detained, including 6,038 soldiers.Turkey blames the failed coup on Fethullah Gulen, a cleric based in the United States who has a wide following in Turkey and denies any involvement. Ankara has demanded Washington hand him over. Washington says it is prepared to extradite him but only if Turkey provides evidence linking him to crime. Yildirim rejected that demand."We would be disappointed if our (American) friends told us to present proof even though members of the assassin organization are trying to destroy an elected government under the directions of that person," Yildirim said."At this stage there could even be a questioning of our friendship," Yildirim added.Yildirim said 232 people were killed in Friday night's violence, 208 of them civilians, police and loyalist soldiers, and a further 24 coup plotters. Officials previously said the overall death toll was more than 290.ERDOGAN'S PLANE IN REBEL SIGHTS Around 1,400 others were wounded as soldiers commandeered tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets in their bid to seize power, strafing parliament and the intelligence headquarters and trying to seize the main airport and bridges in Istanbul.The coup crumbled after President Tayyip Erdogan, on holiday at the coast, phoned in to a television news program and called for his followers to take to the streets. He was able to fly into Istanbul in the early hours of Saturday, after rebel pilots had his plane in their sights but did not shoot it down.On Sunday he told crowds of supporters, called to the streets by the government and by mosques across the country, that parliament must consider their demands to apply the death penalty for the plotters."We cannot ignore this demand," he told a chanting crowd outside his house in Istanbul late on Sunday. "In democracies, whatever the people say has to happen."He called on Turks to take to the streets every evening until Friday, and late into Sunday night his supporters thronged squares and streets, honking horns and waving flags.Turkey gave up the death penalty in 2004 as part of a program of reforms required to become a candidate to join the EU. Germany said on Monday that Turkey would lose its EU status if it reinstates the death penalty.Yildirim said Turkey should not act hastily over the death penalty but could not ignore the demands of its people. The bloodshed shocked the nation of almost 80 million, where the army last used force to stage a successful coup more than 30 years ago, and shattered fragile confidence in the stability of a NATO member state already rocked by Islamic State suicide bombings and an insurgency by Kurdish militants.NTV television reported that Cemil Candas, deputy mayor of Istanbul's Sisli district, was in critical condition after being shot in the head by an assailant in his office on Monday. It was not immediately clear whether the attack was connected to the failed coup. Sisli district is controlled by an opposition party which, like other groups in parliament, opposed the coup.Western countries said they supported Erdogan's government but Ankara should abide by the rule of law."We stand squarely on the side of the elected leadership in Turkey. But we also firmly urge the government of Turkey to maintain calm and stability throughout the country," U.S. Secretary of State Kerry told a news briefing in Brussels where he attended a gathering of European counterparts."We also urge the government of Turkey to uphold the highest standards of respect for the nation's democratic institutions and the rule of law. We will certainly support bringing the perpetrators of the coup to justice but we also caution against a reach that goes well beyond that."Referring to Gulen, Kerry called on Turkey to furnish evidence "that withstands scrutiny", rather than allegations.EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also called on Ankara to avoid steps that would damage the constitutional order."We were the first ... during that tragic night to say that the legitimate institutions needed to be protected," she told reporters on arrival at the EU foreign ministers meeting. "We are the ones saying today rule of law has to be protected in the country," she said. "There is no excuse for any steps that take the country away from that."Turkey's pro-Kurdish HDP opposition, parliament's third largest party, said it would not support any government proposal to reintroduce the death penalty. The main CHP opposition said the response to the coup attempt must be conducted within the rule of law and that the plotters should face trial. "HEAVY BLOW" TO MILITARYTurkish security forces are still searching for some of the soldiers involved in the coup bid in various cities and rural areas but there is no risk of a renewed bid to seize power, a senior security official told Reuters.The official said Turkey's military command had been dealt "a heavy blow in terms of organization" but was still functioning in coordination with the intelligence agency, police and the government. Some high-ranking military officials involved in the plot have fled abroad, he said.Erdogan has long accused Gulen of trying to create a "parallel state" within the courts, police, armed forces and media. Gulen, in turn, has said the coup attempt may have been staged, casting it as an excuse for Erdogan to forge ahead with his purge of the cleric's supporters from state institutions.The swift rounding up of judges and others indicated the government had prepared a list beforehand, the EU commissioner dealing with Turkey's membership bid, Johannes Hahn, said."I'm very concerned. It is exactly what we feared," he said in Brussels.A Turkish official acknowledged that Gulen's followers in the armed forces had been under investigation for some time, but denied that an arrest list had been prepared in advance."In our assessment, this group acted out of a sense of emergency when they realized that they were under investigation. There was a list of people who were suspected of conspiring to stage a coup," the official said."There was no arrest list. There was a list of people suspected of planning a coup." (Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Robert-Jan Bartunek in Brussels, Francois Murphy in Vienna, Ece Toksabay, Gulsen Solaker and Dasha Afanasieva in Ankara, Can Sezer, David Dolan, Ayla Jean Yackley and Asli Kandemir in Istanbul; Writing by Nick Tattersall and Peter Graff, editing by Peter Millership)

Dallas police chief expresses worry about armed civilians in Texas

2016-07-12 04:44:11

DALLAS The Dallas police chief said on Monday that Texas state laws allowing civilians to carry firearms openly, as some did during the protest where five officers were fatally shot, presented a rising challenge to law enforcement, as he stepped into America's fierce debate over gun rights.Dallas Police Chief David Brown, during a news conference, also gave new details about his department's use of a bomb-carrying robot to kill Micah Johnson, the 25-year-old former U.S. Army reservist who carried out the sniper attack that also wounded nine other officers last Thursday.A shooting incident in Michigan on Monday underscored the prevalence of gun violence in America and the danger faced by law enforcement, even as activists protest fatal police shootings of two black men last week in Louisiana and Minnesota.Two sheriff's bailiffs were shot to death at a courthouse in St. Joseph in southwestern Michigan, and the shooter was also killed, Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey told reporters.By Monday evening, protesters were marching again in several American cities, including Chicago, Sacramento, California, and Atlanta, where local news footage showed a number of protesters being arrested after street demonstrations north of downtown. President Barack Obama and others reiterated their calls for stricter guns laws after last month's massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, but many conservatives responded that such measures could infringe on the U.S. Constitution's protection of the right to bear arms. Texas is known for its gun culture, and state laws allow gun owners to carry their weapons in public. Some gun rights activists bring firearms to rallies as a political statement. Some did that at Thursday's march in Dallas."It is increasingly challenging when people have AR-15's (a type of rifle) slung over, and shootings occur in a crowd. And they begin running, and we don’t know if they are a shooter or not," Brown said. "We don’t know who the 'good guy' versus who the 'bad guy' is, if everybody starts shooting." Seeing multiple people carrying rifles led police initially to believe they were under attack by multiple shooters.Brown did not explicitly call for gun control laws, but said: "I was asked, well, what's your opinion about guns? Well, ask the policymakers to do something and I'll give you an opinion." "Do your job. We're doing ours. We're putting our lives on the line. Other aspects of government need to step up and help us," he added.'SIMPLY MISTAKEN'Rick Briscoe, legislative director of gun rights group Open Carry Texas, said Brown was "simply mistaken" in viewing armed civilians as a problem."It is really simple to tell a good guy from a bad guy," Briscoe said. "If the police officer comes on the situation and he says: 'Police, put the gun down,' the good guy does. The bad guy probably continues doing what he was doing, or turns on the police officer." Police used a Northrop Grumman Corp (NOC.N) Mark5A-1 robot, typically deployed to inspect potential bombs, to kill Johnson, 25, after concluding during an hours-long standoff there was no safe way of taking him into custody, Brown said."They improvised this whole idea in about 15, 20 minutes," Brown said."I asked the question of how much (explosives) we were using, and I said ... 'Don't bring the building down.' But that was the extent of my guidance."The incident is believed to have been the first time U.S. police had killed a suspect that way, and some civil liberties activists said it created a troubling precedent. But Brown said that in the context of Thursday's events, "this wasn't an ethical dilemma for me."The attack came at the end of a demonstration decrying police shootings of two black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and near St. Paul, Minnesota. Those were the latest in a series of high-profile killings of black men by police in various U.S. cities that have triggered protests. In Dallas, a vigil was held for the slain officers on Monday evening. In Chicago, images and footage on social media and local news stations showed about 500 protesters marching through downtown after holding a quiet sit-in in Millennium Park that spilled into the streets and a rally near City Hall.In Atlanta, local media footage showed a number of handcuffed protesters being loaded onto a police bus surrounded by armed officers and emergency vehicles with lights flashing. Television station WSB-TV reported that police started arresting demonstrators marching on Peachtree Road at about 8:30 p.m.In Sacramento, about 300 people were marching peacefully on Monday evening. Earlier in the day, in an incident not linked to protests, Sacramento police said officers fatally shot a man carrying a knife after he charged at police.Johnson served with the U.S. Army Reserve from 2009 to 2015 and served for a time in Afghanistan. He had been disappointed in his experience in the military, his mother told TheBlaze.com in an interview shown online on Monday."The military was not what Micah thought it would be," Delphine Johnson said. "He was very disappointed. Very disappointed."The Dallas police chief, who is black, urged people upset about the conduct of police to consider joining his police force."Get off that protest line and put an application in, and we'll put you in your neighborhood, and we will help you resolve some of the problems you're protesting about," he added. (Additonal reporting by Jon Herskovitz in Austin, Texas, Fiona Ortiz and Justin Madden in Chicago, Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, and David Beasley in Atlanta; Writing by Daniel Wallis, Scott Malone and Eric M. Johnson; Editing by Will Dunham and Peter Cooney)

UPDATE 1-Kazakhstan expects decision on Tuesday on Tengiz oil field expansion

2016-07-04 16:59:08

(Adds context, background)ASTANA, July 4 Kazakhstan and a consortium of oil companies led by Chevron will announce on Tuesday their decision regarding a proposed plan to boost production at the Tengiz oil field, Kazakhstan's Energy Ministry said on Monday.The ministry's brief statement gave no details, but the market has been expecting the two sides to approve the expansion plan - one of the biggest oil projects in the world with costs estimated at $37 billion. Tengiz, in which Exxon Mobil and Lukoil also have stakes, will increase output to 36 million tonnes (720,000 barrels per day) a year by 2021 from 27 million tonnes currently, if the plan is approved. Daniyar Berlibayev, deputy chief executive of national oil company KazMunayGaz said in May that the expansion could be financed by borrowing. Tengizchevroil, the joint venture running Tengiz, sent final documents to banks for a $3 billion five- to seven-year loan agreement last week.Tengiz accounts for more than a third of total crude output in the Central Asian nation which is the biggest ex-Soviet oil producer after Russia. (Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Vladimir Soldatkin, Greg Mahlich)

Supreme Court firmly backs abortion rights, tosses Texas law

2016-06-28 14:45:02

WASHINGTON The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday struck down a Texas abortion law imposing strict regulations on doctors and facilities in the strongest endorsement of abortion rights in America in more than two decades.The 5-3 ruling held that the Republican-backed 2013 Texas law placed an undue burden on women exercising their right under the U.S. Constitution to end a pregnancy, established in the court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.The abortion providers who challenged the law said it was medically unnecessary and specifically intended to shut clinics. Texas officials said it was intended to protect women's health. The ruling means similar laws in other states are probably unconstitutional and could put in jeopardy other types of abortion restrictions enacted in various conservative states."The decision should send a loud signal to politicians that they can no longer hide behind sham rationales to shut down clinics and prevent a woman who has decided to end a pregnancy from getting the care she needs," said Jennifer Dalven, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union.President Barack Obama, whose administration backed the abortion providers in the court challenge, said in a statement he was "pleased to see the Supreme Court protect women's rights and health" and that restrictions like those in Texas "harm women's health and place an unconstitutional obstacle in the path of a woman's reproductive freedom."Conservative Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court's four liberal members in the ruling, with the remaining three conservatives dissenting. The court declared that both key provisions of the law - requiring abortion doctors to have difficult-to-obtain "admitting privileges" at a local hospital and requiring clinics to have costly hospital-grade facilities - violated a woman's right to an abortion.Writing for the court, liberal Justice Stephen Breyer said, "We conclude that neither of these provisions offers medical benefits sufficient to justify the burdens upon access that each imposes.""Each places a substantial obstacle in the path of women seeking a pre-viability abortion, each constitutes an undue burden on abortion access, and each violates the federal Constitution," Breyer added.Deferring to state legislatures over "questions of medical uncertainty is also inconsistent with this court's case law," Breyer added. The ruling in the case, Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt, represented the most vigorous affirmation of abortion rights in the United States since a 1992 ruling affirmed a woman's right to have the procedure.On a warm sunny summer day, hundreds of people on both sides of the issue converged on the Supreme Court building, with abortion rights advocates dancing and celebrating after the ruling. "We're ecstatic. The reality is today women won," abortion rights activist Marcela Howell said.The law was passed by a Republican-led legislature and signed by a Republican governor in 2013. Ten states currently have admitting privileges requirements on the books while six have laws requiring hospital-grade facilities. Lower courts have blocked admitting privileges provisions in five states and halted facilities regulations in two states. "The decision erodes states’ lawmaking authority to safeguard the health and safety of women and subjects more innocent life to being lost. Texas' goal is to protect innocent life, while ensuring the highest health and safety standards for women," Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott said.Since the law was passed, the number of abortion clinics in Texas, the second-most-populous U.S. state with about 27 million people, had dropped from 41 to 19.The Supreme Court has appeals pending in two cases involving admitting privilege laws in Mississippi and Wisconsin on which it could act as soon as Tuesday.     The Texas law required abortion doctors to have "admitting privileges," a type of formal affiliation, at a hospital within 30 miles (48 km) of the clinic so they can treat patients needing surgery or other critical care.The law also required clinic buildings to possess costly, hospital-grade facilities. These regulations covered numerous building features such as corridor width, the swinging motion of doors, floor tiles, parking spaces, elevator size, ventilation, electrical wiring, plumbing, floor tiling and even the angle that water flows from drinking fountains.PUBLIC OPINION SPLITAmericans remain closely divided over whether abortion should be legal. In a Reuters/Ipsos online poll involving 6,769 U.S. adults conducted from June 3 to June 22, 47 percent of respondents said abortion generally should be legal and 42 percent said it generally should be illegal. Views on abortion in the United States have changed very little over the decades, according to historical polling data.The last time the justices decided a major abortion case was nine years ago when they ruled 5-4 to uphold a federal law banning a late-term abortion procedure.Amy Hagstrom Miller, founder and CEO of Whole Woman’s Health, which led the challenge to the Texas law, said, "Every day Whole Woman’s Health treats our patients with compassion, respect and dignity - and today the Supreme Court did the same. We’re thrilled that today justice was served and our clinics stay open."Presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton on Twitter called the ruling "a victory for women in Texas and across America.""This fight isn't over: The next president has to protect women's health. Women won't be 'punished' for exercising their basic rights," she said, a dig at presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who once suggested women who get illegal abortions should face "some sort of punishment." The presidential election is Nov. 8.Some U.S. states have pursued a variety of restrictions on abortion, including banning certain types of procedures, prohibiting it after a certain number of weeks of gestation, requiring parental permission for girls until a certain age, imposing waiting periods or mandatory counseling, and others."It's exceedingly unfortunate that the court has taken the ability to protect women’s health out of the hands of Texas citizens and their duly-elected representatives," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican, said in a statement.Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Clarence Thomas and Justice Samuel Alito dissented. The normally nine-justice court was one member short after the Feb. 13 death of conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who consistently opposed abortion in past rulings. (Reporting by Lawrence Hurley; Additional reporting by Adam DeRose, Jon Herskovitz and David Ingram; Editing by Will Dunham)

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