Saturday January 12, 2013

Bombings kill 115 people in Pakistan, including 81 in attack on billiard hall

QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) -- A series of bombings in different parts of Pakistan killed 115 people on Thursday, including 81 who died in a sectarian attack on a bustling billiard hall in the southwest city of Quetta, officials said.

The blasts punctuated one of the deadliest days in recent years in Pakistan, where the government faces a bloody insurgency by Taliban militants in the northwest and Baluch militants in the southwest.

The country is also home to many enemies of the U.S. that Washington has frequently targeted with drone attacks. A U.S. missile strike Thursday killed five suspected militants in the seventh such attack in two weeks, Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The billiard hall in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, was hit by twin blasts about 5 minutes apart on Thursday night, killing 81 people and wounding more than 120 others, said senior police officer Zubair Mehmood.

The billiard hall was located in an area dominated by Shiite Muslims, and most of the dead and wounded were from the minority sect, said another police officer, Mohammed Murtaza. Many of the people who rushed to the scene after the first blast and were hit by the second bomb, which caused the roof of the building to collapse, he said.

Lew’s selection as treasury chief puts emphasis on fiscal challenges, opens a new chapter

WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama nominated White House chief of staff Jack Lew to be treasury secretary Thursday, declaring his complete trust in an aide with three decades of Washington experience in economic policy and a penchant for shunning the limelight.

"He is a low-key guy who prefers to surround himself with policy experts rather than television cameras," Obama said.

Obama announced his nomination in the ornate White House East Room, flanked by Lew and outgoing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The two men and their backgrounds illustrate the nation’s changing economic landscape. Geithner is a longtime banking specialist with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve who took office in 2009 at the height of the nation’s financial crisis. Lew has been a budget expert as the government struggled with its debt and deficit challenges.

Obama heaped praise on Geithner for addressing the Wall Street meltdown and shepherding an overhaul of financial regulations through Congress.

"When the history books are written, Tim Geithner is going to go down as one of our finest secretaries of the treasury."

3 Kurdish activists killed in Paris; Turks and Kurds accuse each other of being behind the shootings

PARIS (AP) -- Three Kurdish activists were shot dead in what authorities called an "execution" in central Paris, prompting speculation that the long-running conflict between insurgents from the minority group and Turkey was playing out on French shores.

The slayings came as Turkey was holding peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers Party, which seeks self-rule for Kurds in the country’s southeast, to try to persuade it to disarm. The conflict between the group, known as the PKK, and the Turkish government has claimed tens of thousands of lives since 1984.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a news conference in Senegal on Thursday that his country was determined to press ahead with the talks despite the events in Paris, which he suggested could be the result of internal strife or an act to sabotage the talks. The PKK does have a history of internal killings. But many Kurdish activists and militants were also victims of extra-judicial killings blamed on Turkish government forces in the 1990s.

Initial reports were contradictory but pointed to a grisly crime scene. One Kurdish organization said the door of the building where the women were found just after midnight was smeared with blood, that two of the women were shot in the neck and one in the stomach and that the killer used a silencer. French radio reported that all three were shot in the head.

Whew! Big asteroid no longer threat to Earth

WASHINGTON (AP) -- NASA says a big asteroid is no longer even a remote threat to smash into Earth in about 20 years.

Astronomers got a much better look at the asteroid when it whizzed by Earth on Wednesday. They recalculated, determining it wasn’t on path to hit Earth on April 13, 2036 as once feared.

At more than 1,000 feet wide, the rock could do significant damage but not cause worldwide extinctions.

About nine years ago, when astronomers first saw the asteroid, they thought there was a 2.7 percent chance that Apophis would smack into our planet. Later, they lowered the chances. The asteroid is named after an evil Egyptian mythical serpent.

Donald Yeomans, who manages NASA’s asteroid-tracking office, said now the asteroid won’t get closer than 19,400 miles

Drug companies forge partnerships with top universities; some academic purists have doubts

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- In their quest for the next big drug discovery, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly teaming up with some of the nation’s top universities, recruiting campus scientists as partners and offering schools multimillion-dollar deals to work on experimental drugs in development.

Big Pharma has long sought to profit from academia’s innovations in more limited arrangements. Now the two sides are often joining forces as equals. But the drug makers’ aggressive pursuit of university research has drawn the ire of academic purists who question whether the partnerships put profits ahead of, or on equal footing with, science for science’s sake.

"What it does is to blur the boundaries between academic medical centers and investor-owned companies," said Dr. Marcia Angell, former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and a prominent critic of the pharmaceutical industry’s new coziness with major campuses.

Pfizer Inc., Astra Zeneca PLC and Eli Lilly and Co. are among the major international drug companies signing agreements with schools such as New York University, Harvard and the University of California at San Francisco.

Driving the change is the expiration of patents for such lucrative name-brand drugs as Seroquel, Lipitor and Protonix, which industry observers say accounted for nearly $36 billion in U.S. sales in 2011 and 2012. More than ever, drug makers need new revenue to replace diminished profits from drugs that now have generic rivals.

Spielberg’s in at the
Oscars, Bigelow, Affleck and Hooper are out
after directing snubs

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (AP) -- Steven Spielberg had a great day at the Academy Awards nominations, where his Civil War saga "Lincoln" led with 12 nominations.

It was not so great for Kathryn Bigelow, Tom Hooper and Ben Affleck, whose films did well but surprised -- dare we say shocked? -- Hollywood by failing to score directing nominations for the three filmmakers.

"I just think they made a mistake," said Alan Arkin, a supporting-actor nominee for Affleck’s Iran hostage-crisis tale "Argo."

"Lincoln," "Argo," Bigelow’s Osama bin Laden manhunt thriller and Hooper’s Victor Hugo musical "Les Miserables" landed among the nine best-picture contenders Thursday.

Also nominated for the top honor were the old-age love story "Amour"; the independent hit "Beasts of the Southern Wild"; the slave-revenge narrative "Django Unchained"; the shipwreck story "Life of Pi"; and the lost-souls romance "Silver Linings Playbook."