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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Newly-born stabbed to death

Horrible! It’s the least that can be said when you discover a newly-born, innocent, less-than-a-day-old child, draped in a piece of cloth and inert in a school bag. And on further probe you end up with a lifeless being, hardly born enough. Deeply lacerated and perforated at various places, the baby’s corpse bore a serious head wound and several cuts around the neck.

Yes, that was the horrible scene police found when they reached a small house in the suburbs of Port Louis, after a phone call at 7.00 pm on Sunday.

The baby’s mother, a 17-year-old student, was there too. She had apparently had a clandestine delivery, far from the specialized health care facilities, during the day. She had kept her pregnancy secret and nobody, not even her close relatives, ever knew about her health condition.

Postmortem examination revealed the baby-girl died from “multiple stab wounds of the chest”. Some 30 spots of severe injury, with serious throat cuts, were found. As of now there are no solid clues as to the real circumstances of the crime. Police inquiry is on and will definitely target the baby’s mother as soon as she’s released from hospital where she’s been admitted just after the police raid.

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Life on Mars?

Has life existed on Mars? Could there be life? Those are the main concerns of the NASA people who’ve just launched a mission to reach Mars in May 2008. Scientific operations on the Martian surface will last about three months. Investigators believe there is water ice some centimeters below the surface. They’ll probe into whether there are signs of the ice melting. This could provide clues as to the history of the water ice and whether it could support microbial life.

Peter Smith who is a professor at the University of Arizona and the mission’s principal investigator said they’d try to find out whether the ice has melted. “Liquid water in contact with soil may provide us with a habitable environment.”

The Phoenix solar powered spacecraft was launched today, a day later, due to adverse weather conditions. It is equipped with various instruments to enable probing into a wide profile of the Martian environment. There’s a robotic arm to dig trenches, position tools and deliver samples to other instruments. Soil samples will be examined using microscopy, electrochemistry and conductivity analyzer. A camera is on board for taking images of the soil. A thermal and evolved-gas analyser will assess the chemical properties and look for organic compounds of samples. And of course the daily weather and seasonal changes will be tracked by a meteorological station with the use of temperature and pressure sensors.

Man’s quest for exploration has always been insatiable. At one time it was the Moon; now Mars. After the two earlier failed attempts towards Mars, let’s keep fingers crossed.

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Our Prime Minister’s visit to China during the last week has given a new dimension to the cooperation between the two countries. China has agreed to advance a credit of Rs 3.5 billions (around 50 million USD) over the next three years. “This agreement is of major significance to Mauritius,” said the PM, “as it marks China’s commitment towards Mauritius in this period of transition.”

The PM cherished the nearly trebled Chinese assistance compared to Rs 400 million (around 6 million USD) per year obtained previously.

This financial assistance will be vital in realizing a number of projects related to infrastructural development, which will include the construction of a fishing port, a new dam, a new link road from Verdun (village around the centre) to Terre Rouge (northern village near Port Louis) and a new town at Highlands (near the centre).

Other outcomes of the PM’s visit to the People’s Republic of China comprise promises for massive investment. Already one major group of companies, Shanxi Tianli Enterprises Group, has laid its footprints on the island with significant investment potential. The implantation of this group has necessitated the relocation of several small planters who earned their living for decades on the agricultural plot of land identified for allocation to the group.

In this period of difficult economic situation, with rising cost of living, opportunities like those from China and the discovery of potential hydrothermal sources in the territorial waters of Mauritius (which I mentioned yesterday) can only herald better days ahead. Provided they are managed judiciously.

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Significant hydrothermal sites have been discovered in the territorial waters of Mauritius, which extend to 200 nautical miles. Minerals like zinc, copper and even gold may be present. But we are only at the research stage.

That’s what Prof. Kensaku Tamaki said at the Fourth National Ocean Science Forum held under the aegis of the Mauritian Oceanography Institute (MOI) on 11 and 12 July at the Octave Wiehe Auditorium of the University of Mauritius.

Prof K Tamaki of the University of Tokyo led a research team during November to January last in collaboration with the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the Mauritian government and the MOI. The team comprising scientists from Japan, Mauritius, France, US, China and Indonesia found considerable amount of manganese, which indicates the existence of hydrothermal sources.

That reminds me of another research in our waters in the 70’s when an oil slick was discovered around Mauritius. Drilling works were initiated and lasted several months before they were abandoned due to sinking evidences.

Let’s hope this time we have positive outcomes. The ocean hasn’t revealed all the secrets yet.

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ORMDL3. Does that mean anything to you? Perhaps only a set of letters and a figure. That’s all. Idem for me too. Not for scientists though. It seems to be the culprit. It’s a gene found in a more significant amount in the blood cells of children with asthma than in those without. This higher level of ORMDL3 could increase the risk of having asthma by about 70%.

That’s what a group of researchers from Imperial College London, along with others from UK, France, Germany, USA and Austria, have concluded after a study carried out on more than 2000 children.

Childhood asthma is a common chronic disease. 10% of children in the UK are currently affected. It’s a tough time indeed, for the children as it is for the parents. Therapies have hitherto been limited to attenuating the episodes of asthma, without significant progress into its cure.

Deep probe has yet to be effected into the exact causes of asthma. It is not well understood how ORMLD3 exacerbates the risk of asthmatic conditions in children. But the combination of genetic and environmental factors provides a definite clue.

The researchers compared the genetic makeup of childhood asthmatic and non-asthmatic patients. They probed into the mutational behavior of the nucleotides, the building blocks of genes making up the DNA (Deoxyribonucleic acid – a self-replicating material present in nearly all living organisms carrying the genetic information). Mutations were observed and the researchers unveiled those specific to childhood asthma.

The new findings will, it is hoped, pave the way for the development of new therapies. For further information see links below:

More about the gene linked with childhood asthma.

What is asthma?

How can I treat my asthma?

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The world was awakened with the good news of the release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston this morning. “Alan Johnston freed” reads the latest entry in the BBC Blog Network, The Editors.

Captured on 12 March in Gaza by the Army of Islam group, Mr. Alan Johnston, 45, was released early this morning. He was handed over to the Palestinian militant group Hamas in Gaza City. He is now in the British Consulate in Jerusalem waiting to fly back to UK.

“I literally dreamt many times of being free and always woke up back in that room,” Mr. Johnston said shortly after his release.

The reporter describes his captivity as a frightening experience as he was uncertain how it’d end. He said he had fallen ill from the food but was not tortured during the captivity period. It was hard for him to believe he’d be freed as he said he was “in the hands of people who were dangerous and unpredictable”.

Thanking his colleagues and all who supported him throughout his captivity, he cheered at the overwhelming international campaign for his release. “The thing you don’t want is to be left behind, buried alive, and have the world go on around you,” he said.

Several hundreds of thousands of people around the world had petitioned and rallied for his release.

“It’s been 114 days of a living nightmare,” said his overjoyed father Graham soon after his son’s release.

Answering to questions in the UK Parliament new British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said: “The whole country will welcome the news that Alan Johnston, a fearless journalist whose voice was silenced for too long, is now free.”

Hats off Mr. Johnston for your perseverance and bravery during 16 weeks’ tough times. As we say in French: “Tout est bien qui finit bien”. (All is good that ends well).

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Media killings continue and know no barriers. Some time back I mentioned the case of media people being subject to violent treatment in Romania and Russia. There’s also the case of missing journalist in Gaza. Not later than yesterday I raised concern about killings in Afghanistan of female journalists fighting for women’s rights.

This time it’s in Iraq, where more than 180 journalists and media assistants have been killed since the beginning of the war in March 2003. In the only month of May 12 journalists have been killed there.

But what is more appalling is the case of another female journalist who was showered with bullets by gunmen in front of her house near Mosul on Thursday June 7. Mother of three girls, aged 45, Sahar al-Haidari has been working for an independent Iraqi news agency in Mosul, some 400 km north of Baghdad.

Although women journalists, reporters and presenters constitute a minority in such countries, they are on the increase. And it seems male dominated families exert extreme pressure on them with the result that intimidation and threats of violence are also growing.

The brutal treatment and killing of respected and brave journalists as those in the conflict zones are issues of concern not only to the media organizations and their members, but also, and mostly, to the families and close relatives of the victims.

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