Bird flu spreads easier: WHO
WHO officials say a lethal new strain of bird flu that emerged in the country over the past month appears to spread more easily from birds to humans than the one that started killing people in Asia a decade ago. Scientists are watching the H7N9 virus closely to see if it could spark a global pandemic, but say that so far there is little evidence to show the virus can spread easily from human to human. Health officials at a news conference yesterday in Beijing said they believe the infections with the H7N9 strain are primarily taking place at live poultry markets. The virus has infected more than 100 people in the country, seriously sickening most of them, and killing about 20 — mostly near the eastern coast around Shanghai.
Ang Lee joins Cannes jury
Oscar-winning Taiwanese Hollywood movie director Ang Lee and actress Nicole Kidman and will join Steven Spielberg next month on the Cannes film festival jury, organizers said yesterday. Australian Kidman won the best actress Academy Award for her portrayal of author Virginia Woolf in The Hours, while Lee was named best director earlier this year for his fantasy epic Life of Pi. Lee, who has spent almost his entire professional career abroad, also won a best director Oscar for the gay cowboy drama Brokeback Mountain, while his kung fu epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon won best foreign language film. The jury, headed by Spielberg, will award the coveted Palme d’Or to one of the 19 films in competition at the May 15 to May 26 festival.
Protest raided, 44 dead
Government forces stormed a Sunni Muslim protest camp on Tuesday, triggering a gunfight between troops and demonstrators that spread to army clashes with Sunni militants and killed 44 people. The fighting was the bloodiest Iraq has seen since thousands of Sunni Muslims started staging protests in December last year to demand an end to perceived marginalization of their sect by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki’s Shiite-led government. The defense ministry said fighting erupted when troops opened fire early on Tuesday after coming under attack from gunmen during a raid on the makeshift protest camp in a square in Hawija, near Kirkuk.
Legislators oppose quake aid
Lawmakers fiercely opposed a plan yesterday to donate money to the Sichuan Provincial Government for earthquake victims, underlining widespread public concerns about mainland corruption. Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) proposed donating HK$100 million (US$13 million) to the Sichuan Provincial Government for relief efforts following an earthquake on Saturday that struck Lushan County, killing at least 192 people. Lawmakers opposed giving money to government officials because of fears about corruption and misuse of funds. They said they would prefer that the money be channeled to aid groups and non-governmental organizations. The debate marks a sharp change in sentiment compared with reactions to previous disasters, such as the earthquake that struck Sichuan in 2008, killing 90,000 people. Following that quake, “the government donated HK$9 billion in return for scandals and also a lot of substandard projects,” Legislator Kwok Ka-ki (郭家麒) said. Hong Kongers were especially miffed after learning early last year that a Sichuan secondary school built in 2010 with HK$2 million in quake relief funds was later torn down to make way for a luxury housing development.