Nigeria authorities rush to obtain isolation tents in anticipation of more Ebola infections

LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Nigerian authorities rushed to obtain isolation tents Wednesday in anticipation of more Ebola infections as they disclosed five more cases of the virus and a death in Africa’s most populous nation, where officials were racing to keep the gruesome disease confined to a small group of patients.

The five new Nigerian cases were all in Lagos, a megacity of 21 million people in a country already beset with poor health care infrastructure and widespread corruption, and all five were reported to have had direct contact with one infected man.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization began a meeting to decide whether the crisis, the worst recorded outbreak of its kind, amounts to an international public health emergency. At least 932 deaths in four countries have been blamed on the illness, with 1,711 reported cases.

In recent years, the WHO has declared an emergency only twice, for swine flu in 2009 and polio in May. The declaration would probably come with recommendations on travel and trade restrictions and wider Ebola screening. It also would be an acknowledgment that the situation is critical and could worsen without a fast global response.

The group did not immediately confirm the new cases reported in Nigeria.


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And Nigerian authorities did not release any details on the latest infections, except to say they all had come into direct contact with the sick man who arrived by plane in Lagos late last month.

Debate over who’s first in line for experimental Ebola drug; supplies limited

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The use of an experimental drug to treat two Americans diagnosed with Ebola is raising ethical questions about who gets first access to unproven new therapies for the deadly disease. But some health experts fear debate over extremely limited doses will distract from tried-and-true measures to curb the growing outbreak -- things like more rapidly identifying and isolating the sick.

The World Health Organization is convening a meeting of medical ethicists next week to examine what it calls "the responsible thing to do" about whatever supplies eventually may become available of a medicine that’s never been tested in people.

At least one country involved in the outbreak is interested in the drug. Nigeria’s health minister, Onyenbuchi Chukwu, said at a news conference that he had asked the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about access. CDC Director Tom Frieden "conveyed there are virtually no doses available" but basic supportive care can work, a CDC spokesman said Wednesday.

There is no proven treatment or vaccine for Ebola, which so far has infected more than 1,700 people and killed more than 930 in West Africa in what has become the worst outbreak of this viral hemorrhagic fever.

"How many times have we found magic therapies that ended up ... doing more harm than good?" cautioned University of Minnesota professor Michael Osterholm, who advises the U.S.government on infectious disease threats.

Talks between Israel and Palestinians under way as Gaza truce holds for second day

CAIRO (AP) -- Indirect Israeli-Palestinian negotiations over extending a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip and ending a blockade of the battered territory got underway in Cairo on Wednesday, with both sides taking hard-line positions and much jockeying expected ahead.

Israel wants the Islamic militant Hamas to disarm, or at least ensure it cannot re-arm, before considering the group’s demand that the territory’s borders be opened. Israel and Egypt imposed a closure after the Hamas takeover of Gaza in 2007, although Egypt allows individuals to cross intermittently.

"The two sides have reviewed what they consider issues of concern," Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said at a news conference, describing the matter as "complicated and not easy."

Hazem Abu Shanab, a member of Fatah, one of the main factions involved in the talks, said disarmament would require Israel to pull out from occupied Palestinian territory.

"As long as there is occupation, there will be resistance and there will be weapons," he said. "The armament is linked to the occupation."

Afghan official says US general’s killer hid in bathroom, used NATO assault rifle in attack

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- The Afghan soldier who killed a U.S. two-star general and wounded 15 other people hid in a bathroom with a NATO assault rifle then opened fire when a group of officers from international forces passed by, an Afghan military official said Wednesday.

As U.S. and Afghan officials investigated the attack Tuesday that killed, Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the highest-ranked U.S. officer to be slain in combat since 1970 in the Vietnam War, authorities reported two other so-called "insider" attacks the same day.

In the deadliest of the attacks, an Afghan police officer killed seven of his colleagues at a checkpoint, then stole their weapons and fled in a police car late Tuesday in the Uruzgan provincial capital of Tirin Kot, provincial spokesman Doost Mohammad Nayab said.

A doctor at a local hospital told the AP it appeared the police officer drugged his colleagues before the shooting. The doctor spoke on condition of anonymity as he wasn’t authorized to release the information. Nayab later denied that the police officers had been drugged and said the officer involved had Taliban connections, without elaborating.

In Paktia province, an Afghan police guard exchanged fire with NATO troops near the governor’s office, provincial police said. The guard was killed in the gunfight.

Tensions build in Ukraine over whether Russian army near border will step in to protect rebels

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- The steadily advancing Ukrainian army is setting its sights on the largest rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine, while Western officials on Wednesday warned that a Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s border could herald a major incursion to protect the separatists.

President Vladimir Putin has resisted mounting pressure from Russian nationalists to send the army in to back the mutiny in eastern Ukraine. Even though the U.S. and NATO would be unlikely to respond militarily, the West would be certain to impose major sanctions that would put the shaky Russian economy on its knees -- and could quickly erode Putin’s power.

Russia already is showing signs of economic dismay from sanctions imposed earlier this year, but Putin on Wednesday showed Moscow aims to fight back, calling on government agencies to develop a list of agricultural imports from sanctions-imposing countries that could be banned for up to a year.

The state news agency RIA Novosti later quoted an official from Russia’s plant and veterinary oversight service as saying all U.S. agricultural products would fall under the ban.

"When you see the buildup of Russian troops and the sophistication of those troops, the training of those troops, the heavy military equipment that’s being put along that border, of course it’s a reality. It’s a threat, it’s a possibility -- absolutely," U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday. U.S. and NATO officials say there are now about 20,000 Russian troops massed just east of Ukraine.

Space probe swings alongside comet after 10-year chase

DARMSTADT, Germany (AP) -- Turning what seemed like a science fiction tale into reality, an unmanned probe swung alongside a comet on Wednesday after a 4-billion mile (6.4-billion kilometer) chase through outer space over the course of a decade.

Europe’s Rosetta probe will orbit and study the giant lump of dust and ice as it hurtles toward the sun and, if all goes according to plan, drop a lander onto the comet in the coming months.

Rosetta turned up as planned for its rendezvous with comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko somewhere between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

The incredible trip, launched on March 2, 2004, marks a milestone in mankind’s effort to understand the mysterious ‘shooting stars’ that periodically flash past Earth, and which have often been viewed with fear and trepidation.

While the moon, Mars and even asteroids have been visited, no spacecraft has yet gotten so close to a comet. Having achieved this feat, Rosetta will go one step further and drop a lander on 67P’s icy surface -- a maneuver planned for November.

Walgreen won’t pursue overseas tax relief but motivation remains for other companies

Growing political heat and possible customer backlash helped dissuade Walgreen from trying to trim its tax bill by reorganizing overseas as part of an acquisition.

But experts say they don’t expect other companies considering the move to follow Walgreen’s lead and stay rooted in the United States.

Walgreen, the nation’s biggest drugstore chain, said Wednesday that it would no longer consider a so-called inversion, which has become popular among large, multi-national health care companies looking to cut U.S. taxes. The company said it will instead combine with the Swiss health and beauty retailer Alliance Boots to form a holding company that’s based in the U.S.

Walgreen Co. said in a statement that it was "mindful of the ongoing public reaction to a potential inversion" and its "unique role as an iconic American" retailer.

Walgreen’s decision follows a wave of recently announced inversions that have prompted President Barack Obama and members of Congress to voice growing concern about tax revenue the U.S.government could lose from these moves. Despite Walgreen’s decision, experts say U.S.companies will likely continue to pursue inversions because they can still reap big benefits by reorganizing overseas.

Federal appeals court judges weigh 4 states’ gay marriage cases in hearing in Cincinnati

CINCINNATI (AP) -- A federal appeals court judge hearing arguments in six gay marriage fights in a landmark hearing Wednesday expressed deep skepticism about whether the courts are the ideal setting for such major change, saying that the best way to win the hearts and minds of Americans on the issue would be the democratic process.

The judge, Jeffrey S. Sutton of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, peppered attorneys with the question and said it was strange that the same-sex couples fighting statewide bans weren’t showing more patience.

"I would have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process," Sutton said. "Nothing happens as quickly as we’d like it. ... I’m not 100 percent sure it’s the better route for the gay rights community."

Sutton and two other judges from the 6th Circuit heard arguments in six cases from Ohio, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee in the biggest such session on the issue so far. The cases pit states’ rights and traditional, conservative values against what plaintiffs’ attorneys say is a fundamental right to marry under the U.S. Constitution.

If the 6th Circuit decides against gay marriage, that would create a divide among federal appeals courts and put pressure on the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the issue for good in its 2015 session. The appeals panel did not indicate when it would rule.