Thursday, August 30, 2007

Taliban freed remaining seven South Korean hostages

KABUL,Afghanistan - The Taliban released the remaining seven South Koreans held hostage since July 19 in central Afghanistan.

The hostages were handed over today to the International Committee of the Red Cross in the eastern province of Ghazni, head of the ICRC's Afghan delegation said.

The South Korean government later confirmed that it had taken custody of the former captives, part of a group of Christian relief workers, at an undisclosed location.

"It has been a long wait, but again they're in good health,"head of the ICRC's Afghan delegation Reto Stocker said. Twelve hostages were freed yesterday.

South Korea crafted a deal with the Taliban that officials in Seoul said involved reiterating plans to withdraw the country's 200 soldiers from Afghanistan this year and ending missionary activities there. The Taliban had demanded a South Korean withdrawal and the release of imprisoned fighters.

An agreement was reached to release the remaining hostages at face-to face talks between South Korean and Taliban negotiators two days ago. Indonesian diplomat Heru Wicaksono mediated in the talks.

The hostages were seized July 19 when their bus was stopped by the Taliban fighters as it was traveling to Kandahar in the south.

"As far as we can ascertain, they are in relatively good health. The individuals freed today will join those released earlier and will return home together as soon as possible," Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho Hee Yong told reporters in Seoul

The hostages are expected to arrive in Seoul this weekend.In the weeks that followed the capture of the South Koreans, by the Taliban fighters shot dead two male hostages,and reiterated their threat to kill more. Two women were freed on August 12.

The Taliban is still holding a German citizen who was taken along with another German July 18 in Wardag province, west of Kabul. The other hostage was shot dead, German authorities said.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Obesity rates climb in most US states

WASHINGTON,USA - Obesity rates continued their climb in 31 US states last year.No state showed a decline.Mississippi became the first US state to crack the 30 percent barrier for adult residents considered to be obese. West Virginia and Alabama are just slightly behind, according to the Trust for America's Health, a research group that focuses on disease prevention.

Colorado continued its reign as the leanest state in the nation with an obesity rate projected at 17.6 percent.

This year's report, for the first time, looked at rates of overweight children ages 10 to 17. The District of Columbia had the highest percentage — 22.8 percent. Utah had the lowest percentage of overweight youth — 8.5 percent.

Ten of the 15 US states with the highest rates of adult obesity are located in the South. Rates of adult obesity now exceed 25 percent in 19 states, an increase from 14 states last year and 9 in 2005. In 1991, none of the states exceeded 20 percent.

US Health officials say the latest state rankings provide evidence that the nation has a public health crisis on its hands.

"Unfortunately, we're treating it like a mere inconvenience instead of the emergency that it is," said Dr. James Marks, senior vice president at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Officials at the Trust for America's Health advocate for the government to play a larger role in preventing obesity. People who are overweight are at an increased risk for diabetes, heart problems and other chronic diseases that contribute to greater health care costs.

"It's one of those issues where everyone believes this is an epidemic, but it's not getting the level of political and policymaker attention that it ought to.As every candidate for president talks about health care reform and controlling health care cost costs, if we don't hone in on this issue, none of their proposals are going to be affordable," said Jeffrey Levi, the organization's executive director.

Many believe weight is a personal choice and responsibility. Levi doesn't dispute that notion, but he said society can help people make good choices.

"If we want kids to eat healthier food, we have to invest the money for school nutrition programs so that school lunches are healthier.If we want people to be more physically active, then there have to be safe places to be active. That's not just a class issues. We've designed suburban communities where there are no sidewalks for anybody to go out and take a walk," Levi said.

Twenty-two percent of American adults report that they do not engage in any physical activity. Mississippi has the highest rate of inactivity at 31.6 percent and Minnesota had the lowest rate of inactivity at 15.4 percent.And,while every US state has school physical education requirements, many are limited in scope or are not enforced.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study last year noting a national obesity rate of about 32 percent — a higher rate than was cited for any of the states in the Trust for America's Health report. The CDC's estimate came from weighing people rather than relying on telephone interviews, US officials explained.

Adult Obesity League Tables, by State (1 = Highest rates of adult obesity)

1: Mississippi

2: West Virginia

3: Alabama

4: Louisiana

5:(tie): South Carolina,Tennessee

7: Kentucky

8: Arkansas

9 (tie): Indiana, Michigan, Oklahoma

12 (tie): Missouri, Texas

14: Georgia

15: Ohio

16: Alaska

17: North Carolina

18: Nebraska

19: North Dakota

20 (tie): Iowa, South Dakota

22: Wisconsin

23 (tie): Pennsylvania, Virginia

25 (tie): Illinois, Maryland

27: Kansas

28: Minnesota

29: Delaware

30: Oregon

31 (tie): Idaho, Washington

33: Maine

34: Florida

35: Wyoming

36: California

37: Nevada

38 (tie): New Hampshire, New York

40 (tie): D.C., New Jersey

42: New Mexico43: Arizona

44: Utah45: Montana

46: Rhode Island

47 (tie): Connecticut, Hawaii

49: Vermont

50: Massachusetts

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Slovenian Mass Grave Could Be The Largest In Europe

MARIBOR,Slovenia - Slovenian authorities have begun exhuming a mass grave in the Tezno forest, north-eastern Slovenia, where over 15 000 victims slain after World War 2 by the former communist regime are supposed to be buried.

Slovenian officials estimate that a mass grave found near Maribor will most likely prove to be the largest in Europe, surpassing even that of the eastern Bosnian town of Srebrenica where the genocidal Serbian army mass murdered up to 10,000 unarmed Bosnian men and boys in July 1995,during the Serbian aggression against Bosnia.

Exhumations in Tezno, a residential district of Slovenia's second-largest city Maribor, are likely to uncover the remains of thousands of victims of purges carried out immediately following World War II, according to Slovenian government officials.

"It just might be that the greatest crime of the period following World War 2 will be uncovered in the mass grave in Tezno, one that even surpasses that of Srebrenica," Joze Dezman, head of the Commission on Concealed Mass Graves, told Slovenian state radio.

Dezman referred to Tezno as "the murderous epicentre of Europe," according to the English-language newspaper The Slovenia Times.

Slovenian officials believe the grave might include the remains of roughly 15,000 Croat members of the forces of the Croatian pro-Nazi Ustashas regime, who were trying to escape from Yugoslavia at the end of the World War 2.

The mass grave was originally an anti-tank trench dug by Germans near the end of the World War 2. It is 1 kilometer long, 4 to 6 meters wide and the layer of human remains measures 1.5 to 2 meters deep, according to the Slovenian daily Delo.

The mass grave was first found by chance in 1999 during highway construction in a forest near Tezno. At the time, 1,179 remains were found in an incomplete excavation of the site. A new exhumation began two weeks ago.

After holding elections in 1990, Slovenia declared independence and was spared the violence that tore the region apart in the following decade.. It is the only one of the six former Yugoslav republics to have joined the European Union and Nato.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cuba's Foreign Minister Backs Barack Obama On Embargo

Cuba's Foreign Affairs Minister Felipe Perez Roque said he welcomed a call by U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to ease the U.S. embargo on Cuba.

In an opinion piece on Tuesday in The Miami Herald newspaper, the Illinois senator Barack Obama proposed easing restrictions for Cuban exiles to travel to Cuba or send money home.

"These declarations appear to express the sentiment of the majority of the United States," Cuba's Foreign Affairs Minister Felipe Perez Roque said when asked to comment on Obama's proposal.

"Measures by the Bush administration to tighten the decades-old blockade were barbaric and an effort to try to force our people to surrender through hunger and illness," Roque told reporters in Brazil's capital.

Now most Cubans in the U.S. can only visit the island once every three years and can only send quarterly remittances of up to $300 per household to immediate family members. Previously, they could visit once a year and send up to $3,000. The U.S. also tightened restrictions on travel for educational and religious groups.

Obama's campaign confirmed that, if elected, the Illinois senator would lift restrictions imposed by the Bush administration and allow Cuban-Americans to visit their relatives more frequently, as well as ease limits on the amount of money they can send to their families.

Obama's rival Sen. Hillary Clinton said she would continue the Bush administration's hard-line stance, for the most part. Clinton's campaign said she agrees that exiles should be able to freely send money to their relatives but said she does not favor ''any wholesale, broad changes'' to the travel restrictions. Clinton did vote with Obama in 2005 - unsuccessfully - to ease restrictions on family travel in ``humanitarian cases.''

The vote of Cuban Americans has been considered key for U.S. presidential candidates to win Florida. The community is deeply divided over the trade embargo on Cuba enforced by the U.S. since 1962.

"The blockade has to be dismantled and the rights of Cuba respected," Roque said.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Venezuela's National Assembly Enables Hugo Chavez To Become A Lifelong President

CARACAS, Venezuela - Venezuela's National Assembly gave yesterday unanimous initial approval to constitutional reforms.President Chavez proposed changes to the constitution, including the lifting of presidential term limits.

The Venezuelan National Assembly President Cilia Flores said the proposed changes to the constitution, including the lifting of presidential term limits were approved by all 167 lawmakers.

The reforms will extend presidential terms from six to seven years and allow Chavez to run again in 2013.President Chavez presented reforms to end central bank autonomy, increase state expropriation powers and give the president direct control over monetary reserves.

The legislature will hold two more votes to ratify the changes, which must be approved through a popular referendum that legislators say they hope will take place in early December,2007.

The Venezuelan government opponents have attacked the reforms, saying they will weaken democracy by permitting Hugo Chavez to become a lifelong president of Venezuela.

President Chavez was re-elected by more than 60 percent of voters in the elections held on December 3, 2006, on promises to steer his oil-producing nation toward socialism.Chavez says the changes will give Venezuelans greater decision-making power and aid the transfer of billions of dollars from Venezuela's foreign reserves into social programs.

Chavez said that the Venezuelan government should be able to control assets of private companies before winning a court expropriation ruling.Chavez also said the maximum workday would be reduced to six hours from eight hours per day as part of the reforms.

"This reform is essential.We are starting a new heading straight toward socialism," Chavez said during a telephone interview with Venezuelan state television.

George Bush Concerned About Hurricane Victims

MONTEBELLO,Canada - American President George W. Bush,offered U.S. assistance and expressed his concern today for the citizens of Mexico and elsewhere whose lives were affected by Hurricane Dean,at a North American summit in Canada.
"We stand ready to help.The American people care a lot about the human condition in our neighborhood and when we see human suffering we want to do what we can," said Bush, standing alongside Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon at a North American summit in more